Our Relationship to God: Total Commitment to Christ – Romans 12:1-2
Pastor Mark Hardy September 29, 2013
In his book The Legend of Eagles, George Esparte recounts a story that happened to the French Army during the war with the Kosaks. It was in the middle of winter and the French had come to a river that they couldn’t cross. Napoleon was at his wits end because there was nothing that he could think of to get across. Knowing that the army had to cross the river or else they would all freeze to death, some of Napoleon’s men took it upon themselves to go out into the icy waters and build a bridge.
A number of them were swept away by the strong current and drown but eventually they succeeded. History records that after the entire army had crossed over the river on their makeshift bridge, Napoleon called to the men who were still in the water to come out, but none of them moved. They clung motionless to the pillars of the bridge because they had all frozen to death. Napoleon just stood there and wept because these men were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice out of love for their fellow soldiers and their country.
This powerful story brings into focus the personal sacrifice and total commitment that some people are willing to make for what they believe in. And it is such dedication and devotion to Jesus Christ that Christians are called to in the passage we will be looking at this morning.
We now come to the second major section of the book of Romans in chapters 12-16. This morning we are only going to look at 12:1-2, which is one of the best-known passages in the New Testament. These two introductory verses are of utmost importance because they set forth the fundamental obligation of believers’ relationship to God Himself that unless obeyed will hinder us in pleasing Him in all of the other relationships spelled out in 12:3-15:13. Turn with me in your Bible to Romans 12.
In Romans 12:1-2 we see four aspects of the total commitment to Christ that God demands of every believer.
The first aspect is this:
I. The Reason for our Total Commitment
A. Look at the first part of v. 1: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God… (Stop there)
1. The word “Therefore” (oun) here signals that all of the practical exhortations of 12:1-15:13 are built firmly on the theology of chapters 1-11. Whereas doctrine matters because you cannot live out what you don’t know, doctrine must be translated into practice.
2. Jesus said in John 13:17, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
3. This is why Paul’s pattern was often to follow a more strictly theological portion of Scripture with a more strictly application portion (Eph. 4:1; Col. 3:1). In other words, he connects what God has done to how we should live, thus joining doctrine to duty, belief to behavior, exposition to exhortation, creed to conduct, and precept to practice.
4. Now Paul begins in v. 1 by saying, “I urge you, brethren.” The meaning of the word “urge” (parakalo) lies somewhere between “request” and “command” and is best captured in the word “exhort.”
5. Therefore, Paul is exhorting his brothers and sisters in Christ at Rome, affectionately calling them “brethren.” Although as an apostle he has the authority of Christ to command, and will do so later, here Paul simply appeals to them as he also did to Philemon in Philemon 8-9 where he said, “…though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you…”
6. However, even Paul’s exhortations are authoritative. C.E.B. Cranfield is correct when he says, “It denotes the authoritative summons to obedience issued in the name of the gospel.” (pg. 597)
7. Paul then states the reason for believers’ total commitment to Christ when he says, “…by the mercies of God.” The “mercies” (oiktirmon) or compassions of God encompass everything that Paul has taught in chapters 1-11.
8. Although the explicit terms for mercy do not occur before chapters 9-11, the concept the God’s inexplicable mercy and unfathomable grace surely does. For example, God’s “mercies” include such blessings as: justification by faith in Christ, union with Christ in His death and resurrection, deliverance from the penalty and power of sin, being under grace not Law, our security in Christ, sanctification by the indwelling of and power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of glorification as heirs of God, sovereign election by grace, and God’s faithfulness confirmed by His revealed plan of salvation for Jews and Gentiles.
9. All of these mercies and more God did for us in Christ, though as sinners we deserved eternal punishment instead. Therefore, the most compelling reason and motivation for doing what Paul is going to tell us to do should be loving gratitude to God for all of His marvelous mercies bestowed on us in Jesus Christ.
10. And we see the proper way God demands that we respond in the second aspect of our total commitment to Christ, which is this:
II. The Responsibility to Give Total Commitment
A. Look again at v. 1: Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
1. The word “present” (parastesai) here is a technical term for the offering of a sacrifice. It is in the language and imagery of sacrifice that we see the response God demands of believers to all of His mercies on our behalf is one of total commitment.
2. The missionary C.T. Studd understood this well when he stated, “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to make for Him.”
3. Here Paul tells us that it is our responsibility “to present your bodies.” Now although presenting this sacrifice of total commitment to Christ has to be a deliberate and decisive action on our part, Paul is not talking about a once-for-all act, but simply telling us to make the decision. And this decision has to be affirmed and reaffirmed over and over again throughout our lives.
4. Now since Jesus Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for sin has fulfilled and brought an end to the Old Testament sacrificial system, no longer does God accept animal sacrifices. The sacrifice that He wants from His children is their “bodies.”
