This sermon is the second of four sermons exploring the role of the public means of grace in the renewal of the Christian mind. This doctrinal sermon addresses the nature and place of the ordinances in Christian worship, focusing mostly upon the ordinances of communion. Communion is a means of grace as God uses the partaking of the elements to remind us of and nourish us with the truths of Christ’s sacrifice, the blessings of our salvation, and the hope set before us.
This sermon is the first of four sermons in a mini-series on the public means of grace. Romans 12:1-2 teaches Christians that we are to offer ourselves up to God as living and holy sacrifices. We are to no longer be conformed to this world. Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, thereby proving out the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. The Word of God is , of course, central to this process of transformation, because the whole of Scripture testifies to the Person and Power of Christ.
“How can I know God’s will for my life?” Persons who ask this question usually think of God’s will in terms of a career, a mate, a school choice, a job choice, or a big financial decision. To rightly discern His will, we must go to Scripture to see how God reveals it to us. There we see two aspects of God’s will — His revealed moral will and His secret will of decree. Both of these aspects are a comfort to believers, and they guard us from thinking that we need a new revelation from God every time we face a big decision. As we ground ourselves in his Word and apply it to our lives, we will ultimately prove His will.
As Paul continues his transition to the ethical and moral instructions of Romans 12-15, he develops further in verse 2 what is entailed in being living sacrifices that are acceptable to God. First, to not be conformed to this world means we must be like Christ — striking a balance between being in the world but not of the world. Second, we must submit to and join with the Holy Spirit as He works both inwardly and outwardly upon us. We must pursue the Person and truth of Christ, praying for the humility to embrace that truth and glory in that truth when it is set before us.
With the beginning of Romans 12, Paul makes a distinct shift in his letter to the Romans. Given the robust theology of the gospel expounded in the first eleven chapters, he now turns to the subject of how believers are to live the truth of the gospel in all their relational as societal spheres. Here in the fist verse, he exhorts believers, on the basis of God’s incredible mercies, to offer themselves as living and holy sacrifices. This is the only fitting response for those redeemed by Christ: to offer our whole self to Him is thanksgiving, praise, worship, and adoration.
The goal and natural result of all theology is doxology — In other words, the study of doctrine naturally leads to praise and worship and exaltation of the glory and splendor of God. Some have wrongly interpreted these verses to be Paul’s way of waving the white flag of mystery over the doctrines of election and divine sovereignty. A false view! God, through Paul, has clearly taught us the doctrine of sovereign election for all who will give it an honest reading. And having pulled back the veil to show us the sovereign purpose of God in exalting His mercy, even through the existence of sin, Paul is now marveling over what these doctrines have revealed about the eternal wisdom and transcendence of Almighty God!
As we near the end of Romans 11, we see that Israel’s rejection of the gospel was ordained by God so that the gospel would go forth in power among the Gentiles. Thus, in terms of the gospel, they are God’s enemies for our sake. Yet they are also beloved from the standpoint of God’s election. Though Israel has been unfaithful, because of God’s promise to their fathers, His love for them will ultimately be demonstrated and vindicated in their final restoration. This will all take place according to God’s sovereign plan to exalt His mercy in redemption.
On the heels of verse 22, Paul continues to reveal God’s purpose for the salvation of Israel. Through this text, we find that not only is it possible that there will be an ingathering of the Jews in the last days, it is a certainty guaranteed by God Himself. He is able to save all whom He desires, He has appointed the times of redemption, and He will most definitely keep His covenant commitment to Israel.
At this point in Romans 11, Paul is explaining that God has an ultimate purpose in both the rebellion and restoration of ethnic Israel. In verse 22, he reminds us that we must vigilantly guard ourselves against pride and apathy by both loving and fearing God. If we see unbelief rising in our hearts, we must fear God and fly to Christ. Thus, we are to be people regularly in God’s Word, setting before ourselves the kindness and severity of God so that we are properly informed and motivated as we press on in sanctification.
In Romans 11:17, Paul likens the people of God to a lovingly cultivated olive tree and acknowledges that some of the branches of this tree were broken off. These broken off branches represent the Israelites who rejected Jesus and thereby forfeited their true spiritual heritage. The wild olive branches represent the Gentiles who “became partakers with them of the rich root.” Unfortunately, some Gentiles take this truth as an occasion to exalt themselves over their Jewish brethren, so Paul responds to such pride by reminding us all of the grace by which we stand.