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A Transformed Life

June 23, 2024|A Transformed Life|Romans 12:1-2

JD Cutler

Click here for the sermon audio

Romans 12:1-2 is a well known verse by most Christians. 

If I said, ‘do not be conformed’, most of you who have spent significant time in a church would be able to finish ‘but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ But I would argue that even though it is well known, it may not be well understood. My hope this morning is that even though we are familiar with it, we would allow God to speak through it in fresh and formative ways. Amen?

Now, Romans 12 introduces a turning point in Paul’s longest epistle, written to the believers in Rome, people that at the time of its writing, he hoped to visit soon. For 11 chapters now Paul has been emphasizing theological and doctrinal truths, remembering of course that originally there were no chapter or verse numbers, but nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between Paul’s culmination in the doxology of what we call chapter 11 and his opening words in what we know as chapter 12. 

First, he uses the word therefore which signifies a transition from one subject to its application.  Second, he switches from truths about God to a personal appeal to his readers.  From here on in this letter, Paul is going to address what some commentators call the transformed life. Which is easy to see from the words he uses in our text today in the first two verses of chapter 12. 

Picking up on Paul’s language, this morning I want to talk to you about the transformed life, specifically, three principles of transformed living. If you have your bibles and haven’t already, go ahead and open them to Romans chapter 12. 

Let’s read this short but powerful text together this morning. 

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV) 1 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. 2 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.

Salvation should affect the way you live your life. 

(Romans 12:1 (ESV) 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.)

Paul begins with what he calls an appeal. The word may be translated as ‘urge’ or maybe ‘beseech’ in your translation. This word translated as appeal here has a similar root to the word translated as another ‘Helper’ when Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit. The idea here is calling one to your side. 

The best way to understand what Paul calls what he is doing here is that he is calling them to come alongside him and do what he is doing. It carries the idea of strongly encouraging or trying to persuade someone to do something.

It’s that idea of persuasion I want to pick up on this morning, because Paul tells us why we should listen to his appeal in the same verse. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.

Two things are important for us to notice in Paul’s language. The words ‘therefore’ and ‘by the’. Paul is rooting his appeal in what he has previously said, beginning around chapter 3 and continuing on through the end of chapter 11, which he summarizes as the mercies of God. I like the way NIV translates this verse for this reason. It says, ‘(NIV) Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy…’

Another way to think about this word ‘mercies’, is thinking about a heart of compassion. I love this. Paul doesn’t command them by his apostolic authority.  He doesn’t base his appeal on the fear of the Lord nor in the power of the Lord, but on his compassion. 

Time would fail us if we tried to go back and pick up every reference in the book of Romans in the preceding chapters that fall under the mercies of God, but maybe it will be enough this morning to understand that by now Paul has used the word grace 14 times and the word mercy 7 times by chapter 12. They make their way into 8 of the 11 preceding chapters. 

Paul has stressed over and over again, that those who have been saved and those that will be saved, have been, and will be saved because of God’s great grace and mercy. 

This is an argument he begins in chapter 3 at verse 21. 

Romans 3:21-30 (ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

In various ways and from various angles, Paul addresses this issue throughout Romans, culminating in chapter 11. 

Romans 11:32-36 (ESV) 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

If you are saved, whether Jew or Gentile, you have been saved because of grace, through faith, because of God’s great mercy. So, Paul says, if I could paraphrase him, as recipients of God’s mercy, having been saved by grace because of God’s great mercy, be persuaded by that great mercy to…what?

Be grateful? Of course. Praise God for it? Of course. Be humbled? Naturally. But Paul has something much more specific in mind. 

Romans 12:1 (ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…

In light of your salvation, live your life differently. This is Paul’s call to these Roman believers and it is the scriptures’ call to us today. 

If you are saved, whether Jew or Gentile, you have been saved because of grace, through faith, because of God’s great mercy.

You see, if God has provided the only sacrifice needed for sins, Christ, who Paul says, He put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith, then there needs to be no further sacrifice for sins. 

We no longer need to make blood sacrifices, like what was required in the Old Covenant. 

Which begs the question, if that was the way God commanded for his people to both worship and approach him, what are those under the new covenant called to do? Present themselves to God as those who are alive and are to be used as instruments for righteousness. This is what Paul laid out in chapter 6, which he now summarizes as living as a sacrifice to God. Which Paul says is your spiritual worship. 

