In this chapter Paul makes an inference to the previous chapter specifically (“therefore”) and I think generally to the entirety of the book going back to Romans 1:1 where God chose Paul to be an apostle of the Gospel of Christ. Paul starts with:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Many years ago I practiced praying these texts over myself and others. They were and still are “go-to-prayers” for power to walk with God. Paul now makes a break in this letter that can be missed but hurts the readers understanding when it occurs.
In his letters, Paul has a habit of going from the indicative to the imperative which means that he explains the revelation of the gospel first (indicative=facts) and secondly he gives the implications of the gospel (imperative=command) where believers are to live in accordance to that message.
A quick recap of Romans up to this point will be helpful. Chapter 1&2 shows Paul being eager to preach the Gospel of Christ (God’s Son) because both Jew and Gentile are under God’s just wrath (1:1-2:29). In chapter’s 3&4 Paul argues that the true Jew is not the one circumcised in the flesh but the one who has Abraham’s faith. In chapter 5 the two Adam’s are compared where the 1st one brought death resulting from his rebellion, and the 2nd Adam (Christ) through his obedience and death brought life.
Then in chapter 6 we see that believers are dead to sin but alive to God because of Christ’s resurrection, yet in chapter 7 Paul considers the battle of sin within believers still fight, a battle that Christ alone can/does help us win. In chapter 8 Paul then assures believers that in spite of this battle with sin, God’s condemnation passes over them—working in them to be more like Christ.
Finally, in chapters 9-11 Paul argues for the election of both Jew and Gentile alike (9), that this salvation and election is accomplished through the preached word of God (10), and finally that God has not rejected Israel, but has a plan for them to also be rescued (11). The bow around these three chapters is the grandeur of God’s being which includes His wisdom and knowledge which are unsearchable. The proper response to all of this is doxology—praise, worship and adoration.
It’s these gospel truths to which Paul is inferring when he now commands believers to live a certain way. Here’s a powerful lesson in the proper use of authority to bless people rather than manipulating and controlling them for selfish means. Paul grounds his “urging” or “appeal” on God’s mercies to vessels of mercy, which formerly were objects of wrath, to live and to think in a certain way.
Both living and thinking are to be impacted by Christ’s Gospel already revealed in this letter. This mystery revealed must now be evidenced in how believers relate to each other and to the observant world (both enemies and the state.) Unlike Monists who deny the reality of the physical realm by denying real distinctions and claiming they are mere illusion, or those who claim that the body is bad and the spirit is good (thus what one does in the body is inconsequential), the Gospel of Christ says no! God says that, “My people are to be holy as I Am holy”:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
The sacrifices offered on the altar in the Old Testament, for example, were dead so they could not feel any pain of being burnt. But here “somewhat like the Master” on Calvary’s cross, his followers are expected to in one degree or another suffer. Minimally, when we are tempted to misuse our bodies (as in chapter 1:18-32 with illicit sexual acts) and we don’t succumb to it, we truly suffer hardship because of our love for God. This is evidenced not only through a chaste life, but also by denying homosexual tendencies overall.
But our bodies also are involved with other degrading passions such as gossip with the tongue, murder with our hands, etc. Our bodies house our soul and while they are decaying these bodies will one day be resurrected to immortality. For Paul, the body is the tool believers are to use to honor God, but it’s just not our bodies, it’s also our minds which engage this worship:
“2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Here, Paul not only affirms our bodies but also our minds (i.e., not the brain which is physical, but the mind which is an immaterial substance) as the means to worship God. These two are gifts from God and should be used in accordance to their design. An atheistic worldview denies any such notion of immateriality or spirit, this is called physicalism. But according to God’s revelation such a view is an example of “suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness”. The point here is that our thinking in light of the gospel must be disciplined so that foreign ideas to it are not adopted and thus dishonor God. Instead, our thought life is to align with God’s thoughts as revealed in this letter of Romans.
One thing is certain in light of election (Chapters 9-11) all human pride is crushed, boasting before God is eliminated because only sovereign grace can rescue anyone from God’s wrath. This means that any “works of the Law” righteousness people rely on in order to be acceptable before God will utterly disappoint because that foundation of “sand” can’t save from Holy wrath, but actually assures it on the participant.
Note that to prove or to know God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will our thinking must change, it must be transformed from the way this present evil age thinks. The application here is massive. The point is that our bodies and minds, what makes us image bearers, are included in the true worship of God (see Mt.22:34-40). Thus, how we think and how we live demonstrates our understanding of reality in light of the gospel of Christ. LORD, have mercy on us! (SDG)