I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
My aim in this message is that you would be encouraged by God and enabled by his Spirit to build your life on the mercies of God revealed in Jesus Christ. There are two parts to this aim: 1) that you would build your life on something; 2) and that you would build it on the mercies of God revealed in Christ. I see those two things in the first half of verse 1 of Romans 12. It says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God. . . .”
1. Build Your Life on Something
First, my aim — the aim of this passage — is that you would build your life on something. The second part of the aim is that your life be built on God’s mercy, but let’s not go there yet. Let’s stay right here and make a very important point: The Christian life is built on something. Where do I get this, and what do I mean? I get it from the word “therefore,” and I mean that all your behavior and emotions and thoughts should be based on God-revealed truth in the Bible.
The Word “Therefore”
Consider the word “therefore” in verse 1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” That’s a very important word. There is a whole worldview in that word. How do we use this word? Two examples: “On April 28 the church voted 315 yes to 39 no to move ahead with the vision of Treasuring Christ Together and the Mounds View Campus; therefore, in two weeks we will purchase a new campus.” “Therefore” means that the action to buy is built on something, namely a strong affirmation from the church to move forward with this vision. It’s not arbitrary. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has foundations. Years of reflection and refinement and prayer and searching the word of God. Months of planning and working and discussing. Finally, some exciting fine-tuning with the input of God’s people. And then a strong vote of affirmation. Therefore — and only therefore — we move ahead. Our actions as a church are built on something.
Or consider this true story from last week in Fortaleza, Brazil, where one of our teams is building a church. This is another example of what “therefore” means. Linda Oatley, one of our missionaries to street kids in Rio de Janeiro goes with Noël and Talitha from Rio to Fortaleza to join our team a week ago. Linda gives her testimony to the women of the church telling how she had wanted to be a missionary from the time she was younger. Her husband was never interested. In the end he abandons her and divorces her. After a long and serious wrestling she decides as a single woman, now 50, that she would give her life to needy children in missions. The women were deeply moved.
The next morning in a women’s gathering the pastor’s wife stood and with tears said, “My husband has always wanted to be a missionary to Chile, but I have refused. Now Linda’s testimony has broken down all my objections and changed my heart, and therefore, I am willing to go.” Therefore! This new turn in her life is built on something. It didn’t come out of nowhere. It has roots. It has a foundation in the truth and faithfulness of God that she saw in Linda Oatley’s life.
When Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers . . .” he is saying: The life I am calling you to live (in Romans 12–16) is built on something. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has roots. It has a foundation. Christian living has roots. It has foundation. It has causes and grounds and reasons. And that is no small thing!
For the next five chapters Paul will call us to live a certain way as Christians. And with this word “therefore” he is saying: The foundation we build our lives on is the foundation laid in Romans 1–11. Paul is turning now from doctrine to practice. He is turning from theology to ethics. From what is true about God and Christ and salvation to what we should do — what we therefore should do because of Romans 1–11. Because of all the truth about God and sin and Christ and the cross and the Spirit and faith and justification — because of all that we have seen in Romans 1–11, therefore we are to build our practical lives on this. Paul moves from foundation to application with the word “therefore.” Christian acting and feeling and speaking are not rootless. They have foundation. They are built on something. Paul spent 11 chapters, and we spent six years, laying the foundation for the building of Romans 12–16. If we miss this connection, we miss everything.
Hinduism Has No “Therefores”
This may seem obvious to you. I hope so. But for millions it is not. For example, contrast Hinduism, the religion of hundreds of millions mainly in India. I just read an article this past week by Herbert Hoefer. He wrote:
The proper name of “Hinduism” is “Sanatana Dharma” or ‘the eternal way of life.’ You can have whatever beliefs you like, but you are expected to live out “dharma.” Your religion is expected to participate in the values and customs and organization of society. . . . If a Hindu finds you to be a person of character and propriety, it does not matter to him that much if you have differing theological beliefs. What matters first and foremost is that you are a person of dharma. . . . Within Hinduism itself, one can identify hundreds of different religious traditions. (Hoefer, “Land of Dharma,” in Mission Frontiers, Vol. 26, No. 3, May–June, 2004, 10–11)
You can see that Paul’s view of life and the Hindu view of life at this point are radically different. Hinduism does not teach 11 chapters of clear, objective, historical, and spiritual truth about the nature of God, and then say, therefore live the way these truths demand. No, in Hinduism what your objective beliefs are about God are not essential. The Hindu way of life, the dharma, is not preceded by a great therefore rooted in objective truth. There is a whole biblical worldview in this little word, “therefore.” I plead with you to think about it, and embrace it, and to build your life on the great Gospel truths of Romans 1–11 — the mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
The Point of Christianity: To Glorify the Mercy of God in Christ
Let me give you one reason for this and an application. The reason Christianity must build our lifestyle on God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is that the whole point of Christianity is to glorify the mercy of God in Christ. We exist to put the glory of God’s mercy in Christ on display. So Paul spends 11 chapters opening the mercy of God in the work of Christ, and then says, “therefore” build your lives on this. Live a life that shows this! That’s why you exist.
