The Rational Response of the Redeemed
SERMON TYPE: EXPOSITORY Chad Williams Box 336A
Romans, BIB 641, 5-6th Hour
Title: The Rational Response of the Redeemed
Text: Romans 12:1-2
Sub/Comp: The mercies of God compel the believer to respond with a personal life of dedication, with proper Christian separation, and with a pursuit of thorough transformation.
Proposition: God’s grace calls believers to action.
Speaker’s Purpose: I want to motivate my listeners to live out the implications of the gospel in their lives.
Interrogative: How should we react to the mercies of God?
Transition: In our text there are three rational responses to grace that every beneficiary of God’s mercies should be dedicated to.
The Christmas season has now officially begun. No doubt that fact carries a great variety of feelings to each of us personally – from excitement for some to nostalgia for others to perhaps sheer denial from many who wonder how to purchase all the gifts this year in our economy. Regardless of our enthusiasm (or lack thereof) regarding the business of the coming holiday, most of us will spend time this season reminiscing upon past Christmastimes with our family. As I think back through my experiences this time of year growing up, memories of past, long-forgotten Christmas gifts come to mind. I find it quite amusing how much I cared about certain gifts each year growing up that soon after lost their appeal. Yet, what I have not lost is the memory of my childish enthusiasm after having received “the one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world” for Christmas. Likewise, I recall the utter disappointment that followed after having received for the fourth year in a row “the holiday sweater I never asked my aunt for.” Yet, my parents always taught me to express gratitude for my gifts, regardless of their attraction to me. To my shame, however, the expression of my (so called) “thanks” as a boy often reflected the genuine feeling that I had toward my holiday sweater. My response to the giver was proportionate to my appreciation for the gift.
As foolish and inconsiderate as children can sometimes be, the sad truth is that we as adults sometimes act the very same way, although we would probably not admit such. However, an ungrateful response toward a sweater is hardly comparable to the unfortunate lack of response believers often have regarding the greatest gift ever given. The fact that we should openly express our gratitude to God in specific ways is a matter in which the apostle Paul sought to address in Romans chapter 12.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is well known for its in-depth treatment of various ideas in Christian theology. Some would even classify the book as an “inspired systematic theology” of the apostle. However, a correct understanding of the book does not see it as merely a theological resource, although Paul’s NT writings do compose much of what we call our doctrine. His letter to the Romans, rather, served a more specific purpose for the church at Rome. Providing the overall theme, two central verses in the first chapter (vv. 16-17) identify the gospel of Jesus Christ as the constant focus of the letter. This gospel is identified and clarified in chapters 1-4, affirmed and enjoyed in chapters 5-8, guarded and defended in chapters 9-11, and then applied and practiced through Christian living in chapters 12-15.
Certainly, while each section serves to further explain a facet, reality, or benefit of the gospel, each likewise should provide further motivation and occasion for expressive rejoicing by those justified by its power. This, for example, is the inspired description in chapter 5:1-11 of what results in the believer’s life in light of his being justified by faith. In view of such benefits as having relational harmony with God, received access to grace, and reliable assurance of his eternal destiny, any genuine Christian should inevitably respond through uninhibited rejoicing, regardless of his immediate, temporal circumstances.
However, after providing further examples of the incredible benefits out salvation provides us (such as freedom from sin’s bondage, freedom from the law’s bondage, assurance of eternal life, etc.), a lengthy defense of this gospel, and a stirring doxology praising God for his provision, Paul shifts the focus from what God has done for us to what we must do in response. Romans 12:1-2 stand as a fitting introduction for the imperatives of Christian duty that follow. Yet, Paul does not seek to relay the long list of commands without providing motivation or incentive for their obedience. Rather, the apostle Paul establishes the previous 11 chapters as the very grounds or motivation for living an obedient life to God.
Exp: In verse one, Paul “appeals” to all Christians on the basis of “God’s mercies.” God’s mercies could refer to any of a number of realities previously expressed in the book, but likely references the entirety of them, namely the gospel’s power unto salvation and its following benefits. Paul then states that this gracious benevolence toward us warrants a particular “rational” or “logical” response.
