When I was a freshman in high school, I had a football coach who was intense, very intense. His intensity was especially evident with players he didn’t like, players like me. At least that was true of my freshman year which was a proving ground in his mind. Thankfully, I survived Coach’s wrath that first season which led to an improved status for my future years of high school.
Coach had a mustache that resembled the look of a Viking on a conquest. He was the kind of man who during his tour-of-duty in Vietnam spent his free time killing water buffalos with his .50 caliber machine gun. In the strangest of contrasts, school administrators assigned him to teach driver’s education. I will always remember how he greeted the class as he looked out at us on that first day, “Well,” he scoffed, “This isn’t the freshman class at Harvard.” That was certainly an accurate assessment.
In our last post we laid some groundwork in an effort to demystify the will of God by distinguishing God’s sovereign will from God’s commanded will. Scripture affirms that God has a sovereign plan that cannot be spoiled by any strategy of man, or even by Satan himself. Job acknowledged to God at the end of his horrific journey, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2) This expression came from a man who was never told why he was required to walk through an unspeakably dark valley. However, Job discovered that God has a sovereign plan even when life seems to be careening out of control and no specific answers are forthcoming. And yet, for the believer, there is every reason to have confidence that God is still on the throne, and that every one of his purposes will be accomplished for his glory and our good.
So, if Paul is not referring to God’s sovereign will, what does he mean when he writes in Romans 12:2 that believers are to test and discern “the will of God?” Well, he is referring to God’s commanded will which speaks to something we can know because it has been revealed in Scripture. We are to bring God’s revelation to bear on the decisions of our lives. This offers strong encouragement for every follower of Christ. The will of God is described in beautiful terms as that which is “good and acceptable and perfect?” This pursuit of God’s will should be something we run to as one of the great assurances in life.
But unfortunately, for many Christians the concept of knowing the will of God is a point of confusion, doubt, and fear. Instead of the principles and precepts of God’s word illuminating the path of their decision-making, many believers grope in darkness living off the husks of their own instincts and spiritual immaturity. This command to discern God’s will should be our life’s quest.
Thank you for reading along for the last few months. I appreciate the words of encouragement that have come from some of you who have kindly read my weekly offerings. These blog posts are a part of a larger writing project that I hope will form a book sometime this summer entitled, “Life on the Altar: The Life We Are Called to Live.” With the next two posts we finish Part One: “Presenting Ourselves to God as Living Sacrifices.” My focus in this opening section has been Romans 12:1,2 which provides a unique picture of the Christian life.
In these verses, the apostle Paul brings us to the altar of sacrifice, not for atonement, but for surrender. This altar is for those who have been transformed by the mercies of God found in Christ. Here, in the spirit of Jesus’ demands of discipleship set forth in the Gospels, we are called to a life of surrender. Paul’s use of sacrificial language is a vivid picture of what it means to follow Jesus.
One of the richest blessings that flows from this “altar life” is the ability to know and do the will of God. Paul closes this exhortation with one of the great outcomes of presenting ourselves to God, namely the ability to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” I find in these words a demystifying of God’s will for every believer. By that, I am not wanting to be cavalier or flippant with something as important as knowing and doing God’s will. I am not advocating that we will always know in the clearest terms every specific decision we are to make. We won’t. Neither am I suggesting that God’s will is not mysterious. It most certainly is. However, I do find in this statement of Paul tremendous clarity for the believer to live in confidence of God’s pleasure and direction over their life.
The Apostle Paul in his opening words to the Corinthians defines humanity into two categories, two destinies: “For the word of the cross is folly (foolishness) to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (I Cor. 1:18).” His basis for such a claim was one’s response to the message of the cross, specifically that God was in Christ as the exclusive payment for our sins and the only path to reconciliation with the God. Later in I Corinthians, Paul would summarize the gospel in this way: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (I Cor. 15:3,4).”
In our reading of the Gospels, we should make return visits to Golgotha and remember that our sin put Him on those beams. Martin Luther once said, “I feel like Jesus only died yesterday,” which was Luther’s reflection on the events of Good Friday long ago. Good Friday is an important time to pause and remember that day in which Jesus hung for six hours, from 9:00 in the morning to 3:00 in the afternoon. For nearly 400 minutes Jesus Christ was suspended between earth and heaven as a once-for-all payment for sins.
John Frame was certainly correct when he wrote, “The Christian life is a rich journey, and it is not easy to describe.”Maybe that is why the New Testament has multiple pictures of what it means to live for Jesus Christ in this world. The Christian life is depicted as a walk (I John 2:6; 3 John 4); a race (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:7); a battle (Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Timothy 4:7); and as we have seen in Romans 12, a living sacrifice.
Transformed and motivated by God’s mercies, believers are to live their lives as an offering to God. This is what we are calling in this series of posts, “Life on the Altar.” This life is not one we would have found or desired on our own…ever. (Romans 3:10-18; Ephesians 2:1-4). This life in Christ begins for believers with the miracle of the “new birth” or “regeneration.” This powerful, transforming work is an act of God’s sovereign grace in which, through the power of the gospel, one repents of their sins and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul described this wonder of wonders as God delivering us from the domain of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of his beloved son (Colossians 1:13).
In our last post, we looked at a couple of examples from the Gospels at the power of Jesus to transform lives. Zaccheus was changed from the town cheat to one who was willing to give back fourfold to those he had defrauded (Luke 19:8). To such a response, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house (Luke 19:9).” The Gerasene demonic was transformed by the power of Christ from a frightening menace to a man at peace, who was found clothed and in his right mind (Mark 5:15). Adding to these the woman at the well in John 4, who had a storied past with a handful of husbands. However, in a mid-day conversation with Jesus, she received the living water he spoke of in salvation. Her witness for Christ spread as she invited others to come and see the one who “told me all that I ever did (John 4:39).” The life-changing encounters found in the Gospels are presented so that we would believe in Christ and follow him all of our days.
The gospel is not a self-help program. Jesus is not a personal life coach to help us on our way to self-improvement. He is the only one qualified to be the all-sufficient Savior for sinners, and His transforming power is our only hope of redemption from the slavery of our sin. Christ is the exclusive mediator who has built the bridge of reconciliation with God and who makes it possible to live a life pleasing to him.