So we say, “Because of God’s mercy revealed in Christ, therefore, I do this and not that. Because of God’s mercy revealed in Christ, therefore I speak this way and not that way. Because of God’s mercy revealed in Christ, therefore I cultivate this kind of emotion and put that kind to death. Because I exist to glorify the mercy of God in Christ, I live this way and not that way.” Christian living is built on something!
An Application for Parents: Don’t Say “Just Do It”
One application: Parents, teach your children that the behavior and attitudes you expect from them are built on something! Don’t say, “Just do it.” As they get older help them see that the standards of thought and attitude and action and entertainment and ministry and mercy are all built on the mercy of God in Christ. Help them see that Christian living is not a list of do’s and don’ts, it is a way of showing the glory of God and Christ. Help them see that Christian living — for children and teenagers and adults — is built on the gospel — on the beauty of Christ crucified and risen and reigning. The question is not mainly, “What’s wrong with this music or this movie or this party or this dress or these drugs or these friends?” The question is, How can I act and speak and feel so that I help my friends see the worth of Jesus above all music and movies and parties and friends? How can I live to show that Jesus didn’t come into the world to help me party better but to help me love better and die better?
Cultivate in your home the understanding of the word “therefore” in Romans 12:1. Help the children absorb this worldview. The Christian life has roots. It has foundation. It is built on something. Because of the truth of Romans 1–11, therefore live the life of Romans 12–16. That’s Paul’s first message in verse 1.
2. Build Your Life on the Mercies of God
Now the second part of the aim of this message I have already made clear, namely, that you not just build your life on something, but build it on the mercies of God. Verse 1: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…” Just think of this: Of all the things that Paul could have picked out from Romans 1–11 as the root and foundation of your new life in Christ, he picks out the mercies of God. What an amazing statement! Having written of God’s wrath and righteousness and judgment, and of our fall and sin and death, and of Christ’s death and resurrection, and of justification by faith alone, and of the coming of the Spirit to sanctify us and keep us, and of God’s absolute sovereignty in his faithfulness to the elect and to Israel — having said all of that, he picks out this one great reality as the sum, or the height, of it all, and says, therefore, by the mercies of God I appeal to you.
This is not careless. Look at Romans 15:8-9. “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” There it is. The aim of all 11 chapters—all 16 chapters — is that we might make the mercy of God look great among the nations.
The Mercies That Will Flow From Us as We Build Our Lives on the Mercy of God
O Bethlehem, let’s build our lives on the mercies of God. Let’s say, Because of the mercies of God in Christ, I will live the life of Romans 12–16. You know we are on the right track here when you just walk down through chapter 12 and look at all the mercy that is going to flow out of us when we build our lives on the mercy of God.
- Verse 8 (near the end): “the one who does acts of mercy, [let him do it] with cheerfulness.”
- Verse 9: “Let love be genuine.”
- Verse 13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints.”
- Verse 14: “Bless those who persecute you.”
- Verse 15b: “Weep with those who weep.”
- Verse 16b: “Associate with the lowly.”
- Verse 17: “Repay no one evil for evil.”
- Verse 19: “Never avenge yourselves.”
- Verse 20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”
We are entering a world of mercy, as we move into Romans 12–16. Why? Because our lives are built on something. Rooted in something. They are built on the mercies of God. Our lives are rooted in the mercies of God. Our lives are founded on the mercies of God.
The word mercy here implies not only forgiveness for the guilty, but especially tenderhearted compassion for the helpless and desperate. This is what we expect after Romans 1–11. See if you don’t hear both in Romans 5:6–8:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Did you hear both sides of mercy? We were weak and helpless (that’s one side), and we were sinners and guilty (that’s the other side). Mercy responds to both. Mercy forgives the guilty and mercy pities the helpless. Have you built your life on that? Or maybe I should ask, Have you saturated your life with that? Have the mercies of God in saving you sunk to the center and core of your life, so that you are living from a deep spring of humble, brokenhearted happiness in the God of mercy?
Would you pray for me to be this way? This is what I long for. At the core of my being — where my unpremeditated words and facial expressions and grunts and twitches come from — at the core of my being to be swimming, childlike, in the forgiving, compassionate mercy of God. I will pray this for you too.
Oh, how we need to be this way! How else will we keep loving each other in the days to come when the vision of Treasuring Christ Together will test our capacities for mercy to each other?
How else will we love our enemies at home and on the mission field and return good for evil, when we are slandered because of our stand on the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, or on the meaning of marriage, or on racial justice, or the horrific undoing of the ban on partial-birth abortion, or the message that there is no way of salvation except through Jesus Christ? If our lives are not built on and saturated by the mercies of God in Christ, how will we stay merciful and magnify the Lord?
Mercy Is Not Spineless
And you know, don’t you, that mercy is not spineless. Look at the first two phrases of verse 9: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. “Abhor” is a really strong word. When you love deeply, you must hate passionately what destroys the beloved. But mercy weeps while it hates. Mercy hates evil, but in our personal relationships repays no one evil for evil (verse 17). Mercy knows what it’s like to be hurt and offended, but does not avenge itself (verse 19). Mercy knows what it’s like to have enemies, but says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him.”
Mercy is not weak. It has an unbreakable backbone, but is very soft to the touch.
May God encourage you and enable you by his Spirit to build your life on the mercies of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Receive these mercies. Entrust your life to them. Embrace them for the forgiveness of your sins and all the help you need to live a life of mercy.