The Gospel Applied: “The Look From Above” – Romans 12 (Pt. 1)

inside st peters domeThe massive dome at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome rises nearly four hundred fifty feet in the air, with its interior is nearly one hundred forty feet wide. It is the highest dome you will ever see, but not the largest one. The dome of the Pantheon built in the second century is a few feet wider and Brunelleschi’s massive dome on the Duomo in Florence is a few feet wider still. To me, what is striking about the dome found in St. Peter’s is that you can make out, if you look ever so closely, the shape of people walking around the catwalk who dared to take the elevator up to the dome for what I am told is a fantastic view of Rome. They look like tiny specks and perhaps ants, but they are people at a great distance above your head if you are within the massive church. Those who know me well, know that I enjoy watching the people from BELOW, because (though some would call me afraid of height) I like to believe I merely have a “more healthy respect for gravity”. I am told by those “in the know” that the view is awesome…and I have decided to accept their view without the need to check it out on my own!

What I can easily imagine is that the view from above is a different view. Just as in a parade, we generally see only the float in front of us and perhaps the one behind (as well as the crowd gathered on the side of the street), but we cannot see clearly the turns in the road ahead. From beside the parade, we could see each float as it passes by us, and we may even be able to glimpse at coming floats and anticipate what may appear next. Yet, from above the parade, let’s say from the perspective of a blimp, we could see the end of the parade perhaps from the beginning place – all from one vantage point. The whole parade may be observed at one time! That view would be far more informed than any other!

Now, life isn’t merely a parade, and human history is not simply a series of floats wafting by a group of admiring spectators – but there is a point to this illustration. The Bible makes clear that from God’s lofty perspective, human history appears much differently than it does to us as we pass through life. He both observed and designed the end from the beginning in the text and He alone sees it all from His perspective. Let’s say it this way: God knows what He intends for us, as well as what He expects from those of us who claim to follow Him. He has graciously taken the time to share with us some small pieces of His plan through His word. For that reason we want to take a few moments and look at what He says about the lives of believers and His expectation of us. In Romans 12, Paul appeared to cite five specific expectations of God for each person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus. Let’s first be clear…

Key Principle: God knows what He wants from me, and He took the time to explain it.

Like the pervasive road signs designed to tell us when to stop and how fast is “too fast” on the road – God’s Word gives us what the Engineer planned for the road of life…

Before I begin, let me stop here and say something that may help you concentrate. All week long you may feel people place expectations on you. It may not be fun to come into church and hear that God also has a set of expectations. The popular message of today is all about BENEFITS – not about responsibilities. You may want to simply let me blather on and you will politely listen and then go on about your life. I am asking you to stay engaged. Don’t turn off. Why? Because our greatest privilege in this life is to walk with our Creator and fulfill His designs for us. It isn’t heavy unless we resist Him and ignore the Engineers road signs… and that never leads anyplace but to pain.

Let’s boldly ask the question: What does God want from my life?

The five expectations of our passage begin with God’s right to inspect our life…

Expectation One: “Right to inspect” – God has what He called a ‘reasonable expectation’ of my total surrender to His direction.

Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.

Note Romans 12:1 began with a simple word…”Therefore”. The connective term links what Paul wrote after to what he expressed before that word. There are two senses for this connection – a big one and a small one:

The big one: The letter has explained the big plan of God – moving from lost men (1:1-3:20) to God’s incredible gift – declaring sinner that trust the sacrificial work of Jesus as righteous (3:21-5:21). Astoundingly, God did not stop there. He went on to take those He declared righteous and empower them to be free from slavery to sin (6) and the arduous constraints of a singular legal set of contracts (7) – to be energized through the very indwelling of His Holy Spirit (8). He took pains to describe how God would continue His faithful and eternal love for the Jewish people who for a time were blindly acting in opposition to their own Promised Son (9-11). This was a power-packed “therefore”. God saved lost men, empowered them, and kept His over-arching plan to one group while embracing another. Everything Paul said after was with that in mind.

The “small” one: Not to minimize the content, but the “therefore” has a more immediate context as well. The immediate context was the few verses that ended chapter 11. Remember this was originally one letter, without the chapter divisions, so the “therefore” flows from the words of an exclamatory prayer:

11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

In Romans 11:33-36, Paul was marveling over what God did in putting a judgment of temporary blindness on the eyes of the Jewish people in order to save the nations that Israel did not reach out to, on His way back to opening their eyes. Paul’s heart was overtaken by the mastery of it all. Paul was experiencing as he offered eight important truths from a heart of worship:

• God’s wisdom is deep and rich – He is neither impractical nor outsmarted by the problems of men in their blindness.
• God’s knowledge is vast – He is not waiting for help to understand the situation.
• God’s way of judging things are beyond my capability to properly understand – He alone knows how to “do history” the right way..
• I can offer nothing to Him in counsel – I stand before a vast God as a man undone by His brilliance. I have no “better way” to do what He does in telling His story to the universe.
• He owes me nothing – for all that is belongs to Him “free and clear”.
• Everything started with Him – He is the origin.
• Everything is held together through Him – He is the purpose and connecting tissue.
• Everything consummates in Him – He holds the destiny of everything.