5. The word “bodies” (somata) here refers to our physical bodies. Although the Greeks saw the soul as inherently good and the body as inherently evil, and thus, being the prison-house of the soul, this is not what God says.
6. Now obviously, God demands our whole person to be totally committed, wholly surrendered, fully devoted, and completely dedicated to Him. But it is specifically our physical bodies that Paul is focusing on here.
7. Since the physical body is not sinful in itself, but is merely a neutral instrument that can be used for good or bad, for either sin or righteousness (6:13, 19), God demands that we totally commit it to Him. God cannot work through us without in some way working through our bodies.
8. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 we read, “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”
9. Total commitment to Christ of our bodies, which belong to God, is what brings glory to Him. It is using the various members of our bodies—our tongues, eyes, ears, hands, feet, etc. for God and His righteousness not for self and sin.
10. It is this total commitment to Christ that Isaac Watts is talking about in his hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross when he wrote:
Love so amazing, so divine
demands my soul, my life, my all.
B. Notice how Paul goes on to characterize our bodily sacrifice to God in three ways:
1. First, it is a “living”(zosan) sacrifice.
• This is in contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices of animals that were put to death on the altar. Since we as believers are now “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11, 13; 8:13), we are to continue to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God in our daily lives.
2. Second, it is a “holy” (hagian) sacrifice.
• The word “holy” means set apart for a special purpose. It speaks of a sacrifice that belongs to and is fully dedicated to God.
• Now since the animal sacrifices had to be “without defect,” this can also symbolize the moral purity that God requires of us as His children, which is only possible as we depend on the Holy Spirit and allow Him to control our lives (Gal. 5:16).
• First Peter 1:15-16 tells us: But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (1 Thess. 4:3)
3. Third, it is this kind of “living and holy sacrifice” that is “acceptable to God.”
• Our total commitment to Christ is “acceptable” (euareston) to God, in that, it is well-pleasing and a soothing or fragrant aroma to Him.
• Like Paul, this should be our primary ambition in life for he said in 2 Corinthians 5:9, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”
C. Paul then says in v. 1 that our bodily sacrifice to God, “…is your spiritual service of worship.”
1. The word “spiritual” (logiken) here in the NASB is a term used nowhere else by Paul and only once again in 1 Peter 2:2 (e.g. “pure”). But it can also be translated as “reasonable” (rational) as in the KJV.
2. Whereas there is much debate as to which view is correct, I agree with those who say it’s both. It is spiritual, in that, our sacrifice is willing and wholehearted, for without a right heart attitude we are just externally going through the motions.
3. And it is reasonable, in that, our sacrifice is the only sensible, logical and appropriate response to God in view of all of the mercies He has bestowed on us in Christ. And failure to totally commit our bodies to Him is the height of folly and irrationality.
4. And all of this is our “service of worship” to God, which is one word (latreian) in the Greek. We are saved to glorify God by loving and worshiping Him first and foremost in our lives (Matt. 22:37-38).
5. Jesus said in John 4:23-24, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
6. Notice how Christians are defined in Philippians 3:3 as “…the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”
7. True worship of God includes corporate worship, but it is far more and involves our entire lifestyle of continual service and worship in the sacrifice of our bodies day by day. It is seeing every common deed an act of worship.
8. Now for Paul to say “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” is as bold a call to total commitment to Christ as there is anywhere in the Bible. But this doesn’t come automatically, as we see in the third aspect of our total commitment to Christ, which is this:
III. The Requirements that Maintain Total Commitment
A. Look at the first part of v. 2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Stop there)
1. If we are going to become and remain totally committed to Christ then we must obey the two commands that Paul gives here. The first command is negative and the second command is positive.
2. Look again at Paul’s first command where he negatively states, “And do not be conformed to this world…” The word “conformed” (suschematizesthe) simply means to form or mold after something.
3. I like how J.B. Phillips translates this phrase, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.”
4. Now there are many commentators who make a sharp distinction between the words “conformed” and “transformed.” They say that to “be conformed to this world” refers to external conformity and to “be transformed” in our minds refers to internal conformity.
5. However, these words are essentially synonymous and refer to a pattern of ethical behavior that involves both internal and external. For C.K. Barrett rightly states, “Conformity to this age is no superficial matter.” (Cranfield pg. 606)
6. Now we as believers are not to continually pattern ourselves or allow ourselves to be patterned after “this world” (aioni), which refers to this present evil age that is passing away (1 Cor. 2:6, 8; 7:31; Gal. 1:4; 1 Jn. 2:17) and is dominated by sin and Satan (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Jn. 5:19).
7. This has to do with the evil world system with its godless and self-centered attitudes, standards and values. The apostle John sums up this entire world system when he says in 1 John 2:16, For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
8. Because of this we must consciously and deliberately in full dependence on the Spirit of God resist the pressure to be squeezed into the mold of the world, from which we have been saved. We must resist its ungodly lies and self-centered values and standards.