App: The question is, do we truly understand the mercies of God, or have we forgotten what we truly possess through God’s grace. The childish attitude I had toward less appreciated gifts as a boy seems to be the unfortunate attitude of many Christians. Fellow believers, our expression of thanksgiving to God for his mercy should proportionately reflect how much we have actually received! And this is hardly a gratitude that stops shy of a life lived in light of such. We must understand that God’s grace calls believers to action. We need to realize that His graciousness to us compels a response on our part.
Transition: In our text there are three rational responses to grace to which every beneficiary of God’s mercies should be dedicated.
I. Respond with a personal life of dedication. (12:1)
Exp: In verse one, Paul gives a single command that is later identified as the only “reasonable” or “logical” (from the Greek λογικὴν – logiké) responsive act of those mindful of God’s mercies. He does not leave such expectations up for personal interpretation as to assume each would come to the same “logical” conclusion. Instead, the apostle clearly establishes without hesitation how beneficiaries of God’s mercies should respond. This is seen through a considerably long list of imperatives strung throughout the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the book.
Exp: What is being called for is a personal, sacrificial presentation (or dedication) of oneself to God.
Arg: It is important to understand, however, that this presentation is hardly a “one-time,” unrepeated event (as Keswick and various other “holiness” theologians would suggest). Romans 12:1 over the last century has become a notorious example of an unfortunate misuse of the Greek aorist tense. Not only grammar, but more importantly the context decisively suggests that dedication is not a “once-for-all” decision (except for the initial dedication to the Lordship of Christ at salvation). Rather, v. 2 especially clarifies through the progressive language as well as the implied application that sanctification is a process of progressive nature. And for this sanctification to progress, it is necessary that believers appropriately respond to the reality of God’s mercies through daily giving themselves over to the God of their salvation.
Exp: The content of v. 1 provides not only the first of several commands, but essentially the necessary disposition of one desirous of adhering to each of the successive commands. Providing OT imagery, Paul requires that believers respond to God’s sacrifice for us through a similar sacrifice of our own.
Trans: There are five descriptions given regarding the sacrifice we are expected to offer.
A. It is complete, not partial. (“present your bodies”)
Exp: The mention of “bodies” in v. 1 hardly implies that our physical makeup is all that God requires; neither, however, does it negate such as part of the sacrifice. Rather, the call is for the giving of your entire being – both outwardly and inwardly. This is clearly seen in v. 2 when Paul’s further description on how this life lived is to relate to a sinful society and respond inwardly. Both physical and nonphysical dedication would be required.
Ill/ Exp: This was always the case when it came to sacrifices. Outward conformity never really pleased God. David understood this in his famous confession of Psalm 51 when in vv. 16-17 he observed,
"For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
App: God requires more than our sacrifice of things, time, money – even more than the sacrifice of our bodies. Granted, those who are genuinely dedicated to God will obviously be more than willing to sacrifice all of the above; however, God wants our lives – inside and out. The gift He demands is the giver himself.
B. It is living, not dead. (“a living sacrifice”)
Exp: The adjective “living” refers to the nature of the sacrifice. This is one defining distinction between this sacrifice in which we are to give and previous sacrificial mandates in God’s Word. The uniqueness of this particular sacrifice is that no life is literally to be taken away. To do so would be to insult and ignore the sacrificial provision already made through Christ’s atoning death. This gift is, again, the reason why we ought to in turn give ourselves just as completely back over to Him.
Exp: The sacrificial imagery, nonetheless, strikingly parallels the dead carcass of the animal slain on the alter. For, theologically, believers have truly “died” with Christ (Romans 6; Colossians 2). Yet, we now have the opportunity to live unto Christ.
App: How blessed we are that God provides us the opportunity to reflect His glory through our glad expression of gratitude to Him while we have breath to breathe and a testimony to be observed. May we live this life to its fullest, which will mean dying to ourselves in order that we might live for Him.