That expectation of my surrender to God is based on two things: knowledge of His Person and acknowledgement of His work on my behalf.

In light of the incredible work of God in saving men that will believe, and in light of the astounding Mastery of God over all, He expects that I will surrender to His plan and not try to “write a better plan” for my life.

Look again at Romans 12:1 and read it carefully with me as I translate each word from the original language with some additional fullness:

Therefore: (because of all that I have told you about God’s magnificent person and His wondrous saving work for you)…

I urge you brethren, (I come beside you, as a paraklete – “one brought alongside to brace”). Don’t forget that he addressed them as brothers – a term Paul uses of other believers. The call to inspection will not work for someone who does not know Jesus personally already.

by the mercies of God: (based on the mercies or “oiktirmos”: pity or compassion; In the Modern Hebrew version the translators used the Hebrew equivalent word “racham” – a word that infers the bonding with a mother. It is related to “rechem” – the word for the womb”. If that choice was accurate – as I believe it was – the mercies of God mentioned here and in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 are the deep comforts of God that flow from His bond to us as from His own “womb connection”. That sounds strange, but it makes sense if you think about it. We call Him “Father” because we came from Him, and were “birthed” from within His mind.

to present your bodies: present is the Greek term “paris-taymee” – to “place beside”. The idea was vivid in the mind of the Hebrew worshipper like Paul who had been to the Temple in Jerusalem. On the north side of the Temple proper (the Hekhal building) a chamber called the “chamber of the lambs” was used to hold animals before sacrifice – a place of holding and inspection before they were taken to the final inspection pen near the slaughtering place. It was given water to drink from a golden cup so that it would be easier to skin.”

Beside the altar were additional pens for inspection. The point of the command by God to “present your bodies” is a call to VOLUNTARY COMPLETE INSPECTION. It is not a call to be sacrificed – but to be inspected for eligibility. The inspection is not simply of the body, but of the sound state of the whole being – it INCLUDES the body. Practical purity matters as much as theoretical theology.

a living and holy sacrifice: This life matters – not just the afterlife. The terms “living” (zao – alive) and “holy” (hagios) remind us that we are to become an offering while alive by being distinct for God’s purposes. Either we embrace the purpose of our life is to serve God, or we live life to serve self. It is our choice.

acceptable to God: Mature believers know that PLEASING GOD is the goal, a fulfilled life is the mere byproduct of it – not the other way around! We don’t serve simply to GET, we get because we live to SERVE Him.

which is your spiritual service of worship: Paul even exclaimed it was “a reasonable plan” from God. The word “spiritual” is the LOGIKOS – it is logical. God thinks rebellion is ILLOGICAL based on the reality that He made everything, connects everything and stands at the end of it all.

Maybe it is time for me to offer the most basic concept from God’s revealed truth – there is nowhere to turn in eternity but to Him. He is not One of many. That is at the core all that God said in the Law. He made clear over and over again this simple but powerful truth. He felt so strongly about it He etched it out on stone with His very finger before Moses:

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

It is as though God said simply this: “I am God. You can look, but you won’t find another real alternative. There isn’t anyone else. Buddha didn’t create anything – he was a guy with an idea under a tree who died and realized he was wrong. Mohammed was a man with an ability to tell stories, but he died as well. Confucius offered some interesting nuggets of wisdom, but he was not around when I created everything. To think that I will perhaps not notice your rebellion, or somehow you will be able to talk me into how you are actually right when in your heart you know you are selfish is a pipe dream. It’s not going to happen. I was there at the beginning, I am working a plan in these days – and I will be there, alone as King of the Heavens – at the end of it all.

Let’s say it clearly: Unhindered worship only happens when I surrender every part of me to God. A softened spiritual heart that is living in sexual sin won’t do. A pleasant-natured person that is in church every Sunday morning but denies God’s right to call the shots at your work place isn’t going to work. A tear-filled eye in worship won’t negate a hardened heart when it comes to choices that honor God outside the sanctuary. It doesn’t mean that I am perfect and do everything correctly – it means that I am laboring intensely at allowing God to access every room of my heart and rearrange the furniture in each. One door left closed to Him denies Him His right to everything.

The bottom line on God’s expectation is this – you have to VOTE to let Him place you in the inspection cage or pen – every part of you. You must yield and surrender to Him – a whole life, not just the “religious” part. Any partial vote will not be counted.

