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".
B. This summons is addressed to "brethren", effectively taking it out of the range of the message of "justification by faith".
C. This summons is rooted in a legitimate perception of what Paul calls "the mercies of God".
1. These "mercies" must be identifiable. This is not just "passing religious language" to fill space.
2. The identification of these "mercies" begins with understanding "mercy".
a. The word chosen by Paul is not the "typical" term for "mercy" found in the book of Romans.
1) The typical term is "eleos" (the noun, used by Paul is Romans in 9:23, 11:31, and 15:9) and "eleao" (the verb, used in 9:15, 16, and 18; and 11:30, 31, and 32; and 12:8).
2) In contrast, the term Paul chose to use at this point is only used by him this one time in Romans and is only found three other times in his epistles (2 Corinthians 1:3; Philippians 2:1; and Colossians 3:12).
b. This word is, however, used by Paul in a significantly "T"heological way in 2 Corinthians 1:3 because there he calls "God" both "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" and "the Father of Mercies" while also adding "the God of all comfort".
c. Interestingly, the only text that gives a significant contextual opportunity to understand this word is Hebrews 10:28.
1) When a biblical writer uses a word without enough context to reveal its meaning, our assumption is that the word was well known and used in the culture so that people who read his writing would know his meaning. That we are not of that culture and language puts us at a disadvantage.
2) However, the meaning of some words is revealed by the surrounding context as in Hebrews10:28. In that text, the context is of unmitigated judgment -- fiery indignation and a devouring of the adversaries -- and the judgment is of willful transgressors of Moses' Law as established by sufficient legal testimony. It is this idea of "unmitigated" judgment that gives us an understanding of our word. The text says the transgressors "died without mercy" (AV) and the strong implication is that, whatever this "mercy" thing is, it was not allowed to stand in the way of the outpouring of the judgment of fiery indignation and consuming disaster. Thus, we draw a tentative conclusion: "mercy" as this word addresses it is a kind of "feeling of reluctance to impose or, at least, stand by and do nothing, while disaster is visited upon a person". Thus, "mercy" seems to be the "will to mitigate a disaster".
3) That Philippians 2:1 and Colossians 3:12 tie this "mercy" to the "bowels" indicates that our tentative conclusion is accurate: the "bowels" in a normal person typically react to the thought of pain by creating a physical feeling of reluctance and a desire to stop the cause.
d. That God is called "the Father of Mercies" means that He is the Originator of such feelings of deep reluctance.
3. Our understanding of "mercies", then, is developed when we look back over Romans to see what God has done, and how many times He has acted, to keep disaster from our door.
a. This begins early: Romans 1:16-18. Immediately "salvation" is tied to "the wrath of God" that is continually revealed from heaven by way of the disasters that are visited upon men "justly". The "mercy" of God as "the will to lessen disaster" is, thus, a "will" to address Justice in such a way as to allow the guilty to go unpunished. This means that our first perception of "the mercies of God" in our text is His actions in keeping us from reaping what we have sown in the large context of "sin against God" (sin against man is limited to "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", but sin against God is sin against infinity and there is no limit there). Most fundamentally this is what Jesus did as the Son of Man.
b. But this also includes going beyond "Justice" and entering into the provision of positive motivations to abstain from "death-dealing" actions. And this, most fundamentally, is what the Holy Spirit as Jesus' "Other Comforter" does daily to protect us from the pains of "discipline" and those pains that are ours when we enter into suffering caused by the actions of others without the mitigating presence of God. In other words, we are not always kept from suffering, but we are always kept from suffering without His presence. It is one thing to "suffer"; it is altogether another thing to "suffer hopelessly".
4. Our grasp of the significance of the "mercies" is directly proportional to our grasp of the disasters from which God has delivered us. In Luke 7:47 and context, Jesus laid out a principle that "response" is conditioned upon the perception of the initiatory action. One who thinks his/ her "sins" are minimally significant cannot "love" a "redeemer" much because the "redemption" is insignificant. However, if the "sins" are perceived as horrendous and "forgiven", a great deal of love flows to the Redeemer. In the same light, if one considers the "mercies" of God to be of insignificant import, there will be no reciprocation in yieldedness.
D. This summons is "to" a sacrifice characterized by three major qualities.
1. First, it is a sacrifice.
a. It is the essence of "sacrifice" that the entity "sacrificed" is "killed" (if it is a living creature) or "consumed" (if it is a non-living thing). The end result is that it is of no further use to the one making the "sacrifice". This means that, at root, a "sacrifice" is the loss of the usefulness of the thing sacrificed in respect to the particular agenda of the one making it.
b. It is fundamental to this sense of "loss" that the one "losing" is acting deliberately and voluntarily. It is no "sacrifice" to have a thing/person forcefully removed from one's options, nor it is a "sacrifice" for a loss to be accidental or unintentional.
2. Then, it is a sacrifice characterized as "living", "holy", and "pleasing to God".
a. The typical issue of "living" is the continuing ability to be functional. But, under this issue of function are the issues of "the nature of experience" and/or "the ability to pursue objectives". The word Paul chose here is the word that focuses upon the quality of experience rather than the ability to pursue specified objectives. It is not merely the ability to function nor the ability to chase objectives; it is, rather, the ability to "experience" what comes out of the actual function. 1 John 2:16 warns us that this world is all wrapped up in the arrogance of achievement (using the word for "function unto an end"), but 1 John 2:25 declares that the large umbrella of the promises of God is "eternal life" as a qualitative experience. This signifies, then, that the kind of "sacrifice" for which Paul appeals is one which retains the ability to experience the goodness of God while "sacrificing" the ability to set and pursue the objectives of functional capacity. This means that the "sacrifice" is of one's soul's confidence that it knows what is best. The outcome of such "sacrifice" is the giving of thanks in every circumstance because the soul has ceased to be arrogant about it's claim to know what is going to happen or what will be the impact of what is going to happen and it has ceased to "scream" or "cajole" the spirit into certain specified activities.
b. The typical issue of "holy" is the "separation" that sets one apart to a specific purpose. It is not, essentially, a moral term, but a delimiting one. "Holiness" is being focused upon a specific objective. What Paul is calling for is a "sacrifice" that is made with the understanding that there is a specific purpose for one's "body" in the will of God.
c. The third issue is called being "well-pleasing" to God. The term is used nine times in the New Testament and seven of the nine address being "well-pleasing" to God. The concept is the relationship between an action and the love/faith issues that drive it. When one is motivated by the Love and Truth of God, the actions bring "pleasure" to the heart of God. Jesus claimed to "do always those things which please Him" (John 8:29) and the author of Hebrews said "without faith it is impossible to please Him" (11:6). It was Enoch's testimony that "he pleased God" before he was caught up to God without death (Hebrews 11:5).