9. Leon Morris, “Christians have been introduced into the life of the world to come; what a tragedy, then, if they conform to the perishing world they have left.” (pg. 435)
B. The only way not to be squeezed into the world’s mold is to obey Paul’s second command where he positively states, “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
1. The word “transformed” (metamorphoo) is the word from which we get our English word “metamorphosis,” which speaks of the change from one form to another—as in the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly.
2. This is the same term is used for the external change of Jesus’ “transfiguration” (Matt. 17:2; Mk. 9:2; Lk. 9:29). The word “be transformed” is in the passive voice in the Greek, indicating that transformation is the active work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
3. However, the fact that it is also an imperative or command also shows that we as believers are responsible to yield to the Spirit and allow Him to work in us. Biblical sanctification is both us being responsible to obey and depending on God who alone can bring about true change! (Phil. 2:12-13).
4. Now notice how God brings about this transformation. Paul says that this takes place, “…by the renewing of your mind.”
5. The word “renewing” (anakainosei) means to make new. W.E. Vine describes it as, “The adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life.” (pg. 951)
6. Since the “mind” (noos) is the mission control center of our attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and actions, no transformation into increased Christlikeness in our lives ever takes place without the renewing of your mind.
7. The key to change is the mind. We see this in Proverbs 23:7 which says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (NKJV)
8. Before we were saved, our natural (unregenerate) mind was morally darkened, blind and resistant toward God (Eph. 4:17; 2 Cor. 4:4; 11:3). But at the moment of our salvation, the Holy Spirit brought supernatural regeneration and renewal through initial repentance, which is a change of mind whereby we turned from our sin to God (2 Cor. 5:17; Tit. 3:5).
9. At the moment of salvation God makes us spiritually alive, opens our darkened and blinded eyes, and gives us the light of a God-centered world and life view. This initial repentance begins a continuing change of mind in believers’ lives, so that we can increasingly grow in Christlike righteous and love.
10. Douglas Moo says, “This ‘re-programming’ of the mind does not take place overnight but is a lifelong process by which our way of thinking is to resemble more and more the way God wants us to think.” (pp. 756-757)
11. In other words, we think “biblically.” In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we read, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
12. The battle is for the mind! Our sanctification is on-going moral renewal of our minds.
13. Since the value systems of the world and God are totally incompatible in every facet of life, wrong, self-centered and worldly ways of thinking must be replaced by right, Christ-centered and biblical ways of thinking.
14. And it is the Spirit of God who uses the Word of God in and through us as the People of God to bring about greater and greater transformation into our lives from one level of spiritual growth to another. This renewing process of transformation is described in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 4:16)
15. Therefore, the requirements of not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds must be met to maintain our total commitment to Christ.
16. The fourth aspect of our total commitment to Christ is this:
IV. The Result of Our Total Commitment
A. Look again v. 2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
1. Here we see the result or possibly the purpose of our total commitment by the renewing of our mind is that we might be able to prove what the will of God is. The word “prove” (dokimazein) means to approve as genuine by testing, to discern by experience.
2. In other words, result of our total commitment to Christ is to understand and agree by personal experience what God wants us to do in His will and put it into practice.
3. Paul then describes what God’s will is “…that which is good, acceptable and perfect.” Beloved, God has a will for our lives, which He is very willing and desirous that we know; and His will is found in His Word, which is the moral will of God.
4. Paul describes God’s will in three ways: First, God’s will for us is “good” (agathon). Although the will of God at times can be very difficult and confusing, it is always good because God is always good no matter what.
5. By faith we must believe that the Lord never makes a mistake. Therefore, we must trust Him; especially at those time when what He has allowed into our lives doesn’t “seem” to be good.
6. Second, God’s will is “acceptable” (euareston). Since God’s will is acceptable and well-pleasing to Him because He knows it is good, it should also be to us.
7. Third, God’s will is “perfect” or complete (teleion). It will always achieve the desired end that God has in mind. And His ultimate end for His people is our complete conformity to Christlikeness (8:29; 1 Jn. 3:2).
8. And having discerned it, we can now carry out in our daily lives what we know to be the will of God. And God’s will always is concerned about loving relationships.
9. First and foremost with God Himself, as we have seen in these two verses. And secondly with others, as we will see in 12:3-15:13.
In closing, David Livingston, the great missionary to Africa said about his total commitment to Christ:
“People talk of the sacrifice I have made of spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice, which is simply paid back as a small part of the great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice, which brings its own reward of healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with such a word! It is emphatically no sacrifice…it is privilege!
Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger now and then, with the foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifices which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us.”
We all need to ask: “Does this describe my commitment to Jesus Christ? If not, then someone or something is before Him. May we all fully surrender to Christ’s Lordship in our lives and totally commit to Him!