A Plea

1st of 5 messages preached at EPC Youth Camp, on Maria Island, Tasmania,
29 Dec 2005- 3 Jan 2006

"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. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:1-2).

The church that I minister in is less than 7 years old compared to the 45 years of the EPC. But like the EPC, most of our original members were from non-Reformed churches.

So when we first started, I felt it necessary to do a series of messages that would steer the church in the Reformed direction. I planned to do three series of messages: (1) The Moral Law of God; (2) The Covenant Family and (3) The Marks of a True Church.

I made known my intention to some of the pioneering members of the church, thinking that they would be pleased to be instructed in these things.

But to my surprise and chagrin, a dear brother wrote back to me saying: "I had thought that we should begin the work with some practical subjects relating to Christian living."

I was taken aback. One of the main purposes of the Law of God is to instruct Christians how they may live. If that is not practical, what is? The doctrine of the Covenant Family is about how to live as a Christian in a family. If that is not practical, what is? Granted the Marks of a True Church may sound like a theoretical title, but it has to do with how the church should function. And the church is an assembly of people, so it is about how Christians should live in a Church. Is that not practical?

Why did this brother object to the three series then? Well, upon reflection, I believe that it was out of concern that the titles I had proposed would sound too doctrinal or theological for many to stomach, and may discourage the members of the newly established church. For it is a fact that many contemporary Christians has an aversion to doctrine and theology.

This aversion meant that many would be more keen to listen to messages that are deemed to be not too heavy theologically, such as "the Christian and his boss" or "the Christian and the rat race," or "Investment and the Christian," or "How to live a joyful life" or "how to be a winner in school."

But how different is the attitude of the apostle Paul! With the possible exception of his personal letter to Philemon, all of his canonical letters are distinctly and eminently theological.

His letter to the Romans is a case in point. The theme of this letter is justification by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

The letter begins with a theological emphasis and continues with a heavy theological emphasis throughout the first 11 chapters.

In the first 3 chapters he speaks about the depravity of man, and the justice of God. All men, whether Gentile, or Jew or professing Christian or otherwise are sinners. We all deserve the wrath of God, no one excepted.

From the end of the 3rd chapter unto the end of chapter 5, Paul speaks about justification by grace through faith and about the Covenant of Grace. Because of our sin, we can never have fellowship with God except we be given the righteousness of God. Christ came as the second Adam to represent the elect. By his perfect obedience and his suffering and death on our behalf, He clothes us with his righteousness and reconciles us to God. Man can only go to God through the blood of Christ.

In chapters 6 to 8 Paul speaks about the fruit of justification, even sanctification and perseverance. Though the Christian is justified, he has a remnant of corruption remaining in him. The Spirit must work in Him to sanctify Him and to preserve him blameless until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In chapters 9 to 11, Paul speaks about the doctrine of election and reprobation as well as the place of the nation of Israel in redemptive history. All who are saved throughout history are saved through the sovereign prerogative of God in election. Not all Israel is Israel. It is not a given that every one born in a covenant home will be saved. Only the children of the promise will be saved. This was true in the old covenant. This is true today. God alone reserve the sovereign prerogative to save whom he will so that all Israel might eventually be saved to His own glory.

All these you will realise, relate to the work of God in our redemption—election, justification, sanctification, preservation, glorification. It is from chapter 12 onwards that Paul begins to focus on the implications and applications of what have been taught. So the first 11 chapters emphasise doctrine and the last 5 chapters emphasise demeanour.

But even as he transits now into application, Paul does not escape from theology. This will become very clear as we examine Romans 12:1-2 together this week. As we examine these two verses, you will find the paramount emphasis that Paul places on the Word of God and proper theology as the foundation for the Christian life.

Indeed, Paul begins this whole section by emphasising that proper Christian behaviour must flow from a grateful response to proper theology.

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

These famous words speak of how strongly the apostle Paul feels about the instruction he is about to give us.

Let us note three things from these words.

First, understand, that:

1. The Apostle is Issuing a Plea

"I beseech you" he says. He does not say, "I command you!" As the 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 speaks of exhorting us to "earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). He is essentially saying that: "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, but the apostle Paul is, in like manner, making an appeal.

Now appeals may be made in many ways.

The government may appeal to the nation to conserve water by warning of the dire consequence of wasting water.

A mother may appeal to her son to study hard for his exam by promising him a bike if he scores an ‘A’ for his papers.

Fundraisers usually appeal for funds tugging at our heartstrings. Look at the picture of this starving child. You can help him by giving a dollar a month.

Appeals are often made by playing with our emotion.

How does the apostle Paul make his appeal? Paul makes a passionate plea indeed, but it is an appeal to our intellect rather than merely to our emotions. His appeal is founded upon proper knowledge.

This is the second point we must look at this morning.

