(This is the second of three posts on Rom 12:2.) Sometimes, I get a flash of conscience while singing worship choruses during a service. The music swells and envelops the sanctuary; here and there, people have their hands and heads lifted. “You’re all I want,” the congregation croons heavenward. And there are other songs with similar themes: “My heart’s one desire is to be holy.” I am caught up; I raise my voice and spirit with the rest of the worshippers.
And yet… A part of my mind holds back in reserve. It’s not true, a little voice in my head says reprovingly. You don’t really want to be holy, you want to be comfortable. You don’t really want to be like Jesus–not if it’s really going to cost you something.
I keep singing. No one hears my internal dialogue. But I would guess that there are at least a few others in the building who are holding similar silent conversations with themselves.
I’m not worried that lightning will fall from heaven and strike us dead in our hypocrisy. But we do need to be honest about our spiritual condition. We can turn those songs into prayers, admitting to God right then and there that in fact we don’t want either Jesus or holiness more than anything else in the world–while also accepting gratefully that by the grace of God there is a part of us that does want it, or at least wants to want it. In that way, a song, humbly offered to God, can be a means by which the Spirit renews our minds.
In Romans 12:2, Paul commands us on the one hand to not pattern ourselves after this age, and on the other hand, to be transformed from the inside out. The goal is that we would “be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV). Strange language. What does Paul mean by testing and approving the will of God?
Note that Paul doesn’t say, “Then you will know whether to turn left or right every time you get to a crossroads in your life.” That’s often the way we think of God’s will: the Christian life is an ongoing multiple-choice test, and we have to get the right answer if we want God to bless us. So we pray or search the Scriptures, trying to discern God’s will.
I’m not denying that there are important choices to make in life. Nor would I deny that being transformed by the Spirit often yields practical insight into those choices. But that pragmatic, God-please-tell-me-what-to-do approach is not what Paul is talking about here.
The question here isn’t “What does God want?” We already know that: he wants us to be holy. He wants us to be like Jesus.
The question, rather, is “What do we want?” Or, more specifically perhaps, “Do we really want what God wants?” Do we really believe that what God wants for us is something good, something pleasing, something that might even result in perfection and maturity?
That, I think, is what the Jewish Christians in Rome were struggling with. I imagine the scenario this way: as synagogues and homes became places to worship Jesus as the Messiah, it was challenging but manageable to welcome a few Gentiles at a time into the fold. But then Emperor Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome. And what did they find when they finally began to trickle back into the city? Their places of worship were filled with people that they had been taught from childhood to hate.
And this was supposed to be God’s will? For the Jews in Rome, the will of God that they “approved” and took for granted was righteousness by the law (e.g., Rom 2:17-23), which had previously been cause for boasting. Nothing in their training had prepared them for the new reality unfolding before them, the redrawing of the social boundaries that had once defined who were God’s chosen and who weren’t.
Their challenge is also ours. God calls us into a reality that’s radically different from the world to which we’ve become so comfortably conformed. He calls us not just to like Jesus but to be like Jesus. He calls us to worship side by side with others who might normally be outside our social boundaries.
God has a plan; but to be honest, we might not want all of it. We can’t even make ourselves want to want it. But God can. The Holy Spirit can renew us from the inside out.
Lord, I believe that you are good and your will is good; but help my unbelief!