The words spiritual worship there are sometimes rendered as reasonable service. I think thinking about this in both senses helps us truly understand what Paul is calling us to. First, it is reasonable. God having saved your soul at regeneration, bringing life where there was death, and one day going to fully save you mind, body, and soul bringing life where there is death, is there really any other way to live out the remainder of your days in the body apart from serving God with your whole life? Of course not. It is the only logical outcome for someone who truly understands their salvation. 

Two, it is spiritual. That is as opposed to the bodily sacrifices that were made under the Old Covenant, you now offer true spiritual sacrifices to God by living in the power of the Spirit in accordance to his will for you.

It is important that we don’t get the order of God’s truth mixed up. We do not present ourselves as living sacrifices in order to gain salvation, and we cannot add to it by our obedient lives, rather we present ourselves as living sacrifices because we have been saved, set apart by God, elected unto salvation, so now we live in light of that truth. As I said last week, A gospel that allows someone to make a profession of faith and then show no evidence of regeneration is not the Biblical gospel. So again, we see that someone who is saved, who is regenerated, will evidence life change.

Paul uses two words to describe this way of living as sacrifices to God. 

Holy and acceptable to God. 

How can our lives be holy to God? The word Holy here in reference to sacrifices deals with the idea of setting apart and preparing for God ritually pure and clean animals. How can sinful, fallen humans ever be holy to God? 

Apart from Christ they cannot be. You can try your best to live pure, you can try your best to be good, and at the end of the day, because of our sinful nature the Bible calls our most righteous acts, like filthy rags in the eyes of God. 

You can try your best to live pure, you can try your best to be good, and at the end of the day, because of our sinful nature the Bible calls our most righteous acts, like filthy rags in the eyes of God. 

But having been cleansed and covered by the blood of the lamb, we can now live our lives before God as holy in his sight. We are covered in Christ’s righteousness. Now our attempts to live for God, our imperfect obedience is made perfect in light of Christ. Because of Christ’s perfect atoning sacrifice, and by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, I can be progressively sanctified in my life.

But not just holy, Paul says acceptable, meaning well-pleasing. In Christ, my attempts to live out the imputed righteousness of Christ in my day to day lives can actually please God.

Knowing that Christ saved me so that I will be ultimately holy and blameless before Him, knowing that he saved me so that he might sanctify me, so that he might present to himself the church in splendor, knowing that he will equip me for everything good that I may do his will, that he is working in me that which is pleasing in his sight, I live differently. 

What does it look like to live like this? To present your bodies as a living sacrifice?

Let’s use Paul’s imagery here of a sacrifice and talk about what that would have looked like under the Old Covenant. Sacrificial animals were raised specifically and carefully to ensure that they remained ceremonially clean. If an animal hurt itself and was scarred, it would no longer be good for sacrifice. If it got sick, it would no longer be good for sacrifice. You can imagine then that they were well cared for. To anyone looking in, this was the life. People to care for you, good food provided in abundance, medicine and oil when you needed it. Then the day would come where you would be taken from that comfortable life and brought to the temple where you would be put to death. Never to return to the green fields, gente life, or the cool water. It is in the most literal sense, being a sacrifice is a separation from your life.

Listen to the way Paul describes our lives in Christ and see if you can make the comparison. 

Romans 6:5-11 (ESV) 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

When you were united with Christ, it is as though your old self died and your life is now in God and for God. Consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God. This is the essence of being a living sacrifice. 

How do we take this idea of being a living sacrifice and actually live it out so that our lives are affected? It is here I find Paul’s next two commands invaluable. Let’s look at each one of them under the following two principles of transformed living. The first principle is….

Unevaluated living always leads away from God.

Romans 12:2a (ESV) 2 Do not be conformed to this world,

Do not be conformed. To conform is to change to fit a predetermined shape. Water conforms to the vessel you place it in. 

The interesting thing about this verb is that it is in the middle voice meaning that while we do have responsibility it is also something that is done to us. 

Are we conformed by external pressures/situations? Yes

Are we conformed by internal decisions? Yes

We might conform at work to better fit in or to get ahead. We might conform at school to avoid standing out or being bullied. There is always an external/internal aspect when we conform. 

There is always an external/internal aspect when we conform. 