Expectation Two: “Right to Expect”: We need to recognize that God wants to reconstruct our thinking to see things correctly on our way to walking correctly.

God is in the remodeling business. The Word reminds:

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world….

Look at the phrases – don’t gloss over these familiar words.

We must recognize that the “default” setting of our life is to become “conformed” (soos-khay-mat-id’-zo – is from “sun” – the word “together with” and “schematic” – to assume a certain form or figure as in a schematic sets the design of). The term “of this world (ai-on)” are actually “of this age” – a time related term. The term ‘not conformed to this world’ is literally ‘not conformed to this age’. The call to distinctiveness is a call to look different than others in our time. We are to live as those with prophetic voices, not try to become public relations officers for our Creator.

Let that sink in… the call to distinctiveness is a call to look different than others in our time.

What God has said, then, is that He has an expectation that He can and will inspect our lives. Further, He desires us to intentionally SHUN becoming what everyone else is. Yet, He goes on…

Expectation Three: “Right to Remake”: We need to recognize that God wants to reconstruct our thinking to see things correctly on our way to walking correctly.

Romans 12:2b: ”…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

A fallen world thinks wrongly. When God marked us as needing “transformation” (metamorphoo: from morphe – shaping) He was referring to the reshaping of our way of thinking (the word “mind” is nous – our comprehension or understanding). We do what we do because we think what we think.

Did you ever walk across the floor with only socks on your feet only to “find” the thumb tack that was lost yesterday in the rug? You walked with confidence until the pain shot into your foot. When the pain comes, you recognize that your walk was hazardous. God wants to change our walk by changing our comprehension of what we SEE and THINK before we walk.

Second, we need to recognize that to change thinking, our mind must be “renewed”. The word “anakainósis” is a compound word that would be translated today as a “total make over”. You have seen them on TV – total makeover houses. Producers come upon a family with a sad story and an aging home. They bring in a group of creative professionals, a small budget and a short span of time – and off they go making changes to the building that leave astounding results. What that team does to a home, the Spirit of God is doing in believers that will allow Him.

Third, it is essential that we realize that God’s goal in changing our thinking is so that we will launch into a new series of experiences in our life to test what will delight our Heavenly Father. The phrase “so that you may prove what the will of God is” can seem a bit cryptic. What it literally says is this: In order that you can test and find true (dokimadzo) the desire of God (thelema: his desire or delight). That desire of God will both please Him and be a filled with good, kind and generous things. It will also bring you purpose (“perfect” is the term “telios” or purposed, mature and complete).

God’s expectation is that we will open to inspection, to shun conformity to the world, and to allow a total remake of our minds… but there is still more…

Expectation Four: “Right to Connect”: God expects that He will connect us to each other to tell His story for His glory.

By now, our reading of Romans 12 made clear that God is not merely looking for passive surrender without active participation. He wants each of us to yield, then He wants us to DO SOMETHING. What is it? In a word, it is to CONNECT.

Romans 12:3 “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, [each of us is to exercise them accordingly]: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

Break the text down, for God has an expectation that we will actively do three things:

Action One: We need to check our EGO baggage (3).

Romans 12:3 “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”

We live in a time when the mooring of a firm moral pillar including an absolute recognition of a Creator has eroded away. As G.K. Chesterton quipped: “Modern man has his feet firmly planted in mid-air.” Because of that, the call to radical individualism and profound uniqueness is more often than not nothing more than a masked call to ego and self-exaltation. It goes against the grain to call people to live a connected life of serving one another above self.

Remember that “faith” is a form of the word that we could best translate “Biblical world view”. It is “seeing the world as God says it truly is.” God says that we have to stop looking at ourselves in the same way we used to in the world. We are not the tent of our body. We are not the accomplishments of our workplace. We are not the relationships of our home. We are, at our core, His deeply loved child, designed to bring joy to His heart and mature in His truth. We need not falsely puff ourselves up – for there is no higher place for us than what we were truly called to be as a child of the King!

Why is the EGO hindering us? Because it keeps us from attaining what God really wants for us. Some of us will not function in the body because we believe we are too important in other arenas of life to get busy with the needy believers around us – that hurts but it is just the truth. We are too busy to set aside what we are doing to help. We are often busy at work making more money for things that will not have eternal value, so we cannot be faithful in co-laboring for souls. Others are self conscious and cannot bring themselves to get past their own problems. When EGO wins, the cross loses – whether it is an inflated ego or a marred self-image. In the end, it is nothing more than self-indulgence – which is at the heart of conflict with the Gospel of surrender.

Action Two: We need to find our function in the body (4).

