Knowing God’s Will

Romans 12:1-5

September 6, 2009 | Brian Bill

An older lady came out on her porch every morning, and would raise her arms to the sky and shout, “Praise the Lord.”  One day an atheist moved next door and over time he became very irritated with this worshipping woman.  So every morning after he heard her exclamation of praise, he would shout out, “There is no Lord!”  This went on for several months, then one morning in the middle of winter the lady stepped onto her front porch and shouted, “Praise the Lord!  Lord, please reveal your will to me because I have no food and I’m starving.  Please provide for me, O Lord!”

The next morning, when she came out on her porch there were two huge bags of groceries sitting there.  “Praise the Lord!” she cried out.  “He has provided groceries for me!”  Just then the atheist jumped out of the bushes and shouted, “There is no Lord.  I bought those groceries!”  Without skipping a beat, the lady threw her arms in the air and shouted, “Praise the Lord!  He has provided me with groceries and He made the devil pay for them!”

We’ve all asked questions like these at one time or another: How can I know God’s will?  Is He really interested in me as an individual?  Is there a master plan for my life?  We’re beginning a six-part series that we’re calling “Living Life on Purpose” and our topic today is “Knowing God’s Will” from Romans 12.  One of my classmates from my Bible College days posted something on Facebook this week that caught my attention: “If I could give a Christian only one chapter to live by it would be Romans 12.”  

Please turn in your Bibles to the twelfth chapter of Romans where I want us to notice the very first word in verse 1: “Therefore….”  Whenever you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you should always ask what it’s there for.  When we come to this chapter, Paul is making a shift from doctrine to duty, from creed to conduct, from principles to practice, and from beliefs to behavior.  We must not only know, we must grow and instead of just filling our heads, God’s Word must also affect our attitudes and actions.  It’s as if he’s saying, “Based on everything that I’ve just said, this is what you now need to put into practice.”  

I love what Martin Luther said about this book that literally changed his life and became the rallying cry for the Reformation: “Romans is the chief part of the New Testament, and the very purest gospel, which, indeed, deserves that a Christian not only know it word for word by heart but deal with it daily as with daily bread of the soul.  For it can never be read or considered too much or too well, and the more it is handled, the more delightful it becomes, and the better it tastes.”   

There are at least four “therefores” in the book of Romans that help unlock its teaching and provide a summary of where we’ve been.  3:20 is the “therefore” of condemnation: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”  5:1 is the “therefore” of justification: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”   8:1 is the “therefore” of assurance: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  And Romans 12:1 is the “therefore” of surrender.  

The immediate context for our text today is the wonderfully deep doxology found at the end of Romans 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond finding out.  ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?  Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory!  Amen.”  

After spending so much time discussing doctrine, Paul is overcome by the depth of God’s glory and His marvelous mercy and it’s as if he can’t help but break out into an unbridled exclamation of praise.  It’s in this context that we read the very next verse in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.”

if you’re serious about knowing God’s will, then you can’t say no to God’s will

I want to pause right here to say that for some of us, this verse is so well-known that we’re already starting to check out.  I understand.  Stay with me today because I want us to see that Romans 12:1 must be linked to all that comes before it and it cannot be fully understood unless the verses that come after it are included.  I want to propose that if you’re serious about knowing God’s will, then you can’t say no to God’s will.  Ephesians 5:17 says, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”   In order to know God’s will, Romans 12 teaches that there are at least three conditions that must be met.

1. We need to be saved (1a).

The message last week was very clear on this point: Prepare for a delay, but be ready today.  I called Robert Guth this week and we chatted for awhile. When we were finished I reminded him that Jesus is coming soon.  To which he replied, “Not soon enough!”  At the end of the services we gave a call for conversion and around 10 people raised their hands, indicating that they had prayed to receive Jesus Christ into their lives!

Based on all that God has done, Paul says here in verse 1, “I urge you, brothers…”  Even though he could have used a command, he instead makes an appeal.  This word means to “call near” or “to invite.”  Notice that he refers to them as “brothers,” indicating his affection for them as members of God’s family.  The baseline for knowing God’s will is belief.  The question becomes, “Are you saved?”  Until you are, you won’t be in a position to know God’s will.  In John 10:4, Jesus makes this interesting statement: “his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  Those who are in relationship with the Shepherd have the ability to follow because they are tuned into the Shepherd’s voice.

This plea is made “in view of God’s mercy.”  The original word used here for “mercy” is actually plural and refers to God’s multitude of mercies.  He is not merciful just once but again and again.  He is consistently and constantly full of mercy.  John Calvin once said that we will never worship with a sincere heart or serve God with unbridled zeal until we properly understand how much we are indebted to God’s mercy.  

