Ask any number of believers whose image they should have, and most people will readily answer “Jesus of-course!”; and it’s true the Father desires us to have the very image of His Son Jesus (and it benefits us as well). Yet have you ever stopped to consider how exactly we accomplish this goal? How is it that we are to have the very image and nature of Christ Jesus?
This is where people start to diverge and different camps are entrenched. Many will say that some form of works are required, some traditions, some legalism, or certain other types of sacrifices are required (be it fasting, or tithing, or any number of things).
But as you can probably figure out from the title of today’s study, the scripture speaks of a different approach; one not based on works or efforts of ourselves, one not based on the traditions and sacrifices of men, but rather one based on the truth of Christ and His finished work on the cross. A solution based on the Gospel of Christ alone, apart from the works of man.
As we begin today, let’s establish the study with the scripture itself – because honestly, I could say anything, I could make any claim at all, and it really doesn’t matter. If all this study consists of, is me giving my opinion and me talking and making claims, then it is utterly pointless – it means nothing.
However, if on-the-other-hand, the scriptures give us a foundation; a foundation for us to see Christ with, and a foundation upon which we can stand in our new identity with, and a foundation which shows us how we are transformed, then, we have something worthwhile here. And indeed we do… It is found in Romans 12:1-2:
“I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Now immediately I need to mention verse 1, because this verse is often taken out of context and misinterpreted by legalists to beat people over the head and get them works-focused and performance-driven, instead of focused on Christ. Let’s take a moment to examine verse 1 here.
Paul starts off the verse by saying I beseech you therefore, and that word “therefore” tells us that he is actually continuing a thought or point from what was said previously. And what was he saying previously in Romans 11? He’s actually speaking about the unearned, unmerited favor and mercy of God! Look at Romans 11:33-36 really quick:
“O 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 been his counselor?
Or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
And then directly from this, he goes into Romans 12:1. This is the verse in context… so those who would try to use this verse as some sort of legalistic works-based sledgehammer are totally missing the point.
Paul is encouraging his brothers in the grace and mercy of God, not in behavioral performance. He says I beseech you therefore brothers, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Now let’s stop here and think about this for a moment. If this were indeed talking about your performance and your works (as the legalists claim it to be), then the bar is set so very high that none could ever attain it. Because as you will notice from the verse, it is mentioned that you must present your body holy and acceptable to none-other than God Himself! So then, how has this been going for you so far this month? Has your performance been up to the perfect standard of God regarding holiness and acceptability? How about just this week? How about yesterday, or even this morning?
You see, when examined for what it actually is, the legalistic idea betrays itself. Because either people are being dishonest about how good and acceptable their performance actually is, or they are grossly under-estimating what God considers holy and acceptable. Keeping in-mind that His standard is absolute perfection; and only One person fits that description. And that, my dear friend, is the key to it all.
Notice that the verse does not say “Serve God, and behave properly, so that your performance makes you holy and acceptable!” – Nope. It doesn’t say that at all. Rather it says to present your body as holy and acceptable to Him. And that is your reasonable service.
Do you understand the difference? On the one-hand we have working to try and attain acceptance; while on the other we have presenting yourself as accepted. That is what is being called-for here in this verse. It’s all centered around the finished work of Jesus Christ, and your new identity in Him. You are presenting yourself a living sacrifice, holy and accepted before God, because that is exactly who you are in Jesus Christ and that is how you draw near to Him. You are holy, because He has made you holy (Hebrews 10:10). You are accepted, because He has made you accepted (Ephesians 1:6). And you present yourself to God, in that new identity which Christ has given to you (Hebrews 10:22).
And God, in His infinite mercy and grace, calls your belief in the finished work of Christ as your reasonable service! Does that sound too good to be true? Would it surprise you to learn that Jesus said the same thing to the Pharisees? He did, in John 6:28.
So then, how are we transformed into the image of Christ? Well, that’s the second verse of our text today, Romans 12:2:
“And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
And notice the first part of that verse: And be not conformed to this world. Don’t buy into what the world (unbelievers) buy into. Don’t fall for what those who don’t believe in the finished work of Christ fall for! In other words, don’t rely on your work, efforts, strength, or smarts to save you! Only Christ can do that!
Well, how should we be then? Be transformed, but how? Surely that’s by our works right? Nope! Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!
Are you shocked and surprised? It comes by your mind, your thinking being renewed. But renewed how exactly? It’s at this point that again, the legalists, now desperate to reintroduce the Law of Moses and works will say “by renewing our focus back on the ten commandments, and the requirements of man! We need to keep the sabbath! And fast! And tithe!”
But it is at this point that the final nail in the legalistic coffin is hammered home, and Jesus was nailed to the cross to make it happen.
“For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
And to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Now we have covered these verses before, so I won’t go over them again here because of time.. however notice what knowledge, and what comprehension is of importance here… it is knowing the love of Christ, and being filled with all the fullness of God!
That, my friend, is your new identity in Christ. And as you stand in that, it will absolutely transform every area of your life. And give you a peace and assurance like nothing else, and beyond your imagination.
I encourage you today, to accept the finished work of Christ. Turn away from your works, stop trusting in yourself, and look solely upon Jesus and who He has made you to be.