I just received the latest edition of Modern Reformation in the mail. They have been going through Romans for this year. By the way, every one who calls themselves Reformed ought to subscribe to this magazine. This issue deals with Romans 12-16. I was reminded of a terrific sermon I heard on Romans 12:1-2 by Eric Alexander. It was during the Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology. I am going to summarize what he said there.
First the text: Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ, παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν: καὶ μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ, ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός, εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τί τὸ θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, τὸ ἀγαθὸν καὶ εὐάρεστον καὶ τέλειον.
And now, the interpretation. The οὖν is quite possible the most important “therefore” in all of Scripture, since its import encompasses the entirety of Romans 1-11. Paul summarizes the previous chapter with this phrase: “the mercies of God.” That is shorthand for all the spiritual blessings that he has been describing for the previous 11 chapters.
We don’t have to offer our bodies as a dead sacrifice, since Christ has already done that. So we offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This is λογικὴν. To this day, I cannot see why some translations have translated this as “spiritual.” It has much more to do with thoughtfulness (BDAG), or logicality. It is only logical, Paul says, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, given what Jesus has done for us.
Then follows a couple of Greek verbs that are important to parse correctly. First off is συσχηματίζεσθε. This is a present middle/passive imperative, 2 person plural. I think the force is passive. It is well translated in the Phillips translation: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” He uses 6 words to translate one Greek word, but that is fairly common. And it is a splendid rendition. The only thing I would change is that I think τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ means “this present age” rather than “this world.” It is a designation of time, not space. Paul is always contrasting the old age and the new age. This is especially evident in Romans 7:14ff, where the old “I” and the new “I” are duking it out. The next verb is μεταμορφοῦσθε, from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” This is a present passive imperative, 2 person plural. Note especially the force of the passive imperative. It is a command to us to have God transform us (it is a divine passive: God is doing the metamorphizing). The implications can hardly be over-estimated for our lives. Grammar here is necessary for God’s people to know. To have our minds transformed is the work of God, not of ourselves. This passage also implies that if we think the way this age does, then our minds are blinded. There is either an unrenewed mind or a renewed mind. Nothing in-between. Which are we?