God's Will and My Will

| Romans 11:33-12:2; Ephesians 1:4-6

Week of October 13, 2019

The Point:  Seek to align your will with God’s will.

Doxology and Exhortation:  Romans 11:33-12:2.

[33] Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! [34] “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” [35] “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” [36] For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. [12:1] I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. [2] Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.   [ESV]

“Doxology [11:33-36]. Before Paul goes on to outline the practical implications of the gospel, he falls down before God and worships. He begins with an astonished exclamation [33]. There are two possible ways of interpreting the opening sentence. The first is to understand Paul to be referring to one truth, namely God’s wisdom and knowledge, whose profound riches he celebrates (“the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God” [NIV]). The second is to understand him to be referring to two truths, namely God’s riches on the one hand and God’s wisdom and knowledge on the other, and to be celebrating the depth of both (“the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” [ESV]). That this second interpretation is correct (namely that God’s wealth and wisdom are both being magnified) is suggested by the parallel in the next exclamation, in which Paul alludes both to God’s unsearchable judgments (what He thinks and decides) and to his untraceable ways (what He does and where He goes). In fact, this distinction continues throughout the doxology – His wealth and His wisdom [33a], His judgments and His ways [33b], His revelation [34] and His gifts [35]. Paul has already written of God’s wealth [2:4; 9:23; 10:12]. Elsewhere he describes God as rich in mercy [Eph. 2:4] and refers to Christ’s inexhaustible riches [Eph. 3:8,16]. The dominant thought is that salvation is a gift from God’s riches and that it immensely enriches those to whom it is given. Then there is God’s wisdom, which is hidden in Christ, was displayed on the cross, and is unfolded in His saving purpose. Thus if the wisdom of God planned salvation, the wealth of God bestows it. Moreover, God’s wealth and wisdom are not only deep; they are actually unfathomable. His decisions are unsearchable, and His ways inscrutable. But of course! How could finite and fallen creatures like us ever imagine that we could penetrate into the infinite mind of God? His mind (what He thinks) and His activity (what He does) are altogether beyond us. Paul continues, secondly, with a rhetorical question, in fact with two. The two exclamation marks of verse 33 are followed by the two question marks of verses 34 and 35. It is frankly ludicrous, as Paul’s two Old Testament quotations make clear, to imagine that we could ever teach or give God anything. It would be absurd to claim that we know His mind and have offered Him our advice. It would be equally absurd to claim that we have given Him a gift or two and so put Him in our debt. We are not God’s counsellor; He is ours. We are not God’s creditor; He is ours. We depend entirely on Him to teach and to save us. The initiative in both revelation and redemption lies in His grace. The attempt to reverse roles would be to dethrone God and to deify ourselves. So the answer to both questions in verses 34-35 is, “Nobody!’ Thirdly, Paul makes a theological affirmation [36a]. This is the reason for our human dependence on God. All things often refers to the material creation. Perhaps here, however, Paul is referring to the new creation as well, the coming into being of the new multiracial people of God. If we ask where all things came from in the beginning, and still come from today, the answer must be, ‘From God.’ If we ask how all things came into being and remain in being, our answer is, ‘Through God.’ If we ask why everything came into being, and where everything is going, our answer must be, ‘For and to God.’ These three prepositions (from … through … to) indicate that God is the creator, sustainer and heir of everything, its source, means and goal. Fourthly, Paul concludes with a final ascription [36b]. It is because all things are from, through and to God that the glory must be His alone. This is why human pride is so offensive. Pride is behaving as if we were God Almighty, strutting round the earth as if we owned the place, repudiating our due dependence on God, pretending instead that all things depend on us, and thus arrogating to ourselves the glory which belongs to God alone. It is of great importance to note from Romans 1-11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology. It is not possible to worship an unknown god. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who He is and what He has done. It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1-11 which provoked Paul’s outburst of praise. The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God. On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God. The true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul. Our place is on our faces before Him in adoration.

