God has given us eyes to see with and, even with a mirror, it can be difficult to look at them. The same thing is true—and in spades—when it comes to the eyes of our soul. We use these eyes to look at absolutely everything . . . except the act of ourselves, looking. We see everything except how our seeing is colored by our circumstances. To grow past partial blindness is a profound step in spiritual maturation.
“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. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:1-8).
Summary of the Text
We are encouraged here to submit ourselves to the Lord, in both body and mind. We are told—in the name of God’s mercies—to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (v. 1). And as a sacrifice offered to Him, it must not be defiled—not by porn sites, not by immodest dresses, not by lascivious entertainment, and not by unclean joking around. If your body is constantly on the altar, and it is, then make sure it is not a blemished offering. The second thing is to present your minds to God, for Him to shape them. The alternative is that of having the world shape your mind. Offering your mind to Him in order to be shaped will prove the will of God (v. 2). Notice that the world wants to defile your body, but wants to shape your mind. Having told us not to have our minds molded by the world, he then goes on to tell us what it would look like if our minds were to be shaped by the world (v. 3). It would look like each man thinking of himself more highly that he ought. We can see from this that the world is a lying flatterer, and is whispering constantly. Go ahead. Believe in yourself. You can do it.
God’s alternative to this comes to us in the reality of body life. We are many members of one body (v. 4). We all, being many, make up one body (v. 5), which means that we are members of one another.
We have gifts that differ, Paul says (v. 6), and they differ according to the grace of God. This is important—note it well. If we are prophets, let us do that by faith. If it is ministry or service, then let us do that (v. 7). If it is teaching, then we should be teaching. If exhortation, then our duty is exhortation (v. 8). The same goes for generosity, but keep it simple. A ruler should rule, and with diligence. Someone with the gift of mercy should make a point to be cheerful.
What Paul Did Not Say
Ours gifts do not differ according to the obstinacy of that other fellow over there, doggedly exercising a gift different from mine. Imagine the cussedness of an ear that refuses to see, as everyone knows we all must (1 Cor. 12:14-21). “And if they were all one member, where were the body?” (1 Cor. 12:19).
Notice what Paul did not argue:
“Having then gifts that differ according to others refusing to be like us, if you are a prophet, then all should prophesy; if you are in service, then you must demand that all pitch in the same way you have done; if you are a teacher, then it is necessary to complain about how ignorant everyone is; if you have the gift of exhortation, then exhort everyone to join with you in exhorting; if you are generous, then this is the baseline for everyone else’s generosity, and make sure to keep track of it all; if you are a ruler, then use the laziness of others as an excuse; if you are in mercy work, make sure to complain about how unloving all the regular Christians are.”
Our temptation is to measure other Christians by the length of our own gifts. First, recognize your gift. Then inflate that assessment. Then take stock of how far ahead of other Christians you are. You might not see as well as you think, but you do see way better than the ear does. But actually . . . perhaps not.
Recognize that when you see a need, this is not given to you so that you might blame everybody else for not meeting it. Your ability to identify a need should be taken by you as an indication from God on what you ought to be doing. If you look around at the body, and see a bunch of discouraged saints, then perhaps you have the gift of encouragement. If you see doctrinal ignorance, then perhaps you have the gift of teaching. If you see dirty bathrooms, perhaps you have the gift of helps.
More Highly Than He Ought
Now it is not possible to turn away from the shaping lies of the world without simultaneously turning toward Jesus Christ. The more you love and honor Jesus, the more you are becoming like His Father. And the more you love and honor Jesus, the less certain things will be happening.
Turning toward Christ means that you will be . . .
- Less inflated in your self-assessment;
- More sober in your self-assessment;
- Less competitive with Christians with differing gifts;
- Less autonomous and independent;
- And finally free from the besetting sin of envy.
You have heard this stated a number of times before, but it is the kind of truth that all of us need to hear again and again. “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. to write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” (Philippians 3:1, ESV). And so here it is: Hard teaching creates soft hearts, and soft teaching creates hard hearts. Calvinism is hard doctrine, but it is hard doctrine for the tenderhearted—not hard doctrine to match the hearts.
“It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:12–16).
Summary of the Text
When Rebekah went to an oracle about the conflict that was happening in her womb, she was told that, of the twins, the older would serve the younger (v. 12; Gen. 25:23). This was reinforced centuries later, at the other end of the Old Testament, when Malachi said that God loved Jacob, but hated Esau (v. 13; Mal. 1:2-3). Keep in mind that Jacob here refers to the Jews, and Esau refers to the nation of Edom. But to take this up to a larger scale doesn’t really solve any of our ruffled feather problems. If you were a devotee of free will, would you feel better if somebody told you that God had only predestined that the airliner would crash, not that the passengers would? Now when we are told that God loved Jacob and hated Esau, our natural (fleshly) reaction is to charge God with unrighteousness. And so Paul raises the question. Is there unrighteousness with God (v. 14)? It cannot be. God forbid. And what is the reason given for denying unrighteousness with God? The reason is what God said to Moses when Moses begged to see His glory (Ex. 33:19). God will be gracious to whom He pleases. He will be merciful to whom He pleases (v. 15). Grace is grace, and mercy is mercy. Neither of them can be earned or merited—not a scintilla of merit anywhere in it. So then, we come to the hard conclusion that, rightly understood, hard grace creates tender hearts. But in order to be hard grace, it must be not dependent upon the will of man, or the running of man, but rather upon the mercy of God (v. 16).
No, Really, Not a Scintilla
The heart of man can manufacture merit—something that he can use to argue that God is required to show mercy—out of virtually anything. It is our knock-off of creatio ex nihilo. One of our favorite arguments arises from any mercy shown to others. Because our hearts are naturally envious, this argument seems compelling to us. What God gives to one, He must give the same thing to all others. But grace, by definition, cannot be demanded. For any reason.
Suppose there were two men on death row, and both of them richly deserve to be there. Each one was about as foul as a human being can get. Now also suppose that the governor pardons one of them, and does so for good reason. But that good reason has nothing to do with the worthiness of the one pardoned. It was dirty dozen mission or something. Now here is the question. Has the governor in any way wronged the convict that he did not pardon? Is that convict getting anything but what he deserves? He is getting nothing but justice, while the other is getting nothing but mercy. And mercy to one does not create any obligation within God toward the other. It is not of him who wills, or of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
We do not insist on this because we have an emotional need that somebody be damned. Rather, we insist upon it because we want to remember that grace is infinite grace. When God saved me, and when God saved you, He was under absolutely no external obligation to do so. Our need was not His obligation. Our need was made up of our rebellion, our selfishness, our pettiness, our insolence, and our pride. In short, God could have refused to save you, He could have passed you by as He has passed by many others, and He would not have been an iota less gracious. His infinite holiness would not have been diminished at all if the number of the elect had been diminished by one. Subtract me from that throng in front of the throne of God, and the saints would still be able to sing, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10). Walk through that multitude, and you will not be able to find one person who deserves to be there.
Nature and Extent
Why emphasize this? Before we consider the extent of God’s grace, we have to anchor the nature of grace in our hearts and minds. That is because if we do not do this, we will draw false and destructive inferences about grace from the glorious extent of it. This is a filthy, undeserving, rebellious and insolent world—and it will be gloriously saved.
“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee” (Ps. 22:27).
“The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps. 110:1).
“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, As the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14).
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17).
“And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust” (Rom. 15:12).
And all of it grace, all of it mercy, all of it Christ.