It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t say, “In light of God’s grace” but instead focuses on mercy.  Why is that?  God’s grace is demonstrated when we get what we don’t deserve, whereas His mercy is what keeps us from getting what we do deserve.  Lamentations 3:22: “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (NKJV).  One of the best motivations to live for Christ is a good memory of all the mercies we’ve received.

I met with someone this week and she was so moved by God’s mercy that she prayed to receive Christ.  I wonder if there’s anyone here today who needs to make that same decision.  If you’re serious about knowing God’s will, then you can’t say no to God’s will.  

2. We need to be surrendered (1b-2).

First, we need to be saved and second, we need to be surrendered.  Paul gives us two ways to fully express our surrender to God.

  • Give Him your body.  We are urged, in view of the many mercies of God “to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.”  This word “offer” is a technical term that was used to describe the bringing and presenting of an animal for sacrifice on an altar.  To “offer” means, “to present once and for all.”   This idea of a “living sacrifice” must have been a novel idea to the Jews of that day.  This was something they had not heard of before, except perhaps in the case of Abraham offering Isaac upon the altar.  When we are called to present our “bodies” to the Lord, we are exhorted to offer our total being to Him, not just bits and pieces.  God does not just want to be a “part” of our lives; He wants us to be completely committed to Him.  

Paul continues by saying that our life offering is to be “holy and pleasing to God.”  When we give our best to Him, it will be pleasing, or agreeable to Him.  This then is our “spiritual act of worship.”  Worship is not just what we do here on Sunday mornings.  True worship is the presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord and living holy and pleasing lives, every day of the week.  

  • Give Him your mind.  Verse 1 calls for a decisive commitment to fully surrender.  The first part of verse 2 tells us how we can maintain that commitment: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”  The tense of this verse indicates that we must stop conforming, implying that this is something that we’re prone to do.  The word “conformed” is the word that we get our English word “scheme” from.  It’s sometimes translated “fashioned.”  Paul is urging us to stop being pushed into the fashion of the world.  J.B. Philips offers this paraphrase: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”  Sometimes we are so conformed to the world that there is little noticeable difference between Christians and non-Christians.  

Some of you are facing some incredible temptations right now.  You feel yourself being pulled to conform, to go along with the way your friends are leading you.  Don’t give in!  Unfortunately, some of us have internalized the world’s values and fashions so much that we don’t even recognize it anymore.  It’s like walking into a dark theater in the middle of the day.  When you first go in, everything is really dark.  But after a while, you can see normally, that is, until you walk back outside.  If you spend enough time conforming to the world, you become so accustomed to the darkness that you think it’s now normal.

We’re to stop being conformed and start being transformed.  The word “transformed” refers to an inner change.  We get the word “metamorphosis” from this Greek word.  There’s a story told of a very ugly man with a hideous face.  He was good and kind, but people were terrified of him and would not stay in his presence. As you can imagine, he was very lonely.  The thing he wanted most was to marry one of the women in his town.  Because of his frightening face, he decided to wear a mask of a handsome face so that he could win her love.  He kept this mask on 24/7.  Soon he was married and living the happy life he had always wanted.

After awhile his wife noticed that he was wearing a mask and asked him to show her his true face.  He slowly took it off, bracing himself for the gasp of horror he knew would soon be coming.  But instead of screaming, his wife just smiled.  The man ran to a mirror and realized that the years of wearing the disguise had transformed his face into the features of the mask.  

When we put on Christ and wear his face, we find our lives transformed into his likeness.  2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

I’m greatly challenged by what William Booth, the founder of the Salvation said near the end of his life: “God had all there was of me.  There have been others who had greater plans, greater opportunities than I; but from the day I got a vision of what God could do, I made up my mind God would have all there was of William Booth.”

Notice the last part of verse 2: Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”  God will not force us into anything.  Do you see the conditional clause?  Give Him your body and your mind and don’t be conformed but be transformed, then you will find God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.  Some of us want to know what God’s will is before we’ll do it.  Like when someone asks, “Can you help me with something?” and we respond with, “It depends what it is.”  God wants our will and then He’ll show us His will.  

If you’re serious about knowing God’s will, then you can’t say no to God’s will.

But it’s no use sitting around waiting to have the will of God revealed to us.  This is an active verb.  We learn His will by doing.  When you wonder what God’s will is for your life, the first place to start is by living out Romans 12:1-2.  Until you offer Him your body and your mind, you won’t understand His good, pleasing, and perfect will.  

We tend to focus God’s will on the what – our occupation, or the where – our location, but God is more interested in our transformation.  Have you presented yourself to Him in complete surrender?  The answer to this question will determine your ability to tap into God’s limitless resources.  Think of it this way.  Why should God reveal His will to you if He doesn’t think you’re all that interested in doing it anyway?  Someone put it like this: “Each of us need to decide if we want to go where God is leading.” 