2. Paul’s Plea is founded upon proper knowledge

"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 11 chapters, do this…" or "On the basis of what God has done for us, let us do these things…"

In other words, 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."

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 logical and appropriate responses.

He speaks of this response as a ‘reasonable’ or rational service. We will study what they means in our next message; but for now, let us understand that 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 that which is right in his own sight.

The church is not a social gathering where every man may do that which is right in his own sight. Notice how Paul calls us ‘brethren.’ By this he tells 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!

This is our third point.

3. Paul’s Plea is based on what
God has done for us

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’ toward us. So Paul appeals to us on the basis of the mercies of God.

It is interesting to note that the word translated ‘mercies’ (oijktirmov") here is not the regular word for mercy (e[leo"). 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. "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).

Yes, had it not been for God’s compassion towards us, we would all have perished. We were dead in our transgression and sin, 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.

How shall we respond to what we know? How shall we respond to the mercies of God? Shall we not respond by grateful praise and obedience?

Christianity differs from false religions in that Christians are not compelled to do this or that. We only truly live the Christian life if we are living the way we do out of gratitude and love for God in Christ.

Several years ago, I met a young man who appeared to me to be very worldly. He had a Buddhist charm around his neck and he had a gold chain around his wrist. He smelt of tobacco and his teeth were clearly stained with tar from cigarette. When I started telling him about the Gospel, he stopped me.

He said, I know all that you are telling me. I know the Gospel. In fact, I know the Bible very well. I was a worship leader in one of the large churches. I went out everywhere to witness for Christ.

I was surprised by what I was hearing, so I ask him, "What happened?" He told me that he had entered the police force and worked as an undercover officer. He began to experience a new found freedom that he never knew before. So he eventually left Christianity because he found it too restrictive. He says, "Christianity has too many do’s and don’t. It has too many restrictions. I am not interested in such a life."

I wonder how many of us have this attitude towards Christianity?

This man was obviously never a true believer. I do not know if he grew up in a Christian home, but he was clearly not a true believer, for the elect will never fall from grace.

And this man had failed to understand the Christian life. He had equated Christianity to a religion of the world. He was living a zealous but legalistic life. He did not have eternal life. He did not enjoy life abundant and free. He who enjoys eternal life walks in love for God for he understands and has experienced the mercies of God towards him. For such, the law is not grievous. Rather, it is love.


What about you beloved young people?

May I urge you to spend some time today in this beautiful place to consider what God has done for you and what you have done for him? What is your attitude toward the Christian life?

The faithful believer prays and reads the Bible every day. Why? Not because his or her father has mandated this practice. He reads and prays out of gratitude and love to God.

The faithful believer observes the Sabbath. Why? Not simply because it is the law of God, but because He loves the Lord, and the Lord of the Sabbath has said: "If ye love me, keep my commandments"

A faithful Christian refuses to dress seductively in the way of the world. Why? Not because her pastor will disapprove, but because she knows what the Lord has done for her. She loves Him and would not allow His name to be evil spoken of.

A faithful believer refuses to take short cuts to get his assignment done the way that his classmates do. Why? Not because he is afraid of being discovered, but because the Christ he loves is the Truth.

A faithful believer refuses to date an unbeliever. Why? Not because the unbelieving girls are not attractive, but because he loves the Lord, and he cannot have an intimate relationship with some one who hates the Lord.

A faithful believer refuses to practice ‘safe-sex’. Why? Not because it is not safe, but because he knows that his body is the temple of the Spirit of Christ. If Christ loves him and has shown him mercy at the cost of infinite suffering, how can he grieve the Spirit of Christ who dwells in him?

For this same reason, a faithful believer refuses to listen to the loud and immoral music of the world, because he cannot with a clear conscience say that the Spirit who indwells him would be pleased with the music of this age.

Beloved young people, I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service unto Him. Amen.

—JJ Lim

"[The Lord’s Supper must not] be administered to children, since they are not able to examine themselves and to make a believing application by means of the sacrament. Neither may it be administered to the unbaptized, for no one can eat unless they first be born. Also, no one can partake of a meal together with the church unless he first be in the church, has been received as a member of her, and has been sealed as such. It must also not be administered to those who are ignorant of true doctrine, to unbelievers, and to those outside of the church—be it that they have never belonged to the church or that they have been excommunicated. This must be enforced as long as they are in this condition, since they are not partakers of the promises, of Christ, nor of the communion of saints.

Rather, it must be administered to true believers. Only true believers have a right for themselves to the promises, Christ, and the communion of saints, and thus also to the signs of the covenant. The church, however, does not judge concerning man’s internal state; the knowledge of someone’s regeneration is not the basis upon which she admits persons to the holy table, but she admits all who have made a conscious confession of the true doctrine of the gospel, and who lead a life which is in harmony with their confession" (Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2.566).