Our Relationship to God [12:1-2]. I appeal to you therefore, Paul begins, probably conveying by the verb a mixture of entreaty and authority. He then goes on to indicate the people to whom he is addressing his appeal, the ground on which he bases it, and what it consists of. The people the apostle is about to exhort he calls brothers. All believers, irrespective of their ethnic origin, are brothers and sisters in the one international family of God, and so all have precisely the same vocation to be the holy, committed, humble, loving and conscientious people of God. Secondly, the ground of Paul’s appeal is indicated by his use of the conjunction therefore and by his reference to the mercies of God. For eleven chapters Paul has been unfolding the mercies of God. Indeed, the gospel is precisely God’s mercy to inexcusable and underserving sinners, in giving His Son to die for them, in justifying them freely by faith, in sending them His life-giving Spirit, and in making them His children. It is, then, in view of God’s mercy that Paul issues his ethical appeal. There is no greater incentive to holy living than a contemplation of the mercies of God. God’s grace, far from encouraging or condoning sin, is the spring and foundation of righteous conduct. Thirdly, having considered the objects and the ground of Paul’s appeal, we note its double nature. It concerns both our bodies and our minds, the presentation of our bodies to God and our transformation by the renewal of our minds. First, our bodies. In order to maintain the sacrificial imagery throughout the sentence, Paul uses five more and less technical terms. He represents us as a priestly people, who, in responsive gratitude for God’s mercy, offer or present our bodies as living sacrifices. These are described as both holy and acceptable to God, which seem to be the moral equivalents to being physically unblemished or without defect, and a fragrant aroma. Such an offering is our spiritual worship. Spiritual translates the word which could mean either ‘reasonable’ or ‘rational’. If the former is correct, then the offering of ourselves to God is seen as the only sensible, logical and appropriate response to Him in view of His self-giving mercy. If ‘rational’ is correct, then it is the worship offered by mind and heart, spiritual as opposed to ceremonial, an act of intelligent worship, in which our minds are fully engaged. What, however, is this living sacrifice, this rational, spiritual worship? It is not to be offered in the temple courts or in the church building, but rather in home life and in the marketplace. It is the presentation of our bodies to God. No worship is pleasing to God which is purely inward, abstract and mystical; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies. Similarly, authentic Christian discipleship will include both the negative ‘mortification’ of our body’s misdeeds [8:13] and the positive ‘presentation’ of its members to God. Paul made it plain, in his exposure of human depravity in 3:13ff., that it reveals itself through our bodies, in tongues which practice deceit and lips which spread poison, in mouths which are full of cursing and bitterness, in feet which are swift to shed blood, and in eyes which look away from God. Conversely, Christian sanctity shows itself in the deeds of the body. So we are to offer the different parts of our bodies not to sin as ‘instruments of wickedness’ but to God as ‘instruments of righteousness’ [6:13,16,19]. If the first part of Paul’s appeal relates to the presentation of our bodies to God, the second relates to our transformation according to His will [2]. This is Paul’s version of the call to nonconformity and to holiness which is addressed to the people of God throughout Scripture. We must go on refusing to conform to the world’s ways and go on letting ourselves be transformed according to God’s will. As for the change which takes place in the people of God, which is envisaged in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, it is a fundamental transformation of character and conduct, away from the standards of the world and into the image of Christ Himself. These two value systems (this world and the will of God) are incompatible, even in direct collision with one another. The two sets of standards diverge so completely that there is no possibility of compromise. How then does the transformation take place? Be transformed, Paul replies, by the renewal of your mind. This is because only a renewed mind can test and approve, that is, discern, appreciate, and determine to obey, God’s will. Although Paul does not here tell us how our mind becomes renewed, we know from his other writings that it is by a combination of the Spirit and the Word of God. Certainly regeneration by the Holy Spirit involves the renewal of every part of our humanness, which has been tainted and twisted by the fall, and this includes our mind. But in addition, we need the Word of God, which is the Spirit’s ‘sword’, and which acts as an objective revelation of God’s will. Here then are the stages of Christian moral transformation: first, our mind is renewed by the Word and Spirit of God; then we are able to discern and desire the will of God; and then we are increasingly transformed by it.” [Stott, pp. 309-324].

The Past Blessing of Election:  Ephesians 1:4-6.

