4.14 Romans -- the Pattern of This World
In Rom 12, Paul again shifts gears. He has laid to rest, he believes, concerns about Gentile and Jewish origins, and has allotted each group a part in God's plan. No one should feel despised because of his heritage. Now Paul takes up the life of the believer, the conduct of the church in the midst of a hostile world.
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 (Rom 12:1-2).
King James reads "your reasonable service." This is a very famous passage. Christian behavior is based, not on God's Law as in the Old Covenant, but on His mercy. It is a fruit of the righteousness of faith. The "therefore" at the start of chapter 12 flows continuously from the ending of chapter 8, which ends by stating that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.
Paul brings religion down to the practical sphere. He has had more than his share of doctrinal disputes and varying interpretations of Scripture. What has to occur in the new believer is a breaking off of his old life, his "conformity" to the past. This may be a pagan past or an observant Old Covenant past -- both are unacceptable as a basis for the new life of the believer. This is particularly the case with racial attitudes. Paul just spent three chapters trying to prevent racial tensions in the young church. But this problem will follow the church throughout history and around the globe. Instead of breaking the pattern of this world, the church perennially imports that pattern into its practices. It is not just the Jewish believers who held on to traditions -- it is the eternal temptation of the church facing the challenge of the world system.
Renewing of the mind is the antidote to conformity. This is the result of partnership between the Spirit of God and the will of the believer:
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:5-6).
One cannot welcome the presence of the Spirit without renouncing the pattern of the world -- these two influences do not cooperate or coexist. Furthermore, it is only the life of the Spirit in the believer that makes his actions moral. There is no written code of behavior -- even if there was such a list, it would merely be a lifeless skeleton apart from the presence of God animating the act. This is what he means by a "living sacrifice": it is not the deed alone that is righteous, but the willing heart of the believer motivated by love.