- Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? (11:33-34)
- Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will. (12:2)
Paul writes essentially that (1) God's ways are unknowable, yet (2) we can know his will--all in the span of just six verses. If the two statements are to be reconciled, then we must look at what comes between them. In the process, I think we learn an important lesson about how God leads us.
Romans 11:33-36 constitutes what many would call a doxology, an expression of praise (several doxologies have been sung in the church for centuries). Continuing from v. 34: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."
Then follows Romans 12:1-2, one of the best known passages in the Bible. You're probably familiar with it, but perhaps you've never considered the apparent contradiction between the end of verse 2 and the close of chapter 11:
- Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Chapter 12 opens with the word "therefore," thus connecting it to the previous passage. So the juxtaposition between the two statements in question goes beyond simple proximity; Paul indicates they comprise an integrated whole. How do we bring the two statements into harmony? Let's consider the key themes of vs. 1-2:
Abdication. "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices" (v. 1). When you sacrifice something, you give it up totally. This reinforces the stewardship principle of divestment. How does this apply to God's leading, the revealing of his will? If we wish to know what God wants us to do, we must decide that we will do it before we ask.
Jesus said, "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17). Some in the crowd questioned the validity of his teaching. The way to know, Jesus explained, is to first choose to follow. "The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them" (Psa. 25:14).
Many get this backwards. They want God to reveal his specific will for them, but they have not yet committed to follow it. The Bible teaches that we are first to commit, then he will guide us more specifically. That's the essence of the "dangerous prayer" I referred to in an earlier post: "Lord, whatever you want me to do, wherever you want me to go, I will do it." Try that, if you haven't already, and see if God doesn't make it clearer what he wants you to do.
Separation. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world" (v.2). What's your first thought when you read that? Don't give into temptation; don't follow the ways of the wicked? I'm sure that applies, but I think there's another facet of not following the pattern of this world--not being captive to conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom is certain ideas or explanations that are generally accepted to be true by most people. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom often runs counter to the unconventional wisdom of Scripture. For example, most accept as true that life is about the pursuit of happiness. Among Christians this thought morphs into, "God wants me to be happy." But is that really true?
- In Hebrews chapter 11, we read of the heroes of faith, men and women who were worthy of our emulation: "Others were tortured ... some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated ... They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Heb. 11:35-40)
These were commended for their faith, but were not rewarded with happiness. Undoubtedly, they did experience the "inexpressible and glorious joy" that Peter wrote about (1 Pet. 1:8). There's a difference. Happiness depends upon one's situation. Joy is more durable; it comes from within. Indeed, it is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
How often do we meet frustration when we seek God's fulfillment of our desire for happiness? How often do we misread his leading because happiness is our highest objective? That's the pattern of this world. But we are instructed to "Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame ... and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).
Transformation. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (v. 2). Inner change is the next step in the process. First, we surrender all to God's control. Then we break from the pattern and wisdom of this world. That enables him to transform our thinking. Not a simple tweak, but a metamorphosis (the Greek word for "transformed" is metamorphoo).
- You were taught, with regard to you former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires [it was conformed to this world]; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-23)
- For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)
This transformation makes us ready to be used by God. It opens our mind to comprehend and accept his will for our lives--"his good, pleasing, and perfect will."
So maybe we've been asking the wrong question. It's not, "How does God lead us?" His ways are unsearchable. How can we possibly comprehend them?
The more pertinent question seems to be, "How should I follow?" The answer to that question is what enables you to reconcile the two competing statements. Abdicate, separate, be transformed. Then just watch what God is going to do in your life!