Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Our Motivation To Serve

In moving from chapter 11 of Romans on Sunday mornings to chapter 12 I found something interesting in the way Paul transitions from the first section of Romans to the second.  The first eleven chapters of Romans are primarily indicative.  Paul seldom tells the readers to do anything.  Instead he has been telling us that the only reason we are saved is because salvation is all of grace.  There is nothing we can do to earn it or keep it and we can never lose it.  It is certainly one of the clearest sections that teach the sovereign grace of God in salvation in the whole Bible.  Then he turns around and tells us to live a life the glorifies God and serves others; now he gives the imperatives.  The question might be asked where is the motivation to live a holy life? 
For many the motivation to do right is to earn salvation.  Paul has just destroyed that idea.  For others, the motivation is so that God will bless them.  Besides being rather self-centered, there are some things in 11:33-12:1 that give us a better answer.  I heard an illustration from a friend that I think helps us see what is happening here.  What would we think if a judge pardoned a prison full of murderers, freed them and then told them that all future crimes are pardoned as well?  We know that they would wreck havoc on others because they are still murders.  Such a judge would be guilty of causing more evil to occur.
Yet this is precisely what Paul has told us that God has done in saving sinners.  Rather there is a difference between our illustration and God’s salvation so that God cannot be accused of encouraging sin but instead can be just and the justifier of sinners.  We have indeed been cleared of all charges and then let loose on the world and told that he will never leave us nor forsake us; that no one can pluck us out of Jesus, and the Father’s hand.  Where is the motivation, then, to be “good” and not sin all we can?
The answer is primarily in chapter six where we learn that God imparts to each saint a new nature that loves Christ more than all else.  Without this new nature God would surely be guilty of encouraging sin by merely justifying the guilty.  Grace works because we are no longer murderers being set free to murder, but we are inwardly lovers of righteousness that love to obey Christ.  Now we are ready for chapters 12-16 of Romans.  To use another oft used illustration, someone who loves to fish doesn’t have to be commanded to fish but he loves to learn how to be a better fisherman.  So too, saints are not to look at chapters 12-16 as commands we have to do but instead as clarification of how Christ lovers work out their love.
I see Paul’s doxology in 11:33-36 as teaching this.  I think it is more than merely Paul being carried away with what he has just written (although it certainly is that).  I think that what he is doing is showing us what should be in our hearts and minds by the end of this first section so that we are ready for the commands of the Lord.  In fact, I think that if you aren’t on board with this doxology, it will be impossible for you to obey God at all.  Let me explain.
Paul has given us the most amazing news possible; we deserve Hell but God has stepped in and given us eternal life in glory free and clear.  When he tells us in 12:1,  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, he is saying, don’t you realize you were saved by the skin of your teeth, don’t you see the greatness of a God who would save rebels?  You should be in Hell right now, not free to walk around breathing his air and enjoying his world with a full belly, healthy and happy.  Paul says instead you should be letting the Word of God transform your thinking and your life since life is all about God because he created you and plucked you from the fire.
It is impossible to please the Lord in whatever we do if it isn’t done for his glory with thankfulness and gratitude.  The first eleven chapters give us the reason to love and glorify God.  Without this we cannot serve him.  For many being a Christian or being religious is all about doing good works; to them religion is mainly just to make us better people.  But if this was what being a Christian is all about, why even include the first half of Romans?  Why not just tell us what to do; why is it so important to know about God?  The reason is that one cannot do a good work or a righteous work that is accepted by God if it isn’t done for the glory of God.  Without understanding what God has done for you and coming to the point of agreeing with Paul’s doxology to the praise of our gloriously sovereign and gracious God it will do you no good to obey God’s commands.  Oh you might go around and do some good to your fellow man and we all will appreciate it, but God did not create man and save sinners to go around doing good for all the wrong reasons.  This is just another form of idolatry.  Without a heart felt response of praise by the end of chapter 11, there is no real need to read any further in Romans.

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