1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
1901 ASV Translation:
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service.
2 And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
I. Paul's "Appeal".
A. This summons is a "parakalesis" as distinct from a "command".
1. A "parakalesis" is a summons to "come alongside" that can take all manner of specific forms. It can be an "urging"; it can be a "rebuke"; it can be a "corrective" of some kind.
2. In keeping with the spirit of the Kingdom of God and the Church of the Firstborn, the issue is not "legal". This means that it is not a "demand" that can fall upon rebellious ears and be "obeyed" by the unloving. This does not mean that it is a "take it or leave it" summons in the sense that there are no down-line consequences (there are no decisions/actions that have no down-line consequences in a real cause/effect universe such as the one in which we live). Nor is this a summons in which the down-line consequences are all "good" (all true moral options leave a person free to act, or not, without "death" coming into the picture). However, the bottom line is this: a summons such as this can only be given one legitimate response and that response has to be a genuine, heart-love, reality. With this summons, there can be no merely external submission without regard for the condition of the relationship between the two involved.
3. As a "parakalesis", a massive question arises: What happens to those who refuse?
a. In recent history, there has been a rather significant debate over what God does with those who disobey Him. In street terms, this debate has been called "the lordship-salvation debate" and its core issue is the question of the degree to which a person must be in submission to God in order to receive His salvation.
1) This is no small issue as its protagonists have made clear: it affects the very core of the Gospel. Does God save only those who use Romans 12:1-2 as the bottom line in the definition of their relationship to God, or does He also save those who use Romans 10:9-11 as their bottom line?
2) Though there are many tangential issues, the one, bottom-line, issue that is involved is this: Is God willing to save a person who retains any portion of his person to himself? Asked in another way the question is this: does the Gospel come as a "promise" or is it a "deal"?
a) In order to answer this question, one must deal with some of those "tangential" issues.
b) One of the "tangential" issues is the issue of how much a person must understand in order to "believe" the Gospel. People who have been born and raised in the context of Adamic depravity are not known for clarity of understanding or the ability to reason from one implication to another to another to another (in a kind of "connecting the dots" method). Paul's question to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:12 is an example of such ignorance and inability to reason. Likewise his challenge to the Galatians in 3:1-3 assumes such a profound lack of ability to think straight as to call into question just how much impact even the presence of the Holy Spirit makes in the mental acuity of those in whom He dwells. All through the New Testament there are cautions and warnings about "being deceived", all of which raise the specter of people who are redeemed and indwelt by God's Spirit who yet do not have the ability to think straight. These revealed facts indicate that the Gospel does not assume much of an ability on man's part to understand God or His Truth. Thus, we are almost forced to the conclusion that God not only does not "expect" people to understand the implications of a reestablished relationship with Him, He actually does not "require" that understanding. Thus, He simply promises to forgive and justify those who have turned to Him out of the despair of the realization of their own incapacities in respect to righteousness (note Jesus' declaration of the fact that the "sinner" of Luke 18:13-14 went home "justified" simply because his despair regarding his "righteousness" drove him to plead for "mercy"). This reality presses us to conclude that God does not demand of man that he turn his life over to God in order to be "saved". Rather, He demands that man "believe" that He is willing to forgive those who are willing to turn to Him out of their own despair.
c) A second "tangential" issue is the question of whether a man can be in a state of knowledgeable rebellion and be "saved" by faith in the Gospel. What this means is this: can a person "believe" the Gospel while refusing to yield up that portion of his life that he knows is contrary to the will of God? For example, if a person is gainfully employed as a "hit man" for the Mob, can he "believe" the Gospel while fully intending to go on murdering people for money though he knows this is wrong? Can a fornicator "believe" the Gospel while fully intending to continue chasing his fornications though he knows they are evil? [I have deliberately chosen, for illustrative purposes, activities that have a fairly universal level of knowledge among men as to their evil (Note Romans 1:32).] The answer to this question does not seem to be difficult: God saves ("delivers") no one who wishes to be "forgiven" without being "delivered". The clarity of this answer is seen in two facts. First, most people have no difficulty grasping the fact that a person cannot receive from God while deliberately maintaining the posture and activities of an avowed adversary. And, second, most who wish to claim "salvation by faith" while pursuing their lusts feel constrained to "justify" their lusts by denying the hatefulness of them. This feeling of constraint would not be necessary if the Gospel was "believe in Me and continue do the very things for which you say you wish to be forgiven". Thus, God saves ("delivers") none whose "faith" does not seek "deliverance". But, the issue here is the fact that all, not just some, who believe do so in gross ignorance of the sinfulness of their ways. Though God will not save anyone who does not wish to be saved, neither will He refuse to save any just because he/she is ignorant of just how much of his/her life needs to be redeemed.
d) A third "tangential" issue is the relationship between a "partial" submission and the "sacrifice of one's body" as Paul calls for in our current text. If one "must" be willing to turn to God from their "known" idols (1 Thessalonians 1:9), how is that any different from being willing to present their entire bodies to God? The essence is not "different", but the degree is. The issue of "degree" is the issue of "knowledge". This profoundly affects our grasp of the Gospel. When the issue of the Gospel is moved from "faith" in God's promise to "reconnect" with us in spite of our sins toour submission to God's morality as a pre-condition for His willingness to "reconnect", the Gospel has been distorted from "promise" to "law". It is one thing to "know" that turning to God means resigning from my job as a hit man; it is altogether another thing to be able to yield "all" to God in the beginning. This is why Jesus promised that God would respond to even the merest expression of true faith (faith no larger than a mustard seed: Matthew 17:20). It is simply impossible for any man to "present his body to God as a living sacrifice" as the initiatory act of saving faith. To be able to yield all to God, one must have gotten to know Him to a sufficient degree as to have the faith to take such a step. Thus, Paul does not issue his "parakalesis" until Romans 12, after he has explained in detail the "mercies of God".
b. The biblical record is not unclear, or silent, about "believers" and their rebellious ways.
1) The Corinthian church was as corrupted and confused as any church addressed in the biblical record. Paul's letters were incisive and challenging: he told the Corinthians that if they persisted in their sinfulness, they would continue to experience what was already happening: sickness, weakness, and death at the hands of a disciplinarian Father Who was determined to keep them from being condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32). He also wrote that there would be a day in which every believer's behavior would be brought under the scrutiny of "fire" and "if any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved..." (1 Corinthians 3:15). These are not the words of a theologian whose "gospel" is "you must turn your life over to God if you wish to be saved".
2) The biblical record openly declares that believers "all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). The apostle Paul professed honestly to realize that he had not "arrived" (Philippians3:12). There is a difference between "sin" that is unwitting and accomplished without any awareness of its sinfulness and "sin" that is deliberate; but "sin" is still "sin" and ignorance does not blunt its impact in the real cause/effect world in which we live. The only arena in which "sin" does not do as much damage if it is unwitting is in the arena of relationships. People are not as apt to shut down a relationship if they think the evil done was unintended. Nor is God: 1 John 1:9 pointedly puts unwitting sins into the "forgiven" category when the known sins are confessed. But that very verse strongly implies the fact that "believers" knowingly sin; otherwise there is no need for "confession".