Actually, we’re prone to view God’s will from a human perspective.  I want to know the will of God that is good, perfect and acceptable to me.  But Romans is teaching that God’s good, acceptable and perfect will has to do with Him.  Further, the emphasis is not so much on discovering God’s will as it is in doing His will.  

And so, make sure you’re saved and then make sure you’re surrendered.  There’s a third condition that we must meet if we’re serious about knowing God’s will.

3. We need to be sharpened by others (3-5). 

As we move into the rest of Romans, we come face-to-face with the truth that we are designed to live out God’s will in the context of relationships.

  • Denounce pride (3).  “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Thinking more highly of ourselves than we should is one of the greatest deterrents to knowing and doing God’s will.  How does it feel to be around someone who boasts and brags about his or her abilities?  Never forget this truth: Faith is a gift from God and He uses us simply because He wants to.  We’re to avoid thinking too highly of ourselves and we’re to avoid thinking too low of ourselves.  Don’t be like Diotrephes who was called out in 3 John 9-10: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us.  So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us.  Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.”  

In C.S. Lewis’ classic “Screwtape Letters,” he captures an imaginary conversation between two demons as they consider how best to attack a Christian: “I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient [the Christian] has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact?  Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove!  I’m being humble,’ and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear” (chapter six).

  • Celebrate differences (4).  “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function.” We must also remember that just as the different parts of our bodies have different functions, so too, in the body of Christ, each of us have been given different gifts and roles.  We can’t do it alone.  If God’s purposes are to be accomplished and His church is to grow, every one of us is important.  Nobody is a nobody in the Body of Christ.  While no one can do everything, everyone can do something.  We’ll talk more about this next week.
  • Embrace dependency (5).  “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  While we’re uniquely designed, we’ve been made to function in community with one another because each of us belongs to one another.  I might be strong in the area of my gift, but I am weak in the areas where others have been gifted.  When tempted to use the word “me,” inject the word “we” instead.

I read a fascinating new book this summer by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck called, “Why We Love the Church.”  In it they discuss why so many people are “church-leavers” who believe that spirituality is hot, but religion is not.  Increasingly we hear talk of a “churchless Christianity,” where some want God but not the church, and fellowship without commitment.   The authors quote Chuck Colson who perceptively points out: “We live in a therapeutic age where everything is measured by how much I get out of it.  The church ought to be measured by what we put into it for God and others.”

There is individuality within the body, because there are many members, all with a different role to play

If we’re serious about knowing and doing God’s will, then we must stop thinking individualistically and begin to think corporately.  A letter to the editor in “Christianity Today” this month hit it on the head: “He exposes the unchecked individualism that permeates the evangelical church and too often diminishes our witness to a whimper.”  We cannot look at ourselves as an island, independent of all others.  We must see ourselves as fully functioning members of the body of Christ, with certain gifts that are necessary to the equipping and ministry of the entire church.  There is individuality within the body, because there are many members, all with a different role to play.  But there is no room for individualism, for we are inter-dependent.  We must rely on other members of the body just as they must rely on us.  

I came across something called, “This is My Church.”  “My church is composed of people just like me.  It will be friendly if I am.  It will do great work if I work.  It will make generous gifts to many causes if I’m generous.  It will bring others into the fellowship if I bring them.  Therefore, with God’s help, I dedicate myself to the task of being all these things I want my church to be.”

This is similar to an article written by Mavis Williams called, “The Perfect Church.”

If you should find the perfect church

Without one fault or smear,

For goodness sake!

Don’t join that church;

You’d spoil the atmosphere.

But since no perfect church exists

Made up of imperfect men,

Then let’s cease looking for that church

And love the church we’re in.

Did you know that you belong to the person sitting next to you?  We’re on the same team with each of us playing different roles.  Don’t get puffed up by your own importance and don’t take yourself out of the game by thinking you don’t matter.  We need each other because we belong to each other.  

If you’re serious about knowing God’s will, then you can’t say no to God’s will.  Make sure that you’re saved, make sure you’re surrendered and make sure you’re being sharpened by others.

After World War II, a group of German students volunteered to help rebuild an English cathedral that had been severely damaged by German bombs.  As work progressed, they became concerned about a large statue of Jesus, whose arms were outstretched and beneath which was the inscription: “Come unto Me.”  Because of the extensive damage they had difficulty trying to restore the hands, which had been completely destroyed.  After much discussion, they decided to let the hands remain missing and changed the inscription to: “Christ has no hands but ours.”

What a great reminder as we transition into communion.  The night before Jesus died, he wrestled in prayer and then said these words: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Jesus went to the cross for us because He faithfully followed His Father’s will.  Let’s remember what He did for us as we determine to be his hands and his feet in our world. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?