“You can come as you are, but you can’t stay that way.”
This is the open invitation of the gospel. The gates of the kingdom of God are open wide with mercy and grace. Whosever wills can come. And you can come as you are.
But you can’t stay that way. God loves you too much for that. God loves you too much to leave you in your chains. His plans are too great to leave you in your sin.
God can change everything.
This morning we will see in Romans 12:1-2 three factors that produce life transformation in the believer.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”
Change comes when God’s mercy is in view. Change comes when my body is on the altar. And change comes when God’s Word is in mind.
Paul begins with an appeal. The word means: “make a call from being close-up and personal.” It is also translated as urge or beg.
We need to be appealed to sometimes.
When temptation is strong when need to be urged to stand and fight.
When shame and guilt weigh heavy we need to be urged to lift up our heads and remember we are new in Christ.
When troubles pile up around us and prayer is yet unanswered we need to be urged to keep moving forward.
When the needs of the world cry out and we are comfortable in our little bubbles we need to be urged to act.
Paul begins his appeal with a look backwards.
Therefore. In the preceding 11 chapters of Romans, Paul has meticulously laid a foundation of Christian theology. He has given us the great truths of the gospel. The word therefore in chapter 12 signifies a shift.
Paul moves from creed to conduct. From doctrine to deeds. From principle to practice.
We tend to separate these worlds.
Some of us love theology. We love to study. We love to read the great books and listen to the great teaching pastors.
Others of us are more practical. We don’t have time for the abstract. Just tell me what I need to do and how to do it and let me go.
The New Testament never separates the two worlds.
Christian living is inseparable from Christian believing and vice versa.
You don’t really understand theology until your life is transformed.
You’ll never transform your life until you understand theology.
Here’s how one Greek scholar puts it:
“Doctrine must always precede exhortation since in doctrine the saint is shown his exalted position which makes the exhortation to a holy life, a reasonable one, and in doctrine, the saint is informed as to the resources of grace he possesses with which to obey the exhortations.”
As Paul turns his attention to Christian conduct, he calls us to hold in view the creed. That creed is summarized in this phrase: the mercies of God.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God . . .
The NIV translates Paul like the phrase in view of God’s mercy.
1. Change comes when God’s mercy is in view.
Mercy is the great landmark of the Christian experience.
A landmark is an object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognized from a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location.
Mandy and I lived for years in Fort Collins, Colorado. The city is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Over the foothills rise the lofty peaks of the Rockies. The highest of them is Long’s Peak.
If you are ever disoriented, you can just look to the horizon and find Long’s Peak and you will know where you are.
If you haven’t lived there it’s difficult to understand how much the mountain becomes a part of your experience.
The majestic, soaring height of God’s mercy is the orienting landmark of the Christian life.
In His grace, God gives us what we don’t deserve, in His mercy, God doesn’t give us what we deserve.
Psalm 103 summarize that mercy wonderfully:
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.”
Mercy appears throughout Paul’s theology in Romans.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Listen to Bible translator JB Phillips summarize the doctrine of mercy:
“God has saved us from sin, from its penalty and its power. He has saved us from self in all its features and all its forms. He has overruled the destinies of nations. He has triumphed in His grace and multiplied His mercies. He has, as it were, besieged us with His mercies, brought them up against us in countless number, built the bulwarks of His grace against our souls, poured a ceaseless cannonade of kindness in upon the breaches in our hearts. He has overwhelmed us with unmerited favor and carried all before Him on the resistless arms of love.”
“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”
“Great sins do draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul, appears most high and mighty.”
“There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world.”
God’s mercy is life giving. It is the orienting, directing landmark of the Christian life.
If you want to see transformation in your life, the first thing you must do is keep God’s mercies in view.
How do you do that?
I know no better way than to memorize Scriptures. We have already seen a great statement in Psalm 103. The simple act of memorizing a handful of verses could provide great change in your life.
2. Change comes when my body is on the altar.
What does the view of God’s mercy produce in us?
It produces a desire to give back to the one who has been so generous with us.
It produces a willingness to sacrifice.
The Christian life is described as a living sacrifice.
Notice the order.
Sacrifice is not offered in order to obtain mercy. Sacrifice is the response to mercy already given.
Christian sacrifice is neither groveling nor grudging, it is gratitude.
What does Paul want us to place on the altar?
Our bodies. Isn’t that interesting? We talk often of giving our hearts to Jesus. What about our bodies? The ancient Greek world viewed the body as a hindrance to true spirituality. The Christians felt differently.
