Romans Bible Study #38
Phrase: “the will of God”
Romans 12:1 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. 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. NASB
Romans 12:1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
The importance of knowing the God that we serve and of bowing deeply before who He is and what He does has been Paul’s focus for 11 chapters, and now with that as foundation, he points us to “how to live.” But it is important, even essential, to see that they are not in any way disconnected. The knowing of who He is, and His acts IS the driving force behind, and foundation of, who we are and how we act.
The “therefore” is the knowledge of being a lost sinner. It is the saving grace that revealed that knowledge and then at the depth of despair revealed faith in the sin-atoning death of Jesus. Faith in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, when all of our ‘best efforts’ have mercifully failed.
The “therefore” is bowing before supreme, total, sovereignty, that is intent on displaying unfathomable mercy to individuals and one day, in a massive display of overflowing, covenantal mercy, to an ENTIRE nation.
Just after being launched into an amazing song of praise, (at the end of Chapter 11) Paul returns to earth to tell us how all that has gone before, can now be worked out in and through us.
“I urge you, brethren”
Paul Washer did a good job of pointing out this phrase and emphasizing that there is an importance and weight to the words that are coming up and Paul does not want any frivolity here. All the high cost that God has paid to bring us to this point is forcefully behind this message. We do an injustice to the God-man, sweating blood in the garden, if we are not appropriately, intensely, sober about these words. It is, as if, a friend is sitting us down to tell us about their battle with cancer. It is as life and death. It is like that warning siren has come over the TV, it is not a drill, you need to know what to do and where to go in order to survive.
“by the mercies of God”
This new way of living has only one foundation. Built on the solid rock of who God is, and the extravagant mercy He constantly is showing us. If it was built on any aspect of me, it would be subject to wild variations and change and would sink at the first storm. So right after spending three chapters on the massive, unshakeable sovereignty of God that has been pleased to show mercy to us, he points back to that fact and says, because of that you can truly LIVE! You do not go out and do your best trying to earn mercy, you bow before mercy in wonder and accept it as a gift. You are about to give away the only thing you have, your life and the motivation and the means are the same marvelous thing - ‘the mercies of God.’
“to present your bodies”
He gave them to us, we return them to Him and to His service, for His glory, which is what they were created for anyway. In gratitude we return them to their original purpose and in giving up our lives we find peace and fulfillment. Here the body, with the idol of self removed, becomes what it was meant to be, an instrument in the hand of God for His glory. The freedom of a slave.
Not a slave by compulsion, but a slave by grace-enabled willing love.
‘Living’ meaning this is not a stagnant, still-life painting. We are working it out, it is both a one-time decision and a moment by moment commitment. Perfection is our goal, but it has a “knowing” behind its pursuit, that we will always be ‘vessels of mercy.’ We are a work in progress, requiring patience and grace from those around us, and giving that same patience and grace away that we have received from Him. Piper-- “Present a living holy body to God” means give your members—your eyes, your tongue, your hands and feet—give your body to do righteousness, not sin. That's what would make a body holy. A body is holy not because of what it looks like, or what shape it's in, but because of what it does.” Paul Washer‘s example of a man who made a commitment to God by going through his senses and saying, ”This is yours God, do as you please,” is powerful. ”These are your eyes Jesus, may they look on, only what pleases you.” That one commitment alone has helped me, since listening to that teaching.
“and holy sacrifice”
Holy, set apart, and given significance by God. ‘Holy’ any time that word is used in any way regarding us, we can be assured grace and mercy are at work. Giving up totally. A sacrifice implies death, our lives are lived in a sacrificial way. Repentance is a kind of death. A ‘sacrament’ is a visible means of seeing the grace of God in our lives; ex: baptism, communion, marriage. So the call is for our lives to be ‘sacramental’ visible expressions of the grace and mercy of God.
"acceptable to God”
After being made very aware of the truth that you were an enemy of God in the opening chapters of this book, this is an ‘amazing grace’ statement. Those who know in the depth of their being that they are now ‘acceptable to God’ give that acceptance away and shine like lights in the dark world. Attraction not compulsion. That acceptance brings a peace that goes beyond understanding. You can not be ‘argued’ out of it, such security.
“From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand” Lyrics from “In Christ Alone”
“which is your spiritual service of worship”
Worship, the point of our lives is to point to His life. Our mercy is only true mercy when it points others to the finished work of Jesus Christ. Piper states, “If our good deeds are not expressing the worth of God, then our deeds are not worship, and in the end will not be merciful. Making people comfortable or helping them feel good on the way to everlasting punishment, without the hope and the design that they see Christ in your good deeds, is not mercy. Mercy must aim to make much of Christ. For no one is saved who doesn't meet and make much of Christ. And not to care about saving is not merciful.”
