Living Sacrifice: Its MotiveRomans 12:1-2Theme: God’s mercy.This week’s lessons teach us the nature of God’s mercy and grace to us in Christ Jesus. LessonRomans 12:1 is an amazing verse. It is one of those portions of the Bible that is literally packed with meaning, which is why we are devoting two months of study to just this verse and the next.
I began by studying the word “therefore,” which links the urging in verses 1 and 2 to everything that Paul has already written about in the letter. Next we looked at the idea of “sacrifice,” finding that in genuine Christianity we live by dying to self, as strange as that may seem. Third, we explored the nature of these sacrifices, seeing that:
1. They are to be living.2. They involve giving our bodies to God for his service.3. They must be holy.4. If they are these things, they will be acceptable to God.
But why should we present our bodies as living sacrifices? That is the question I am raising, and the answer, as I have already pointed out, is “in view of (or because of) God’s mercy.” In the Greek text the word “mercy” is plural rather than singular, as the New International Version has it, so the reason for giving ourselves to God is literally because of God’s manifold mercies, that is, because he has been good to us in many ways.
This is entirely different from the way the world looks at things. Assuming that the world should even get as far as being concerned about righteous living – and today it is very doubtful that it could – the world would probably say: “The reason to live a moral life is that you are going to get in trouble if you don’t.” Or to give secular thinking the greatest possible credit, perhaps it might say: “Because it is good for you.”
That is not what we have here.
In Rediscovering Holiness J. I. Packer says, “The secular world never understands Christian motivation. Faced with the question of what makes Christians tick, unbelievers maintain that Christianity is practiced only out of self-serving purposes. They see Christians as fearing the consequences of not being Christians (religion as fire insurance), or feeling the need of help and support to achieve their goals (religion as a crutch), or wishing to sustain a social identity (religion as a badge of respectability). No doubt all these motivations can be found among the membership of churches: it would be futile to dispute that. But just as a horse brought into a house is not thereby made human, so a self-seeking motivation brought into the church is not thereby made Christian, nor will holiness ever be the right name for religious routines thus motivated. From the plan of salvation I learn that the true driving force in authentic Christian living is, and ever must be, not the hope of gain, but the heart of gratitude.”1
And, of course, that is exactly what Paul is teaching. As John Calvin wrote, “Paul’s entreaty teaches us that men will never worship God with a sincere heart, or be roused to fear and obey him with sufficient zeal, until they properly understand how much they are indebted to his mercy.”2
This is not the first time we have had to think about mercy in studying Romans. Mercy is one of three words often found together: goodness, grace, and mercy. “Goodness” is the most general term, involving all that emanates from God: his decrees, his creation, his laws, his providences. It extends to the elect and to the non-elect, though not in the same way. God is good, and everything he does is good. “Grace” denotes favor, particularly toward the undeserving. There is “common grace,” the kind of favor God shows to all persons in that he sends rain on the just and unjust alike. There is also “special” or “saving grace,” which is what he shows to those he is saving from their sins. “Mercy” is an aspect of grace, but the unique quality of mercy is that it is given to the pitiful.
Arthur W. Pink says, “Mercy… denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus ‘mercy’ presupposes sin.”3
1 J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Publications, 1992), p. 75.2 John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, trans. by Ross MacKenzie (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), p. 263.3 Arthur W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, n.d.), pp. 83, 84.
How does a Christian find true life?
How does a grasp of God’s mercy motivate us to live for him?
Why do you think unbelievers are unable to understand what motivates believers to a life of godliness?
How does mercy differ from grace?