Romans 12:2b

Sermon preached on February 10, 2013 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

In the spring of 2000 James Montgomery Boice, pastor of 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, learned that he had terminal cancer. As he was dealing with it he read a brief statement about it to his congregation, in part to dispel all the false rumors that were circulating about his health. Part of his statement dealt with God's will. He said,

"If I were to reflect on what goes on theologically here, there are two things I would stress. One is the sovereignty of God. That's not novel. We have talked about the sovereignty of God here forever. God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It's not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. It's not the answer that Harold Kushner gave in his book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. God does everything according to His will. We've always said that. But what I've been impressed with mostly is something in addition to that. It's possible, isn't it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God's in charge, but He doesn't care. But it's not that. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything He does is good. And what Romans 12:1 and 2 says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds—that is, how we think about these things—actually to prove what God's will is. And then it says, 'His good, pleasing, and perfect will.' Is that good, pleasing, and perfect to God? Yes, of course, but the point of it is that it's good, pleasing, and perfect to us. If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you'd change it, you'd make it worse. It wouldn't be as good. So that's the way we want to accept it and move forward, and who knows what God will do."

What a thought provoking statement! Most people, including, I suspect, the vast majority of Christians, would want to change God's will in a case like that. I think most of us would be like King Hezekiah. When Isaiah the prophet told him that he should get his house in order because the sickness that he was enduring was going to result in his death—King Hezekiah didn't want to accept it. He turned is face to the wall and wept bitterly. He wanted to live. He prayed to God and said, (Isaiah 38:3)

"Remember, O LORD, how I have walked
before you faithfully and with
wholehearted devotion and have done
what is good in your eyes."

Of course there's nothing wrong with praying for healing when we're sick. Dr. Boice even encouraged his congregation to do so on his behalf. Sometimes God heals in response to our prayers. Our prayers are a means of accomplishing God's will. But Boice was unlike Hezekiah in that he seemed to be more ready to accept God's will if God said 'no' to healing. So I ask you,

"Do you view God's will as being perfect? If God does something in your life, would you change it? How do you view God's will?"

Our text says, (Romans 12:2)

"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."

The great truth that we see here is that

God's will is good, pleasing and perfect.

God's will is described in these three ways—good, pleasing and perfect. The context here is about honoring God in our everyday experience. (Schreiner, Romans, p. 639) Thomas Schreiner writes, (p. 640)

"If all the exhortations contained here could be boiled down to their essence, they would be reduced to the words: Give yourselves wholly to God; do not be shaped by the old world order, but let new thought patterns transform your life."

Schreiner continues, (p. 647)

"Human beings are transformed as their thinking is altered…"

We need to have our thinking altered, especially as it relates to God's will. God's will, as expressed in His Word, His decrees and His providence—is good, pleasing and perfect. We should see God's will as such. This is a truth that we should have embedded upon our minds and hearts—a truth that we live by.

God's will is good, pleasing and perfect. This ought to be obvious. After all, God is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) His ways are perfect. As we read in Deuteronomy 32:4,

"He is the Rock,
his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he."

Psalm 18:30 says, (See also 2 Samuel 22:31)

"As for God, his way is perfect;"

In Psalm 119:68 the psalmist said of God,

"You are good,
and what you do is good;"

If He is perfect, if His works are perfect, if His ways are perfect—His will is perfect.

All of these things lead to that conclusion.

Here's how the Westminster Confession (2:1) summarizes the biblical teaching on God.

"There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory…"

It says that God's will is 'most righteous'. How could it not be? His will is perfect. We should hold that God's will is magnificent, glorious, an expression of the perfection of His character.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism, which summarizes the Bible's teaching on these matters, in the sections on God's Decrees and His Providence, describes God's actions in these things as 'wise', 'most holy', 'righteous' and so on.

In the chapter on God's Eternal Decrees it also notes that the proper effect of this doctrine. (3:8)

"So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God;"

It's the same in the chapter on God's Providence. It talks about the effect His providence ought to have on us, (V:1)

"God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy."

Your are to know that God's will is good, pleasing and perfect and you are to praise God for it this.

