First point, God’s will for you is to know that you are a recipient of incredible mercy. That’s the first half of Romans 12:1. Second, in view of this mercy, God’s will is for you to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice and this was utterly impossible before our salvation. And I believe the accent there is on bodies, the fact that we can actually worship God through our bodies is a radical concept. That’s the second half of Romans 12:1. And third, God’s will for you is to be a living and active part of the body of Christ, the church.
Prior to talking about the relationship between God’s will and being part of the body of Christ, we need to look at Romans 12:2.
And this is a famous verse with 2 very familiar phrases. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, that’s one. And two, be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
And as I was studying this verse in light of the previous 11 chapters of Romans, God gave me new insight.
We tend to stop at verse 2. Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, okay, I get that. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, okay, pretty straightforward. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, I guess I should read some books. And we read the second half of Romans 12:2 — then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
And we stop there. And we wait for God to reveal His will that is tailor-made for each of us. And in this case, I think the NIV sub-titles give us a wrong impression that we ought to stop reading at verse 2. Because in the original Greek or Hebrew, there were no sub-titles. Not even chapter distinctions were present in the original manuscripts. It was just one long, continuous letter. And we fail to connect Romans 12:1-2 with the rest of the chapter, and furthermore, we do not properly locate chapter 12 in the whole of the book of Romans.
Romans is very doctrinal and theological and Paul lays out beautifully God’s redemption history and how Jesus and the gospel is God’s plan to save the world. But we must never forget that this letter was written to a particular church in Rome. And this church was comprised of a Gentile Christian majority that could not love their fellow Jewish Christian brothers and sisters. This book is a letter addressed to them and Paul expects that the gospel ought to break down this kind of barrier and division in this specific church at Rome. And this church serves as a model for how God expects the same unity across each local church because we have the same gospel.
So what is the pattern of this world that we are not to be conformed to and in what way specifically are we to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?
It is the pattern of this world where I am at the center. This ME-focused view on Christian life. Where people have to cater to me. I am the one being trained for some future work. How can I build up my personal spiritual life, do this mission trip, that service to the community, read that book so that I can add bullet points to my spiritual resume. And one day I can become a missionary who dies in Ecuador while preaching the gospel to hostile natives. And people will hear about me and write a Christian biography, this spiritual giant of faith that I am, and eventually Spielberg will make a movie about my life. It’s all about me.
This is the pattern of the world that we are to not be conformed to. Because the world is all about ME. What can I get out of life? How can I pursue my own personal happiness? If I don’t like you, if you are different from me, if you are not in my race or in my social class, then forget about you. I’ll be nice to you because I suspect that I may need you to scratch my back later. This is the worldly calculation when it comes to people. You are just either there to meet my needs or you are a nobody.
But I shared last Sunday from John Piper and how he describes salvation as the bottom of our lives shifting from self to God. That shift from self to God is fundamental to the new creation, the new birth, salvation.
And when God is at the bottom, then our view toward others changes. It is no longer okay to be selfish. That person, he’s my neighbor, he’s my brother or sister in Christ. I ought to love him even though I can’t stand him. I cannot drop people when it is no longer beneficial or convenient for me or our personalities clash.
And this pattern of this world that we are not to conform to lines up with what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:16-17.
2 Cor 5:16-17 — 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new has come.
What is proof that if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come? It is when we regard no one from a worldly point of view. In this reference to the worldly point of view, Paul makes it obvious that he is talking about how we relate with one another. And we can see the same echo in Romans 12:2 in light of its connection with verses 3-5.
These verses and all the verses that follow discuss how we ought to relate with one another in the church. Do you see where Paul is going with this?
What is God’s will for you? It is that you recognize that Jesus is the head of the church, and therefore, you must be an active and living member of the body of Christ, the church. Do you see the relational orientation of verse 2. Paul doesn’t expect us to ask, what is God’s personal will for my life? Already, the question in itself is problematic because we make the mistake of viewing Christian life as an individual journey.
Paul is clear — when you are saved, you change from a self or singular orientation, to a plural orientation — not how is God going to reveal his will in my life; rather, how is God going to work among us?