TRANSFORMING GRACE
by
Vic Reasoner
The Christian congregation in Rome would have been conspicuous by its lack of sacrificial ritual. In contrast to the Old Testament sacrifices, Paul explains in Romans 12:1-2 that we are to be a living sacrifice. Although Old Testament sacrifices were ceremonially holy and acceptable, the Christian is holy and acceptable at an immeasurably higher level because his is a rational service. Ritual has been replaced by reason. The word logikos literally means “logical.” While our offerings are to be spiritual, that is not Paul’s point. He is referring to the mind. Christian worship does not bypass the mind. God first renews the mind, then makes his appeal to that renewed mind.

Not only is this the sacrifice of rational creatures, but in light of God’s mercy, described in 11:31-32, it is only reasonable that we live for him. While Paul speaks of “mercies,” using the plural form, he probably is reflecting the Hebrew intensive plural form which emphasized great mercy.

The wages of sin have always been death. In the Old Testament every sacrifice, whether a bird, a sheep or goat, or cow was put to death. This symbolized substitution. The sentence of death for human sin was transferred to the animal. Since Jesus became our perfect sacrifice, we not longer put anything living to death. But although God took the blood out of sacrifice, he did not take the sacrifice out of worship. Now we are urged to offer ourselves as living sacrifices.

In God’s mercy he offered his own Son as our substitute. In view of this act of mercy we ought to give the rest of our life to God, realizing that without this mercy we would have no life anyway.

The believer’s sanctification is described through three commands contained in Romans:1-2:

     1. Stop being conformed. This is a present active imperative. It addresses those that are in conformity to the world system. We are to influence the world without being squeezed into its mold. The real issue is whether our pattern is Christ or this present age. We are not to be conformed to this age. The word for “conform” means to shape one thing like another. A person conformed to this age is living for today.

Joseph Benson said conformity to the world hindered Christians from consecrating themselves to God. We must avoid that which would cause us to fail of the grace of God, to fall from grace, or would impede our progress in grace. Specifically, we must not be conformed to a false view of things. With the world, the present, visible, and temporal are of far greater importance than the future, invisible, and eternal. They view the body, its health, ease, and accommodation, of far greater importance than the soul. We must avoid their priority upon wealth and luxury. We must not seek happiness in sensual pleasure. We must not be conformed to the world in their use of their resources, especially their money and time.

     2. Present yourselves. In 6:13-19 paristemi occurs three times and a related verb twice more. It means to present, to yield, to lay before, to deposit, to entrust, to commit to the charge of. It had not been used previously in Romans. The call in 6:13-19 was to stop presenting our bodies to sin and present ourselves to God. The present active imperative verb meant that we were yielding to sin. Instead, we were to start yielding to God. The presentation to God is in the aorist tense, describing the crisis of the new birth. This was a transfer of ownership. What was once yielded to sin is now to be sacrificed to God. The word for sacrifice occurs for the first and only time in Romans. The root means “to kill in sacrifice or slay.” Therefore, the term “living sacrifice” is a paradox.

Now, Paul addresses brothers who are spiritually alive, holy, and accepted by God. They are called upon to present a sacrifice. He urges those who have surrendered to Christ to make a deeper commitment, to again present themselves (aorist active imperative). He once again uses paristemi, which was last used in 6:19. Why do it again?

We are sanctified to the level of our consciousness. This is a deeper yielding based upon the conviction of a deeper need. But while the believer may experience conviction, he does not experience condemnation (8:1). Dennis Kinlaw observed that sinners turn to Christ and present themselves to escape hell, gain eternal life, or put their shambled lives together. Their motive is largely fear and their self-interest. However, those who have experienced the mercies of God are now urged to present themselves to God on the basis of their love toward him. The initial yielding of a sinner involves repentance for evil; the advanced yielding of a believer involves a consecration of what is good.

The surrender required of a sinner is repentance. Fear is the motive. The consecration of a Christian involves a presentation. Love is the motive. Those who make such a presentation are holy and pleasing to God. Old Testament sacrifices were sanctified or set apart as holy and the odor of the burnt sacrifice was often described as pleasing. But with the living sacrifice, the fragrance of life is more pleasing than the stench of death (2 Cor 2:16). They have proven God’s good and acceptable will, but now enter into his perfect will. Christian perfection is the highest experience of Christian faith.

