Friday, April 20, 2007

Romans 12:2

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul instructs us here to have a Biblical worldview. And there are two commands – negative and positive – that help us do this: “do not conform” and “be transformed.” Don’t let the world mold you. Be in the world but not of the world; live a life of non-conformity. Paul said a similar thing in Romans 8:13 – be killing sin by the Spirit or sin will be killing you! See 2 Corinthians 3:18. Be transformed by the Spirit into Christ’s likeness. The verbs are in the passive voice, indicating that we do not change or transform ourselves. We must be transformed, which is something God does in us through the Spirit. Paul has already mentioned this in Romans 8:29, as God’s purpose in predestination to conform us to the image of Jesus.

The method by which these two commands occur is explained by Paul as by the renewing of the mind. And that comes by studying God’s Word. Yes, by all means, put your faith into practice; live out that Biblical worldview, as Paul will say in just a minute. But study God’s Word! That’s how the Spirit transforms the mind, so make it a priority. Avoid "amusement," which means "no thinking." The world likes to turn on the tv and be amused; they turn their brain off. We avoid a-muse-ment by musing over the Word of God repeatedly. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. John Piper drives his audience back to Romans 1:23-28, where the same Greek word is used. He says, “Not being conformed to this world involves a renewed mind that reverses the exchange of the glory of God for the glory of man.” We used to walk in darkness, and we loved it (John 3:19), but now we walk in light, and we love it. This is a result of a renewed mind by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We worship God with our bodies in v1 and with our minds in v2. God works on us from the outside and in us from the inside. Paul is saying to know who you are and be who you are, just as did in Romans 6:11-12. Paul has said in the first half of this verse to have a Biblical worldview; now he tells us how that will benefit us: we will know the will of God. And it makes perfect sense that by studying the Word of God, the Spirit will transform our minds, conforming them to the mind of Christ, who is God in the flesh. And with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), we will certainly be able, then, to test and approve God’s will. Minds transformed by the renewing work of God’s Holy Spirit in accordance with the Word of God will be able to discern what they ought to do. You can’t do the will of God if you don’t know the will of God, and you can’t make a discerning choice if you don’t know the truth of God. And so the renewed mind, according to God’s Word, is a mind able to discern the will of God.

What is the will of God? First, there is the sovereign will of God that always comes to pass without fail. Second, there is the revealed will of God in the Bible—the law and the commandments—that often doesn’t come to pass. And third, there is the path of wisdom and godliness—wisdom where we consciously apply the Word of God with our renewed minds to complex moral circumstances, and godliness where we live our lives rightly without conscious reflection or deliberation. And Paul here, most agree, is talking about the latter two. See Hebrews 5:14 and Philippians 1:9-11. We get discernment in the renewing of our minds. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to discern God’s will in every situation or circumstance without having to spend hours thinking about it? In time, we will make the hard decisions quickly and easily. Like Christ, we’ll respond to situations in calculated ways, yet instantly, unconsciously, automatically, according to our Spirit-filled natures, according to the will of God. This ability develops in us through the power of the Holy Spirit as our minds are renewed by the study of God’s Word.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Romans 12:1

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual [or reasonable] act of worship.

Paul shifts gears after his doxology and focuses on lifestyle applications for the Christian. But note that Paul views all of his previous instruction as applicable as well. In fact, in order to rightly follow his instructions in chapters 12-16 (live consistently), we must have a right understanding of chapters 1-11 (grace and mercy). Paul doesn’t separate lifestyle application from understanding doctrinal theology. Paul explains first here our relationship with ourselves, then secondly with each other, thirdly with the world, and fourthly, into chapter 13, with the government. Lastly, this chapter does not describe our effort to earn favor with God; rather, it describes the fruit of our having received the grace and mercy of God. Notice v1 first:

V1 – In view of God’s mercy, offer yourself as a living sacrifice of spiritual worship. We could offer several words to serve as the theme of Romans 12 (Love, Mercy, Worship, Humility, Gifts, etc.). Mercy happens to appear first. Paul has gone to great lengths to prove that God is merciful to us in the first 11 chapters of this epistle. Now he says to us that our lives should be founded on the mercy of God. I cannot adequately state how much Paul is stressing this truth. I can’t even begin to convey the importance of God’s mercy towards us as the foundation of our lifestyles. It’s true that Christians should be known for mercy, because we have been shown mercy, both in our wickedness and in our helplessness; but it’s a lot more than that: Every aspect of the Christian lifestyle is based on God’s mercy. Why love? God’s mercy. Why be humble? God’s mercy. Etc. Paul, in writing, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy,” is showing mercy and humility and love to his audience. That’s amazing how the inspiration of the Holy Spirit works to convey the principle not only through the words of the author, but also by the words of the author. Just as he did with Philemon, Paul could command right living by the authority given him by Christ, but instead he urges right living as a fellow Christian.