But of course the great objection is:

how can this be when there is sin in the world?

This is a great mystery to which we don't have a satisfactory answer. Louis Berkhof writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 78)

"Problems arise here which have never yet be solved and which are probably incapable of solution by man."

We know that God is not the author of evil nor does He approve of evil. It is abhorrent to Him.

When we get to glory I have no doubt that we will gain insight into the answer, but until then we must remember that we are finite and cannot understand the perfect and glorious will of God. We need to keep in mind the great truth of Isaiah 55:8–9. We read,

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,'
declares the Lord.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.'"

Just because God's will doesn't seem magnificent, glorious and perfect to us—doesn't mean that it isn't magnificent, glorious and perfect.

Remember how Jesus taught His disciples to think in the Lord's prayer?

If we know the Lord's prayer and pray it from our hearts, it ought to be obvious that God's will is good, pleasing and perfect. Jesus taught us to pray thus, (Matthew 6:10)

"Your will be done on earth
as it is in heaven."

Doesn't that imply that God's will is perfect? Doesn't it imply that His will is so much better than our will? Do we really have our heart in that petition when we pray it? So often we're like the prophet Habakkuk. God's ways confuse us. We wonder how He can do the things He does. In Habakkuk 1:2–4 the prophet said,

"How long, O Lord,
must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you,
'Violence!' but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife,
and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted."

And in Habakkuk 1:13 he said,

"Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent
while the wicked swallow up
those more righteous than themselves?"

God's answer to Habakkuk was that the just will live by faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)

So what we see here is not only are we to know that God's will is good, pleasing and perfect,

that thinking is to affect how we live.

In our daily living we must submit our wills to God's will. Jesus showed us the way in Luke 22:42. When He was facing the agony of the cross, of facing God's wrath because of our sins, He said,

"Father, if you are willing,
take this cup from me;
yet not my will, but yours be done."

What God does is part of His perfect plan.

Yet so often we don't like God's plan. We're like Peter when he took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. He said to Jesus, (Matthew 16:22)

"Never, Lord!
This shall never happen to you!"

Jesus had been telling His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem, suffering many things at the hands of the teachers of the law and be killed and the third day be raised to life. Peter didn't like it and He had the audacity to rebuke Jesus. But Jesus said to him, (verse 23)

"Get behind me, Satan!
You are a stumbling block to me;
you do not have in mind the things of God,
but the things of men."

So often what we think is good is like Peter's thoughts here. Rather than being good our thoughts coincide with the thoughts and plans of Satan. God's thoughts and will is so much higher than ours that we are not even in the same ball park, not even in the same galaxy.

What Jesus told His disciples about God's will in Matthew 16 was glorious. As the first verses of John 17 makes clear—God revealed His glory in the cross of Jesus. Yet, to Peter, it was all wrong.

We are often like Peter and Habakkuk. We doubt God's plan. God's ways baffle us. But we need to trust God.

We see this in the larger context here. Chapters 9-11 of Romans are about God's decrees and providences relating to Israel and the Gentiles. Paul began that section talking about how he had great sorrow and anguish in his heart because his own countrymen didn't believe. He said that he wished he could be cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers, the people of Israel. He went on to talk about God's predestination—how He loved Jacob and hated Esau. He spoke about God having mercy on whom He will have mercy and how the Israelites rejection of Jesus resulted in the bringing in of the Gentiles. He also spoke how the belief of the Gentiles would perhaps provoke the Israelites to envy. (11:14) Paul taught that Israel had experienced only 'a hardening in part' until the full number of Gentiles had come in. (11:25) Paul concluded that section with these words, (Romans 11:33–36)

"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?'
'Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?'
For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen."

Right after that comes our text, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and approving,

"what God's will is—
his good, pleasing and perfect will."

God's will as shown is His decrees and providences, is 'good, pleasing and perfect'.

This means that

we need to live for God within the plan that He has for us, whatever it is.

