The Mercies of God Romans 12:1-4
There are many things that I could tell you about my recent trip to Bermuda aboard the "Majesty," and as time goes on I will probably share more. But today I want to focus on something that went on repeatedly during my cruise. It happened at meal time. My waiter was named Gil. We had some forty-plus nationalities represented by the crew and staff! Gil was from Colombia. He has a wife and two daughters and because he is on a nine month tour, he will not see them until November. I found that difficult and sad. However, you would not know how sad Gil might be due to his absence from his family because his behavior, his deportment, affect or way of carrying himself did not communicate anything about his separation from his family. Rather Gilís presentation of himself was that of a person cheerfully dedicated to the task at hand: serving his tables and pleasing his superiors on board. He looked and acted committed, dedicated and self-controlled. He was meticulous, that is to say he was very particular about the appearance of the table, its cleanliness and orderly arrangement. The napkins, silverware and glasses were always just so. . . always. So what I experienced in Gil was the splendid conjunction of performance and presentation. Performance and presentation were joined in him in such a way as to create a lasting impression on me, and the other guests/passengers. He was always clean, neat, dressed in a proper jacket and black bow tie. He was completely ready, alert and in character. He was a servantís servant and that is quite an accomplishment.
However, I must not stop at this point. Because the whole business of performance and presentation was also expressed on the level of the meals we were served. Gil was always attentive. He set up his tables twice for lunch and twice for dinner. He also worked the breakfast meal which was open seatingóhe did not know who he would be serving at those times. He was working with his own guests (80 in total) every day, twice a day. He worked from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every day. There was much in his work which was routine, demanding and, perhaps, boring. But he was diligent to do his work thoroughly and cheerfully. He presented himself well and he performed well. Gil also expressed complete confidence in the chefs whose dishes appeared on the menu. He was enthusiastic and approving of each personís choice. He smiled with approval, oohed and aahed and said, "Yes, an excellent choice . . . you will love this . . . the Ďwhateverí is splendid tonight." No one was allowed to feel inadequate, or put down due to a choice of entrée`, or salad. The menu items were presented well in print and on the plate. Gil didnít just plunk the plate down! No, he served it with a flourish. He passed the plate in front of you so that your eyes feasted on the food before your silverware could even touch it. The aroma of the food, served at just the right temperature, had time to work its magic. Friends, every meal was a performance, each food item was presented in such a way as to enhance its character, its glory. The lettuce with brown edges never made it out of the kitchen, your wild mushroom and liver pate` lay on the plate just so. . .garnished so as to create the right impression. It was a class act. And it is essential that it be a class act because that is what distinguishes a cruise from mere passage on a freighter! And it plainly demonstrates that treating people right matters
One other thing remains to be shared about Gil. He spoke to us about his evaluation. He told us that if we were pleased with his work and could call it excellent that it would be helpful if we said so. He told us that his time off, his schedule and his compensation all revolve around the evaluation of items 7. and 9.. One of my table-mates expressed surprise: "Why, item 7. is about the quality of the food! How can you be held responsible for that?" "That is because whatever comes out of the kitchen is excellent. If it were not excellent, it would not be presented. So, the only way that the food could fail to be excellent, is if I have not performed adequately in presenting it to you. You see, the matter of the foodís quality is decided before I bring it forth. If I think something is questionable even, it should not be brought to the table! So you can see how I am responsible. If you are not happy it is because I have failed."
Now it is just not possible to hear such things as a minister of the gospel and not come under conviction and make application. We are all responsible for presentation and performance. We are all servants. The servant of the Word is like the servant of fine foods: there is nothing wrong with the food coming out of the kitchen. The Word of God is perfect, excellent. It cannot be faulted.
Paul, having expounded to us the grand doctrines of the Gospel, proceeds in these verses to establish the foundation of Christian obedience. And the foundation is the mercies of God! We are to be motivated by and established in these mercies of God. They are the core of our new being in Christ Jesus and they are what set us free to act of our own accord and not according to the dictates of our environment: the sociology of our childhood, our education, our culture in a word our upbringing. Truth is resident at the core and we have come to know ourselves in relationship to that truth.
