I remember learning about the great affect a hinge can have. My grandpa constructed an old pole barn out of rough oak lumber. Having gotten all of the roof and the sides in order, he got ready to put up the doors or the gates for the different rooms or stalls that he had constructed. He built the door first and then he would take an old 2 by or something and put underneath that door to hold it up. Then he would take boards and tack them into the sides of the door to hold it in place. When he had done that you could have a barn but it not be useable. The doors would not open. Then he attached a hinge so that door could be swung open and closed. The barn became usable because of those hinges on the door.
The first two verses in Romans 12 are like the hinges to a profound message that is contained in Romans. Before this, Paul gives his most detailed description of the profound meaning of the gospel of Christ. He has written about the problem of our sin, about the provision of God's grace, and about the availability now of the righteousness of God for all of us. He has talked about what that means and what it took for God to give us that through his Son.
But how are we to take that and make it usable? How do we get from that to the wonderful righteousness of life which is found in the rest of Romans 12? How do we take what we know doctrinally and turn that into being someone who works effectively as a member of a congregation of God's people, someone involved in rich and meaningful fellowship and service to God, someone who can overcome evil with good, who can be a good citizen in a community, who can use his rights and his freedoms responsibly to God's glory? We have to have an effective hinge that allows us to go from doctrine to practice.
There is one thing that enables us to make that transition, and it is here in these first two verses of Romans 12. Paul writes, "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. 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." In this passage there is a request, then a requirement, then a reward. In what Paul says here, there is an appeal which is made to every Christian. Then there is an instruction about what it will take for that appeal to be fulfilled. And then there is a reason given for wanting to fulfill the instruction of this passage.
Let's start with the request, or the appeal, which is here. When Paul says, "I appeal to you therefore," the word that he uses for appeal is a word for a loving request. He is saying "I urge you, I beseech you." Wuest, in his word study, says that this word means "I beg you, please." This great apostle who certainly had the authority to issue commands in the name of Christ is saying that when it comes to living as a Christian, there needs to be a willing and a voluntary involvement in that undertaking. You and I need to be people who want God's will to be done in our lives and who want more than anything to do what would please him and what would honor him. Our hearts are to be open to an appeal of love, an appeal of reason, an appeal from someone like Paul who himself is crucified with Christ and who lives out of love for the Lord. Notice that this appeal is made on the basis of a "therefore." Do you know that "therefore" is one of the most valuable and overlooked words in all of the Bible? It says, "what I am about to say is based on what we have just said." It means that the instructions about to be given are just a reasonable response to what has already been said.
Notice that what goes immediately before this is a note of awesome praise of the greatness and goodness of God. At Romans 11:33, Paul had said, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever." Paul's "therefore" is on God's wisdom and his ways.
And then in the larger context of this book, Paul has written about the terrible need of all of mankind brought on by sin and death. Then he has described the availability of the amazing grace of God, the price that God has been willing to pay. And he has stated vividly the righteousness of God which he requires and which he makes available through his Son, and then the necessity of real faith on our part. "Therefore," here are some things that we ought to do.
Notice this is an appeal to people who are already brothers and sisters in Christ. "I appeal to you therefore, brothers," he says. And this is a significant idea in this passage. He is not writing to people who are now dead in their sins and saying I want you to present yourselves as a sacrifice to God. No. He is addressing people who have already become God's children. They have already heard the wonderful gospel of Jesus and they have believed it, and they have been baptized into Christ and raised up to walk in newness of life. They are people who were servants of sin; now they are servants of righteousness. "God be thanked," according to Romans 6:17-18. They live with the spirit of adoption as heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ, chapter 8 says. And it is these people who are already alive to God and who are already holy because he has bought them and they are his. These people are called on to do what Paul says in this passage.
And this is an appeal now for these believers in Christ to operate by the mercies of God. Here is the motive behind this appeal. What are the mercies of God? The mercies of God refer to every kindness and every act of compassion and every expression of goodness that God has provided to us. Back in 11:32, it says that God took us all in our disobedience, and then had mercy on all of us. While we deserve the wages of sin, God had kindness, compassion, mercy on us. Those mercies have also been demonstrated in all the gifts that make life possible every single day.
And to Paul, the recognition that we are indebted to the mercies of God should have a powerful impact on our lives. None of us should hear about that and say, "Ho, hum, I have heard of this before." God's mercies impact us. Back in chapter 2:4, Paul had said to his readers, "Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" There is a motivating power. It takes this from the realm of duty and puts it into the realm of want to. Did you ever notice the difference in our efforts between when we do something because we have to and when we do something because we want to? Did you ever notice the difference in the quality? What Paul is saying here, "I am appealing to you, brothers, to act because you want to and because of how good God has been to you."
And then notice that this appeal is for these brethren, and for all of us, to "present our bodies as a living sacrifice." I don't think the contrast here is just between the sacrifice a Christian offers today and the sacrifices that were offered under the old covenant. What he is doing is reminding these people that they have been raised up to walk in newness of life, and he is saying to take this faith that you have and translate it into action, but by real, practical behaviors and words and actions on a daily basis. Paul is calling for us to live like new creatures, to give ourselves in commitment and faithfulness and devotion in the Lord's service. He is calling on us to make what we do at home or at school or at work or at recreation or in difficulty or in honor to be things that are done for God and for the sake of the name of our Lord. A living sacrifice, one that is holy to God because it is done by people he has bought, and one that is pleasing to God because it is done by people who want to do it. Our bodies as living sacrifices - that kind of faithfulness and devotion is so necessary in Christian living and it is the request that Paul makes in this passage.
