The Perfect Will of God (Romans 12:1-8)

Main Idea: We love because He first loved us.

Text:

I read this week that by the age of 18, young people have spent just over 11,000 hours in a school classroom. That sounds like a lot, until you also learn that by that time, they’ve also spent nearly 3 times that, almost 33,000 hours on screens. It’s estimated that the average person sees between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements every day, which I didn’t believe at first, but really only works out to about 4 to 10 ads per minute, which definitely seems possible because of things like television and internet. So using just the smaller of these, by the time we’re 18 years old, we’ve likely already seen almost 25 million advertisements, each crafted to manipulate us and convince us of whatever they’re selling, whether a product or political agenda.

As a result, people have often become parrots of other people’s ideas, rather than learning to think for themselves and to think biblically through an issue. We’ve come to have extremely short attention spans, sometimes only a few seconds, along with a diminished ability to think critically about some of the most important things of our lives.

Each one of us is constantly bombarded with messages designed to manipulate and influence us all of the time, and it’s not really even just about corporations making money or politicians maintaining power. It’s a spiritual battle. Each one of us is in a battle for our minds and our lives. And yet, God has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us into truth. So in every decision, we can either allow ourselves to be conformed to the will of this world, which obeys its ruler, Satan, or we can begin to know and follow the will of God.

So how do we do that? How do we begin to think the way that God would have us to think, and to live the way that God would have us to live, rather than being led to blindly follow the pleasures of this sinful world?

Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

Father, help us to know Your perfect will, and follow it. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

In many of the letters in the New Testament, there’s a shift that takes place from theology to application. The writers of the epistles begin by laying out a ton of biblical truth, and then shift to talk about what that practically means for our lives. It’s kind of like how when Abraham Lincoln said this:

“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” -Abraham Lincoln

There’s theology–God is always right–which leads to application–be on God’s side.

The book of Romans is no different.

Our passage today is the big shift from theology to application in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It begins in verse 1 with the word “therefore.” And whenever you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, you need to ask yourself what the “therefore” is there for. And in this case, “therefore” refers to all the theology that Paul wrote in the book of Romans up to this point.

Romans chapters 1-11 is all about unpacking the gospel. Paul writes about our desperate need for a Savior because of how we’ve all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He writes about how Jesus is that Savior, and we receive Him as the free gift of God. And He writes about how this gift isn’t just for one family on the earth, but is for all people everywhere because as we just read in Romans 11:32, “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all.”

So in light of God’s grace, therefore, how should we live? Verse 1.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. (Romans 12:1)

Paul could have begun with a list. When you begin to trust in Jesus, you need to do this, this, this, and this. Like, maybe, the ten commandments. Honor your father and mother. Don’t steal. Don’t kill. And certainly these are important, but that’s not where Paul starts. Paul starts by reminding us again of the gospel. “Brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God…”

In other words, Paul was saying, “don’t make anything I’m about to write to you about you earning anything from God. Remember that everything we do is in response to His mercy toward us.” Jesus died on the cross precisely because there was nothing we could do to make ourselves right with God. We receive salvation, and heaven, and a relationship with God by grace through faith in Jesus because of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

So, in light of God’s mercy and grace, in light of Jesus’s sacrifice, it says in verse 1, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” You see, God doesn’t want you to start with a list. Just do this, this, this, and this and you’ll be living the Christian life. God wants you to give all of your life to Jesus. Because if Jesus gave us His all, and gave us His life, then we’re also to give Him our all, and give Him our lives.

I find that most of us think that being Christian is something we do. We go to church. We sing worship songs. We give some of our income to the church. And if you’re a really devoted Christian, you might even read the Bible and pray once in a while outside of the church. And certainly the Bible encourages us to do all of these and so much more. But if we think of Christianity that way, it seems to treat the Christian life as just part of our lives. Instead, Paul writes that we’re not just to give part of our lives to God, but all our lives.

We’re to be a living sacrifice. That means that as long as we continue to live, we’re to be devoted to God. We’re not dead sacrifices. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made us alive through faith in Jesus. So we’re not dead, but alive. So be a living sacrifice.

And it says that Paul urges us to present our bodies this way. In other words, we can worship God in our thoughts, and desire to serve Him all day long, but unless we actually use our physical bodies to worship Him, it’s not real worship. And I’m not talking about raising your hands or kneeling in worship. I’m talking about living out your faith day by day. Everything we do with our hands, everywhere we go with our feet, everything we look at with our eyes, everything we say with our mouths and so on ought to be done in worship to God.

Now, that process does begin in our minds, but it doesn’t stay there. Verse 2.

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)

So, as we allow the word of God to renew our minds, changing our thoughts, we begin to see the world as He sees it. We begin to discern the will of God, which is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Really what Paul is talking about is repentance. The Greek word for repentance is ???????? which means “a change of mind.”

I read a painful story that illustrates this. I call it painful because I can really feel the storyteller’s pain. A pastor named Ron Henson shared that like me, he loved to eat ice cream, but he could no longer eat it because as he grew up, he developed a lactose intolerance. When he ate ice cream, it hurt him. So he had to change his mind regarding ice cream. Even though he loved it, he had to always remember not to eat it because it hurt him.