It is possible to sum up all the doctrines and commandments of God in one word: love. We may now infer properly that there is indeed a relationship of identity between love and truth. There is an unity which provoked Jesus to say, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me." And also provoked the Apostle to say, "God is love." Again, the mercies of God are revealed to be love and truth; they are the self-disclosures of our God. The mercies of God are the foundation of Christian obedience.
Brethren. We are on level ground here with Paul. Regarding our acceptance with God, there are no distinctions. That does not mean there are not distinctions, only that with regard to acceptance those distinctions are not useful, or apt. Paul refuses to lord it over anyone. Although he has performed wonders and signs, even though he has the authority to command, Paul humbly says, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." (v.1) We would be misguided to misconstrue this entreaty as weakness, or as lacking in authority. No. We are precisely commanded to do something on the basis of the mercies of God.
Allow me to refresh your memory regarding these mercies enumerated throughout this sermon series over such a time span that you may well not have them clearly in mind. All believers have received election and predestination to eternal life, all have been preserved by the almighty power of God from destruction. All believers have a calling, all have been delivered out of condemnation and all have found eternal justification in union with the Lord Jesus Christ. All enjoy real communion with God. And all have the multifold blessings of the new covenant: forgiveness, significance, powerful giftings, fellowship, healings and discernments. We have comforts, accountability, revelation and spiritual knowledge. In short, we have everything we need to live the spiritual life to which we have been summoned. We lack nothing. If our lives fall short of the measure of "a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable," that is something entirely within our capacity through faith to rectify.
Gratitude for all the benefits, the mercies, in which we stand is the surest foundation for obedience and moral living. We are moral because we are saved, according to Paul, makes better sense than to assert that we are moral in order to be saved! Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Because we are grateful, we want to honor God and because we are already loved, we want to love God. Love working in us produces a dependable desire to obey: not fear, nor hope of eventual reward. The most powerful incitement to obedience remain the mercies of God. The wisdom of the world both denies grace, as leading to reckless and loose living, and the high moral demands on those whoíve been redeemed. It makes not sense to the world that we have been finally altered by the kindness and goodness of the Lord. The world looks elsewhere for some explanation of our behavioróand while that does make some sense on the natural plane, the world is at a loss to explain the difference that Christian transformation makes!
That you present your bodies. This phrase takes us to an important distinction, that would be between ourselves and our bodies. Paul makes this distinction because he wishes to specifically charge us with an attitude towards our body. We are to regard our bodies as "a living sacrifice." We are not to view our bodies as a machine, a biological entity, a pleasure factory or a recreational playground. No, we are to view our bodies according to the truth of what they are, or in terms of what they have become by our change. When we became Christian, our bodies became living sacrifices. Our bodies are to be holy, acceptable to God. Now thatís a shift. Elsewhere Paul speaks of our bodies as a temple for the Holy Spirit and enjoins us to purity. Holy implies all that and more. Our bodies have, shall we say, become divine property and they are to reflect divine characteristics. A certain God-consciousness is replace our self-consciousness as you consider in the mirrors of your life: this is Godís, this is His living sacrifice. If we would but meditate upon the truth of this body image, what a difference it would make for the anorexic, the self-abusive, or the obese and for how we treat others, the unborn, the elderly and the disfigured. All living sacrifices, all separated unto God, all clean, pure, consecrated.
Further significance is held for serving God with the body and not just the mind. That would cast down a major idolatry of our age! Too many Christians using their members sinfully, these same members being the major instruments of accomplishing sin, try to excuse themselves by asserting that they have a good heart. They claim better intentions than their actions demonstrate. God requires service of the body, that means a change of deportment for those who are unruly, or disrespectful. We want to run ahead, we want to talk about the whole person partially because there is work to be done in this department. Paul dissected us to prevent that escape. He will speak to transformation of the mind soon and particularly enough in verse 2. Here let us be instructed by whatís before us.
A living sacrifice. God, in His wisdom, has canceled the system of temple sacrifice, so we must understand sacrifice here to be figurative, not literal. The word "living" further secures this meaning because in the old system an animal literally gave up its life. In stark contrast, we give up our dead bodies, altogether dead in trespasses and sin, having come into possession of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps we used to offer our members as slave to iniquity and wickedness, but we have been quickened and are pleased to walk in newness of life, as persons wholly devoted to God. We are living stones, pure, a holy priesthood and so forth because we offer instead spiritual sacrifices made acceptable to God by the finished work of Christ on the cross. Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were to be pure and without blemish, so should our consciences be as we come to be strengthened in worship! Typically the Jewish sacrifices differed from those offered by the heathen only in the object of the sacrifice (The Lord God), but our sacrifices differ in kind: a broken and contrite heart. Are sacrifices divinely demanded of us? Yes. But they are different in kind and substance.
