Having established the truths of justifying, sanctifying and ultimately glorifying grace in Romans 1-8, and then declaring the amazing working of God in history regarding Israel and the Gentile nations in chapters 9-11, the Apostle Paul proceeds to call the Roman believers to consecration and subsequent obedience in chapters 12-16.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1-2).
Note that Paul does not command the consecration, but rather “beseeches” believers to acknowledge our reasonable service. The word, which means “to invite,” is the same language Paul used when he encouraged Philemon to receive the escaped slave Onesimus back as a brother in Christ rather than a servant.
“Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin (command) thee that which is convenient, yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds” (Philemon 1:8-10).
Because the love of Christ had been “shed abroad” in Philemon’s heart through the indwelling Holy Spirit, Paul knew that he wrote to a man whose Christ-inhabited spirit would respond to the challenging request (Romans 5:5). Of course, this did not preclude the fact of Philemon’s flesh, which may well have resisted the notion of mercifully embracing Onesimus. Still, Paul invited his friend to obedience rather than invoking his commanding authority as an apostle. He trusted that the Holy Spirit worked in Philemon’s spirit “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
In similar manner, Paul invites rather than commands believers to the “living sacrifice” of our bodies because he knows that in our innermost being, we are a “new man, created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Our truest delight is faithful obedience to God, regardless of past experience, present feeling, and the lusts of our flesh. “I delight in the law of God after the inward man… So then with the mind, I myself serve the law of God” (Romans 7:22; 25).
I spoke about this subject yesterday in a church where there are many good cooks. To illustrate the point, I told them that if they ever have a chocolate contest and would like me to be a judge of their cakes, cookies and candies, no one would have to “command” me to fulfill the responsibility. No, an invitation will do just fine because my love for chocolate will be more than enough to get me involved (I sure hope they decide to do this some day!).
We must believe that the Lord Jesus has so changed our hearts by His indwelling presence that our primary inclinations flow with the current of faith and obedience. “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11). Certainly this raises questions about contradictory desires, thoughts, emotional sensibilities, and actions experienced by every Christian. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit” wrote Paul to the Galatians (Galatians 5:17). Conflicting desires reside within believers, and we may or may not live in accordance with the delight for obedience that inhabits the person we most deeply are. We will address this issue tomorrow in Part 2 of our consideration.
“Ye are not in the flesh but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.”