Therefore. Structurally, this might be the most important single word in all of Romans, because the whole book pivots here; this is the point at which Paul shifts from talking about what we need to believe to laying out how we need to live. That means that this is the point where the Bible-believing church tends to get in trouble, because it’s easy to lose the connection between the two; it’s easy to lose this word “therefore.”
The problem is, when we see commands about moral behavior, it’s easy to forget everything Paul has said about grace and faith and revert right back to law. I told you last time that scholars often label Paul’s arguments in grammatical terms, as “indicative” and “imperative”—indicative words tell us what is, while imperatives give commands; one reason they use this language is to remind us that we’re talking about two aspects of the same thing, the gospel. It also helps us see that in Paul, the imperative is always rooted in the indicative. He never gives commands for us to try to obey in our own strength, and it’s never about trying to earn God’s favor or avoid punishment; rather, he gives commands so that we will understand and live into the life the Holy Spirit is creating in us, which we can only do as he changes our hearts and gives us the ability.
Therefore, in view of God’s mercy. Because of everything Paul’s been saying the past eleven chapters, because of all that Christ has done for us and all that God has promised us, because of the salvation we have been given and the mercy we have been shown, this is how we ought to respond. Because God’s mercy isn’t just something we received in the past, but is an ongoing power in our lives through the work of his Holy Spirit, this is how we’re being enabled to respond. And you’ll note, this isn’t just about do this and don’t do that; it’s much bigger than just following a set of commands—the change to which God calls us here is global, nothing less than a whole new orientation to life.
That’s key, and that’s one of the differences between living by law and living by grace—law is partial, it demands we do some things and leaves the rest of life to our own discretion, while grace claims every aspect of our lives. Quite properly so, because in all fairness we owe God our lives, in total. He bought us back from slavery to sin, he gave us life when all we had was death—there is nothing we have and nothing we are that isn’t already his by right; and so Paul says, live this way. Offer your whole life as a sacrifice to God. Every decision you face, lay it down before the Lord as your gift. Every desire you have, give it up to him as your offering. Every action you take, every thought that crosses your mind, present it to God as a sacrifice to him. Our whole bodies, our whole lives, day by day, belong to him, and should be set apart for him.
This, Paul says, is our true and proper worship to God. This is the worship that honors God by giving him what he truly wants from us. We want to be the ones to decide what’s appropriate and sufficient for us to give to God, because we assume that we belong to ourselves; we think our bodies and lives are our own. It’s easy to get into the mindset that if we give God an hour a week to sit in church and however much money we think we can easily spare, that’s worship enough for him and he should be happy with it.
Except, it isn’t, and he isn’t. Not that just spending more time and money would change that. You could spend all day in church every Sunday and give away your entire life savings, and it still wouldn’t be enough, if that’s all you did. Micah makes that perfectly clear. God doesn’t just want more stuff, he wants you to give him your mind—all of it—and your heart—your whole heart, down to the core. He doesn’t just want you to worship him by doing certain things because you think doing those things is enough; he wants you to worship him with all of everything you are, to give over all of yourself to him, so that you are worshiping him all the time—in church, out of church, wherever—and with all your money—both what you give away, and what you use in other ways—because everything you do is the product of a heart and mind wholly dedicated to God.
And thus we have verse 2: “Do not conform to this world”—in J. B. Phillips’ classic translation, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” Don’t go along with what the world values; don’t measure yourself by its expectations; don’t think you can follow Jesus and still make the world happy. The church in this country lost track of this one for a long time, because for many years Christianity was quite respectable and mainstream, and it was easy for us to fool ourselves into thinking the world had conformed itself to the church. It hadn’t. It was just playing chameleon—taking on a Christian appearance as protective coloration, so that it could subvert the church from the inside; but increasingly, its opposition to Christ is coming into the open.
Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of folks in the church who’ve inherited the idea that it ought to be possible to be a good Christian and at the same time an approved and popular member of this culture, and so they’re letting the world squeeze them—and their worship, and their view of God—into its mold, thinking that must be OK. To that, the inimitable Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary had a pointed response the other day: “You really do kid only yourselves if you think you can be an orthodox Christian and be at the same time cool enough and hip enough to cut it in the wider world.” We cannot make God and our faith fit what the world wants; anyone who says otherwise is not truly worshiping him, but a little god of their own design.
Instead of letting the world’s pattern of life and the world’s way of thinking be the standard for our own lives—instead of letting ourselves be squeezed down so that we never make the world uncomfortable—God calls us to transformation. By what? By the power of the Spirit. What does that look like? The renewing of our minds. Back in chapter 1, Paul declared that when humanity rejected God, he gave them over to a “depraved” mind—which is to say, one incapable of recognizing God’s will as good, pleasing, and perfect, much less desiring to follow it; from depraved understanding flowed depraved action. God’s work in us by his Spirit is to reverse that.
This is a process, and not a quick one; it’s a lifelong work of retraining our hearts and reprogramming our minds. It’s a process which is powered by the Spirit of God, but everything we do, everything we think, and everything we read or see or hear either contributes to that or hinders it. We need to be dedicated to the renewing of our minds, seeking to take every thought captive to obedience to Christ, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians; which means we need to take every book, every movie, every song, every conversation, captive to obedience to Christ as well, for those things shape how we think. We need to make sure that the things we allow to influence us will make us more like Christ, rather than less, and we need to take them seriously as spiritual forces in our lives.
In other words, we become living sacrifices to God when we resist being conformed to this world and allow him to transform us from the inside out by renewing our minds; and our minds are renewed as we become living sacrifices, offering all our choices to God in worship, seeking to make everything we read, everything we watch, everything we listen to, and everything we say an offering to his glory. It’s a feedback loop, each reinforcing the other; we can’t be halfhearted about it. It’s all or nothing, and we need to give God our all—all of life our offering to him, that our minds would be renewed day by day, that we might have his mind. This is our true worship—nothing less.