Just about everything we buy now has a network component, or is computerized in some way. That new car, new thermostat, phone, radio, TV, tablet and computer all need configuring before you can use them. You can't turn them on without being harassed by a series of setup elements or menus that require you to set up parameters or input certain data. We live in the age of configuring things! There is no way around it either. Unless you comply and configure the device, it just won't work, it'll be an expensive paperweight. You are required to suck it up and have a go, or call tech support to spend hours on the phone waiting for someone to go through a script step by step... a prospect just about as exciting as watching grass grow. If you are impatient you can go online to YouTube and watch someone actually show you how to "unbox" you new product... if you can't get it out of the packaging by yourself, you had better call someone to help you with the configuring, because it's going to be a painful experience!
In any case, this is the world we live in and we are getting used to it. We now expect to have to work our way through a series of steps before we can use our latest labor saving devices. We have accepted the modern premise that before a thing can be useful it must be properly set up. It is not as though in the past we were unhindered by this concept. At one time when you bought a new car, you had to drive it under a certain speed for the first so many miles to "run it in." Toilets have to be assembled and installed before they are useful, and most of the appliances we bought growing up in England had to have a plug installed... it was NOT included! We instinctively know that things are not at the most useful immediately out of the box, and that they don't perform at their optimum level until we have worked with them awhile and got them properly setup. Even those brand new shoes need to be worn a while and get used to the shape or your feet and your peculiar gait, before they stop pinching your feet or rubbing blisters on your heals. It is, as we say, they way of the world!
It shouldn't surprise us then that the Christian life takes a little configuring. In Romans 6, Paul says that we should reconfigure our thinking to embrace the reality of the death of the old life, and that God has raised us to new life, where sin has been ruled out as a persistent option and feature (Rom. 6:11). If, as we have said, God has made us into a totally new person through Christ, hows does that work in a world that is clearly no friend of God, and where the principles of this "newness" clearly do not operate? We are likely to find that the new life we have in Christ will run up against all sorts of difficulties and resistance. Is there anything we can do to better prepare ourselves to succeed at being a disciple of Christ in a sinful and broken world? In other words, how does this new life work in the context of an unchanged world? These are seriously important questions, that demand honest and straightforward answers.
Paul's answer to the question is that right out of the box, we need to configure our new life to be surrendered to God. Repentance and forgiveness of sins depend on faith that surrenders to life to God, and that is willing to trust God for a complete transformation of our entire life and humanity. But going forward the initial surrender for salvation must be adopted at the settled habit of Christian life, whereby we are willing to trust God in everything else going on from the point of that first encounter with him. If we don't we will soon drift back into the old life, and be as lost as ever. The world is very happy to reabsorb the erstwhile believer in Christ, and to suck him or her back into the abyss and misery of sin and disobedience. The Christian life is not merely about a one time decision, it is about a lifetime of surrender and trust in God, that walks with him in fellowship and obedience. To fail to grasp that is to view the Bible as just one more religious claim-book, with no real power to bring about real change. This far from the truth, as millions can testify! So how do we configure the new life to be successful in pursuit of the will of God and to live in fellowship with him?
Right out of the box, Paul calls us (Παρακαλῶ) to configure the new life, to orient it properly in the right direction from the get-go (Rom. 12:1). He issues his call not as a weak or halfhearted request, but as a matter urgency, by or through the mercies of God (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 225). In other words, Paul feels that it is vital for us to orient the new life in the right direction if we are to succeed as disciples of Christ, and live in obedience to God. It is not automatic, as many can testify, especially with the resistance and struggles we face in the world. To lie this thing out we have to point the new life in the right direction and set the course irrevocably toward the holiness of God. Paul describes the counter cultural pressure on the Christian life from the world as pressure from this age, seeking to conform us to its norms, ideas, philosophies and morality (καὶ μὴ ⸀συσχηματίζεσθε τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ) (Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Ro 12:2). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature). It is the spirit of the age (τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ) against which we should be on our guard, because it seeks to force everyone to adopt its depraved and low view of life and morality. Misery loves company! If you want to know what the spirit of this age looks like in America in 2019 just watch TV or listen to news, or even follow the arguments of our politicians and the pressure groups that control them. It is against conformity to this kind of ungodliness God has called us to offer resistance. But how? What is the first step in the configuring of the new life.