The context here—living for God. Be humble. Use the gifts that God has given you. Love others. If you read the rest of Romans 12 we see that it's about embracing God's will. We read, (Romans 12:11–21)

"Never be lacking in zeal,
but keep your spiritual fervor,
serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction,
faithful in prayer."

It then goes on telling us to bless those who persecute you, feed your enemy if he is hungry. It ends with the words,

"Do not be overcome by evil,
but overcome evil with good."

So often we Christians don't like God's will for us. We bemoan our situation even in the midst of His glorious plans for us. We are so wrong. We're like Jacob when his sons came back from their first trip to Egypt and they were without Simeon. His sons told them about the ruler of Egypt and how he thought they were spies and how he wanted them to bring Benjamin down with them. When Jacob heard that, he said, (Genesis 42:36)

"Everything is against me!"

He had no idea of God's glorious plan to save him and his family. God's will is good. It is perfect.

John Calvin writes, (Institutes 3:7:1)

"If we, then, are not our own [1 Corinthians 6:19] but the Lord's, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life. We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.Conversely, we are God's: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God's: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God's: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal (Romans 14:8; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19). O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads to our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing and to will nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone."

I think the most difficult part has to do with us regarding God's will being 'pleasing'.

God's will for our lives often seems anything but pleasing. How can it be 'pleasing' when our hearts are broken by the death of someone very close to us?

I think that part of the answer lies in the fact that this does not mean that at every moment we find it pleasing for us. For example, In Luke 12:50 Jesus said,

"But I have a baptism to undergo,
and how distressed I am
until it is completed!"

Jesus knew God's will for His life and it was very difficult. At times He didn't find it pleasing, He found it exceedingly difficult.

Yet I believe that we can say most emphatically, that overall, in the whole, Jesus found the Father's will pleasing. In John 4:34 He said to His disciples,

"My food is to do the will
of him who sent me
and to finish his work."

Hebrews 12:2 also shows us that, in the long term, God's will was 'pleasing' to Jesus. It says,

"Let us fix our eyes on 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."

Joy was before Him. He knew that doing His Father's will would lead to joy. Therefore, no matter how hard it was, overall, it was pleasing to Him.

James Montgomery Boice writes, (Foundations of the Christian Faith, p. 467)

"When we give up trying to run our own life or when we give up what seems so precious and so utterly indispensable to us, it is then (and only then) that we suddenly find the true joy of being a Christian and enter into a life so freed from obsession that we can hardly understand how it could have had such a hold on us."

We can see how this worked out in Paul's life.

What attitude did Paul have toward the things that happened to him? He was so focused on the glory of God, the glory of Jesus Christ that he embraced what God had for him. In whatever situation he was in, Paul knew that God was in control and he placed himself in God's hands for God to use as He saw fit. In every situation he was concerned about giving glory to God and seeing that Jesus was honored by what he did.

For example, in Acts 16 we read that Paul and Silas were dragged before the magistrates, stripped and severely flogged. They were put in the inner cell of the prison and their feet fastened in stocks. We read, (Acts 16:25)

"About midnight Paul and Silas
were praying and singing hymns to God…"

From his prison cell Paul told the Philippian Christians to, (Philippians 4:4)

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!"

We Christians can embrace God's will for us even when it is difficult. In Matthew 5:11–12 Jesus said,

"Blessed are you when people insult you,
persecute you and falsely say
all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
because great is your reward in heaven,"

God's will is good, pleasing and perfect. We should have not trouble in embracing it for God's glory. This is the key. God's glory. Do we trust God, do we trust His will, do we trust His Word, His promises enough to embrace them and bring Him glory? Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is leading us to glory. Are you going to refuse the path that He has chosen to lead you to glory?

Jesus, in His sacrifice for us, is the prime example for us here. We are to fix our eyes on Him. We are to follow Him. He trusted His Father and His Father's will completely, totally, unreservedly. We are to do the same. May God give us grace to do so.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians.

By your actions you obviously think that God's will is not good, not pleasing and not perfect.

You could not be more wrong. God's way is the way of life. It's the only way. You are rejecting that. Realize what you're doing. Realize that you need to change—that you need to go to Jesus and embrace Him and His path. Only then will you have life.