Having begun 2022 in a sermon series looking at the issues we’ve dealt with in the Church over this past pandemic season, we now return to our main sermon series, Paul’s letter to the Romans. If you’re new to SonRise Community Church this is by and large the pattern of our preaching. We have a one large main sermon series trekking verse by verse through a book of the Bible, with little breaks along the way to highlight certain topics or holidays. So with our church series behind us, Romans is back in front of us.
All together we’ve spent a year so far in this letter covering the first 11 chapters, far too short a time to enjoy such an excellent and admirable book of the Bible. But to chapter 12 we come today, and Lord willing, the plan is to finish out Romans by the end of May. So, there is much glory before us to see.
Let’s ask God for His blessing as we begin this endeavor.
Romans 12:1-2, “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. 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.”
There are many divisions and subdivisions throughout Romans, but the division that begins at chapter 12 is one of the most significant divisions of all in this letter. It’s the great turn from indicative to imperative, from explanation to application, from doctrine to practice.
How goes it with your soul as we begin this new section? What’s your heart posture like as we finish with the first 11 chapters? Are you a little, let down? Are you sorry we’ve finished the doctrinal portion and have come to the practical portion? Do you wish that Paul would’ve not done this and kept on mining the depths of doctrine? Are you one who’s tempted to believe Romans has ended when chapter 11 ends, or that you’ve gotten all you desire to get out of Romans at the end of chapter 11? If you devote hours to deep study of the precious doctrines of Romans 1-11, and are able to talk and teach others about these things with precision, praise God! But should you not also devote hours to deep study of how to live these things out as well? All the truth about God revealed in His Word isn’t just intended to capture our minds and shape our tongues, they’re intended to capture our hearts and shape the way we live. Because true and real faith is more than just intellectual agreement, we can say that the truths we really believe are only the truths we actually live out.Many people fall prey to this, and we must remember the words of Jesus in John 13:17, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” Church, a theoretical Christianity is not just useless, it’s a contradiction because God’s aim in saving us by His grace is not just to re-order our minds, but to transform the whole of us.
But maybe you feel something else as we approach this new section. Do you feel that our sermon series has now finally begun? Or are you delighted we’re done with the doctrine and have finally come to the things that really matter? Maybe you’re one who is tempted with believing that nothing you desire actually comes to you in chapters 1-11 and that Romans doesn’t begin until chapter 12. Such a posture is just as off as the overly intellectual posture we just spoke of. If you’re only concern is the practice of Christianity and you avoid the doctrines of Christianity, tell me, what is it that you’re practicing? What lays under your living? What provides the foundation to your living? What informs your living? What is able to correct it? What fuels and directs it? God does indeed care about how we live, we’ll be reminded about this very thing for the next four months, but God also deeply cares about what we believe. He cares about our confession of faith, about His truth that He intends to reside within you. Many people also fall prey to this, and we must remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Church, a Christianity with no doctrine is like a cake made out of nothing but icing. It might look nice from a distance, it might taste great at first, but it’s thin and flimsy with no substance to it all, and will eventually turn your stomach.
Thankfully, Romans gives us both! It shows us following Christ is an action of the whole person, mind and body, belief and behavior, thought and life.
Romans 12:1-2 will be our text for the next four weeks. These two verses are astounding in their scope, beautiful in their gravity, and simply wonderful in their applicability. Today we look only to how it all begins, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…”
Paul begins by making an appeal to us. See that? The first phrase is “I appeal to you therefore…” All 11 chapters are held within this one phrase. The whole great doctrinal teaching we’ve been covering for the last year leads to this appeal from Paul to live a certain kind of life. Or we could say, the Christian life lived rightly is a result of all this grand doctrine in the first eleven chapters gripping us, dwelling in us, and changing us.
So Church, since this is true we cannot forget the doctrine we’ve covered, can we? So remember, the fuel to live the Christian life comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the very power of God to save everyone who believes (1:16). And though shame presses in on us from all sides as we think on past sins done and past good left undone, we press on unashamed in this gospel because in this gospel and only in this gospel does God reveal His very righteousness (1:17). The very righteousness we by nature suppress (1:18), the very righteousness we lack and do not seek out on our own and thus come underneath the wrath of God (1:21-3:20). But God, in grace, has revealed His righteousness to us (3:21). How does God reveal His righteousness? By what we find in 3:23-26, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (an atoning sacrifice) by His blood…this was to reveal His righteousness…” How is this all this wrath receiving, sin forgiving, righteousness providing cross work received by us and made our own? “…by faith.” Faith, that was first modeled for us in Father Abraham and in king David (chpt. 4). And from having such faith in Jesus Christ we have peace (5:1-2). Peace with the God we were once at odds with in our sin. Peace that endures, peace that enables us to stand and rejoice in hope even in the midst of all suffering that comes our way (5:3-4). In this we see the great love of God, who loved us when we were His enemies. The God who desired to love us in this way even from the days of Adam, who was a type, or preview, of the Christ who would one day come (5:6-14). And in loving us in this way, God has made us one with and alive in Jesus Christ. He’s raised us up in resurrection power to walk in newness of life, and so changed our hearts that now our new hearts desire to be slaves of God (chpt. 6). Even though we still struggle with sin and the lingering corruption in us (chpt. 7), we praise God…because of Jesus Christ our Lord who saves us from both the penalty and the power of sin. So we rejoice: because there is now no condemnation for anyone who is in Christ (8:1)…because we’re now filled with the Spirit of Christ (8:16)…and because of Christ God now sovereignly causes all things to work for our great good.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:31-39).
