Summary: What should an understanding of God's providence lead us as Christians to do?
Two Sundays ago, we explored the doctrine of God’s providence. Basically we considered how Scripture would have us feel about the doctrine. Do you remember? We should feel humbled and have a desire to glorify God. It should comfort us and give us hope. Providence, furthermore, should infuse in us a sense of significance. Finally, it should lead us to thankfulness. Those are responses of feelings or perspective. What we are considering this morning is what we should do in response. Our text will help us.
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. 2 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.
With that word “therefore,” the text would have us do something in consideration of what has been said before. Dr. James Boice would have us consider everything said before, from chapter one through chapter eleven. He may be right, but we are going to restrict ourselves to the doctrine of providence as expressed in the previous verses, summed up in verse 36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
If you recall, that verse gives a concise definition of providence: all things come from God; all things take place through God; and all things exist and take place for his purposes, summed up in his glory.
1. Providence Should Lead to Mind Renewal
Now then, how are we to act in light of a doctrine that tells us God controls everything? The text tells us: “present your bodies,” and “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.” We are to act, exercising our will and using rational processes to discern God’s will.
That seems a bit odd. If God is in control shouldn’t we be cultivating a mindset in which we “go with the flow” – or to make it more Christian-like – “to let go and let God”? In the movie The Fantastic Four, the girl, who can make herself invisible, tells her brother, who can fly around in flames, not to think about how dangerous the task is he must do. He responds, “I never think,” and then takes off. That’s a popular motto today – don’t think, just do. Follow the heart. We Christians adopt the same attitude and turn it into a more spiritual concept – follow the leading of the Spirit. What is meant by that typically is that we are to intuitively “sense” where the Spirit is leading us. We take great stock in whether something “feels” right or wrong. Of course, we do that “prayerfully.”
Doesn’t such a perspective “feel right” in light of providence? God is controlling events, and we should view ourselves as channels for his movement. Thus our goal is to be as in-obstructive as possible for his purposes.
That is a good goal, but evidently the way to get there, according to our text, is to focus on mind renewal. We can have good intentions, but without right thinking – thinking that is informed by Scripture – we will inevitably clog up our channels. Mind reconstruction, not mind emptying, is the right response to providence. Such construction is what will actually free our minds and our hearts to “go with the flow.”
Here is what I mean. Consider what we did in the previous message as we considered the doctrine of providence. We went to the scriptures and examined what they had to say about the attributes of God. Remember? God is all-knowing; he is everywhere; he is all-powerful. He is eternal. As we did that, what happened? Many of us got caught up in the greatness of God. That lifted our spirits. We were moved. You might even say we could “feel” God’s Spirit moving us. This was one doctrine that “felt right.”
Do you understand what happened? As we conformed our minds to the teaching of the scriptures about God, we experienced right feelings for God. There is nothing wrong with feelings; indeed, good feelings are to be desired. But they are to flow from right thinking, and right thinking must be informed by God’s revealed Word. (I recommend to you Dr. Boice’s treatment of this subject in his Commentary on Romans. He preached five sermons on what I just covered in a few paragraphs.)
Now, let me caution what providence should not lead us to do.
2. Providence should not lead to excusing our sins and poor judgment
I made a comment in the previous sermon that I am thankful as I look back over my life and see the dumb things I have done, that even those things were being used by God in his providence for my good. I’m sure that such a remark touched a sympathetic soft spot for many of you. We all can shake our heads over our sins and follies. But I hope you did not conclude that you are now free to excuse your sins and bad judgment, or worse, no longer worry about sin and folly, thinking that God will use it all for good anyway.