The Only Thing That Makes Sense
Robert Wurtz II
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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. (Romans 12:1)
By the time we reach Romans 12:1, Paul has thoroughly preached the Gospel. He has probed its mysteries as it were, and sets before us what is known more technically as soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Here God’s wisdom has been set forth in redeeming mankind; both Jew and Non-Jew. It is and was the plan of the ages. Enraptured by the majesty of God Paul closes chapter eleven with this praise:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?” “Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36 NKJV)
He transitions from these verses with a simple phrase, I beseech you therefore. To some bible students it will be cliche, but when you see the word therefore you need to stop and ask what it is there for. It is a term that means “consequently.” Therefore (Gk. oun) is an inferential participle that gathers up all the great argument of chapters 1-11 and places it before us. It’s as if Paul is asking us, “What say you? What is your response to what you have heard?” It staggers the mind to consider the manifold wisdom of God. Now Paul turns to exhortation (parakalō), “I beseech you.”
I Beseech You
Our Greek word for beseech is Παρακαλῶ (parakalō) and it means “to call alongside.” Para is “side” and kalo is “call.” It carries the idea of urging someone earnestly to do something. It could be translated “to beg.” To give a sense of the strength of the word we have some examples of its use throughout the New Testament. Urgent appeals (parakalō) to Christ for healing are made in Matthew 8:5; 14:36; Mark 1:40; 5:23; 8:22. Paul “pleads with” (parakalō) God for the removal of his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:8. Demons “beg” (parakalō) Christ to send them into a herd of swine in Matthew 8:31ff. In Acts 2:40 and 2 Corinthians 5:20, people are “urged” (parakalō) to be reconciled to God.
Therefore by the Mercies of God
Paul has effectively came alongside us to beg, urge, beseech us by the mercies of God. That is to say, all that Paul described from chapter 1-11 was a clinic on God’s great mercy. The Gentiles are brought into view as well when Paul described how God has grafted in the wild olive branches into the cultivated olive tree. In other words, the promise of a New Covenant was to the House of Judah and the House of Israel; however, God had already intended to include the Gentiles all along. It had been kept secret (covered) to be revealed in the fullness of time. The Gentiles are not an afterthought or plan B; it was all part of God’s original plan. God has shown mercy to both Jew and Gentile.
It is helpful to stop and consider where we would all be without mercy and grace. One of the challenges of our Christian walk is that we not forget that we were once purged from our old sins. If it were not for God’s great love wherewith He loved us, dying for us while we were yet sinners, there would be no hope. Without mercy, we would face the wrath of God without mixture unendingly. Think of passages as we find in the Revelation that read “… and the smoke of their torment ascended up before God forever and ever.” (Revelation 14:11) That’s what we deserve. The mercy of God is not something we should accept and then wipe our mouths as if we have done no evil. The sheer magnitude of our crimes; heightened by the light that we have sinned in; aggravated by a life of resisting the Holy Spirit; would paralyze one with fear if they had any mind at all. Nevertheless, God has chosen to cast our sins behind His back — never to be remembered against us again. Praise His name forever. Paul then pleads, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice.
The Language of Priesthood
In order to comprehend what Paul is saying in Romans 12:1, we need to look briefly at the Old Testament. You will recall that Solomon was the great king who built God a semi-permanent house. He built it on the mount of the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite — where the angel had stayed his hand in slaying thousands after David numbered Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1-18) It was here that God could have wiped Israel off the face of the earth, and been justified in doing it. Nevertheless, God showed kindness and grace to Israel. David remembered this mercy of God, knowing that He could have slew everyone down to the last man. What happened? The execution of judgment stopped at Araunah’s threshing floor.
In response to God’s goodness, David wanted to build an altar in remembrance of God’s mercy on the very place where the judgment of God was stayed. Araunah tried to give the property to David for free. Nevertheless, king David said, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings without cost. (1 Chrononicles 21:1ff) Here are two initial pictures; one of the mercy of God and the other a right response of a grateful heart. You will notice a connection between “a grateful heart” and “a burnt offering.” Keep this picture in mind as it is the theme of Romans 12:1. A grateful hearts gives a burnt offering that costs the full price. The threshing floor is a place of decision. All of these things are here. This is the location where Solomon built the Temple. From this time forward the children of Israel will have this as part of their history. God’s mercy stopped at Araunah’s threshing floor and this will be the place of remembrance for that mercy.