Furthermore, we should not only note that the basis of our holy living is God’s mercy, but also, and equally as if not more important, this holy living that we strive for as a result of God’s mercy is our primary act of worshipping God. Right living is worship. Right living is the only logical or reasonable, translated “spiritual,” thing to do as our act of worship and praise and thanksgiving. It’s not a couple hours a week; it’s all day, every day. Paul is calling us to worship God by living for God, in love and obedience, delighting in God’s word, God’s will, and God’s law, because of God’s mercy toward us. Christian living is worship, founded on our having received grace and on our understanding mercy. We glorify God with our lives, because we understand His mercy. See Romans 15:8-9.

Next, Paul says, “Because God has been merciful and compassionate and loving to you, fellow Christians in Rome, you are obligated to worship God with your whole self. As a member of the priesthood of all believers, you are to offer a living sacrifice of yourself.” He is purposely driving us back to the Old Testament language of worship. A “living” sacrifice, however, is not to be compared to the slain animals of Old Testament sacrificial rites, but instead compared to the deadness we experienced while in sin. “When we were dead in trespasses and sin, God, because of His rich mercy and great love for us, made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-5). As a result, we give our lives to God as living sacrifices. Paul’s slogan might be, “Die for Jesus!” And his point is not that we die, but that we live – in the world but not of the world. In living for Jesus (in the world), we are dying to self (of the world) for Jesus. We are not our own because we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We don’t have the right to use our body as we please; we have the duty as slaves of Christ to use our body as He pleases. We are to present our bodies (notice the importance of the physical, as opposed to Gnosticism) to God as those who are alive from the dead (Romans 6:13). In light of God’s mercy and grace as shown at Calvary, how can we do anything less? We don’t make Christ Lord of our lives. As believers, He is Lord of our lives. Because we live Coram Deo, we live like we live Coram Deo. The free gift of salvation that we receive in Christ not only cost Him everything, but it costs us everything as well. We must give ourselves to Christ.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" [Isaiah 40:13] "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" [Job 41:11] For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.

Paul, perhaps spontaneously, gives in to a brilliant proclamation of praise as he wraps up his thoughts on God’s eternal plan of salvation for a multitude of Jews and Gentiles. This is the response that will make us able to live out the practical moral demands of Romans 12-16. Notice, in v34-35, Paul asks three questions from two Scripture passages (Isaiah and Job) to show that he’s not making up these occasions to praise God. V34 confirms what Paul says in v33, and v35 confirms what Paul will say in v36. Before we examine these quotes and questions, look at v33.

In v33, Paul praises God for what he knows and for what he doesn’t know. He begins saying; “I can’t even begin to comprehend the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge.” He is speaking of the immeasurable nature of both God’s wisdom, His providential working in and guidance of all things for His pleasure, His specific end, His eternal purpose (Ephesians 1:11), and God’s knowledge, His exhaustive understanding of all things. Paul sees the judgments that God has handed down, and his brain cramps at the wisdom, the justice, and the mercy displayed in them. Paul sees the ways in which God deals with men salvifically in His providence and stands in awe at the knowledge of God. In light of God’s plan of salvation, revealed and explained to a certain extent here in Romans 9-11, Paul marvels and praises God. Nobody knows more about God’s plan of salvation than Paul, and he marvels (see Daniel 2:21-22). He praises God for what he has come to understand by the grace of God and also for what he doesn’t yet know. We’ve all had things in our lives, where, having gone through them we’ve looked back and said, “Lord thank You for not revealing to me that You had called me to go through that. I couldn’t have knowingly handled it." God bears that knowledge for us in His love and bids us praise Him both for what we know and for what we don’t know.

Now in v34, by asking a couple of questions from Isaiah 40:13, Paul says, “Since we don’t know all the things that God knows, we can’t be in position to give God advice about how to run His show.” And these questions confirm the occasion to praise God for all truth, revealed and hidden. Paul trusts and praises God, because God has complete knowledge and infinite wisdom. That’s Paul’s confidence. Even if Paul doesn’t know the answer – and he knows a lot of answers – he knows that God knows. Even if God has not chosen to reveal the answer – as in, “Why this thorn in my flesh?” – God knows, and Paul trusts that – “My grace is sufficient for you…When I am weak, then I am strong.” He says, “Trust God; praise Him. He knows the answer.” Paul is practically saying, “Look, if God is possesses of all knowledge and wisdom and we do not, shouldn’t we avoid complaining? If we are not in the position to advise Him because we don’t know His mind and we can’t counsel Him, shouldn’t we acknowledge our finitude and His unbound wisdom and understanding?” Paul is doing more than gritting his teeth and enduring God’s sovereignty; he is trusting that God’s exhaustive knowledge and wisdom will work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

