This morning now marks the fourth Sunday we have been walking through Romans 12:1-2. It really is one whole unit meant to be seen together, that serves as an introduction to chapters 12-16. So why have we taken four weeks to look at it? Well, I’m convinced that if we see the glory of these individual parts we’ll see, with a greater clarity, how all the parts fit together into one glorious whole.

We began looking at the word “therefore” and beheld the beauty of how Paul lays out his whole argument, going from doctrinal explanation in chapters 1-11 to practical application in chapters 12-16. We then looked at the phrase “by the mercies of God”, and saw how this is the motive of the Christian life. Meaning, because of the magnitude and the multitude of these mercies of God Paul has laid out in the first eleven chapters, we’re to live our lives all our days in them, from them, and through them. Then we looked at the main image of the Christian life put forth in this passage, that of a living sacrifice. A continual offering up of ourselves to die on the fiery altar of our holy God, this is our worship. And while this worship is a kind of death, it’s also how we live and please God. And last week we lingered over what happens to us when we present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, that we are transformed by the renewal of our minds.

What a full image of the Christian life we have here! As wonderful all of this is there is still one more piece to see. It’s the last phrase of Romans 12:1-2. I’ll read it all through once again and highlight where we’ll be today. 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…(now today we come to this last phrase)…that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

When we get to this ending point in Romans 12:1-2 we now indeed have the full picture. And I think it’s clear this last phrase in v2 is the result of all that’s come before.[1] The therefore, the mercies of God, living sacrifices, and transformation through the renewal of the mind, all of that leads to one grand result…not only discerning what the will of God is, but finding and treasuring His will to be that which it is; good, acceptable, and perfect. But, what does this mean? What is the will of God referring to here? And what does this look like in day to day life?

Two headings to work through today. See first…

Which ‘Will’ of God?

At one point or another every Christian will ask themselves a certain question. And yet, even though every Christian will ask this question, not every Christian will be able to answer this question. Which means, this question is very easy to ask, but it isn’t always easy to answer. The question is this, ‘What is God’s will for my life?’ I’m guessing that most of you have asked this question at some point or another? I know I have. I get this question a lot from people and I always enjoy being asked this because when someone approaches me asking this question I usually know one thing very clearly about this person, they love God a great deal and because of that they care a great deal about what God wants them to do with their life. That’s very encouraging, indeed. But, while this is a good question, I think we often go wrong in how we attempt to find an answer to the question. We want to know what to do about this or that, whether we should take this job or that job, where we should live, who we should marry, or whether to marry at all, and other questions like this, and we too often look for the answer in all the wrong places. In the sky, in our soup, in dreams, in rapturous visions, in our feelings, in our experiences with God, and on and on. These things shift like the sand on the seashore, so they can’t be trusted as means by which we come to know God’s will. And yet, right there before us is the one thing that never shifts like the sand, the Bible. Church, God gave us all of Scripture for all of life. So, when it comes to knowing the will of God, we ought to look for it and come to know it in the Word of God alone.

But, when we look in the Word of God, we find that there are two wills of God. Or perhaps better put, we find that there are two ways to talk about the will of God in the Bible. Where do I get this? Deuteronomy 29:29 which says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” See the two wills in God here from this verse? God has a secret will and a revealed will. Martin Luther called these two wills the Deus absconditus and Deus revelatus, or the secret will of God and the revealed will of God.[2] The difference between these two wills of God matters immensely, because if we’re to know the will of God, as Romans 12:2 says we are, we need to know which will of God Paul is talking about. So what is the difference between these two wills and which one does Paul have in mind here?

First, the secret will of God, sometimes called the will of decree, refers to God’s sovereign governance over all things that come to pass. This includes everything that occurs, whether it’s in nature, in and among mankind, or in the vast expanse of all the universe. By this secret will God brings to pass, or ordains, whatsoever comes to pass. A few examples. Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Proverbs 16:1, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.” Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”  Daniel 4:34-35, “…His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” Eph. 1:11, “…all things work according to the counsel of His will.”

All these passages and more describe the secret, sovereign will of God. And it’s important to know, when it comes to this secret will of God, no one can stop it from happening, no one can resist it, and no one can hinder it in anyway shape or form. To use language we often use today, when it comes to the secret will of God, no one can ever be out of it, ever. Whatsoever comes to pass, comes to pass because of the secret sovereign will of God.

But, Deut. 29:29 didn’t just mention secret things that belong to the Lord. It also mentioned things that are revealed which belong to us and to our children, that we may do them all our days. So, we not only know of God’s secret will, we know of God’s revealed will too. This is sometimes called the will of command, which refers to all that God’s commands of us in the Bible. So, think of the Ten Commandments. There we see ten examples of God’s revealed will being made known. Think even of our text we’re in now. God commands us in this passage to offer our bodies to Him as living sacrifices. This command, and every other command like it, is a command from God to us that we can either obey or disobey, and from our obedience or disobedience we either please God or grieve God. You see what that means? While no one can ever be out of God’s secret will, we can truly be in or out of God’s revealed will depending on whether we’re obedient or disobedient to His commands.

