by Mike Ratliff
1 Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν· 2 καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοὸς εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον. Romans 12:1-2 (NA28)
1 Therefore, I urge you brothers through the compassions of God to present your bodies as living, holy sacrifices, well pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service. 2 And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may discern the will of God, that which is good and well pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
Our supreme calling is to serve God with all our being first and foremost in worship. The writer of Hebrews tells us through Christ we are to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). When I was a younger Christian I struggled for many years trying to work hard to please God while all the time never believing or feeling like I was doing enough. Along with that I struggled with my assurance because I saw other men and women in our church who were so much more mature than me and they were always at the right place at the right time doing the right things while it seemed to me that I was always “off” and “out of place.” I finally got past this when God took me through nearly a year of personal revival in which I shed all focus on self and worldly things and simply spent time in prayer, in the Word, and especially in worship whenever I was not at work or asleep. A huge part of this was discovering the passage I placed at the top of this post. Oh, I had read it many times and even memorized it when I was part of Evangelism Explosion at our church. However, I had not studied it like we are going to do here over the next several posts.
Let us break this down a bit. The first part will be 12:1a, Therefore, I urge you brothers through the compassions of God. Urge translates the Greek verb παρακαλῶ (parakalō) the present tense, active mood, indicative voice of παρακαλέω (parakaleō) which means “urge, beg, appeal, encourage, comfort.” Parakaleō also has the basic meaning of coming alongside in order to help or give aid. It later came to connote exhorting, admonishing, or encouraging. Our Lord Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the παράκλητος (paraklētos), our divine Helper (John 14:16; cf.v 26; 15:26; 16:7).
In this passage, however, Paul is speaking as a human helper or counselor to his Christian brethren in Rome. His admonition is a command that carries the full weight of his apostleship. However, he also wanted to come alongside those brothers as a fellow believer to lovingly encourage them to fulfill what already was the true inner desire and bent of their new hearts–to dedicate themselves without reservation to the Lord who had redeemed them.
The gentle command urge that Paul proceeds to give can only be obeyed by brothers, by those who already belong to God’s family. No other offering is acceptable to God unless we have first offered Him our souls. For Christians, that first element of “living, holy sacrifices” has already been presented to God.
Over the years as I have ministered in churches and online there have been many who wanted what Paul is talking about in Romans 12, but they could not grasp it. They could not understand what he was talking about. Why? They were unregenerate. The unregenerate person cannot give God his body, his mind, or his will, because he has not given God himself. Because he has no saving relationship to God, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Only the redeemed can present a living sacrifice to God, because only the redeemed have spiritual life. And only believers are priests who can come before God with an offering.
26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26 (NASB)
The soul is the inner, invisible part of man that is the very essence of his being. Therefore, until a man’s soul belongs to God, nothing else matters or has any spiritual significance. Because an unbeliever’s soul has not been offered to God, he cannot make any other sacrifice that is acceptable to Him. The unredeemed cannot present their bodies to God as living sacrifices because they have not presented themselves to God to receive spiritual life.
Therefore refers back to the glorious doxology just given in the previous four verses:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NASB)
It is because “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, that To Him belongs “the glory forever.” We can only glorify the Lord–we can only want to glorify the Lord–if we have been saved by the compassions of God.
God already “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The compassions of God of which Paul speaks here include the many gracious blessing, or grace gifts that he discussed in the first eleven chapters of Romans.
Perhaps the two most precious compassions of God are His love and His grace. In Christ we are the “beloved of God” (Romans 1:7; cf. 5:5; 8:35, 39), and like the apostle, we all “have receive grace” through Jesus Christ our Lord (1:6-7; 3:24; 5:2,20-21; 6:15). The compassions of God are reflected in His power of salvation (1:16) and His great kindness toward those He saved (2:4; 11:22). His compassions in Christ bring us the forgiveness and propitiation of our sins (3:25; 4:7-8) and also freedom from them ( 6:18; 7:6). We have receive reconciliation with Him (5:10), justification (2:13; 3:4; etc.) before him, conformation to His Son (8:29), glorification (8:30) in His very likeness, eternal life (5:21; 6:22-23) in His very presence, and the resurrection of our bodies (8:11) to serve Him in His everlasting kingdom. We have received the compassions of divine sonship (8:14-17 and the Holy Spirit–who personally indwells us (8:9,11), who intercedes for us (8:26), and through whom “the love of God has been poured out with our hearts” (5:5). In Christ we also have received the compassions of (mentioned thirty times in Romans 1-11), peace (1:7;2:10;5:1;8:6), hope (5:2; 20, 24). God’s compassions include His shared righteousness (3:21-22; 4:6, 11, 11, 13; 5:17, 19, 21; etc.) and even His shared glory (2:10; 5:2; 8:18; 9:23) and honor (2:10; cf. 9:21). And of course, the compassions of God include His sovereign mercy (9:15-16, 18; 11:30-32).
Such soul-saving compassions should motivate believers to complete dedication. The New Testament gives many warning about God’s chastisement of unfaithful and disobedient believers.
8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Galatians 6:8 (NASB)
6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES,
AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” Hebrews 12:6 (NASB)
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NASB)
However, the most compelling motivation for faithful, obedient living should not be the threat of discipline or loss of reward but overflowing and unceasing gratitude for the marvelous compassions of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!
We will look at Romans 12:1b in our next post, God willing!