[4] even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love [5] he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, [6] to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.   [ESV]

“The past blessing of election [1:4-6]. Paul reaches back in his mind before the foundation of the world, before creation, before time began, into a past eternity in which only God Himself existed in the perfection of His being. In that pre-creation eternity God did something. He formed a purpose in His mind. This purpose concerned both Christ and us. Mark well the statement: he chose us in him. The juxtaposition of the three pronouns is emphatic. God put us and Christ together in His mind. He determined to make (who did not yet exist) His own children through the redeeming work of Christ (which had not yet taken place). It was a definite decision, for the verb he chose is another aorist. It also arose from His entirely unmerited favor, since He chose us that we should be holy and blameless before him, which indicates that we, when in His mind He chose us, were unholy and blameworthy, and therefore deserving not of adoption but of judgment. Further (Paul repeats the same truth in different words), he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved [5-6]. Now everybody finds the doctrine of election difficult. ‘Didn’t I choose God?’ somebody asks indignantly; to which we must answer ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first chosen you.’ ‘Didn’t I decide for Christ?’ asks somebody else; to which we must reply ‘Yes, indeed you did, and freely, but only because in eternity God had first decided for you.’ Scripture nowhere dispels the mystery of election, and we should beware of any who try to systematize it too precisely or rigidly. It is not likely that we shall discover a simple solution to a problem which has baffled the best brains of Christendom for centuries. But here at least in our text are three important truths to grasp and remember: A. The doctrine of election is a divine revelation, not a human speculation. It was not invented by Augustine or Calvin. On the contrary, it is without question a biblical doctrine, and no biblical Christian can ignore it. According to the Old Testament, God chose Israel out of all the nations of the world to be His special people [Ex. 19:4-6]. According to the New Testament He is choosing an international community to be His saints, His holy or special people [1 Peter 2:9-10]. So we must not reject the notion of election as if it were a weird fantasy of men, but rather humbly accept it (even though we do not fully understand it) as a truth which God Himself has revealed. B. The doctrine of election is an incentive to holiness, not an excuse for sin. True, the doctrine gives us a strong assurance of eternal security, since He who chose and called us will surely keep us to the end. But our security cannot be used to condone, still less to encourage, sin. Rather, the reverse is true. For Paul here writes that God chose us in Christ in order that we should be holy and blameless before him. Blameless is an Old Testament word for an ‘unblemished’ sacrifice. Holy and blameless as a couplet recurs in 5:27 and Colossians 1:22, where it points to our final state of perfection. But the process of sanctification begins in the here and now. So, far from encouraging sin, the doctrine of election forbids it and lays upon us instead the necessity of holiness. For holiness is the very purpose of our election. So ultimately the only evidence of election is a holy life. C. The doctrine of election is a stimulus to humility, not a ground for boasting. Some people think that to believe oneself one of God’s chosen people is about the most arrogant thought anybody could entertain. And so it would be if we imagined that God had chosen us because of some merit of ours. But there is no room at all for merit in the biblical doctrine of election. The opposite is the case. God specifically explained to Israel that He had not chosen them because they out-matched the other nations in numbers or in any other way, for they did not. Why then? Simply because He loved them [Deut. 7:7-8]. The reason why He chose them was in Himself (love), not in them (merit). The same truth is hammered home in Ephesians. The emphasis of the whole first paragraph is on God’s grace, God’s love, God’s will, God’s purpose and God’s choice. For He chose us in Christ, Paul declares, before the foundation of the world, which was before we existed, let alone could lay claim to any merit. Therefore the truth of God’s election, however many its unresolved problems, should lead us to righteousness, not to sin; and to humble adoring gratitude, not to boasting. Its practical consequences should always be that we live on the one hand holy and blameless before Him and on the other to the praise of his glorious grace.” [Stott, pp. 36-39].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How does Paul describe God in 11:33-36? How does this description of God encourage us to trust and praise Him? Stott writes: “It is of great importance to note from Romans 1-11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated.” Do you agree with this statement? Do you practice this in your church; in your private devotions?
  2. What does Paul teach about spiritual worship in 12:1-2? How can you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God? How are you to renew your mind? Stott writes: “There is no greater incentive to holy living than a contemplation of the mercies of God.” How often do you contemplate the mercies of God?
  3. What three actions does God do in 1:4-6? What is His twofold purpose? What is our role in this twofold purpose? What guided and motivated His actions?
  4. What three important truths does Stott tell us to grasp and remember?

References:

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, BENT, Baker (1998).

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.