The last few weeks we have started a series on the Shepherd and have looked at the shepherd— sheep relationship of the ancient Near East. I used the “flock” metaphor for the people of God and drew on several passages of Scripture. Psalm 23 speaks of the Shepherd’s vision to provide, protect and guide his flock. Isa 40:11 reveals to us the gentle and gracious care of the Shepherd as he gathers the Lambs in his arms. Then we discovered that hearing the Voice of the Shepherd is foundational to being a sheep in his flock - “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Under Jesus, each sheep is known intimately and by name and learns that obedience is essential for responsible discipleship. Along the journey strange voices abound, therefore we must stay close to the Shepherd and let him rescue those sheep that are lost and defend the flock against evil attacks.
As I was praying and thinking about listening to the voice of God I was reminded of those times in my own life when I desired to “know God’s will”. I remembered in YWAM when we sought to know the will of God in seeking out an outreach location. Many times students would say “what is the will of God for my life?” “Is it God’s will that I marry this person? Or “is it God’s will that I take on this job opportunity? Whether family, education, career, marriage, children – people are always desiring to be confident in God’s will for their life. One of the foundations for knowing the will of God is hearing his voice, in the same way, hearing God’s voice directs us towards his will. As we continue this series it is important to understand that the Shepherd has a will and a purpose for his flock. This morning we are going to look at Romans 12:1-2 and talk about the prerequisites to walking confidently as a sheep in his flock.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
As you know, chapter 12 follows the first eleven chapters in the Letter of Paul to the Romans. And it begins with a significant “therefore” helping us to transition from right thinking to right living. Chapters 1–11, present a solid foundation for Christian beliefs and now in Romans 12 Paul wants us to know how to live out our beliefs. “In view of God’s mercy” is one of the highlights of the previous chapters. God has justified and offered mercy to those who accept his Son as their Saviour. The doctrine of justification for sinners is foundation of Christian life. God’s mercy is the beginning to understanding God’s will for his flock. There are several key points that Paul emphasizes prior to God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
1. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices
Sheep were often used as sacrifices in the Old Testament sacrificial system. Paul speaks of “living sacrifices” identifying New Testament sheep who present or offer or surrender themselves on God’s altar. The problem with living sacrifices is that they can crawl off the altar. There are times when following the Shepherd is an easy and joyous experience. At other times the Good Shepherd is aware of some “not-so-good” stuff in the lives of his sheep. It is at these moments of testing and conviction that the living bleating sheep are tempted to crawl off of the altar.
One of the signs of being committed to knowing God’s will is the ability to allow the full measure of conviction to touch our lives. This is easier said than done.
This offering of ourselves to God is clarified in Rom 6:13 - Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
This is Step One to discovering the Shepherd’s will for your life; a life of surrender and sacrifice to God.
2. Holy and Pleasing to God
One of the short-comings of believers is that of only receiving mercy to cover our sin. The challenge Paul presents to us today is to live holy and pleasing before God. It is God’s grace that empowers us to live godly lives. I know that both mercy and grace are needed in our Christian life. But it is possible for the Christian to consistently live holy and pleasing before our Shepherd. Biblically, we must understand that we can do more than just confess our sins, we can actually live holy lives built on justification by faith alone and acceptance on the basis of the righteousness of Christ alone.
Eph 5:10 actually encourages us to “find out what pleases the Lord.” This verse makes it clear to Christ’s follower that finding out what pleases and blesses God is important. This reminds me of “random acts of kindness” and how significant they can be in someone’s life. When you do something for the least of people, it is like you are doing it for Jesus (Matt 25:40). Today you have the opportunity to do something that pleases God. Sounds like fun to me…
A consistent and pleasing life before God is Step Two to discerning God’s will.
3. Your spiritual act of worship
Worship is so much more than what we do when we gather together to sing our songs of praise to God. The aim of Rom 12:1-2 is that all of life becomes worship. The Westminster Catechism (written in 1646 and 47) asks this question “What is the chief end of man? The Answer. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” This speaks to me of a lifestyle of worship. In other words, the aim of all human life is that God in Christ our Shepherd be displayed as infinitely valuable. True worship must have no other idols… Whatever you do in life is done to glorify God. God begins to shine through you to other people when your life becomes worship-full.
Col 3:23-24 - Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Step Three is all about setting the Shepherd first in your life - worship God alone. No idols, no distractions, only glorifying and enjoying him for ever. This uncluttered lifestyle helps us to clearly detect the will of our Shepherd.
4. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world
Paul’s urging in verse 1 now becomes a command in verse 2. If we truly want to know God’s will we must “put off” (Eph 4:22-24) any belief or practice that conforms us to the standards of the world. Galatians 1:4 tells us that we live in the present evil age. The reality of this evil age is that there are many “antiChrist” beliefs and practices that trouble mankind. When we conform, in little or big ways, we will find it difficult to know God’s will.
This reminds me of the Borg saying in the Star Trek series - “Resistance is futile”. They sought to assimilate everyone to their collective family and united consciousness. For the follower of Jesus, resistance is not futile, and we must resist the patterns of the world that do not align with Scripture. Not conforming does not mean not loving. We must simply understand that “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and that our life becomes one of worship and is very different from the cultures of the world.
Step Four requires diligent resistance and non-conformity to worldly values and then keeping away from them; this does not mean staying away from people. We can know more clearly the will of God when one remains “politically correct” from the standpoint of the Kingdom of God.
5. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
A renewed mind is the reality of being in the Shepherd’s care. Not conforming to the world without being transformed in the renewing of your mind is religious and self-righteous. Transformation literally means to be “metamorphosized” just like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. We are completely and miraculously changed. This is the Christian life: we are changed from sinner to saint. So when Paul says, “be renewed”, he doesn’t mean to double your effort to not conform. He is reminding us that a miracle has happened. Because we are new creations in Christ, we have been transformed and the result is that our renewed thinking helps us to know God’s will.
The renewing process is a moment by moment inner practice of the mind. The mind is the control center of one’s thoughts and attitudes, feelings and actions. Renewal is the process of setting things right once again.
This is Step Five to knowing God’s will - a commitment to a renewed mind.
Paul appealed for the dedication of one’s whole of life to God. The mercy of God was the beginning point of the believers journey with God. The Shepherd’s will is something within reach of the sheep. Paul highlights five aspects that progressively lead us to knowing God’s will. Just as sheep are lead to pasture so Paul leads the sheep in Rome to a greater depth of potential. Knowing the will of the Shepherd is enhanced as the sheep willingly offer themselves to God as his living sacrifices, holy and pleasing, and they are worship-full and not conforming to the world but being renewed in the depths of their minds. WOW!
The Shepherd’s will is knowable intellectually and experientially practical. We have personal homework to put into practice which will help us grow in discovering and developing the will of God for our lives.
Next week The Shepherd’s Will - Part 2