Romans 12:4 “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function…”

We are told to actively seek the specific function we have in the body of Messiah. We are uniquely created to play a role. We are to learn what that role is (by carefully examining the Divinely appointed gifts placed in us), and we are to expend our energies “serving Jesus by serving His body.” In the coming studies we are going to work to identify our gifts. We are going to study where such gifts are normally used. We are going to actively encourage you to find a place for those gifts to be at work in your community. We are going to enlist you to help move the body forward where you are growing. We need to grow, but we need to serve to develop muscles properly and to accomplish our Master’s desires. If we choose not to – even the prime purposes of the church will be subverted in our lives. All of this is to help equip you to function in your role. No team takes the field without each one knowing their positions and the requisite responsibilities of that position. You have one, and you must actively seek understanding of that role.

Action Three: We need to work toward His goal right now – connection (5).

Romans 12:5 “…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

In the coming studies we will be able to see it even more clearly… God has a goal that many believers in our culture are not grabbing. They haven’t bought in. God’s goal is CONNECTING PEOPLE to Him and to EACH OTHER. If you go to church because you like the messages, but you have no interest in connection to the people, something is wrong inside. Your thinking needs to be remodeled. We MUST break out of this drive through window Christianity that gets personally served into our mobile spaces designed for my comfort and isolation. If we do not break out, we will never be the church God intends us to become.

When you look intently at Romans 12:4-8, seven facts surface quickly:

• Fact One: The church has a MODEL. God compared the church body to the physical body we live in – believers are designed to be connected and disconnection kills our real functions (12:4a).

• Fact Two: Each part of the body has UNIQUENESS (12:4b).

• Fact Three: The design is for FUNCTION. God openly revealed that the purpose of each part is to have a specific function – to DO something. (12:4b).

• Fact Four: The work must have UNITY (12:5).

• Fact Five: God has provided EMPOWERING. God has specifically enabled us to maintain a function in the body that is vital and differs in nature from others – and He expects us to use them.

• Facts Six: Each operation must be absorbed in MAXIMIZING (12:6a). Seven examples of gifting are offered with one binding idea – we are to use them to their fullest in accordance to what we were given.

• Fact SEVEN: Basic body operations are named for SERVICE. (12:6bff).

God wants to make you over your thinking and restructure your life to connect you deeply to Him and other believers. Connection is the expressed goal.

Expectation Five: “Right to Build”: God expressed that He alone is the engineer Who gets to set the rules of life.

We are going to spend time here in our next lesson. For now, just touch the edges of what God revealed about our behaviors…

Romans 12:9 “[Let] love [be] without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 [Be] devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

God is the Engineer Who has specified our behaviors:

Here are just a few…

We should be an authentic lot: Rom. 12:9 Let love (agape) be without hypocrisy. (an-oo-pok’-ree-tos – without pretending). We are called to be REAL PEOPLE…Our action to meet needs must be done without pretending that we care. Many a church could finish the sermon there. People come to GET, but not to CARE.

We should be a selective lot: Rom. 12:9b “…Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good.” The architects dream must be carefully constructed by our careful choice of materials in with which we build life.

We should be a dedicated lot: Rom. 12:10 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”

We should be an energetic lot: Romans 12:11 “…not lagging behind in diligence fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; We are called to build WITH PROFOUND EAGERNESS AND ENERGY. It is easy to let the body come a distant second. We must not be lulled into thinking that my attendance is optional and self-oriented – I will come if there is ‘SOMETHING FOR ME”. That isn’t Biblical thinking and does not reflect the eagerness God wants. I will not settle in my life for a cool and self-interested life – I want Jesus to keep the fire HOT.

We should SOUND like the church: Romans 12:12 “…rejoicing in hope …persevering) in tribulation …devoted to prayer. God’s church is powerless unless it is DEPENDENT ON GOD.

We should LOOK LIKE the church: Romans 12:13 “…contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality.

Look at God’s Church in Scripture…

• She is called a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD that exemplifies in lifestyle a separate set of values than that of its age – she is not patterned by Madison Avenue nor driven by Rodeo Drive.

• She is called the Branches of the TRUE VINE, drawing her life from Her Savior. She doesn’t suckle the world’s nourishment to grow, but derives her life from spiritual truth and surrendered conversion.

• She is the flock of a GREAT SHEPHERD, being led by the staff tap and voice of one that knows the place of green pastures and still waters.


THAT IS GOD’S CHURCH. It isn’t some sand castle that can be swept away so easily. Armies have tried. Governments have nailed doors on church buildings shut and thought they could stop her from growing. Philosophers have mocked her and tried to shame her. Scientists have tried to out think her. Still she lives and grows. Beloved, she is God’s church! Paul was used by the Spirit to say it plainly:

God knows what He wants from me, and He took the time to explain it.

He wants me to be inspected, resistant to the world’s mold, open to His remodeling of my mind, connected to His body (the church) and set in life to act according to His command…The choice to allow His hand to do it is mine.