If you have driven or walked past my house over the previous three weeks you would have seen my front yard quite literally upside down. My desire is to transform our yard to a beautiful array of colourful, blooming perennials. But before getting to the fun planting and seeding, some important foundational work was required. With the help of a sod cutter, I first removed all the grass and its roots, exposing the beautiful soil beneath. Although tempting to go straight to a thin layer of potting soil and plants, the real labour then started: the painstaking turning over, breaking up, and sifting of the compacted under soil. Only over the past couple of days have we started the fun part of planting. In all of life’s endeavours, foundation work is always critically important if we are to reach any worthy objective.
Of course our greatest objective is to live for God, becoming better and better “image of Christ” bearers day by day. Romans 12 is the beginning of five chapters of practical, ethical, Christian living. Paul urges his readers to live for God: presenting themselves to him as “living sacrifices”. It is not an easy project for it will take everything they have: all of their bodies and minds are to be conformed to God’s will (vv 1-2). But like any worthy project, the foundation is again critical. Perhaps we ought to prepare ourselves with a resolute discipline that would focus our energies and faculties to the task at hand. Perhaps a pre-living sacrifice training program will whip us into shape. Actually, what Paul points us toward as the foundation for all our efforts to live for God is God’s mercy. The many and varied manifestations of his mercy are on display over Paul’s previous eleven chapters. The gospel itself is mercy to the underserving, the giving of his Son to die for us (3:21-26), in justifying them freely by faith (ch 4), in sending them his life-giving Spirit (8:1-11), and in making them his children (8:14). Salvation depends “not…on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (9:16)”, and his purpose is “to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy (9:23)” As the disobedient Gentiles ‘have now received mercy’. So too disobedient Israel will ‘now receive mercy (11:30)’. Paul appeals to us to live for God “by the mercies of God” (12:1).
At the moment, my garden looks anaemic, but the important foundation work is done. What are you building your Christian life upon? If you are merely relying upon your own strength and determination, you will wilt under the heat and pressure of life. Paul turns us to a greater power and inspiration: God’s mercy. He knows there is no greater incentive to holy living than to think upon the mercies of God. The greater our comprehension of what God has done for us, the greater our commitment should, and will, be.
“Love so amazing, so divine
demands my soul, my life, my all.”