In v35, Paul quotes Job 41:11 to explain that God’s sole ownership of all of creation demands that His glory be acknowledged. The second half of that Job verse is: “Everything under heaven belongs to Me.” Since God is the source and the supplier and the owner of all things, He’s worthy of praise. King David, in 1 Chronicles 29:14, says, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand.” What a great acknowledgement! 1 Corinthians 4:7 “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”

And finally in v36, Paul’s point is that no one obligates God. Nothing belongs to us. We have no rights, except those given to us by God. And even those can be taken away at His will. Everything belongs to Him. (1) From Him: He is the source of everything. (2) Through Him: He is the agent, the channel, the instrument, the supplier of everything. (3) To Him: He is the goal, the end; everything is for Him (see Colossians 1:13-2:3). (4) All things: From Him, through Him, and to Him [or for Him] are ALL THINGS! All things are from God in the sense that He ordains all that comes to pass. But sin is not from God as an expression of His nature; rather He purposes sin, intends it for His glory to be revealed in one way or another; as we’ve seen in this study: some are destined to wrath so that the objects of mercy can see the mercy with which they are treated. Everything is a gift; there is no obligation. Because of that, Paul says that we need to praise Him. “To Him be the glory forever! Amen.” Everything that is good in this life He has been graciously given. Everything bad is still for His glory, just not necessarily how we might think. Furthermore, we deserve worse and therefore praise Him. It’s easy to know that that’s what the Bible teaches. It’s fairly easy to understand. It’s harder to believe that, and it’s most difficult to live as if we believe that. By God’s grace may we praise Him at all times in all circumstances because we know that He made this world for His glory and He knows all things.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Romans 11:30-32

Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.

Paul shows us how God’s methods (means) in salvation relate to His goal (end) in salvation. This is not the only place Paul explains it. In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul shows how God is making Jew and Gentile one in Christ. The Gentiles were disobedient while God was establishing Israel as His nation; through Israel’s disobedience, the Gentiles were shown mercy and brought near. And now that the Israelites have been disobedient, they too, through jealousy of the Gentiles, may be brought near and shown mercy. What God does amongst the Jews (hardening), He does for the sake of the Gentiles. What He does amongst the Gentiles (mercy), He does for the sake of the Jews. Notice these four steps of God’s plan of salvation in history:

(1) The Gentiles were disobedient to God. There was a long history of letting the nations go their own way while God focused His redemptive work on Israel to bring the Messiah into the world (See Acts 14:16; Genesis 15:13-16.) Nevertheless, individual Gentiles still were counted among the elect (Melchizedek, the Ninevites of Jonah’s time, perhaps Cyrus, etc.) (2) Then there was the decisive disobedience of Israel as she rejected her Messiah and stumbled over the stumbling stone. Still, individuals within the nation were elect, Paul being one such example, and Simeon another. Both of these disobediences (national / not individual) were purposed by God, as v32 says, so He could have mercy on them all (national / not individual). (3) This disobedience led to mercy for the Gentiles as the Gospel spread among the nations. This is not mere sequence as foreseen by God; this is divine plan, ordained as such before the foundations of the world were laid. Israel has been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to the Gentiles, Israel also may now receive mercy. (4) Israel received mercy because they became envious of the mercy shown to the Gentiles and turned to Christ. God aimed to show mercy to all who were disobedient; therefore He predestined both to disobedience that He may have mercy on them all. And He will unite them as one body, as the bride of Christ to share in all the promises and riches – to dwell in His presence for all eternity.

All the while, over the course of this multi-millennia-plan, God’s mercy is operating and being revealed during and even through hardening and the strictest of judgments. We often ask why. Why do certain things happen the way they do? Paul gives us the answer: “Because God was pleased to bring it to pass, and because it serves the greater interest of His mercy and the greatest interest of His glory.” God is always being glorified; God’s mercy is always at work. That’s the message of Romans 9-11. Don’t ever think God is not being merciful. And this amazingly intricate plan is shown to us by God and through Paul, in order that we can stand in awe at the work of God in the salvation of His people, whom He has called from every tribe and tongue and nation before creation. Why did it all happen this way? To reveal God’s sovereign glory – that He is not subject to the events of human history, but that He ordains the events of human history. Nothing is coincidence. Be humbled by that truth and receive the mercy of God with gladness and rejoicing. And this is what Paul’s doxology, which we will examine tomorrow, is all about.