Sometimes we can be so wrapped up in our wills that we neglect to pursue God’s will. Pursuing our own will might be fun, but it’s really just a by-product of the world we live in, and in truth, it hurts us. We’re taught to make our lives all about ourselves, as if what we really want is found within. I remember so many of my teachers growing up giving their advice as to how to get a good job that makes a lot of money. And there’s nothing wrong with having a good job that makes a lot of money, but those things don’t ultimately satisfy us. When asked how much money would be enough, John D. Rockefeller, one of the richest people to have ever lived, is reported to have said, “Just a little bit more.”

Gaining more in this life often comes down to our will. We tend to want more money, more influence, or even just more time. But none of these things can satisfy us, because no matter how much of them you get, you always want more.

C.S. Lewis said it this way:

“If I find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

It’s strange that so much of this world’s wisdom teaches us to think that we have all the answers inside of us, but our own inclinations lead us to search for truth outside of us.

And on top of that, another error that we often embrace is to think of God’s will as being mysterious and unknowable. But God has already shown us what His perfect will is. And Paul just laid it all out for us in the first 11 chapters of Romans. God’s perfect will is Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, so that all the nations would humble themselves before Him and receive His mercy.

So, to know the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God, read the Bible and believe the gospel. Your mind is renewed as you believe and rest in what God has already told us in His word.

Verse 3.

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. (Romans 12:3)

So now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of what this looks like, and it’s in stark contrast to how the world typically thinks and operates. In contrast to the ego-driven personalities that we see on television, especially talk news shows, who shout each other down and leave no room for the possibility that they might actually be wrong about something, Paul instructs us to not think of ourselves more highly than we should. Paul isn’t saying that we should think less of ourselves, but rather that we should be sensible. Be fair and logical. Don’t exalt yourself before others, but rather remember that all of us need God’s grace. Because, Paul writes, God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.

In other words, we’re all on a spiritual journey. Even unbelievers are on a spiritual journey. Don’t think less of them because they haven’t arrived yet, because we haven’t arrived yet, either. Instead, trust that God will draw each person to Himself as He promised.

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. It’s seeing others for the value that they also have in God, and then giving yourself in service to them as you serve God.

Verse 4.

Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:4-8)

God gives each of us gifts and abilities to use in service to one another. God doesn’t save us to sit in pews. He saves us to serve.

Paul names several gifts in this passage, but this list isn’t exhaustive. The point is, find what it is that God has given you the ability and passion to do, and use that gift to bless others.

I thought about saving these verses for next week, and preaching an entire sermon on them alone, but I want you to see how connected these verses are with verses 1-3. Because we often see serving in the church as something extra. We praise God for saving us, and worship Him for transforming us, and then we seek to live out our own individual Christian lives. But that’s not the way that it should be. Paul writes that our service in the body of Christ, as the body of Christ, as His Church, is massively part of what God has in mind for us as we begin to rest in and pursue His perfect will for our lives. And if you’re not serving others in the church, you’re missing a huge part of what it means to worship God.

I want to brag on Abby for a second, because she’s been serving the church faithfully for so many years. You might not know this, but she actually began teaching the Bible during VBS at her church when she was just in the 9th grade, and she began teaching a Sunday School class when she was 18 years old. And before she enrolled in nursing school just recently, she taught the children on Wednesday nights for years.

I also need to brag on Jess, though, because he’s been serving faithfully, never seeming to care for any recognition. A few weeks back, when I came to my office, he was cutting the grass in the rain. It’s hard to get me to cut the grass when it’s not raining, but this is a man who was cutting the grass in the rain because he’s dedicated to serving the church because he’s dedicated to worshiping Jesus.

Susie is another great example. She’s organized so many meals for people, and she often does a great service whether in the nursery or in the sanctuary during our worship services to let our littlest kids know that they’re loved and welcome at church.

Then there’s Nick and Sarah, who have led us in worship for years now. And Sarah has also served dinner to us on Wednesday nights now for many years! I mean, yeah, she still doesn’t know how to pronounce Ramen, as in Ramen noodles, but we can forgive her for that. We all have struggles.

Ed and Barb also deserve recognition for how many years they taught Sunday School. I praise God for you all. And for Tina, Rhonda, and Leroy who have also been teaching for years. Praise God.

Brenda does a great job keeping track of our church’s finances. My parents have been doing so many things behind the scenes it’s hard to even keep track of them all.

My dad and Ronald do amazing at fixing all the things that break around here!

Amber, Cory, and Emily have all been doing a great job on the Media Team, as well as Cordi, Nancy, and my parents. Thank you!

And Raelynn back there did an awesome job encouraging me during my sermon last week with a laugh just when it seemed like I needed it most.

And, you know, we could and maybe even should go on and on. Because each one of us is part of the Body of Christ, and God gives each one of us a role to fill in the life of the church.

And there’s no insignificant job in the church. All of these are ways that we come together to serve one another. Christ isn’t looking for a mountain of faith, just a mustard seed, which God Himself plants in us and grows so that we serve Him in all these ways.

You see, when we present our bodies back to God as a living sacrifice, all we’re really doing is showing God what He’s made us. Of course, He already knows, and yet He’s pleased as we offer ourselves back to Him. He’s the One who made us holy and pleasing to Himself. We don’t make ourselves that way. Our true worship is saying to God, “God, thank You for saving me. Thank You for transforming me from dead to alive. Thank You for making me new.”

And so we give Him our lives. We love because He first loved us. This is God’s perfect will for you: that you rest in Jesus, and become like Jesus, loving others as a living sacrifice.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

Bible Passages: Romans 12:1-8
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