Now for that request to become a reality, there is a requirement. There is only one way, Paul says, in which one can actually present himself as a living sacrifice to God. Notice how he puts it. There are really three stages to this.
First, do not be conformed to this world. Do not be fashioned according to this world. Don't be poured out into the mold of the world. This world is sometimes translated "this age." The "world" is not creation and it is not people. Instead, it is the way of thinking which is dominated by the thought that the here and the now is all there is. How I feel right now and what I want right now and what I would enjoy right now - that is all that matters. That is the world. The world is that spiritual realm which is ruled over by Satan, who is the god of this world. The world is dominated by the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. The world is that which is temporal and passing away.
And what Paul is saying is, "I am not to let that realm, that world be the pattern by which I form my thinking and my mind set and my values in my life." The world has a tremendous conforming power. You will see it in the laugh track of a situation comedy on TV. You will hear it in the slogans that politicians may use. You will hear the world's conforming power in advertisements to try to persuade us to go one way or another in our purchases. The world's conforming power may be set by the fashions of the culture around us - what's popular and acceptable. The world's conforming power is that which would try to press us to be what it is.
Paul says to be a living sacrifice, you must not be conformed but instead, he says we are to be transformed. You already know that word is the one from which we get metamorphosis. Kay brought her monarch caterpillars to show to her little ones in their class today. She is going to let them see over the next few weeks the change of form by which that ugly green caterpillar becomes that beautiful black butterfly. I have seen the process take place from a little black tadpole to a big green frog. This same term is the one that the New Testament uses to speak of the transfiguration of Jesus where his appearance went from being just a man to his glory being seen. Paul is saying that in our lives, if we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices, we are to be transformed. Our form changes from what it was when it was dead in sin to what it is supposed to be as a child of God. What a wonderful thought it is that I can go from being the tadpole I am to a big old frog that can jump, or from the worm to the butterfly, or from the passing man to the glory that Jesus Christ wants to share with his brothers and sisters in God's family.
If that transformation is going to take place, Paul says, it will have to be by the renewing of our minds. Notice carefully. If my body is going to be given in God's service, my mind will first have to be renewed. I will have to pay careful attention to how I am thinking. Nathaniel Hawthorne told the story of the great stone face. A town expected that someday a great man was going to come who would transform and deliver that entire community. He would look like the stone face on the granite mountain side. Everybody looked forward to his appearing. This little boy heard that all of his life; the face of the man who was going to come was going to look like that mountain off over there. And this little boy gazed at the great stone face every day and hoped for that man's arrival every day of his life. Finally he began to look like that great stone face and he turned out to be the deliverer of his community.
The New Testament teaches us, according to II Corinthians 3:18, that this process is to take place in our lives. Paul says here, "And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." As I keep my eyes on Jesus, as I turn my eyes on him, there is something about that process that changes me, that transforms me. When I meet with the Lord's people on the Lord's day to remember what the Lord did for us, my mind is renewed. When I pray through his name, give thanks to God and meditate on what God says, my mind is renewed. When I am in fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ and they encourage me, my mind is renewed. When I try to use my talent in the Lord's service and do what I can, my mind is renewed. And as my mind is renewed daily, my body becomes more and more the living sacrifice that it is supposed to be.
That leads us to think about the reward which is here, the goal of this approach. What is it that God has in mind in what he is asking us to do here? At the end of verse 2 it says, "That by testing you may discern what is the will of God." That is not talking about the knowledge question. God makes his revealed will known through his word. The testing here has to do with the process by which you would take a chunk of ore of some sort and find out how much valuable treasure is in it. It means to try something out.
Paul is saying the only way any of us ever completely discover the wonder of God's will in our lives is by trying it, by living it. You don't say, "well, I'm going to give myself to God's will once I find out if God's will is pleasing to me." No, you give yourself to the Lord first and live for him and then you find out that his will all along is good for us. He only asks us to do what would exalt us and he only forbids of us what would debase us. When we are living sacrifices, we discover that the Lord's way is good for us. It fulfills us. It honors him. It blesses people.
And then it has the goal of bringing us to maturity, of completing God's purpose for our lives. There is a song in our book that speaks of the "sweet will of God." It speaks of what one finds out by living as a sacrifice to the Lord in faithfulness and devotion. "Thy precious will, oh conquering Savior, doth now embrace and encompass me. All discords hushed, my peace a river, my soul a prison bird set free. Sweet will of God, still hold me closer until I am wholly lost in thee." That is what you find out in being a faithful, committed, devoted child of God; someone whose commitment to the Lord's will is deep enough to carry us not through Sunday, but through everyday; strong enough to cause us to look not just for what we can get out of the process but what we can give to it. This is the root of faithfulness in a Christian life.
We need to give ourselves t the Lord in gospel obedience where we die with him and are buried with him and are raised up to walk a new life. Having done that, we need to give ourselves to him as living sacrifices. The Lord will be ours in the living if we will do that.
Maybe today you would like to present yourself to the Lord. If that is the case and if we can help you, won't you let it be known while we stand and sing?