C. It is set apart, not second-rate. (“holy”)
Exp: Another qualification for such a sacrifice is that it must be holy. The term “holy” has the meaning of something being “set apart” for a specific use. This implies, both a separation from what is profane (“unholy”) as well as a being set apart specifically for God’s service.
Ill/ Exp: Under the OT Law, sacrifices were to be without blemish. This was symbolic of the spiritual and moral purity that God required of the worshiper. However, this requirement also served the purpose of making the sacrifice – a sacrifice. In fact, scripture illustrates what happened when worshipers tried to give God less than their best. One primary example is found in Malachi 1:8 where Israel’s actual love for God appropriately comes into question.
"When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts."
They, out of an attitude of obligation, made sacrifices to the Lord, but it was of the mere leftovers. Even worse, their second-rate offerings were of such quality that they would not think of presenting as a gift or payment to a government official.
D. It is well-pleasing, not displeasing. (“acceptable to God”)
App: Indeed, if we truly offer ourselves completely, giving our best as a living sacrifice to God, we are given the assurance that it will be acceptable to God.
Exp: All throughout Leviticus, a sacrifice properly executed was described as being “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” Yet, Micah’s question in Micah 6:7 provokes us to consider that whether or not God was pleased hinged on far more than the physical offering. The implied answer to his rhetorical question regarding what truly pleases the Lord as seen in v. 8 is that God cannot be pleased short of a life dedicated to Him.
E. It is from a heart of worship, not duty. (“which is your reasonable worship”)
App: As in Micah’s day, too easily we perform our Christian “duties” out of an attitude of obligation. We know that we are supposed (perhaps even required) to do certain things, but if we miss the heart behind the deed, we fail completely in honoring the Lord.
Exp: Paul again brings us back to the motivation for our dedication – that such service is only reasonable in light of all the mercies of God. Therefore, the attitude of such dedication stems from a joyous expression of worship in light of properly understanding God’s mercy in our lives. Indeed, this is at its very core the heart of true, biblical worship.
As Paul expressed elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15,
"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised."
Prop: Indeed, God’s grace calls believers to action. It compels us to appropriately respond to all we have been given.
Trans: However, we should not only respond with a personal life of dedication, but also with proper Christian separation.
II. Respond with proper Christian separation. (12:2a)
Exp: After laying in v. 1 the foundation for all Christian conduct that is to follow, Paul gives two, more specific commands which illustrate how this dedicated life is to be practically lived.
Exp: The first command he gives is that believers “not be conformed to this world.” This step is not only a clear requirement for the believer, but also the necessary step for the following command to be effectively applied.
Exp: The word translated “world” is the Greek term, αἰῶνι which could be understood as “this age.” This refers not to the physical planet nor does it necessarily refer to everything within a given culture, but rather the sin-dominated, death-producing realm in which all from Adam naturally belong. It should be seen in light of the first chapter of Romans (vv. 18-32), descriptive of a people whose value system directly opposes God’s.
App: Let’s just be honest, are we allowing this fallen world’s system influence the way we think, act, speak, and live? So easily we fall into the trap of conforming to that which is around us.
Ill/App: We become like chameleons, adapting to our surroundings.
App: While this does not speak against an adaptation to certain cultural things, it will inevitably involved the rejection of many fads, popular ideas, and activities. We must not forget what Peter reminds us of in 1 Peter 2:11, that we are “strangers and pilgrims” in a foreign land – as Paul shared with the Ephesians (2:19), we are citizens of God’s household. As the gospel song rightly states, “This world is not my home, I’m just-a-passin’ through…”
App: God requires of us a proper separation from what this world loves, longs for, and lives for. Yet, although difficult at times, we are given the ultimate incentive for doing such – for we are privileged to enjoy the very mercies of God!
Prop: And God’s mercies compel us to respond accordingly.
Trans: Yet, we should not only respond with a personal life of dedication, and with proper Christian separation, but we should finally respond with a pursuit of thorough transformation.
