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:
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".
D. This summons is "to" a sacrifice characterized by three major qualities.
E. This summons includes a very specific follow-through.
1. The follow-through involves a rejection of what Paul's translators call "this world" and what Peter calls "the former lusts" (1 Peter 1:14).
2. The follow-through also involves the embracing of a process called "transformation by the renewal of the mind".
F. This summons includes a very real "purpose/result" declaration regarding the will of God.
1. The "will of God" is a pretty basic "bottom line" kind of issue, but that does not mean there are no complications for our understanding.
a. There are two conceptions of "the will of God".
1) One perspective of "the will of God" has to do with His "intentional will" in the sense of "determined intent". With God, "determined intent" is backed by omnipotence and pure, infinite wisdom. This perspective of "God's will" is one of inescapable inevitability.
2) The other perspective of "the will of God" has to do with His "desire". This is a "will" that may or may not come to pass because of the complications of "desire". "Desires" are often defeated by other "desires" because of the problems encountered in a "creation" of persons that are less than deities. For example, Paul wrote this question, "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction...?" (Romans 9:22). This question contains this reality: the "desire" to make wrath and power known trumped the "desire" to not have vessels around that deserved "wrath" (no one has to "endure with longsuffering" anything that he/she actually "likes"). In a universe of created beings whose quality of "Life" depends upon knowing the truth about God, the unveiling of the truth about "wrath" and "power" becomes a "necessity of Life" and that "necessity" requires legitimate objects of such "wrath and power" in spite of the distastefulness of the presence of such entities. Thus, the "desire" to have creatures experience "Life" to its greatest possibilities trumps the "desire" to have no evil entities involved. That God is unable to create "Gods" (uncreated God cannot be created) is an essential limitation of His own essence that automatically means that "desires" are "tiered" in a system of priorities (Love) that, even for God, find themselves at odds with one another on occasion. God, theoretically, could have existed eternally without ever creating any other "persons", but not even God can escape His own essence (He "cannot" sin, nor is He "tempted" to sin, because He is infinite Love) so that, if He creates, the issues of the communication of His "Life" to His creation suddenly come under the requirements of His nature. This "creates" tiered desires that, if scrambled, set up "desires" that may, or may not, "come to pass". This means this: "tiered" desires are such that those in the top tier are "immutable" and those in lesser positions can, sometimes, be shifted around according to the necessities of the top tier. This works out in this way: if a man determines to do something that is contrary to the top tier of God's desires, he will be thwarted by God; but, if a man determines to do something that is contrary to a lesser "desire" and God's "desire" to permit man to choose and act is above the tier of that which includes the man's intent, the man will be permitted to do what he intended even though it is contrary to the goodness that God has declared to be that which should guide man's choices.
b. There is a built-in difficulty to the experience of the "good, and acceptable, and perfect" will of God: it means experiencing some things that are not "good"; that are "unacceptable"; and that are "far less than perfect". Even God has to put up with "vessels of wrath" for a while. But He has a "day" set in which He will "judge the world" and set things "right". The real issue is a "love" issue wherein the definitions of "good", "acceptable", and "perfect" are found in the "will" of the "beloved", not in the one loving. Thus, if God is the object of our "love", His "will" becomes our delight even when it runs completely contrary to our normal set of "wishes" for "health, wealth, and wisdom". The Book of Job fits into the "wisdom literature" of the Old Testament under the third of Paul's "categories" in 1 Corinthians 13:13 ("faith" embodies Proverbs; "hope" embodies Ecclesiastes; and "love" embodies Job). The issue of Job is the question of whether Job loves God for what he can get out of Him or because He is the legitimate object of a creature's love (Job 1:10-11).
2. The question in our text is this: Which "will of God" does Paul have in mind? Is he saying that a commitment of the kind which he urges will "alter" this "will of God", or is he saying that it will result in a different kind of "attitude" in us toward what happens as the inexorable will unfolds?
a. Part of the answer is found in Paul's deliberate use of the word that indicates "desire", not "immutable intent". Though it is true that God sometimes underwrites His "desires" so that they are a part of His "immutable will", it is not always the case that God presses "desire" for a lesser objective over a greater. Paul's choice of this term indicates that he has man's cooperation with God in mind, not God's sovereign imposition of His Plan.
b. Part of the answer is tied into the verb translated "prove".
1. The grammar reveals that the readers will "prove" the "what" that is the "will of God".
2. The word translated "prove" is used in more than one way in the New Testament. It is often used to describe the process of setting up a standard and then subjecting something to a comparison with that standard to see if it "measures up" (2 Corinthians 13:5). It is also, however, used to indicate the actual setting up of the standard so that something can be compared to it (2 Corinthians 8:8). Then, it is used in the sense that one who has been "approved" by a comparison to the standard then acts in such a way as to "demonstrate" what such "approval" really means (Ephesians 5:10). Philippians 1:9-10 indicate that the pursuit of such a process is only legitimate if a person has grown in "knowledge and judgment" to a point that he can not only establish a legitimate standard, but also has the ability to compare the questionable object to it.
3. The implication of a summons to a particular commitment with a "so that" end or result can occur is that Paul is addressing the question of whether the Roman believers are sufficiently mature to be able to compare things to the "good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God". It is possible that he has the Ephesians 5:10 concept in mind: present your bodies so that you may "demonstrate" the will of God as "good, acceptable, and perfect". But it is also possible that he has the Philippians 1:9-10 concept in mind: present your bodies so that you may achieve the kind of insight and maturity necessary to identify the "good, acceptable, and perfect will of God". How shall we decide which? Well, it goes without saying that if a person has achieved the level of maturity to identify the will of God as it is, he should also be demonstrating it. This signifies that the two ideas are related. But, the fact that Paul immediately cautions his readers against pride (12:3) indicates that he does not think of them as having already achieved the maturity toward which he summons them. Thus, we ought to take the text as meaning: present your bodies to God as the initial step in moving towards the ability to "prove" what is His will and what is not. What he has in mind is the daily process of making decisions and taking actions. These need to be in harmony with the "good" will of God. The only way they can be is if the person is developing in his/her skill in ferreting out what the will of God is in the midst of multiple options.
c. Thus we conclude that Paul is dealing, not with that inexorable will of God over which He reigns within the parameters of what Paul called "the unsearchable judgments and trackless paths" of God (11:33), but with the desires of God for His individual children as they go about their living, making choices and taking actions.