Thesis:The theology of "total sacrifice" is complicated by three areas of "lack": a lack of love; a lack of faith; and a lack of knowledge.
Introduction:This evening we are going to launch out into Romans 12. This is a chapter that expresses what Paul has wanted to express from the very beginning of his letter. In that beginning Paul initially declared that he was an "apostle". This established him as an authoritative instrument for the declaration of Truth so that none could Live apart from his doctrine. Truth is absolute and totally exclusive of any error and any smell of death. And, once declaring his apostleship, Paul said that his appointment was for the purpose of producing the "obedience of faith". That such obedience cannot occur apart from the content of Romans 12 is fundamental and the presence of Romans 1-11 only means that the ground-laying for its content is necessary. Thus, Paul has been working diligently toward the content of this chapter from the beginning.
That there is such a thing as a necessary "foundation" is important. How people perceive God and His Gospel is the outcome of whether the necessary foundation has been properly laid. It is altogether a mistake for the proclamation of the Gospel to simply "jump" to the "application" and ignore the absolute need for the foundations.
For this cause we are going to work our way into Romans 12:1-2 (as the first paragraph of the chapter) by considering some of the issues that are under the surface.
I. Paul's Approach.
A. He deliberately stays away from all issues of "demand".
1. His word is "parakaleo".
a. The specific meaning of this word is "situation-conditioned".
b. The specific theology of this word is "love/faith" conditioned.
1) Theologically, it probably should not be translated "beseech".
a) "Beseech" has multiple overtones of attempting to persuade someone to give to the speaker something that is very important to him/her.
b) God never "beseeches" simply because His fixation is not upon what He might obtain: He is always fixed upon giving to another.
2) Theologically, it stays away from every connotation of "demand" in the sense of a legal principle.
2. His theology is "love/faith", neither of which can really be "demanded".
B. He assumes certain sin-related realities.
1. He would not even broach the notion of the kind of sacrifice for which he calls if there were not a certain lack of love (one does not have to ask a lover to sacrifice; such action is automatic).
2. He would not have waited until he had written Romans 1-11 if there were not a certain lack of faith (one does not have to "wait" if "faith" is alive and vibrant).
3. He would not call for a further step if there were not a certain lack of knowledge (one does not need to restrain his conformity to the world to bring the will of God to light if it is already revealed).
II. Paul's Quagmire.
A. On one hand, there is the deeply entrenched error of the Jews in their intensively developed legalism which superimposes necessity upon human beings at every level and rests upon a most fundamental corruption of the truth about man.
B. On the other hand, there is the deeply ignorant error of the Gentiles in their culturally developed polytheism that has posited a most fundamental corruption of the truth about God.
C. In the Roman church both of these errors existed and, in the fellowship of the saints, the two were being amalgamated and blended into a third.
III. Our Inheritance.
A. We, 2,000 years later, have inherited the whirlwind of those early breezes.
B. How we understand the issues of Romans 12:1-2 are deeply "conditioned" by our inheritance.
1. If we tend in the direction of the Jewish error, we will make Romans 12:1-2 the core of the Gospel and we will urge people to "give their lives to God so that they may be saved".
2. If we tend in the direction of the Gentile error, we will make a distortion of Romans 6:1 the core of the Gospel and tell people to "accept Jesus into their lives so that they may be saved".
3. If we tend in the direction of the blend, we will make deliberate ignorance the core and dismiss all the "wrangling about the specifics" and tell people that "God loves them and is going to save us all".
IV. The Considerations We Must Give.
A. The first issue is that of "knowledge/ignorance".
1. The question here is the matter of just how much a person must "know" in order to be able to "believe" the Gospel.
a. 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).
1) Paul's question to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 15:12 is an example of such ignorance and inability to reason.
2) 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.
b. 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.
c. These revealed facts indicate that the Gospel does not assume much of an ability on man's part to understand God or His Truth.
d. 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.
e. 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").
1) 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".
2) 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.
2. The answer to this question is that a person needs to hear the Gospel as defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 in a context of personal despair in regard to one's own righteousness.
B. The second issue is that of the attitude of the person who hears the Gospel in regard to his own commitments.
1. Everyone has certain commitments in every given setting of his/her life.
2. The issue here is the question of what one has to do about those commitments in order to be saved.
a. 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?
b. A second example: 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).]
c. What these illustrations bring to the table is the question of the attitude of the person to whom the Gospel is presented at the time of his/her decision.
1) The question 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?
2) The answer to this question does not seem to be difficult: God saves ("delivers") no one who wishes to be "forgiven" without being "delivered".
a) The clarity of this answer is seen in two facts.
i. 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.
ii. 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").
b) 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 the majority 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.
C. The third issue is the distinction between a "partial" submission and that for which Paul is calling in our current text.
1. 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?
a. The essence is not "different", but the degree is.
b. The issue of "degree" is the issue of "knowledge".
1) 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".
2) 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.
3) 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).
4) It is simply impossible for any man to "present his body to God as a living sacrifice" as the initiatory act of saving faith.
a) 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.
b) Thus, Paul does not issue his "parakalesis" until Romans 12, after he has explained in detail the "mercies of God".
2. The issue is twofold: it is one of degree, and one of the actual nature of the Gospel itself.