Here Paul says do not be conformed to this world, or as some translations render it, this age. The idea here is the world’s system apart from God. Paul describes this in detail in chapter 1, what it looks like for man to reject God’s light in favor of the darkness and the steady decline that accompanies such actions. He describes them as Romans 1:29-31 (ESV) 29 …filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

In chapter 8 he simply says, those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. Which he says, is hostile to God and does not submit to God’s law. 

The world’s system, by and large, operates as if there was no God, no moral truth, no absolute good. And although it always looks similar, from generation to generation the expressions change. Things that were once not socially okay or acceptable, are now celebrated. And so, those of the world, conform to the world. 

And if we are not careful, we can be caught up in the world’s system and before we know it we have conformed here, or conformed there, never of course going all the way, but little by little we allow ourselves to be conformed. 

Paul says we must not conform ourselves, not our mind, not our character to another pattern. We must not simply go with the flow of the world because the world is not inline with our Father. Listen to two scriptures that drive this point home. 

1 John 2:15-16 (ESV) 15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

James 4:4-5 (ESV) 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 

Scripture teaches that to love the world, to be friends with the world, to pattern ourselves after the world is against God. We can never be the living sacrifices we are called to be as long as we are patterning ourselves after the world. 

I think this is why Paul places this command where he does. I mean, it would really fit anywhere in his letter or even in scripture and make sense. But Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, places it within the context of living transformed lives to show us that we will never live that kind of life if we are being conformed to the world’s pattern. 

Why does Paul warn us against this conforming? Because if we do nothing it is the natural outcome of our lives. That is, if we do not actively fight against it in our lives, we will naturally conform to the world’s pattern around us to some degree or another. To make it worse, our sinful flesh actually desires to be conformed to the world’s pattern.

There is no neutrality between God and the world. You are either being formed in Godliness or being formed in worldliness. 

There is no neutrality between God and the world. You are either being formed in Godliness or being formed in worldliness. 

Here is the question that gets to the heart of the matter for us this morning. How might we evaluate something like this?

Certainly, there are a fair amount of subjective ways we could approach it. You may even be entertaining some of these now. 

We could ask, do I feel like I am being conformed to the world?

We could compare ourselves to the most worldly person we know and estimate that we aren’t near that bad.

But those really don’t seem all that helpful, do they?

What about objectively? Could we ask, if John says the things of the world are the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and pride of life and that these things are not from the Father, how prevalent are they in my life?

Do I desire to fit in with the world? Is the desire to have gratification in my flesh often outweigh my desire to please the Father? Am I more often than not, prideful rather than humble? 

If given the opportunity to gratify the flesh or obey God, what is my usual choice?We are not looking for one off instances, we all struggle against our sinful desires, what we are looking for is a pattern, a way of living that doesn’t look that much different than our lost neighbors. This is what Paul warns us against, this is what Paul calls us to war against. Being conformed to the world. 

How can I fight against this conforming? If my natural disposition and unevaluated life will lead away from God and towards the world, how do I move the other way? This is the last principle of transformed living that I want to look at with you this morning.

Transformed lives always trend towards God.

Romans 12:2b (ESV) 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.

Paul introduces this idea of transformation as a contrast to being conformed. Do not be conformed, but be transformed. 

The contrast between the two is significant. Number 1, being conformed is simply taking what something is and fitting it to a particular shape or situation. But to be transformed, the idea is that you become something altogether different. It is no wonder that when scientists were trying to name the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly they chose metamorphosis which finds its roots in this Greek word. Number 2, while conforming is something that is done by combination of external and internal factors, Paul’s command here to be transformed is in the passive voice. It is something that is done to us. We receive the action rather than participate in it. 

Paul says that this happens to us when our minds are renewed or renovated. In the culture of Paul’s day the mind compromised the faculties of perceiving and understanding, it is the seat of judgment and determination. 

To renew it or renovate it then is to experience fundamental change in the way we perceive and understand, the way we determine and judge. Paul only uses this word one other time when he is writing his disciple Titus. 

Titus 3:4-7 (ESV) 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

So it follows, if I am going to be transformed, my mind must be renewed and according to Paul the renewal comes from the Holy Spirit. 

Although he uses a different word in Ephesians, the idea is the same. He says, 

Ephesians 4:20-24 (ESV) 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Again, we see that the change that brings transformation begins with the renewing of the mind. 