III. Respond with a pursuit of thorough transformation. (12:2b)
Exp: After exhorting believers to not be “squeezed into the world’s mold,” Paul’s final imperative in the verse provides the stark contrast with the emphatic conjunction, ἀλλὰ – “but be transformed…”
Exp: The Greek term translated “transformed” (μεταμορφοῦσθε) is where we get our word “metamorphosis.” This designates a complete change that is from the inside-out.
Ill/ Exp: This term may recall to our minds the first time we were introduced to the scientific process of metamorphosis in elementary science class and how amazed we were to find that a caterpillar actually “morphs” into a butterfly.
App: In a similar way, we are to be “morphed” through sanctification into the image of another. Paul captures this same process with the vivid metaphor in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
"And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit."
Exp: Just as Paul specifies this process in 2 Corinthians 3 to be one which comes from the Holy Spirit, Romans 12:2 teaches the same idea through the use of the present passive verb.
Trans: Verse 2 gives us two important elements of this transformation that become essential to understanding its completion and result.
A. The process of transformation: constant renewal of one’s mind. (“by the renewal of your mind”)
Exp: While the imperative rendered “be transformed” is passive, indicating that this outcome comes through the act of another, what is interesting here is that the present passive is still an imperative. We are, then, commanded to “be changed.” Yet, if we are not the ones who ultimately produce this change, how can we really see fit that this occurs?
Exp: Paul is sure to then specify the means by which we can pursue spiritual transformation. We are to “renew our minds.” The “mind” here refers to one’s way of thinking, attitude, or disposition. It, then, has a similar understanding as the attitude of which we were to adopt in v. 1. It is important to note, however, that this renewal is impossible to enact if the mind is still in the process of “being conformed to this world.” The one cannot occur without the absence of the other.
App: How then do we renew our minds? This is the process that takes place only by being in the Word of God. Mind-renewal is ultimately a process of internalizing the Truth. Having already dedicated ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, as we are then confronted with the truths of scripture, we begin to see changes in our thinking, mindset, and attitudes. God will continue to expose undetected areas of conformity to the world and our minds will continue to be changed. This is the process of progressive sanctification. Does this process depict what is currently taking place in your life?
B. The purpose of transformation: complete conformity to God’s will. (“that you may discern what is the will of God”)
Exp: Finally, the believer is given the reason for such a life – one that conforms to the mind of Christ so much that it can effectively discern what God’s will is in life.
Exp: Paul describes the will of God with three adjectives, each in apposition to their shared referent. God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect. These are not to contrast different characteristics of God’s will, but rather portray the quality and value of His will.
Exp: This ability to discern the will of God provides further confidence that the believer has been justified. The “reprobate/ depraved” mind of Romans 1 does not think rightly about God, but instead perverts the truth of God. However, now in v. 2 the reality is disclosed that through our being transformed by the renewing of the mind, this original state can be reversed.
App: We as believers should grow to become keenly aware of what God’s will is, not through mystical perception, but through scriptural digestion. We can put each choice in life to the test of God’s Word and approve of what is best. As it’s been well stated before, “As the mind is renewed, believers bow to God’s rule in their lives.”
App: In order for this process to take full effect, we must first be committing to the rule of Christ in our lives. Here we return to the attitude of v. 1. Are you truly a “living sacrifice?” Are you offering your personal will and desires up to God as a sweet aroma through a grateful response to God’s mercies. Or do you even recognize the mercy of God in your life? The finality of the section brings full circle Paul’s appeal. God sacrificed all by slaying the Lamb of God for us; the least we can do is seek His will through an attitude of conformity to that which will in turn be the perfect thing for our lives.
Prop: God’s grace calls believers to action.
We can all normally detect an insincere expression of gratitude, be it in a personal conversation or even within an email. Oftentimes, however, we sing songs of thanksgiving for our salvation to God without a genuine thought about what He’s done, or how we should live in response. Paul’s challenge to us in a moment of spiritual distraction is to remember the mercies of God in our lives and respond with a personal life of dedication, with proper Christian separation, and with a pursuit of thorough transformation. Friends, God’s grace call us to action.
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