The Mercies of God and the Transformed Christian Mind
The Cove | Asheville, North Carolina
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God...
(These notes taken during the session)
This seminar (five one-hour sessions) comes from 350 pages of sermons on these chapters (30 sermons). But we won’t get beyond the first half of verse one tonight.
I feel okay spending the first two hours on these two verses, because if you get these two verses then the rest will follow. I am going heavy on verses one and two, then we will go more quickly through the rest of chapters 12-13.
The most important word in verse one is therefore because it shows that this chapter is built on something that’s gone before, namely, chapters 1-11.
Therefore signified that an action doesn’t come out of the blue. It’s built on something. When you act following a therefore, it’s rooted in something. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the therefore means that everything in chapters 12-13 is built on something, and we need very much to know what that is. Paul is moving from doctrine to practice, from theology to ethics, from foundation to application.
Christian living grows out of something. This is not to be taken for granted today. One of the reasons is the multi-ethnic (and multi-religious) situation we find ourselves in today. In Hinduism, you can have whatever beliefs you like, but you are expected to live out darma (morality, living with a certain character).
What matters first and foremost is how you live. In Hinduism, theology doesn’t matter—just ethics. But the apostle Paul’s worldview is totally different. Ethics is based on theology. There is objective worldview behind these two chapters.
Why the Therefore?
Why has God set things up this way? Because the universe exists in order to display God. To display the way He is, His attributes, His character. We exist to say this to the world and live in such a way that God looks like He really is that way. There is a lifestyle that calls attention to the way that God is. We exist to show something: God. This therefore is rooted in a whole worldview.
A word to parents: This therefore in verse one means that when you want your children to act a certain way, something’s got to precede that. The most common question a kid asks is why. When parents says, “Just do it,” as the dominant rearing motif, he will not be a Christian—or his Christianity will not be rooted in anything glorious that gives joy and produces obedience from the heart. This therefore has a parenting philosophy in it. We want our kids lives to flow out of worship, not just “Do it!”
There’s a certain worldview—Christ, cross, gospel, grace—therefore, live a certain way.
“...By the Mercies of God”
“By the mercies of God” is Paul’s shorthand reference to what came before in chapters 1-11. The summary of chapters 1-11 is “the mercies of God.” I’m amazed by his summary. He’s talked about so many things in those eleven chapters—wrath, faith, sovereignty, sanctification, and so much more. But here he sums up everything he’s said under the heading “the mercies of God.”
Why would he chose the phrase “the mercies of God” as the summary? Three reasons:
1) The purpose of God’s mission is to glorify God (Rom. 15:8-9). Christ was incarnate as a Jew in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. So that all the nations might be amazed at His mercy. That’s why you exist: to make people amazed at the mercy of God. To live in such a way that people conclude, “God is merciful.”
2) Mercy is your life towards the undeserving is the best way of life for God to look mercifully great. Treating others mercifully is the best way to make others see that God has treated you with mercy. It’s all throughout Romans 12: verses 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20. Do you detect a motif? This chapter is saturated with mercy! Mercy flowing out from us must be rooted in mercy. A lifestyle of mercy is the lifestyle that will best display that God is a merciful God.
3) God’s mercy toward us is the way to live a lifestyle of mercy. From Him, through Him, to Him—from Him we got mercy, through Him we live in mercy, to Him we glorify Him for His mercy.
What happened so that Paul could now say, “Therefore, now live this way”? It isn’t simply that Christ was a good example of mercy. He was, but He was more—not just merciful but Mercy Incarnate.
Mercy implies two things here: both 1) compassion to the weak and 2) reprieve to the guilty (Rom. 5:6-8). We humans need both grace and mercy. We are guilty and need grace. We are miserable and need mercy/compassion.
Our Terrible Condition: Weak and Guilty (Romans 3:9ff.)
You will never meet anybody who deserves God’s favor or who has done anything to make themselves righteous before Him. Apart from Christ, all we do is sin. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Evil is not merely neglecting and hurting man but neglecting and defaming the glory of God.
The Best Paragraph in the Bible (Romans 3:21ff.)
There are three mega-words here at the center of the gospel: justification, redemption, propitiation.
1) Propitiation: To propitiate means to appease wrath. The biggest problem we have is not bad people but the wrath of God (Gal 3:13). I’m under God’s wrath, and what can I do? Nothing. But God puts forward His Son as a propitiation—as a curse-absorber, a condemnation-absorber. His wrath was on me and Christ stepped in and absorbed it on Calvary.
The gospel is a back-breaking message. It snaps the ego in half, so that you don’t strut with your theology or with your worship. Propitiation is so precious. For Christians, there will never be a day from now until eternity when God will have one ounce of wrath toward us. He disciplines His children, but He does not have one ounce of wrath toward us.
2) Redemption: This means deliverance at the cost of a price (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).
3) Justification: To justify is to declare to have fulfilled everything required of you. God, the Judge, contemplates you, the sinner; you fly to Jesus, the Substitute, and you embrace Him for all that He is. Then you make your appeal to the Judge, “Look at Him, not me.” All that He did is counted as mine (Rom. 4:5-6). Because of our union with Christ, our faith in Christ, He counts us righteous. This is more than the removing of wrath. This is more than the forgiveness of sins. This is having God consider us to have fulfilled everything required of us.
How can this be true? Look at Romans 5:19—by one man’s obedience the many are made righteous. And he’s not just declaring us righteous but constituting us righteous in His Son’s real, lived-out righteousness.
Unshakable Security (Romans 8:28ff.)
Foreknowledge is God’s election. Call here is not a Billy Graham call but a God call. When Billy Graham calls—or when John Piper calls—some people stay in their seats. But when God calls, nobody stays in their seats. This is a thou-shalt-believe call. You don’t make this happen.
When He asks you in heaven, why you believe in Jesus, you won’t want to say, “I’m smarter.” Or, “I’m more spiritual.” You will want to say, “Thank you.” “If I had been left to myself, I would have gone straight to hell. But your grace broke in.” And all the called are justified and then glorified. It’s as good as done.
Therefore, live this way: Romans 12-13.
In Christ, God Is Totally for Us
When did God become totally for me? At what point? You might answer: in eternity past, because He chose me. But that’s not right because Eph. 2 says that we were “children of wrath.” God became totally for you when you believed in Jesus by His grace. From that moment on, God does not have one micro-ounce of wrath against you.
All the power in the universe is for you and not against you. And not all the imperatives of chapters 12-13 can make Him any more for you. These must be done because God is already for us, not so that He will be for us—He already is for us.
May all our obedience to chapters 12-13 flow from knowing that in the gospel God is already for us.