Digest Five: Discerning God’s Will (Romans 12:1-2)

By Daniel Barker / Dean

A teacher can learn from comments that they hear from people after they speak. On one occasion, after teaching a Sunday school lesson from Romans 12:1-2, I overheard a college student comment to someone “I still don’t know what God’s will is from this text.” Behind his comment is a frequently asked question: “How can we know God’s will for our life?” This question is not easy to answer because there are at least three different ways of knowing God’s will:

  1. Biblical Precepts – The clearest way that God reveals His will is through precepts in Scripture (R. C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, p. 67). For example, Paul tells us that it is God’s will for us to abstain from fornication (1 Thess. 4:3). We also know that it is not God’s will for us to commit adultery, murder, steal or covet (Romans 13:9).
  2. Prophetic Word – God can share His will through a vision, dream or by speaking to our hearts. For instance, in a night vision Paul received words concerning his situation in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10). On another occasion the angel of the Lord instructed Phillip to go to Gaza (Acts 8:26; John Piper, A Godward Life, Book One, p. 218).
  3. Discernment – John Piper says, “Most of the decisions we make are not spelled out specifically in the Bible” (Ibid). God has a process where we can discern His will through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and reflecting on Scripture (Romans 12:2). By discernment, I mean if faced with a choice between two or more decisions we opt for the most excellent choice from God’s standpoint (cf. Phil. 1:9, Romans 12:2). Or, it involves discovering what would be the most essential thing to do. For example, Paul says to the Philippians, “I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier …..” (Phil 2:25). In other words, Paul discerned it was essential to send Epaphroditus to the Philippian church.

I believe if we seek to please God by offering all that we are to Him; we will be in a position to discern God’s Will which is good, pleasing and perfect. Here are 4 points to help us get in position:

I. We must REFLECT on God’s rich mercies

Rom.12:1 (ESV) – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…

Paul begins his chapter by drawing an implication from his previous argument (v. 1). To phrase it in a question: How do we practically live out the Gospel (Romans 1:16-18)? The answer is to discern God’s will for our lives and live accordingly (12:2). The primer for discerning God’s will is to reflect on God’s mercies. Why God’s mercies? Part of the message of Romans is we had a sin problem (Rom. 1-3:20; An adaptation of Colin Smith’s sermon):

  • We were sinners by nature and practice (3:10).
  • God declares there is no one who is righteous (3:10).
  • Because of our unrighteousness we were subject to God’s wrath (1:18).

In light of our sin problem, God provided a solution that we did not deserve (Ibid).

  • He took pity on our miserable, sinful condition and showed us compassion (Romans 3:21-9:23).
  • God’s mercy was shown in the offering of Jesus on the cross which averted God’s wrath (3:25).
  • By God’s mercy we are forgiven (4:7).
  • As a result, we have peace and reconciliation with God (5:1, 11).
  • God, in his mercy, has given us His Holy Spirit’s power so that we can fight sin (8:9).

So our first position of discerning God’s will has to do with reflecting on God’s rich mercies! In fact, the basis of Paul’s appeal in these two verses is grounded in the mercies of God. Thus, in practice, the desire to discern God’s will must first be grounded in the mercies of God.

Why is this important? It is important because most of our choices are self-serving. When we reflect on God’s mercies this will cause us to come to the cross and hopefully die to our worldly, selfish desires.

II. In view of God’s mercies, the logical RESPONSE is for us to totally dedicate ourselves to God

Romans 12:1 (ESV) – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable (pleasing) to God, which is your spiritual worship.

The adjective “spiritual” can be translated “logical”. If we take this in account with the connector “therefore”, we could form this relevant question: In light of our sin problem, what is the logical response to God’s mercy? The answer is to present your bodies in worship!

This act of “presenting” reminds us of the Old Testament dedication offering, which was in response to God’s mercies. After the sin offering, where an unblemished male animal was offered, one could also make a dedication offering. The purpose of the dedication offering was to acknowledge that everything the believer had and was belonged to God. Likewise, the logical reaction to God’s mercies in allowing His son to die for our sins is for us to totally dedicate ourselves to God by presenting our bodies as a sacrifice to Him.

What is the nature of our sacrifice?

  • It is a living sacrifice.
  • It is to be holy in that we present the members of our bodies to God as instruments for righteousness and not sin (Rom. 6:13).
  • It is also to be acceptable, that is well-pleasing to God like Abel’s offering as opposed to Cain’s.

I remember when I was a teenager; I had procrastinated buying my dad a Christmas present. Without much thought, I went to the store, and I bought him a worthless paperback book and some plastic deer figurines. I have regretted that Christmas gift for years, because it was a heartless gift. The question that we must ask ourselves is when we present ourselves to God, what kind of package are we giving to our Heavenly Father?

What is interesting is Paul defines our dedication as an act of worship (v. 1). Thus, our worship today is not sacrificing bloody animals; rather it is the dedication and rededication of ourselves to God daily for service. In application worship involves preparation in that we confess our sins to God. Worship is the engagement of praising God with the fruit of our lips (Heb. 13:15). It is presenting all that we are and have to God. Finally, it is not restricted to the tabernacle, it is serving and doing good to others (Heb. 13:16). In other words, it is all encompassing. As Dr. Isaac Watts put it, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life and my all!”