“And do not be conformed to this world”
There is a tension in Christianity. Piper uses these words to show the two opposing sides.
“Adaptation and confrontation;
participation and separation;
in the world but not of the world;
do not be conformed to this world, yet become all things to all people that you might save some;
be indigenous yet be a pilgrim.”
“but be transformed”
Piper emphasized this is not “Okay, I had a list of bad things I used to do, and now I will replace it with a list of good things I will do.” Transformation, comes from the inside and flows out. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
“by the renewing of your mind"
This verse with the same word, ‘renewing’ makes it clear that it is a work of the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” Which takes us back to Romans 8:13 “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
“so that you may prove what the will of God is”
This whole section is from Piper and I could not “trim it down" any more than I did. It has value for our study but even greater value, when explaining a case of child abuse, and how the will of God relates to that kind of an event.
The Two Wills of God
There are two clear and very different meanings for the term “will of God” in the Bible. We need to know them and decide which one is being used here in Romans 12:2. In fact, knowing the difference between these two meanings of “the will of God” is crucial to understanding one of the biggest and most perplexing things in all the Bible, namely, that God is sovereign over all things and yet disapproves of many things. Which means that God disapproves of some of what he ordains to happen. That is, he forbids some of the things he brings about. And he commands some of the things he hinders. Or to put it most paradoxically: God wills some events in one sense that he does not will in another sense.
1. God’s Will of Decree, or Sovereign Will
Let’s see the passages of Scripture that make us think this way. First consider passages that describe “the will of God” as his sovereign control of all that comes to pass. One of the clearest is the way Jesus spoke of the will of God in Gethsemane when he was praying. He said, in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” What does the will of God refer to in this verse? It refers to the sovereign plan of God that will happen in the coming hours. You recall how Acts 4:27-28 says this: “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” So the “will of God” was that Jesus die. This was his plan, his decree. There was not changing it, and Jesus bowed and said, “Here’s my request, but you do what is best to do.” That’s the sovereign will of God.
That’s the first meaning of the will of God: it is God’s sovereign control of all things. We will call this his “sovereign will” or his “will of decree.” It cannot be broken. It always comes to pass. “He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).
2. God’s Will of Command
Now the other meaning for “the will of God” in the Bible is what we can call his “will of command.” His will is what he commands us to do. This is the will of God we can disobey and fail to do. The will of decree we do whether we believe in it or not. The will of command we can fail to do. For example, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Not all do the will of his father. He says so. “Not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Because not all do the will of God.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Here we have a very specific instance of what God commands of us: holiness, sanctification, sexual purity. This is his will of command. But, oh, so many do not obey.
Then Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There again is a specific aspect of his will of command: give thanks in all circumstances. But many do not do this will of God.
One more example: “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Not all abide forever. Some do. Some don’t. The difference? Some do the will of God. Some don’t. The will of God, in this sense, does not always happen.
So I conclude from these and many other passages of the Bible that there are two ways of talking about the will of God. Both are true, and both are important to understand and believe in. One we can call God’s will of decree (or his sovereign will) and the other we can call God’s will of command. His will of decree always comes to pass whether we believe in it or not. His will of command can be broken, and is every day.
The Preciousness of These Truths
Before I relate this to Romans 12:2 let me comment on how precious these two truths are. Both correspond to a deep need that we all have when we are deeply hurt or experience great loss. On the one hand, we need the assurance that God is in control and therefore is able to work all of my pain and loss together for my good and the good of all who love him. On the other hand, we need to know that God empathizes with us and does not delight in sin or pain in and of themselves. These two needs correspond to God’s will of decree and his will of command.
For example, if you were badly abused as a child, and someone asks you, “Do you think that was the will of God?” you now have a way to make some biblical sense out of this, and give an answer that doesn’t contradict the Bible. You may say, “No it was not God’s will; because he commands that humans not be abusive, but love each other. The abuse broke his commandment and therefore moved his heart with anger and grief (Mark 3:5). But, in another sense, yes, it was God’s will (his sovereign will), because there are a hundred ways he could have stopped it. But for reasons I don’t yet fully understand, he didn’t.”
And corresponding to these two wills are the two things you need in this situation: one is a God who is strong and sovereign enough to turn it for good; and the other is a God who is able to empathize with you. On the one hand, Christ is a sovereign High King, and nothing happens apart from his will (Matthew 28:18). On the other hand, Christ is a merciful High Priest and sympathizes with our weaknesses and pain (Hebrews 4:15). The Holy Spirit conquers us and our sins when he wills (John 1:13; Romans 9:15-16), and allows himself to be quenched and grieved and angered when he wills (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). His sovereign will is invincible, and his will of command can be grievously broken.