A Picture of a ‘Right’ Response to God
It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God. (2 Chronicles 5:13)
Solomon is dedicating the Temple built on Araunah’s threshing floor. The first response of the people was to give thanks to God for His mercy in returning to the people with His authority and presence. They didn’t deserve God. They deserved abandonment and judgment. In another place, it is stated that they “spoke as one” as the Ark of the Covenant came in. They sang and shouted with lifted up voices in such a way that God saw fit to fill the house with His glory. This was the initial step. The people utterly recognized God’s mercy and desire for reconciliation and they responded to Him in tremendous excitement and thanksgiving. The LORD, then being well pleased, filled the house with His glory. So great was the glory of God that the priests were not able to stand to minister. God believed the people as they praised and offered thanksgiving and He responded by filling the house with His glory. What an awesome picture.
Holy and Acceptable
…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,
This, again, is the language of priesthood. We are called to be both temples of the Holy Spirit and living sacrifices. What does this mean? All other dwelling places for God were temporary. Nevertheless, God was teaching us important truth about God’s dwelling place. For example, the Old Testament is replete with examples of how not to treat the Temple and the artifacts within it. I suggest that these stories and laws were a figurative lesson for us. The Wilderness Tabernacle, the First Temple (Solomon’s Temple), and the Second Temple, were “types” of our bodies. Consider Paul’s writings about being the temple of the Holy Spirit to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19) and compare them to the story of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1-30). How did God react to the way he defiled the artifacts of the Temple? The whole story is exemplary and didactic. It gives us for all times God’s estimation of abusing our bodies in sordid sin. We are to present our bodies as holy, acceptable unto God.
Solomon built and dedicated the temple to God. It had one primary purpose in Israel; to be a place where the people could encounter God and offer up sacrifices to Him (temple cultus). Over 120,000 burnt sacrifices were inspected for purity and acceptability, and then offered on the day of dedication. Solomon understood that until the altar was full of a holy and acceptable sacrifice, the Fire of God would not fall and the dedication would be incomplete. To some, it may have seemed very reckless to bring, as it were, a river of blood upon such a beautiful place; however, to Solomon, it was only reasonable to make such an offering to God in light of the mercy He had shown. When the altar was full and Solomon prayed — the Fire of God fell. This dedication was a ” picture ” of Acts 2 and the Day of Pentecost. It is also an ongoing picture of New Testament life. As the old hymn puts it:
But we never can prove the delights of His love Until all on the altar we lay. For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows Are for them who will trust and obey
Jesus came to send Fire on the earth and He would do so by baptizing His people with the Holy Ghost and with Fire. Men and women’s bodies would become temples of the Holy Spirit; while at the same time becoming living sacrifices unto the Lord.
Romans 12:1 is the beginning of all evangelistic efforts. Paul, having explained the reality of what God has done in bringing salvation and reconciliation to man, says, “I beseech you therefore by the mercies of God…” He ten makes the statement which is your reasonable service. The phrase “reasonable service” is the Greek logiken latraien and means “to be in harmony with the highest reason.” We get our word logic from logike meaning “the art of reason.” It could be translated “rational.” Thinking of all that God has done; “therefore” present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable unto God which is your logical (the consequence of rational thinking and attitudes) service. In other words, to hear the Gospel and not respond in this way would be irrational.
We are to present ourselves to our Great High Priest for inspection and acceptance that He might baptize us in the Fire of God. From there we go on presenting and the Fire continues to burn. Our life becomes a sweet smelling savour in the nostrils of God. Is this not to be preferred to Revelation 14:11? This is our reasonable worship. It’s the only response that makes sense in light of all that God has done. It is what God wants first and foremost. Without this process little else matters. It all begins here with a recognition of what God has done in Christ, and our responding reasonably to what we realize. Our lives are to be a perpetual living burnt offering for Him. Again, it is the only thing that makes sense.