I had a fear as a teenager that made it hard to follow Jesus. At the root of my fear was a lack of trust. I was afraid that if I told Jesus he could be my Lord that he would ask me to do all sorts of things that I would hate.
It was sort of a qualified yes. It was like telling someone you will love them, but only as long as they pay you $2,000 a month. I was afraid of all the unpleasant things that God might ask me to do, such as being a missionary, or talking in front of crowds. I had my own will for me and didn’t want God’s will to get in the way. How young I was. How foolish I was.
We are still looking at Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapter 12, Verses one and two. Paul says here that God’s will for us is good and pleasing and perfect.
First, we note that Paul says ‘and’, not ‘or’. God’s will is all three of these things at the same time. It is good. By linking these three words, they help define each other. Good is defined by this sentence as something that is acceptable or pleasing to God.
We don’t get to say what it is good. Our definition counts for nothing. Our works and desires and thoughts are only good if they are acceptable or pleasing to God.
Not only that, but God’s will is also perfect. It is flawless. It is without blemish. There can be no sin in God’s will. There can be no false desire nor any intent to cause harm. Don’t be afraid of knowing God’s will for you. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 that “God’s will is for you to be holy.”
God’s will is for you to be holy or perfect. And God’s will itself is also holy. Nothing to fear.
Do you remember who Paul is writing this message to? He has not written to people like my teenage self to encourage them to not fear God’s will for them. Paul is writing to mature and faithful Christians. This is not an instruction on how to become a Christian by sacrificing your body to God. It is what you must do to become a Christian.
The people reading this letter in Rome have seen their friends killed for being believers.
The people reading this letter in Rome have been exiled just for being the wrong race. They have been deported and lost their possessions. They have been persecuted terribly for following Jesus. They have met to worship Jesus in caves and underground tombs called catacombs. The Christians in Rome have already sacrificed much, and yet still Paul is urging them to make this sacrifice.
Like us today, the first readers of this letter were faithful followers of Jesus. When in verse one Paul urges them to “give your bodies to God” it is not so that they can become followers. And neither is it to be done once as admission to a club, but never to be done again. This is a giving that must continue every moment of every day all of our lives.
God poured out his mercies endlessly. We are urged to give our bodies endlessly in response. You realise of course from what Paul says lower down in this chapter that your body is not only the flesh and blood tabernacle that you walk around in. This fellowship, us gathered here together, we are a body. This corporate body also is what Paul is pleading we sacrifice constantly to God.
It should be a holy sacrifice that God will find acceptable. Mercies to us from God, then bodies from us to God. Next there comes from God to us, new minds and God’s good and pleasing and perfect will. Back and forth we go, linked to each other.
Our gift to God is to be holy and acceptable, exactly as God’s gift to us is holy and acceptable.
In each case this is the word ‘euárestos’, and it means pleasing, acceptable. Out of a relationship that began with God showing us mercy and continued with us offering what is pleasing to him God is changing us. He didn’t ask for our minds, for they were dark and displeasing. He didn’t want our dirty hearts, for they too were displeasing. God asks for our bodies, into which he will place his spirit and create new hearts and minds.
God asks for our flesh and blood bodies. God also asks for us to give him this corporate body of fellowship and allow him to plant his heart and mind at the centre of our gatherings. One reason we gather on Sunday is to make an offering to God of our togetherness as one body. It is a sacrifice that God finds pleasing when it is “living and holy”. Living and holy praise pleases God. Living and holy worship pleases God. Living and holy fellowship together pleases God.
We offer ourselves so that God can teach us his will. God who is great in love and mercy first came to us. He loved us. We respond and he loves us still. From the vast storehouse of his love he gives us his will. He shows us his desire and works in us to bring it to reality.
This is not a lesson in how to become a faithful follower of Jesus, but how to live out your faith even when life is impossibly hard and confusing.
I think it is important to realise what Paul is not saying. He is not teaching us a way to have a new list of things to do that will make us good and perfect. When he says “you will learn to know God’s will” he doesn’t mean you will receive instructions on what to do and what to not do. He means your new mind will think in ways that lead you to live in new ways that are good and pleasing and perfect to God.
What’s Paul saying? He’s saying: strive to know and do the good, namely what is pleasing to God, namely, what is perfect. It cannot be otherwise. God will not command imperfection. His goal for us is perfection. Indeed, from the beginning to the end of the Bible his demand from us is perfection.
Moving on from verse two to verse three we find a warning. In this relationship with God, there are dangers. Paul cautions us, “Don’t think you are better than you really are.”
It is a warning to have an accurate picture of who you really are. Do not be deceived.
Not only should we avoid thinking too much of ourselves, we should avoid thinking too little of ourselves. We are told to be “honest in your evaluation of yourselves.”
That is, as we know all too well, extremely difficult. How do you evaluate yourself? Where do you even begin? What is the standard against which we are to measure ourselves.
It is not each other. This is not Paul telling us to compare ourselves with each other to see how well we are doing. That would be like two ants arguing over which one is more like an eagle. Neither of them is remotely like an eagle.
The standard for our measurement of ourselves, Paul says, is faith. He says we ought to measure ourselves “by the faith God has given us.”
What stands out is that it isn’t our faith that is the standard. We are not to measure ourselves by how much faith we have created or shown. The faith is from God, just as the mercies are from God. You can take no credit. You cannot boast.
Our honest evaluation tells us to look at our faith and examine it. What has God given us. This faith is a gift from God. This gift from God is the standard for evaluation of ourselves. What has God given you. He has given you a perfect amount of faith. The faith that God has given you is pleasing to him. The faith that God has given you is good.
You have enough faith. Your faith is good enough. Do not think too highly nor too lowly of this gift of faith that God has given you. Instead we are called to recognise the gift and use it for God’s good and perfect will.
We are in a relationship with God. He gives us gifts, faith and mercy for example. We give him our bodies and accept his will.
God finds this pleasing and acceptable. It is good. Let’s seek how to live out our faith this week as individual bodies and as one body in fellowship.