Our Reasonable Service
By The Mercies Of God

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 58a of 83

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).

The book of Romans has two major divisions. In the first division, the apostle Paul emphasises on theology—especially as it pertains to the doctrine of our salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In these eleven chapters, Paul deals with the depravity of all men, and how the elect of God are saved from their guilt and sin by grace alone through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone by His dying and rising again for their justification.

Now, as we enter into chapter 12, you will notice a stark contrast in the emphasis of the apostle. You will notice how he gives much more attention to practical Christian living.

He will still remind us of some important doctrines: for the Christian life can never be fully divorced from doctrine. But from here on, his emphasis will be to instruct us on how we ought to live the Christian life.

Let us begin our study by considering the famous words with which Paul opens the door to the wonderful hall of mirrors ahead of us.

We want to study his inspired words under the heading of four key phrases: (1) “by the mercies of God”; (2) “present your bodies”; (3) “a living sacrifice”; and (4) “your reasonable service.”

1.  By the Mercies of God

The apostle begins his treatment on the practice of the Christian with the words: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God…

These oft-quoted words speaks of how strongly the apostle Paul feels about the instruction he is about to give us.

a. “I beseech you” he says. He does not say, “I command you!” As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, he has every right to command us. But he does not do so. “I beseech you,” he says.

The Greek word rendered ‘beseech’ literally means “call alongside.” This word was used in classical Greek to speak of the pep talk that commanders would give their troops when they were about to go into battle. In giving the pep talk, the commander is essentially calling out to the troops:  “Stand by me and see what I see! Look at how our enemies have destroyed our houses, and taken our wives and children! Come, let us go over and fight them! We will win the battle!”

Jude uses the same word when he exhorts us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). He is essentially saying: “The situation in the church is urgent. Come, stand by me and see what I see… false teachers and false believers are creeping into the church, therefore you must earnestly contend for the faith.”

In Romans 12:1, the context is different. The apostle Paul is saying: “Come, stand by me and see what I see of the glorious work of redemption that Christ has wrought! Look and consider the mercies of God toward us, that you may order your life accordingly.”

Paul is giving us a passionate plea that is founded upon proper theology, and not upon mere emotions.

b.  I beseech you therefore,” he says. In using the word ‘therefore,’ Paul is saying, “on the basis of all that I have said unto you in the last eleven chapters, do this…” or “On the basis of what God has done for us, let us do these things…”

Thus, by beginning Roman 12 with the phrase “I beseech you therefore,” the apostle is not only exhorting us to do that which is right, he is reminding us that having known all that God has done for us, there must be some appropriate responses.

He is testifying strongly that the life of a Christian must be founded on proper theology. Practice without principles, or demeanour without doctrine, is not only detrimental for the Christian. It is dangerous in the long run. A church that has practices not based on sound theology will easily slide into a legalistic formalism or it may degenerate into a social club where every man does what is right in his own eyes (cf. Jdg 21:25).

The church is not a social gathering where every man may do that which is right in his own eyes. Notice how Paul calls us ‘brethren.’ By this he reminds us that we are all in the same family. We have the same Heavenly Father. We have the same Elder Brother, our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed with the same price. Therefore we ought to have a common zeal for the glory of God.

How may we have a common zeal for God? By having the same understanding and appreciation of what God our heavenly Father has done for us in Christ!

c.   This is why Paul first shows us what God has done for us before instructing us how we ought to live.

Now, what God has done for us, is not merely some dry historical facts. It demonstrates rather the “mercies of God” towards us. So Paul appeals to us on the basis of the mercies of God.

It is interesting to note that the word translated ‘mercies’ (οἰκτιρμός, oiktirmos) here is not the regular word for mercy (ἔλεος, eleos). By using this word, Paul is emphasising not only that we do not deserve God’s favour, but also that God our heavenly Father has shown us pity and compassion.[1]

Yes, had it not been for God’s compassion towards us, we would all have perished. We were dead in our transgressions and sins, heading for eternal damnation, until God in His pity plucked us out of the way. We were “alienated and enemies in our mind by wicked works,” yet God reconciled us to himself by sending His only begotten Son to live and die on our behalf.

In view of what He has done for us, what shall we do?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim

[1] Consider the mercies of God: I beseech you by the mercies of God. An affectionate obtestation, and which should melt us into compliance: dia tōn oiktirmōn tou Theou. This is an argument most sweetly cogent. There is the mercy that is in God and the mercy that is from God-mercy in the spring and mercy in the streams: both are included here; but especially gospel-mercies (mentioned ch. 11), the transferring of what the Jews forfeited and lost by their unbelief unto us Gentiles (Eph_3:4-6): the sure mercies of David, Isa_55:3. God is a merciful God, therefore let us present our bodies to him; he will be sure to use them kindly, and knows how to consider the frames of them, for he is of infinite compassion. We receive from him every day the fruits of his mercy, particularly mercy to our bodies: he made them, he maintains them, he bought them, he has put a great dignity upon them. It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, that our souls are held in life; and the greatest mercy of all is that Christ hath made not his body only, but his soul, an offering for sin, that he gave himself for us and gives himself to us. Now surely we cannot but be studying what we shall render to the Lord for all this” (Matthew Henry, comm. in loc).