“No worship is pleasing to God which is purely inward, abstract and mystical; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies.”
What does it mean to offer our bodies?
“How is the body to become a sacrifice? Let thine eye look upon no evil thing, and it hath become a sacrifice; let thy tongue speak nothing filthy, and it hath become an offering; let thy hand do no lawless deed, and it hath become a whole burnt offering. But this is not enough, we must do good works also; let the hand do alms, the mouth bless them that despitefully use us, and the ear find leisure evermore for the hearing of Scripture. For sacrifice can be made only of that which is clean; sacrifice is a firstfruit of other actions. Let us, then, from our hands, and feet, and mouth, and all our other members, yield a firstfruit unto God.”
When we begin to see God’s mercy, we gladly offer our bodies to God.
And God always gives back much better than what he receives. Isn’t that true?
Is your body on the altar these days?
“I remember so well when He came to my heart and challenged me as to the keys of the fortress. I had them upon my bunch, and before I gave them to Him I put one small key in my pocket. Have not you done that, and handed to Him the bunch minus that key? He gave it back, and said He could not be King at all if He could not be King of all. I put my hand in my pocket where I had hidden it, and said, ‘I cannot give it, but You may take it,’ and He took that tiny key. My King! I see Him now as He stood at the foot of the drawbridge of my heart. I see Him radiant as He stood then, for He is here now. He looked at me with those eyes which are as a flame of fire, and said, ‘Are all the keys there?’ I said, ‘All but this, and I cannot give it; but I am willing for Thee to take it’ and He took it at that. Then they were all His.”
Have you given every key over to God?
If are withholding some portion of your life from God, you will inevitably stall out in your growth.
Nothing brings change and growth like surrender.
Oswald Chambers: Christianity does not consist in telling the truth, or walking in a conscientious way, or adhering to principles; Christianity is something other than all that, it is adhering in absolute surrender to a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Change comes when God’s Word is in mind.
Paul wants us to understand that there are forces in our lives working against a life of surrender and sanctification.
Philips puts it like this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”
The word Paul uses for world is not the physical world. It is aieon, the present age.
John describes the essence of this age in 1 John 2:16: “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life.”
The world is lust, greed and pride. It is the exaltation of the individual self above all else.
Every day, whether we are conscious of it or not, the world is putting pressure on us.
Worship is a choice to resist the pressure of conformity to the world and to receive the power of the Word of God.
Where does this pressure come? In the mind.
“For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”
William Barclay said “we are not to be like the chameleon, which takes its colour from its surroundings.”
The problem is we are just like chameleons. Whatever we take into our minds comes out in our character.
In the world of data, this principle is called GIGO, garbage in, garbage out.
To be transformed in the image of God requires a constant input of truth. It requires a regular engagement with the Word of God.
How much engagement?
According to a major study performed by researchers Arnold Cole & Pamela Caudill Ovwigho, the answer is 4.
In a study of 40,000 people, those who do not regularly engage with the Bible live lifestyles that aren’t much different than the world around them.
From one, to two to three days a week of Bible engagement, there was little change.
However when Bible intake moved from 3 to 4 days a week there was a startling difference. For those who take in the Bible at least 4 days a week:
- Feeling lonely drops 30%
- Anger issues drop 32%
- Bitterness in relationships drops 40%
- Alcoholism drops 57%
- Sex outside of marriage drops 68%
- Feeling spiritually stagnant drops 60%
- Viewing pornography drops 61%
- Sharing your faith jumps 200%
- Discipling others jumps 230%
“The findings hammer home the truth that there are profound differences between people who engage the Scripture at least four times a week and those who engage with the Scripture less often.”
Isn’t that fascinating?
When we commit to engaging with the Word of God on a majority and not the minority of our days, something powerful happens.
Do you want to feel less lonely this year?
Do you want to be less angry and bitter?
Do you want to overcome addiction?
Do you want to feel spiritually alive and help others grow?
There’s nothing better you can do than develop a habit of engaging with your Bible at least 4 days a week.
As we finish with communion this morning, let’s look to soaring heights of mercy.
“But all the wickedness in the world which man may do or think is no more to the mercy of God than a live (hot) coal dropped in the sea.”
“Place your hopes in the mercy of God and the merits of our Redeemer; say often, looking at the crucifix: There are centered all my hopes.”
-Paul of the Cross
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown