At the end of his glorious exposition of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in Romans 1-11, the Apostle Paul writes a song of praise to God:
Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and
knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments
and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind
of the Lord, or who has become His counselor?
Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to
Him again? For from Him and through Him and
to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Then in Romans 12:1, he immediately turns to address the people of God: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
Therefore. What a significant word. With this Paul turns to press his case. If all this be true–if God is truly as glorious as Paul says–then an entire structure of discipleship follows. All this–from the Gospel defined to God’s glory manifested–now points us to our proper response and mode of life. On this therefore hangs the great question of faithfulness or unfaithfulness, obedience or disobedience, discipleship or disaster.
Paul is making more than a request, and he offers more than an imperative. By the mercies of God, he urges us to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. Theologically and biblically speaking, this appears to be an oxymoron. Logic defies the combination of “living” and “sacrifice.” The sacrificial system was a graphic picture of our need for atonement and God’s provision, and it pointed to the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on that cruciform altar at Calvary.
As the book of Hebrews explains, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” [Hebrews 9:11-12, NASB]
What can this text mean, but that we are the dead made alive in Christ? As those who are dead to ourselves, we devote ourselves as living sacrifices of God. As those who are alive in Christ, we present ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.
Paul turns to define in greater detail how a living sacrifice would live in the light of the cross to God’s glory. We are not to be conformed to this world, but rather we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The language here is graphic and accessible. We understand immediately what is being demanded. Living sacrifices cannot be worldly in form of life, in disposition, nor in intellectual framework. The living sacrifice is not to be conformed to the present evil age, but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind.
This is, to say the least, a very inconvenient text for those who want to blend in with the larger culture. In fact, Paul’s word here is a manifesto for cultural, behavioral, and intellectual confrontation. We are not to be indistinguishable from the world in our thinking, our worldview, our lifestyle, or our worship. Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Theological education stands at a crossroads. There are inescapable choices to be made, and these choices will determine whether evangelical institutions will remain recognizably Christian or fall into the same pattern of intellectual, theological, and moral collapse seen in so many colleges, universities, and divinity schools.
Historians have traced the progressive accommodation and intellectual surrender of Christian institutions in the face of a secular culture, and one of the most astonishing facts is how quickly the decline took place. Colleges, universities, and seminaries established for the training of faithful ministers and resoundingly committed to biblical truth forfeited those commitments in a breathtakingly brief period of time. Within just a few generations, the worldview of Christianity had been supplanted by the secular worldview of modernity.
Of course, champions of the secularized academic culture celebrate the very pattern we lament. These advocates of established secularism present their victory as the liberation of institutions and individuals from the intellectual shackles of revealed religion. This intellectual Prometheanism is the dominant fact of life in the American academic culture, and it tempts both the Christian scholar and the Christian academy.
Swimming against the tide is tiresome and intellectually demanding. Going with the flow of the dominant culture is the easiest option. But this is not an option for the living sacrifice, who must stand on biblical truth, reason through the complexities of thought, and out-think the opposition.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. This kind of talk can get you into a great deal of trouble in the secular academy–and in the circles of compromised Christianity.
There are three urgent realities embedded in this great text, and all three demand the attention and the discipleship of every true believer–especially those who would serve the church as ministers of the Word and of the Gospel.
First, Paul clearly affirms the importance of the life of the mind, and calls upon Christians to submit to the renewing of our minds in the frame of God’s glory. There is no room for anti-intellectualism in the Christian life, nor for intellectual egotism and pride. The frame of God’s glory reminds us that all we know of God and His ways is given us by grace. We are absolutely dependent upon revelation, for God’s ways are unfathomable and His judgments are unsearchable.
Theological education exists, at least in part, to equip ministers with the ability to think, to reason, to analyze, to learn, and to synthesize biblical truth, so that this truth may be imparted to others through preaching and teaching and ministry. We dare not lose sight of this great purpose.
The frame of God’s glory demands our best devotion to this task, even as the Christian ought to grow increasingly to love the things of God and to seek understanding in all things. We are to have the mind of Christ, and this certainly requires that we think. The anti-intellectualism of contemporary evangelicalism has led to nothing less than unconditional surrender. We have left generations of young Christians unequipped for the battle of the mind, and the losses are staggering.
At the same time, we can give no quarter to intellectual pride. There is no place for an arid, intellectual sterility. What we know, we know by grace.
Second, Paul warns against the scandal of secular conformity. The living sacrifice must resist the intellectual conformity so arrogantly demanded by the secular culture and its secular academy.
The current proletariat of the academic culture demands naturalism and excludes supernaturalism. All views are tolerated except any view that will not tolerate all things and call all things true. Postmodernism has degenerated into a circus of moral relativism, sexuality majors, gender feminism, semiotics, and fictionalized history.
Against this tide, the Christian scholar must engage the academy without compromising Christian truth, and without conforming to the prevailing worldview. This is no easy task, but it is a necessary one.
Third, Paul calls us to the power of intellectual transformation as the antidote to intellectual conformity. This, too, is all of grace and all for God’s glory. We cannot renew our own minds any more than we can save our own souls. We are saved by grace, and we are transformed by grace. The one cannot be severed from the other.
Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ must be thinkers whose minds are captive to the Word of God, and whose entire intellectual structure is shaped and determined by biblical truth. Our captivity to the Word of God is a scandal in the secular culture, and among the Christians enamored with that culture. The secular intellectuals are blind to their own intellectual captivity to the spirit of the age. We, on the other hand, must wear our captivity to the Word of God as a badge of intellectual honor and integrity.
This intellectual transformation is a spiritual reality meant to demonstrate the power and the wisdom of God even in the midst of a fallen world. This is our spiritual service of worship.