ave you ever wondered what God wants from you?
I don’t mean wondering for a few minutes and then coming up with a quick list of do’s and don’ts like go to church, give money, read the Bible, pray, do good works, help the needy, and don’t commit any of the really bad sins like adultery or murder.
No, I mean seriously and prayerfully seeking God, and asking, “What do You want of me? How do I live the new life You have given me? How do I please and serve You?” This is one of the most important questions a believer can ask after coming to salvation. What a tragedy it would be to go through life ignorant and heedless of what God wants from you and then have to face Him at the judgment, having failed to fulfill His purposes in your life. Because of generations of inadequate preaching of the gospel and decreased personal study of Scripture, many in the church appear to be in that situation today. What about you? Have you ever personally grappled with this question in the Word of God and prayer and discovered an answer?
The answer is not a secret. It can be found repeatedly in the Bible, but the apostle Paul makes it exceptionally clear and direct: “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” (Rom. 12.1).1 Ideally we do this when we first come to Christ, as Paul did. But Paul is making this appeal to believers, indicating that at least some of the believers in the church at Rome had not made this commitment. The weakness, worldliness, and compromise in the American church today is clear evidence that most believers have not done so. That’s the bad news. The good news is that some have, and everyone may and should. Those who do make the commitment experience the best of life with God. And this verse is a vital key. Throughout the centuries it has had a profound, life-changing effect on those who have understood and embraced it. As we dig into its meaning and implications, you will see why.
But first, let’s note the context. Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome in about A.D. 55, twenty-some years after the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem. Some of the converts that day were “visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (Acts 2:10–11). Perhaps they returned to Rome and became the firstfruits of the Roman church, or maybe it was founded through traveling merchants or evangelists. We don’t know for sure. In any case, it appears to have been in existence for some time before Paul wrote his letter. How well they understood the basics of the faith at this point is unclear. What is clear is that Paul wanted to lay the foundations they needed to be well grounded in a relationship with Christ and to live a Christ-centered life. Let’s look briefly at why Paul wrote Romans 12:1 and how it applies to us today.
For Paul this exhortation is an extremely important matter. The Greek word for “appeal” is not simply a request; it is an urgent exhortation, only one step short of a command. The heart of Paul’s concern here begins in Romans 6: he challenged all those who had come into union with Christ to faithfully live the new life they had received. Or to put it differently, everyone who had become a new creation in Christ was now to live as a new creature in Christ. Because he knew human nature and the spiritual life very well, Paul knew that some in the Roman church had not yet given themselves fully to God; others had done so but then reasserted their own control. Knowing that the new life does not mature apart from acts of our will, he emphasized the urgency of making a decisive personal choice in this matter, either to make a wholehearted surrender to God or to reaffirm one made earlier.
Unfortunately in the past century many well-meaning believers have seen this text as something akin to the U.S. Army appealing to its regular troops for volunteers for the special forces. I say “unfortunate” because such a view gives the impression that Paul is calling believers to an optional, higher level of commitment. But this clearly is not a call to a special, higher level of commitment, service, or heroic sacrifice, as the text itself shows. Paul explicitly says that presenting our bodies as “a living sacrifice” is our “spiritual service of worship.” That is, it is the normal, rational, Spirit-led worship that every believer is bound to offer to the God who so loved us that He gave His only Son to redeem us. Although this wholehearted giving of ourselves to God will seem extreme to many in the church today, this is only because we have lived subnormally (from the gospel’s perspective) for so long that when we see the “true normal” it looks abnormal in comparison.
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