Just as we stopped yielding to sinful habits at the moment of regeneration, so we must now stop being conformed to this world system. As priests we offer ourselves both as a crisis and a life of continual surrender. The act of presenting ourselves does not sanctify us. Sanctification is the work of the Spirit. But we must continue to yield so that God can continue his work.

     3. Be transformed. Joseph Benson said transformation meant to be regenerated and created anew. He connected this transformation with Ephesians 4:22-25, where “the new man is described as renewed in the spirit of his mind; that is in all his faculties; in his affections and will, as well as in his understanding: in consequence whereof his whole conduct becomes holy and virtuous.”

The renewal of the mind refers to the new birth, the new mind, and the new man. The word “renewal,”as a noun is found only here and in Titus 3:5, where the Holy Spirit is specified as the agent of renewal. This describes the gradual restoration of the divine image, which is ever going forward in the believer who, through the new birth, has come under the transforming powers of the world to come. It is the renewal of the Holy Spirit because he is the efficient cause, by whom alone this putting on of the new man, and putting off the old, is brought about.

Yet H. Orton Wiley observed that while the renewing in Titus 3:5 is connected to regeneration, its use in Romans 12:2 “can refer only to the transformation effected by the Holy Spirit in entire sanctification.” Wiley can make such a statement only because the renewal, which began in regeneration was not completed at that point in time

The transformation process begins at regeneration. However, it is an overstatement to contend that the act of regeneration creates a mature Christian. Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, are exhorted to stop being conformed to this world. While they are no longer committing willful acts of rebellion, their mind has not been so completely renewed that they have ceased thinking like the world. Those who are spiritually alive and at least partially holy have already presented themselves to Christ at the moment when they trusted in him as Savior are now urged to make a deeper presentation of themselves. As they yield themselves more fully and intelligently, they experience the goal or completion of God’s will, his perfecting grace.

Francis Asbury preached that Paul did not address those who lived in conformity to the world. Instead he addressed Christian believers who were not of the world. Paul had in mind the devotion of the whole man, body and soul, to God. Without abstaining from the practice of all sin and the unlawful use of lawful things, we cannot be a perfect and entire Christian. We ought to make the faculties of our bodies subservient to the worship and service of God; our eyes to see for God; our ears to hear; our hands to be liberal, our feet to move for God. This is our reasonable service. If we are properly excited over the mercies of God, we will not be conformed to this world. The renewal of our minds implies that all the power of the soul be given in love and service to the Lord, in conviction over indwelling sin, as believers repenting of that sin, in sanctification, persevering grace, perfect love, and its fruit — perfect and eternal glory. We prove the will of God to be good, to be acceptable to our own souls, and to be perfect in our Christian perfection.

The phrase “good, well-pleasing, and perfect” indicates a progressive realization of God’s will. While pagans may seek “the good,” only through faith are we acceptable to God. We are either conforming to the world or being transformed by the Spirit. Those who are being transformed are to consecrate or present themselves again to God that they might realize his highest will, their perfection. Joseph Benson said that the will of God was perfect in itself and perfective of our nature. Adam Clarke observed that the perfect will of God was the foundation on which all the preceding exhortation rests. The will of God is essentially good. What is not essentially good cannot therefore be its object. Nor can that which is inconsistent with the dignity, justice, holiness, and truth of God be the object of his will. The object and end of his acceptable will is to complete and perfect man. Whatever is in accord with the will of God must partake of these three principles, “it must be good in itself, well-pleasing to the perfection of the divine mind, and accomplish or perfect the thing on which it is employed.”

The verb “transform” is not only in the present tense, indicating an ongoing work, but it is in the passive voice, which indicates that we cannot make ourselves like Christ. God does the work. Our responsibility is to present ourselves. His grace transforms us. While the work of transforming grace begins at the new birth, it does not end there. God has predestined that all who believe will be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). Do not thwart the purpose of God, but continue to yield to his perfect will for you.


Editorial Note: This material was drawn from the new Fundamental Wesleyan Commentary on Romans which is advertized on the back page of this issue.


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