We need both these truths—both these understandings of the will of God—not only to make sense out of the Bible, but to hold fast to God in suffering.
Is it not plain therefore that there is one great task of the Christian life: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. We need new hearts and new minds. Make the tree good and the fruit will be good (Matthew 12:33). That’s the great challenge. That is what God calls you to. You can’t do it on your own. You need Christ, who died for your sins. And you need the Holy Spirit to lead you into Christ-exalting truth and work in you truth-embracing humility.
Give yourself to this. Immerse yourself in the written Word of God; saturate your mind with it. And pray that the Spirit of Christ would make you so new that the spillover would be good, acceptable, and perfect—the will of God.
I am grateful for work that John Piper put into that statement.
The idea that what we are looking for or talking about is a new sets of rules of ethics and ‘how to live’ statements, is a superficial and totally un-biblical understanding of walking by the Spirit. This is not now the ‘practical’ that we can put side-by-side with the ‘theory’ that we have been studying for 11 chapters. NO, this is the out-flow of a true understanding of the mercy of God. Therefore, encompasses all of it and points to all of it as the foundation for the actions that flow from our hearts and out into the world.
The mercies of God - “If, therefore, the Church is to be a place of exhortation, it must be a Church altogether aware of its final and indissoluble solidarity with this world of “dry bones’; it must be a Church which has set its hope upon God only.” The man in who, in attacking others, does not also destroy himself had better keep silence in the congregation. Grace is the possibility not of a ‘good’ conscience, but of a consoled conscience. Barth mentioned ‘great sinners’ and then made this statement. Exhortation is evoked when all these dubious characters are seen to be no more than exaggerations of what we all are; Human exhortation, therefore, is justified only when it is seen to be void of human justification; that is to say, when it is grounded upon the mercies of God.
present your bodies -- This is not an obedience affecting only the ‘inner’ life of the soul or of the mind. Grace is the axe laid at the root of the good conscience which the politician and the civil servant always wish to enjoy, and which modern “Christendom” knows so well how to provide. Ethical behavior does not rely upon a number of moral ideals realizable in this world, rather it relies upon the forgiveness of sins! Grace makes an “absolute assault” upon men, it is not content to change a few things/behaviors. This is a very foundational truth that is being presented in these two verses and goes back to the concept, “to obey is better than sacrifice.” Ethics or ‘good’ moral behavior could be seen as sacrifice and to ‘obey’ is relying on God, depending on His grace and our connection with, and relationship to, Him. All the do’s and don’t ‘s that Paul is about to lay out for us in the next chapters are based on a foundation of grace that puts us all in the same boat of disobedience and needing mercy. The wrong attitude is, “Now that I am a Christian, I will... and then you begin to work on a list of things you will do and things you won’t do and God in His mercy will allow you to try that and fail, as often as you need to, until the day when you say, “God I can not do this, help me!” All of our ‘doing’ needs to point to God and His mercy and grace and power working through us. “To God be the Glory”
A young man turned away from Jesus one time, and it was said of him that he had, ‘too many possessions’ reading Barth, he expanded on this and said it could just as easily mean that he possessed too many ‘good moral virtues’ that he was taking credit for. This is how there can be ‘very good men’ who are not Christians. The man may be doing the behavior just to receive praise, or because his God given disposition is to be a servant, but if the reason for his actions rises no higher than him, than they have nothing to do with the grace and mercy of God and they do not give glory to God and so they are Belial=worthless. The behavior is not the thing, the root of the behavior is and to whom does the glory go. Therefore 1 Cor. 13 can say that even martyrdom can be ‘nothing’ if the ultimate motivation was not love, from and to God.
“not to fashion yourselves according to the present form of this world, but according to its coming transformation.” This world has moreover, form and shape; and it possesses a law , a general pressure towards concreteness, to light-created light!--to live and fullness, to begetting and being begotten. this pressure towards enjoyment, possession, success, knowledge, power, rightness; this vigorous movement towards an attainable, comprehensible perfection; this pressure, in fact, towards-- works, forms the mysterious pivot round which the whole world of human genius revolves... and at its roots human genius is eros, ego, self-love.
Human particularity and self will and arrogance are broken down by one type of thinking, repentance. Repentance is that thinking that puts us in touch with the mind of Christ. In repentance He is Lord and we pass from death to life.