Verse 2. And be not conformed to this world. The word "world" here denotes the peoples of the world, every man in every age whether pagan, heathen, or unbelieving. The contrast here is between the worldly and the righteous whom believers must be. We are of God, but the "whole world lieth in wickedness." We are to guard ourselves strictly from being assimilated to the world: to the sentiments, conduct, and customs which characterize the worldly. This is a hard saying. Christians do want to be winsome, and to be accepted so we must take care that our nonconformity isnít motivated by a crass, judgmental and unkind "difference." However, we are to be identifiably different. That balance is difficult, but absolutely essential. After all, consider it this way, do you want to fit in with those who are dead in trespasses and sin? Do you want to be known as someone who lives only for the present, for pleasure, for all intents and purposes like those for whom God does not exist? Well, if you put it that way, itís not so difficult perhaps to choose modesty, patience, sacrifice and service over their obscene and damned worldly counterparts! And not least of all, our conversation should be different, both in subject and in tone. The worldly are absorbed with "earthly things," and we are to be taken, as pilgrims and strangers, with the theme of heaven and the riches of the One who reigns there. We talk about our struggles, we talk about the weather, we talk politics and we talk religion, but do we dare to speak of heaven? And let's be careful that we not degenerate into conversational prudes, or place our confidence in topical austerity (such as saying "we donít talk about THAT") but we do not err I think so much on the side of prudery, as we do on the nearly complete absence of spiritual topics in our conversations day by day. For instance, have we recently catalogued the mercies of the Lord to our spouse? Our children? To those we elect to fellowship with on a weekly basis?
Transformed. All this transpires because we have been transformed. It is no longer second nature to be spiritual, it is first nature. As Christians we have passed through an entire change. We are no longer what we were before, because we are utterly changed in heart and life. "All things have become new." If there be no such radical change, then that person should hesitate to call himself Christian. It should not be difficult to distinguish Christians from heathen, unless the former has assumed some cowardly disguise! Our change is from a state of nature which we share with all mankind into a blessed conformity with the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the state of the heart is evident to all, from the outside even though it began on the inside. Our bodies and our behaviors proclaim redemption in presentation and in performance!
Our minds have been renewed. Previously our brain was fried from exposure to worldliness. We are not talking about superficial change here, an expedient adoption of new motivations. Such a choice will result in temporary change only. We are talking about the total change of mind, understanding, affections and the will. It much, much bigger than values, or world views. . . itís the whole enchilada!!
That you may prove. It is not possible to know the will of God apart from the renewal of our minds which is discussed above. What we may not correctly assess is antipathy between the natural mind of the unregenerate man and the things of God. In a sense, the redeemed know true truth and the best that the natural mind can acquire is relative truth, or an appearance of truth. The unaided human mind cannot fathom the purposes of God, cannot comprehend the mysteries of God which is why it is all the more reprehensible for us, who can know true truth, to refuse to share that knowledge with those who plainly need it. The Good, Acceptable and Perfect Will of God. The will of God is good and it acquires for us that which is most satisfying, and most pleasurable. The problem with human beings is that they tend more to settle for less than that they desire too much, or reach too high. All the riches of heaven are made available to those who love the Lord, every spiritual blessing in heavenly places.
There is a danger when one hears of the mercies of the Lord and the immensity of benefit afforded those who belong to Christ, that a certain high-mindedness may slip in. Spiritual pride is able to render ineffectual all the devotion of a believer. Think soberly mean to have a proper assessment of who we are, not proud and not too self-deprecating. Extremism is not acceptable in either direction. But God has given to each a measure of faith and success in the spiritual life consists of walking in accordance with that gift. Faith it is that unites us to the Savior, and great faith places us high in the school of Christ. We need to rightly assess our degree of faith, to seek its increase diligently. If we do this we shall not be inflamed with pride, nor discouraged in our endeavors. Amen.