How Should We Respond to the Good News of God's Grace?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. - Romans 12:1, ESV
So, now what? We went on our first short-term mission trip as a church this past summer, going to Haiti for a week to serve Reformation Hope. We spent months planning, praying, organizing, applying for passports, getting immunizations, learning about missions, praying some more, getting airline tickets, etc. Finally, it was time to go, and we flew down and eventually arrived on site. I'm not sure how everyone else felt, but as the team leader, when we arrived in the compound and unpacked, I sat down and thought, "Okay, now what?"
In every area of life, there comes the time when theory is translated to practice, when lessons learned become life lived. In Paul's writings, he usually turns the corner from Gospel proclaimed and explained (Ephesians 1-3; Colossians 1-2) to Gospel lived (Ephesians 4-6; Colossians 3-4). In Romans, we turn the corner from proclamation and explanation to application with the beginning of chapter 12.
Of course, Paul has already been applying the Gospel to our lives in powerful ways, especially in chapters 6-8. Yet even those chapters were primarily still an unfolding of the Gospel, in the phase of sanctification. After Paul explores the doctrine of election as it related to Jews and Gentiles in chapters 9-11, he comes back to the implications and application of the Gospel.
In many ways, the best way to understand the opening of chapter 12 is to place it right after the end of chapter 8. Take a few minutes to read chapter 8 again, and then pick up with chapter 12 right after the end.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . .
. . . nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. . . "
Do you see it?
God has removed all condemnation. God is for us, who can be against us? Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Now what? Now, in light of this precious and abundant mercy, we should present ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Paul says that, in light of God's mercies, living wholeheartedly for the glory of God is our spiritual worship. Actually, what he says is that it is our "reasonable" or "logical" worship.
For those who have received God's mercy in Jesus Christ, life itself becomes an act of worship. How? As we live for the glory of God! How can we do that? As he so often does, Paul unpacks living for God's glory with both a negative and a positive - "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
We must stop conforming to the world's patterns - get more, have more, be more, do it your way, etc. Instead, we must be transformed by the renewal of our minds, so that we may know and live God's will. The rest of Romans will be an unfolding of the will of God for believers in contrast to the patterns of the world. For believers who know God's mercy, this is not a road map of how to behave so you can get to God; it's how we're freed to live by God's grace because of all He has done to save us!