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.
One of the most profound and life-changing Gospel realities is that God is not only concerned about what we do (external actions), but why we do it (heart motives). Today’s passage from Romans depicts this principle in a powerful and concise way. Concerning verse one, R.C. Sproul explains, “The word therefore links what has been previously said to what is about to be concluded. In Romans 12, the ‘therefore’ refers to all the apostle has stated in the previous chapters regarding Christ’s saving work on our behalf. The word drives us forward to the only proper conclusion we can draw from His work. In light of the gracious justification that Christ has achieved for us, the only reasonable conclusion we can reach is that we ought to present ourselves totally to God as walking, breathing, living sacrifices” (The Holiness of God).
In other words, as is the pattern in Paul’s other letters, he does not tell us what to do without first telling us what Jesus has already done. If you ask people who are not Christians in Dallas what they think Christianity is all about, they will often say they think that it’s about living and behaving a certain way. Having worked for several churches, the same misunderstanding can be true inside the church as it is outside of the church: while they might not affirm it with their words, Christians (myself included) often live like they believe God’s acceptance of them depends on their performance, not Jesus’ performance. Paul smashes this misunderstanding and invites us to live by grace, not by performance.
For religion, the motive for obedience is pride or fear. For the Gospel, the motive for obedience is grateful joy. As Herman Bavinck once said of people who are captured by the good news of the Gospel, “Gratitude and joy drove them to do good works before the thought that they had to do them even crossed their mind.”
And it gets even better. In verse two, Paul shows us that the Gospel not only gives us full, final, and forever forgiveness, but it also provides us with resources to change and grow during our lives.
We live in a culture that is obsessed with self-help books and resources aimed at helping us become the best version of ourselves. We are a culture that is seeking change in all sorts of different ways. New Testament scholar Jonathan Pennington says that even as Christians, we seek “alternative gurus,” people like Joe Rogan and Oprah who gives us a vision of what a flourishing life looks like. While there certainly is wisdom in learning from other voices, seeking an alternative guru to give us a vision of the good life and advice on transformation is often rooted in us believing that the truth of Scripture is irrelevant to the situations, issues, and relationships in our daily lives.
However, Paul says that real change is available to us as our minds are renewed. This looks like our lives changing as our minds are changed by the Word of God. Far from being irrelevant to the things of daily life, this is the most relevant resource for the flourishing life that God intended for His people. As Howard Hendricks used to say, we read the Bible not just for information, but for transformation. Additionally, we don’t read the Bible so that God will love us, but because He already does. And ultimately, we read the Bible to know the One Who first loved us and saved us. What greater privilege could there be?