III. If we are to discern God’s will, we also need to RESIST worldly influences and be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

Romans 12:2 (ESV) – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…

What is the connection between verse one and two? Verse two tells us how we can present our bodies to the Lord as a holy and acceptable sacrifice. We are commanded “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind”. The verbs conform and transform go together.

Negatively, we are not to conform to the pattern of this world. The J.B. Phillips translation is insightful “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” In contrast we are to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Thus conformance to Christ stands in direct opposition to the influences of this evil age. The most important lesson here is that the world’s thinking patterns are in opposition to the will of God.

Positively, in contrast to being shaped by the world, we are commanded to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The verb is in the present tense and passive voice which means transformation is a process where we allow ourselves to be changed. The Greek transliteration of the English verb “transform” is our English world “metamorphosis” which means to change from one form to another as a caterpillar to the butterfly.

Who is in charge of transforming us? The means in which we are transformed is through the renewal of the mind and this is done by the Holy Spirit:

2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) – And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Romans 8:5 (ESV) – For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

What prevents us from being changed? It is the Popeye Syndrome. Do you remember Popeye the Sailor man’s motto: “I yam what I yam and that is all that I yam.” In one sense this is funny, but for a Christian this will not do. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us. The Holy Spirit needs to reprogram our way of thinking.

IV. The result of a renewed mind – We are in a position to discern God’s will

Romans 12:2 (ESV) – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, [so that] by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable (pleasing) and perfect.

Paul gives us two stages of transformation.

  1. We are to allow our minds to be renewed by the Spirit.
  2. This results in us being in a position to discern God’s will.

Only a renewed mind that is not shaped by the world can have the clarity to discern God’s will. Only the renewed mind empowered by the Spirit can evaluate and reject the ideas, values and belief systems that are not pleasing to God. Only a mind reprogrammed by the Holy Spirit can approve by experience God’s will – which is always good, pleasing and perfect! Paul is saying in essence, the transformed Christian is in a position to ascertain God’s will. By ascertain, I mean the ability to determine by scrutiny God’s will.

Let’s get practical. Doesn’t this seem subjective? Behind our uneasiness is a question that we must wrestle with: Do we trust the Holy Spirit to renew our minds so that we can discern God’s will?

When you are discerning God’s will, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I really want God’s will for my life?
  2. Have I taken some time to reflect on God’s mercies?
  3. Have I dedicated myself to the Father as an act of worship?
  4. Ask yourself: “Am I being influenced by the world’s system, or what other people in the world think?”
  5. Have I asked the Father to renew my mind by the Holy Spirit?
  6. When I am testing options, do any of them violate the clear teaching of Scripture? If so, you can eliminate them.
  7. Have I asked the Father to allow the Holy Spirit to help me make the most excellent choice that will bring honor and glory to Him? For example, Paul prayed that the Philippians’ love would abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that they would approve what is excellent (Phil. 1:9-10a).

Let me illustrate. There is a Christian woman who wants to buy a swim suit. Her desire is to honor God so she thinks about Scriptures that will help her make an excellent choice. She remembers that Paul instructed that “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty …” (1 Tim. 2:9). This helps but there is no precept saying, “Thou shalt not purchase a bikini.” Nor does she hear prophetically the Holy Spirit say, “Don’t buy that one.” So what is she to do? She prays for help from God and gets herself in a position to discern God’s will. Then with careful scrutiny of what is respectable and modest, she makes a selection that will bring God glory.

In closing, there is a marvelous word tie between verses one and two. Depending on your translation, it is the word acceptable or pleasing:

Romans 12:1 (ESV) – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable (pleasing) 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 (pleasing) and perfect.

As stated before, I believe if we seek to please God by offering all that we are to Him; we will be in a position to discern God’s Will which is good, pleasing and perfect.

Reconnecting With CBI

By Michael Matthews Sr. / Student

It was about 1998-1999 that I was blessed to come across Chicago Bible Institute. At that time in my life so much was going on; my ministry as well as my travels abroad with my Gospel group. When the dust cleared and my travels slowed, I lost contact with CBI and Pastor Daniel Barker. I couldn’t find his number, couldn’t track down classmates, I even tried backtracking calls, but to no avail.

There are so many souls that are lost, misinformed, or on the brink of breakthrough that the Scripture stating, “Study to show thyself approved” (2 Tim. 2:15) echoed in my mind. The year is 2005. My ministry is growing, however the Lord is placing it on my heart to learn more, further my studies. It reminded me of an old song lyric, “I want to live so God can use me, anywhere Lord, any time.” Not trying to impress, nor prove anything to man, but showing the Lord how much I adore Him by seeking to learn more of Him. I started looking into various Bible Colleges comparing prices and what they had to offer. I started researching each institution making sure their teachings were founded in the Word. I received a scholarship to one institution but after further reading, one of the requirements was that I stayed on campus. That might not have been bad if the campus was in Illinois. Looking at the choices at hand, it became apparent that I would need a financial miracle to attend any of these schools!