So, come back to the big question all Christians eventually ask, ‘What is the will of God for my life?’ When someone asks me this I want to press the pause the button and give clarification. ‘Which will of God are you referring to? His secret will or His revealed will?’ Someone once asked me this about hurricane Irma, why God allowed it to happen. They seemed to be very confident that God was judging Florida. And were shocked when I said, ‘I don’t know why God allowed hurricane Irma to sweep through Florida, and I don’t think we can know why.’ Similarly, just this past week, as we’re watching the news about Russia invading Ukraine, I’ve seen tons of prominent pastors saying online, very confidently, that they know the exact reason why this is happening. That Putin is fulfilling some obscure prophecy and that the this had to happen before the end comes. And yet nothing could be further from the truth. I really do think this kind of unhealthy speculation clothed in biblical language is a result of the fall. Church, we don’t know why God allows tyrants to invade and terrorize, we don’t know why God allows hurricanes, no verse in the Bible will tell you the exact reason why these things occur. Perhaps we need to be reminded we’re not crystal ball readers, that we can’t know and should never seek to know the secret will of God. Deut. 29:29 says these things belong to the Lord. But, when it comes to God’s revealed will, can we know it? YES! How can we know it? By what’s been revealed! By the Scripture. Church, we should devote our lives to knowing the revealed will of God, for us, for our children, for one another in our life together, so we all grow in our knowledge of God’s will for our lives.

‘What in the world does all that have to do with Romans 12?’ When we present our bodies to God, by the mercies of God, to be living sacrifices, we’ll be transformed by the renewal of our minds, and as our minds are renewed, we’ll come to know what the revealed will of God is, not His secret will. That’s why this matters and that’s why I’ve gone into it.

So, now we know what will of God is in view in v2, we can settle in and explore what this looks like in day to day life.

Life and the Will of God (v2b)

“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.”

The long training of a classical conductor enables them to detect a false chord struck by one instrument in a symphony of hundreds of instruments.[3] Isn’t that amazing? That an ear could be so fine tuned to recognize one wrong note struck while hundreds of other notes are resounding simultaneously? So too, the mind of a Christian, when it’s renewed and transformed as v2a speaks of, becomes fine tuned to the will of God by continual exposure and submission to God’s Word. Or we could say it like this, the call of Romans 12:2 is that we must seek to have our minds so thoroughly renewed by the Word of God that we know, almost instinctively, what the will of God is for any situation.[4]

This is what ‘testing’ and ‘discerning’ or ‘proving’ means in v2. It isn’t referring to us testing the will of God to find out if it is good or bad, no. These terms in v2 refer to us discovering by repeated experience how good, pleasing, perfect, and acceptable the will of God is.[5] How God’s will for us is a will that never fails, is never aimless, never stagnant, fruitless, vague, or lacking in any way. There is no moment of life that the revealed will of God doesn’t speak to or inform, indeed, what a gift of God to us that we have all of His Word for all of life.

So, when a Christian who loves the Lord, is living a Romans 12:1-2 life, a life marked by living sacrifice, when someone like this asks, ‘What is God’s will for my life?’ we could simply respond with, ‘Do what you please.’[6] St. Augustine agreed and said long ago, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” Why do we make this more mysterious than it needs to be? As long as what we do in life falls within the bounds of the revealed will of God, we have complete liberty to live according to whatever pleases us, and we shouldn’t lose any sleep wondering whether you are in or out of God’s will.[7] It is true, the Bible doesn’t tell you who person to marry, what car to drive, if you should own a home or rent, where to vacation, what pants to where, or what to eat for breakfast…or a million other choices you must make. v2 is saying, we must have a renewed mind, that is so shaped and so governed by all God has revealed in the Bible, that our lives come further and further into conformity with the will of God.[8] And once we begin to live like this day to day we’ll not only find God’s will to be good, we’ll come to love God’s will, to approve of it, desire it, and rejoice in it.[9]

Conclusion:

We now have been given, in Romans 12:1-2, the full picture of the Christian life. What it is, what fuels it, what motivates it, what it looks like, and what it results in. How gracious of God to reveal this to us. And Church, it doesn’t stop here. v1-2 serves as the doorway for all to come in chapters 12-16. What does the v1-2 life look like as we do life with fellow believers and the world around us? The rest of chapter 12 will show us. What does the v1-2 life look like as we do life with the authorities God has placed over us? Chapter 13 will show us. What does the v1-2 life look like as we do life with those among us who have lots of scruples and who are abrasive in their interactions with others? Chapter 14-15 will show us how to do life with these weaker brothers and sisters. And what does the v1-2 life look like for Paul as he desires to visit Rome and closes out his letter to them? Chapter 16 will show us.

Much glory led to Romans 12:1-2. Much glory is there to be seen in Romans 12:1-2. And much glory yet lies ahead of us flowing out of Romans 12:1-2.

In it all, may God renew our minds, inflame our hearts, and direct our lives for His glory and our good.


[1] Daniel M. Doriani, Romans – Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 2021), 419.

[2] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s A Theologian, 71.

[3] Jeff Lippencott and R.C. Sproul have a discussion about this at the end of their album Glory to the Holy One (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2014).

[4] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 776.

[5] John Murray, Romans, NICNT, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 114–115.

[6] See Kevin DeYoung’s short book Just Do Something; it is very helpful on this point.

[7] R.C. Sproul, Everyone’s A Theologian, 74.

[8] John Piper, “What is the Will of God and How Do We Know It?” August 22, 2004 on desiringgod.org. Also see, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – Christian Conduct (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2018) 129.

[9] Lloyd-Jones, 137.

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