Summary: You will respond to God's mercies by doing what it is in your nature to do. Grace produces "fruit."
When we first moved into our home – it’s been twenty-five years ago now – but when we first moved in, we had a peach tree growing on the north side of the house. And it produced peaches, hundreds of them! The birds loved it, and the neighbors hated it.
The neighbors hated it because the tree was right next to the alley that we all use as a driveway, and it hung over into the easement just enough so that some of the peaches – a lot of them, really – would fall off the tree onto the surface of the driveway and, if that weren’t enough, the branches of the tree would scrape the our neighbors’ cars as they went by. So, it’s not difficult to see why our neighbors hated that tree. It didn’t take long, in fact, for me to hate the thing – what with the neighbors’ complaints and the added chore of cleaning up the driveway every day. And we couldn’t even eat the peaches because the birds would beat us to it! You know how a bird eats a peach? It sinks its beak into the fruit and sucks out the juice. Let me tell you: once the bird’s been there, you lose your appetite for peaches.
But, as much as I came to hate that tree, there was one thing I could always count on. I knew that that tree would never produce anything but peaches. I never expected to find an apple or an orange or a pear or even a coconut on its branches. It was a peach tree, and, if it produced fruit at all, it would be peaches. That’s because it is in the nature of a peach tree to bear peaches.
The same principle works with people. The “fruit” we bear will reveal what is in our nature. Jesus himself said that, didn’t he? “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16). And if our hearts have been transformed by the grace of God – guess what? – that will show up in the fruition of our lives. Grace will produce in us glad and joyful obedience.
It’s so important to understand this, because, if we don’t, we will think of religion as nothing more than a set of do’s and don’ts, burdensome rules that we have to follow, or else. And Christianity will become for us nothing more than a code of ethics, against which we measure ourselves. And if that happens, more often than not we will turn away from God in utter defeat because we can’t live up to all the demands.
Now, the portion of Scripture we are looking at today has in it some pretty far-reaching demands. In fact, Paul urges you here “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice” and to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God” – and, presumably, do it. In other words, Paul presses you to give your whole being to God, body and soul.
But what I want you to see is the basis upon which he makes his appeal. And you don’t have to look hard to see it. In verse 1, he says,
“I appeal to you therefore, …by the mercies of God.”
I believe it was Howard Hendricks that I first heard say, “If you come across the word ‘therefore’ in the Bible, you have to ask, What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” And, of course, it’s there to tell us – in this case – that what Paul is about to say is based upon he has already said. He has made some point, and now he is going to draw an inference from it.
The fact is that Romans, chapter 12, represents a major break in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In chapters 1 through 11, Paul writes about what we are to believe, and then, beginning in chapter 12, he writes about how we are to live in light of that belief. To put it another way, the first eleven chapters of Romans have to do with doctrine, and the rest of the book, beginning with chapter 12, has to do with application.
So, what is the doctrine we are to believe and on the basis of which we are to give ourselves – body and mind – to God? Paul summarizes it nicely here in verse 1 in four little words: “the mercies of God.” Listen again to what he says: “I appeal to you therefore, …by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice….” Everything in Romans that has gone before this verse – in other words, all of chapters 1 through 11 – is encapsulated in the words, “the mercies of God.” And it’s on the basis of these, God’s mercies, that we are urged to give ourselves completely to God. So, you see the point: We don’t offer ourselves sacrificially to God in order to gain his favor. No! We offer ourselves sacrificially to God – we present our bodies “as a living sacrifice” – because we have already received God’s favor.