I began to pray, ‘Lord, I know you called me many years ago, and I want to be prepared to be of service to you, please Lord I need a financial blessing to further my studies in Your Word.” I kept praying, and praying, I kept checking out schools waiting for the Lord to open a window and pour out a blessing. One thing I have learned is that God moves in His own time, and our solution to a problem may not be His! Throughout time, God has shown what may sound silly to us if we trust and believe He will work it out! March around Jericho; yeah right….on the last time make noise; uh huh. GOD IS AWESOME! While I was praying for God to open a window, little did I know he was opening a door, or should I say paper.

One day while running my usual errands I came across a newspaper that I usually don’t read, but for some reason I got one. After getting home and settling down it was about 11:00pm. “Let me read this paper,” and after just glancing at the pages there it was; my answered prayers! Enrollment for CBI! I was so excited that I grabbed the phone and called the number printed not thinking about the time. Trying to contain myself, I heard an old familiar voice on the other end, it was Daniel! I immediately apologized for calling so late though I was so excited, but of course he stated that was ok. I thank God for reconnecting me with CBI and I highly recommend CBI for training the masses to be of service for the Master.

Reflecting on “The Heavenly Man”

By Beulah Alexander/ Student

Reading the book, “The Heavenly Man” by brother Yun was a requirement to prepare for a workshop at CBI. The same evening that I received the book, I began reading it immediately after returning home from school. I basically read the entire book that night, reading awhile and weeping awhile, sometimes almost uncontrollably. I have never read or heard of a more powerful testimony as that of brother Yun’s personal experience of sacrifice and persecution because of his belief in Jesus Christ.

I am trying to express in words the experience that I had and why I could not stop crying while reading the book, but at the same time, I could not stop reading. I believe that I had mixed emotions of both joy and sorrow. I realize that I was sorry and under conviction by the Holy Spirit for sins of omission and commission, but I have joy in knowing that the enabling anointing brother Yun relied on is the same Holy Spirit that is within me.

My soul was crying out in repentance before God for not loving Him with everything that is within me, therefore not loving others as I should in obedience to God’s commandment. I realize that without the proper love for God, the burden for lost souls is impossible, or at best very weak. I realize that I often take the way of least resistance instead of taking a stand that would possibly cause me to suffer, thereby, aborting the very deep intimacy with God that I so desire.

Brother Yun’s remarkable testimony of love for God, love for the people of God, and love for the Gospel caused me to examine my love relationship. His total dedication and commitment, his faithfulness in prayer, and absolute dependence on the leading of the Holy Spirit was both an encouragement and an inspiration for me. His endurance of physical, emotional, and mental abuse without compromise is beyond my comprehension, causing me to ask myself, “What am I willing to endure?”

The testimony of his obedience to God’s will despite persecution closely resembles the persecution and miracles of the early Church as recorded in the Book of Acts. To read his testimony of greater works (particularly spreading the Gospel) that Jesus said believers would do, reaffirmed my belief that believers and the Church as a whole should still be modeling Jesus’ ministry and that of the apostles and the early church at all cost.

Brother Yun’s profound and powerful testimony left a remarkable influence on my life. I will never be the same because of the impact of the experience that I had with the Lord while reading the book. I do not believe in coincidence; therefore, I believe that the reading of the book has a divine purpose for me that God will reveal in its entirety in the days that follow. Since the night after reading “The Heavenly Man”, I have reflected daily on the insight that I received from the testimony of brother Yun. His book greatly challenged me to seek God continually for directions desiring to do His will knowing that I already have the sufficient grace to obey.

God’s Answer to My Prayer

By Rudean Lynch / Student

The Lord took me off of my job for full time ministry on May 11, 2004. My monthly check is $648.00. After tithing, a cellular phone bill of $48.00 and support my mother $150.00 monthly, I am left with very little. I have no complaints, but praise God for the privilege to do more for His hurting people that He has placed in my pathway. God gave us Jesus, His best, His only begotten Son, I want to do nothing less.

I asked the Lord in November, 2005 to open a door for me to continue my studies in Bible school. With no extra money, I prayed, “Jesus, please help me to learn more about Your Holy Word. I love You and I want to walk in Your perfect will, all for Your glory and honor.”

God answered my prayers in December, 2005. He told me to leave my home church and re-connect with my former church from twenty years prior. I did on January 1, 2006. After the Sunday Morning Service, Pastor Edward Ivory asked me if I would like to take classes with others from the church at Chicago Bible Institute. The church bus would pick me up so I did not have to worry about bus fare. This was the answer to my prayer. Praise the Lord!

There are no words in the English vocabulary that would come close to describing the gratitude in my heart for the way in which CBI is preparing me for the work of the ministry. When a class has ended, as I review on the next day what my instructors have given on the lecture sheets, my heart rejoices all the more. I can feel the presence of the true and living God when I go into my prayer closet and pray. Just in the two classes and one workshop that the Lord has allowed me to take I have been enlighten so much from the Word of God.

I pray daily for CBI, and I have prayed and by faith I know that one day soon the Lord will give me money to support CBI.