I speak the truth in Christ, we simultaneously truly grieve over the lost around us and yet deeply rejoice and rest in our sovereign God who has ordained and planned all things, and predestined us to know Him long ago (chpt.9). This gospel means the end of the Law (10:1-4), this gospel motivates missionary movement out to the all nations (10:5-21), this gospel is the what is now bringing us Gentiles into the Kingdom (11:1-24), and this gospel will be believed in and treasured by the Israel of God in the end (11:26-32).
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”
After all of this in these first 11 chapters, I wonder what Paul did. Did he rest? Did he sleep? Or, did he take a long pause, look at Tertius his secretary who’s taking down these words, and say, ‘You ready to begin again?’ Whatever he did don’t miss the first word. “I appeal to you, therefore…”
See it Church. All the glory of Romans 1-11 leads to the glory beginning with “Therefore…!” in Romans 12:1. But notice how it says it. “I appeal to you therefore…present your bodies as a living sacrifice…?” No, it doesn’t say it like that. Look at it. Before Paul begins talking about our lives as a living sacrifice there’s something else for us to see. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…”
What’s all this about? What’s Paul up to in this phrase? He’s made the great turn in the word therefore, but by adding this phrase onto it Paul explains more of this turn by getting at the motive of the Christian life. So Church, why do we live the Christian life? Why do we live differently than the world? You ever thought of that question before? Do you know the answer to it? What is the motive for the Christian life? Here are some options. Do we heed Paul’s appeal and his therefore in order to be saved? Do we heed Paul’s appeal and his therefore in order to gain favor or blessing from God? Do we heed Paul’s appeal and his therefore in order to work our way closer to God? Do we heed Paul’s appeal and his therefore in order to show ourselves as righteous before others? No. We heed Paul’s appeal and his therefore…see it…“by the mercies of God!” What does Paul mean by the mercies of God?
First, notice it’s plural (mercies) not singular (mercy). Does this matter? Of course it matters. Paul just got done describing the power of the gospel, the sinfulness of man, the saving work of Christ, justification by faith alone, and the deep assurance we enjoy in the sovereign grace of God that is now ours, that gives us peace, that changes us, and that keeps us to end. Now Paul, from the vantage point of 12:1 looks back over all of Romans 1-11 and in one word puts all these grand and glorious doctrines under one heading, the mercies of God! Of course this word has to be in the plural!You see that? He doesn’t say “…by the mercy of God…” he says “…by the mercies of God…” Romans then, while mostly being known for Paul’s great doctrinal treatise (rightly so!), could also truly be described as Paul’s account of the mercies of God. Everything that sinners receive from God when they look to Jesus in faith is under the banner of ‘the mercies of God.’
Second, notice the little word before this phrase “…by…the mercies of God present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” Paul intends us to know that we live the Christian life by, because of, in, and through the mercies of God. This is the motive of the Christian life. We don’t obey the great call to live differently in 12:1-2 in order to be saved by God, we obey the great call to live differently in 12:1-2 because we’ve been saved by God. And once we’ve been saved by God, we rejoice in these past mercies to us, and rejoice that these mercies are indeed new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23) to us, and that these mercies will keep carrying us along day by day. Or perhaps we could just say, His mercies endure forever. Do you see what this means? We’ll never graduate from Romans 1-11. The call to the Christian life in 12:1-2 has all of 1-11 in it, so all of our lives we must keep returning to these mercies of God, keep marinating in them, keep taking them into us so that our life before God is fueled by the great mercies of God!
We can never over emphasize this. I’m convinced that most people just go through life as a kind of reactionary creature, existing simply by reacting to the circumstances around them. Tossed to and for by every new fad, new trend, and new idea of the moment. And somewhere along the way, as we’re just floating along, something grabs our attention in a unusually powerful manner, we’re stunned by it, and all of the sudden we find ourselves saying, ‘I can devote my life to that.’ Whether it’s a hobby, a cause, a person, an idea, whatever it is, all of us eventually find something to build our lives on. And from building our lives on this one thing, we then begin to create a worldview, or a framework, through which we see everything else, and out of which we begin to live. What is this one thing for you? Bowling? Amazon shopping? Pleasure seeking? Fame? Wealth? Respect? Comfort and ease?
For me it was once rock climbing. The first time I went climbing I can remember how enjoyable it was and how easily it came to me. And so naturally, I did it more and more and more. It went from a fun weekend getaway, to a frequent hobby, to a passion, to an all-encompassing lifestyle. I began talking like climbers do, dressing like climbers do, and living like climbers do. Looking back I can see, much of my life was spiraling out of control at that time, and the more unrest I felt in my heart the more I dove into the climbing world, trying to silence the constant noise in my head and heart. In this way climbing became my identity, such that I didn’t know who I was without it. Functionally, this was idolatry in the most basic sense. And praise God, as I was running off to this mountain or that mountain in the pursuit to become a world-famous rock climber, He interrupted me by His grace and saved me from myself. My life was built on rock climbing, and He rebuilt my life on Him.
Church, in a world such as ours, with hearts such as ours, with a Savior such as Christ, we must see the clear call in Romans 12:1 is a call to build our lives on the mercies of God! What does that look like?
It looks like worship.
It looks like a fiery death.
It looks like a costly sacrificial OT offering.
Yet it looks like true life.
It looks like going against the flow of the world.
It looks like transformation.
And it looks like knowing and growing in the will of God.
This is the Christian life. And of course, this is where the rest of Romans 12:1-2 will take us, which is where we’ll be for this whole month. What glories are in store for us!
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – Christian Conduct, vol. 12 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985) 3-4.
 Ibid., 426.
 Paul Tripp, Do You Believe? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2021) 22-25.
 Lloyd-Jones, 428.
 Lloyd-Jones, 24-27.
 Lloyd-Jones, 32.