2016-10-02 In View of God’s Mercies…

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          October 2, 2016

“In View of God’s Mercies…”
Text: Romans 12:1-2

The prophet Jeremiah—at the lowest point of God’s Old Covenant Church—wrote through the Spirit, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).  If this be true of God’s Old Covenant people—and that at the lowest ebb of their religious and national life—then indeed it holds true for us today.  Consider God’s mercies all around us.  We thank Him for His creational blessings, such as His unspeakably beauty displayed in the western North Carolina mountains every fall.  We thank Him for His material blessings, such as our homes, vehicles, stereos, and the like.  We also thank Him for the people who enrich our lives merely by their presence.  These are blessings indeed, but there are more.

This book of Romans lists mercies of God, to be sure.  Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, treats in big blocks within Romans such blessings as justification (3:21-5:21), sanctification (6:1-8:39), and election (9:1-11:36).  A list such as this makes me think of a longer list, the ordo salutis, or order of salvation, expressed in Reformed theology.  Its components, in order, are election, calling, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.  These too are blessing—even more precious than, and fundamental to, the former list we considered.

In view of God’s mercies, there remains a necessary, joyous thing for us to do.  Let’s hear about it in God’s Word today as we hear the first two verses of Romans 12 read in this place.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Paul begins, “I beseech you, therefore, in view of God’s mercies.”  That is, he exhorts us strongly—even pleads with us—to a course of action.  He does this in view of God’s mercies: both specifically as found in Romans 1-11 and as considered generally.  The Lord, through Paul, beseeches us, in view of God’s mercies, to present our bodies as a sacrifice—as yielded wholly to God.  The Holy Spirit leads Paul to include three qualifiers of our sacrifice.  First, these sacrifices are living, not dead.  The earliest Christians, necessarily steeped in a Jewish milieu, would have no trouble seeing sacrifices in their minds—dead ones.  We, however, are to be living sacrifices.

We are also to be holy sacrifices.  Even as we die unto self and live unto righteousness, we are holy before God both positionally and practically.  We are holy to the Lord positionally by virtue of our union with Christ.  Because we are His, we are separate from the world unto Him. Also, we are holy practically—that is, our conduct and outlook more and more resemble our Savior and less and less resemble the world system out of which we were redeemed.

Third, we are to be sacrifices pleasing (ESV acceptable) to God.  God, looking on us through the Person and work of His Son, takes pleasure—even delight—in us.  Our surrender to self and devotion to God, in Christ, through the Spirit, pleases Him.  Being such a thrice-qualified sacrifice is our spiritual worship (or rational service) unto God.  The sense of this spiritual worship, this rational service, is this: Being a living, holy, pleasing sacrifice unto God is our real worship.  To be sacrifices like unto Romans 12:1-2 is for us both fundamental to who we are in Christ and the very heart of worship.  With what we are to do, in view of God’s mercies, now noted, let’s see further illustration of this truth.

God commands us to be not conformed to this world (literally, Be not shaped in behavior by this age).  We are no longer to conform ourselves to a system conformed to and inflamed by the prince of this world (John 16:11).  The Apostle John, led by the Spirit, writes in a similar vein, “Do not love the world or the things of the world.  If anyone love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For the things of the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father, but from the world.  The world and its lusts passes away, but the one doing the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).  It is obvious to the Biblically well-informed Christian that much that the world approves today, God disapproves.  It is, alas, equally obvious that much that God approves, the world today disapproves.  No matter, our aim must be that of that Christian prince in nineteenth-century India, who wrote, “I have decided to follow Jesus…Though none go with me, still I will follow…The world behind me, the cross before me…no turning back, no turning back.”[1]

In place of conformity to this world, we are to be transformed by the renewal of our mind—and that by the Holy Spirit.  The Greek words here rendered transformed is the root of our English word metamorphosis.  Think back to biology class, where—among other things, I hope—you learned about the complete metamorphosis of insects: from egg, to larva, to pupa, to adult.  Caterpillars (larvae) undergo such metamorphosis, and when they emerge from the chrysalis (pupa stage), what utter transformation has occurred.  From the chrysalis emerges the beautiful butterfly.  Our mind, or way of thinking, is thus to be transformed by the Spirit of God.  The transformation will be total, and our new mind—our new way of thinking—will be as different from the old as the butterfly is different from the caterpillar.

Our minds, thus radically renewed, are to discern God’s will by testing: His good, pleasing, and perfect will.  We do this with surrendered life and with renewed way of thinking—and as we do this, we both note in Scripture His will for our conduct and by the Spirit His will for the next step in our lives.

Much of the rest of Romans builds upon this notion of a living, holy, pleasing sacrifice.  By being such a sacrifice, we shall more ably discharge the exercise of our spiritual gifts (12:3-8), the display of sundry marks of a true Christian (12:9-21), the required submission to authorities (13:1-7), the fulfillment of the Law through love (14:8-14), and the avoidance of passing judgment on one another (14:1-23).  These are only possible by the Spirit’s powerful aid—the same Spirit Who makes us living, holy, pleasing sacrifices unto God.

A professor of mine in Erskine Seminary once quipped, “The trouble with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.”  Alas, how true this is.  Many find very attractive the relief from hell that salvation brings, but many find the surrender of our lives to Christ’s Lordship less attractive.  Yet salvation involves both; the two are inseparable.

Paul expresses the same in two places.  First, he writes the Colossian Christian households, “If, then, you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians iii.1-3).  Second, and with equal power from on high, Paul writes the Galatians, “I am crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

This renunciation of self to God in Christ can be unsettling—even scary.  Yet this is God’s best for you, dear Christian—and God by His grace will verify this in your experience.  This offer, O non-Christian, is to you also—if you will but receive it.  Therefore, in view of God’s mercies, may our lives be living, holy, pleasing sacrifices unto Him.

AMEN.

[1] “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” (public domain)

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