So we have to ask, how are our minds renewed? Listen to what Paul says to the Corinthians and see if you hear it.

2 Corinthians 3:15-18 (ESV) 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Did you catch it? Whenever they read Moses, a veil lies over their hearts, but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 

Now with unveiled face, we behold the glory of the lord, where? In his word. 

Now that we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, now that he who inspired it lives within us, he illuminates it for us. We read and we see the truth of God within the word of God. 

The truth is we want some miraculous experience that transforms us. We think that the right worship context, or the right dynamic speaker, or the retreat, or whatever the modern church is selling is the key to experiencing renewal, when in reality, it is found in the slow and steady study of God’s word. 

As we immerse ourselves in it, as we sing it, as we hear it read aloud, as we read it, as we hear it preached, as we study it, it begins, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to renovate our minds. Then when we think differently, we act differently, and little by little we are transformed rather than conformed. 

What does Paul say the result is? That we may, by testing, discern what the will of God is. 

Now, when we talk about the will of God, there is a lot to discuss. This morning let me just say a few words. 

He is not saying that if we are transformed we will all of a sudden know all of God’s will. God has chosen to keep somethings unrevealed and it is foolishness to pry where God has not spoken. 

He is not saying that if we are transformed we will all of a sudden know which job to take, which spouse to marry, which house to buy. God is not a magic eightball.

What he is saying, is that we will be able to look at our lives, the choices and opportunities before us and because we know his written word, his revealed word, we will be able to determine, in general, what God desires of us. We will know what is worthy of God and what is not worthy of God. 

He then gives us three descriptions of God’s will. The word will is singular here, it is the definite, revealed, once for all given will of God that he describes. Furthermore, each of these descriptions are singular. 

It is good. God’s will for you will never be out of line with his goodness. 

It is acceptable. God’s will for you will never be out of line with what pleases him. 

It is perfect. God’s will for you will never lead you away from him but towards wholeness in him. 

If what you are doing is not good, not pleasing, and not leading you towards wholeness in Him, it is not God’s will. If we were to be in a larger discussion surrounding God’s decretive will versus his preceptive will vs his secret will we might nuance it more than that, but for this morning I believe that gets to the heart of what Paul is saying here. 

If what you are doing is not good, not pleasing, and not leading you towards wholeness in Him, it is not God’s will.

How do you know if it is in line with God’s goodness, with what pleased him, with what is leading you towards wholeness in him? Paul says that you know that when your mind is renewed. How is your mind renewed? By the power of the Holy Spirit through his written word. And when your mind is renewed and you know what is in line with his goodness, what pleases him, and what is leading you towards wholeness in him, you will live your life differently, because you will be being transformed rather than conformed to the world.

Three principles of transformed living. 

Your salvation should affect the way you live your life.

Unevaluated living always leads away from God.

Transformed lives always trends towards God.

Paul's message in Romans 12:1-2 is not ‘try harder.’ He did not spend 11 chapters emphasizing God’s grace and mercy to turn the corner and say, do better. 

No. It is, in light of the gracious and wonderful mercies of God, the mercies that brought you from death to life, the mercies that saved you from sin, the mercies that clothed you in the righteousness of Christ, in light of that, live your life from the mercy in which you now stand. 

The gospel is not only the good news that we can be saved, it is the good news that transforms our minds and ultimately lives. Understanding what God has and is doing for you is the motivation to live in obedience to his will for us. We are not our own, we have been bought with a price. 

I’d like to close with a quote by Sinclair Ferguson. He says, 

Jesus wants His disciples to understand the significance of what He came to do for them, and then to make connections between what He has done and what they are to do. Understanding, the key to transformed Christian living, lies here—not primarily in our affections, or our emotions, or our instincts, or even our will. Christ will gradually transform all these. But He does so through our understanding of the gospel. As its truth affects the way we think, it begins to change the way we feel; that in turn affects what we want, and the way we behave. Thus the gospel fuels the way we live. This is the principle enunciated in Rom. 12:1–2. The transformation of our lives takes place by means of the renewal of our minds. 

This is Paul's plea, brother, sister, realize that you belong to God, come to his altar as a living sacrifice, fully consecrated and devoted to him because Christ has made a way for you to be transformed. Leave the world’s patterns and ways behind and live fully devoted lives to your Heavenly Father. 

Let us pray. 

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