1. Present Your Life to God!
Step one in the setup process is to ensure that we are fully surrendered to God. By this Paul means not a superficial surrender, a tenuous acceptance of the Lordship of Christ, but a complete and utter sacrifice of our whole being to God (Rom. 12:1). He expresses this in the idea of presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Our bodies, the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament, contain our entire life, the hopes, joys, potentials, strengths, dreams, goals, talents, skills abilities and abilities. All of it is to be given to God, sacrificed, given away as the raw material out of which God will makes into the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29-30). In other words, right out of the box, Paul says, we must make sure we hold nothing back from God, keep nothing in reserve, if God is going to have his perfect work in us.
Notice that even the new life is ours to present to God. To be sure, it cannot long be sustained without surrender and the obedience that comes from faith, but it is nonetheless ours to give. Paul's plea is that now we belong to Christ to lay it all down without reservation so that God can work his purposes into us and through us for the sake of his kingdom. This sacrifice, once freely made is pleasing to God (εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ) (Rom. 12:1)! In other words, it is acceptable, that is something God desires and will appropriate for his use. And it is pleasing to him, something he is looking for and that once rendered bring him joy and satisfaction. God can use a life like this, a life that is given wholly to him and that is surrendered in obedience to his will and the leading of his Spirit. So this is step one, present yourself to God in genuine surrender of your life.
Paul calls this an act of worship (λατρείαν), of service to God (cf. Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 587). Worship and service to God are bound up with one another, so that they are inextricable. You can't worship God if you do not service him. Don't claim to be a worshiper if you are not a genuinely obedient servant of God. The basis of worship and adoration of God is obedience and therefore of service. The surrender of our lives to God, as an act of configuring the new life for the maximum success in serving God is a reasonable act, a logical act, a thoughtful act (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 598). It is not poorly thought out, desperate or ill-conceived. It is the act of someone who has calculated the best course of action to achieve the goal of serving God and obeying him. It is the first item in new life setup configuration.
2. Please God with your Life
We have already mentioned the pressure exerted by the spirit of the age to conform us to its norms and standards, seeking to squeeze us into its mold (J. B. Philips - The New Testament in Modern English - Rom. 12:1). How can we find, know and do the will of God? If God looks for us to be obedient, how can we find his will, know his will and be consistently obedient to it, when so much runs contrary in the world to his plans and kingdom? If the world is not to squeeze us into the mold of the spirit of the age, then we need more than determination to resist. There is more to setting up the new life to succeed than merely gritting your teeth to soldier on. We need to set the pattern of allowing God to change us and grow us into maturity through the continual and ongoing renewing of our minds (μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ ⸀νοός) (Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Ro 12:2). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature). The change that brought about the new life is the foundation upon which God wants to build a whole new way of life, in both conduct and thinking! Remember this is a living sacrifice, so that the results come out, not of the death of the victim, but of its life! it is an offering in which what is offered continues to live. Jesus has died, so that we might live in newness of life for the glory of God (Rom. 6:8-10; 8:34). The whole array of attitudes, thinking, desires, goals and ideas are to be made new by the transforming power of God in our minds. It is a new way of looking at life, evaluating it and making decisions! This is how we are able to resist the squeezing of the spirit of this age. In this environment where renewing of our thinking and mind is taking place, our lives take on the character of a disciple of Christ, reflecting Christ's own holiness and righteousness back into the world. It is in this kind of life and outcome God finds pleasure and satisfaction among his children (εὐάρεστον). This is the worthwhile, good and perfect will of God, which brings maximum satisfaction to us as well: joy unspeakable and full of glory!
3. Position Your Life Before God!
In verse 3 Paul makes the observation that we are all, everyone among us (παντὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐν ὑμῖν) not to have an inflated view of ourselves, but rather to see ourselves realistically (ἀλλὰ φρονεῖν εἰς τὸ σωφρονεῖν) (Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Ro 12:3). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature), as we really are, in need of God's grace if we are going to successfully pull of this new life. Our transformation by God into a new creation is not only thing we need. Neither is it enough to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice one time, if we are not prepared to remain on the altar. Since this is a living sacrifice we must choose to keep the sacrifice in place, unlike the animal tied to the altar so that it cannot be removed, and after it is dead cannot escape, we must live out the commitment dependent on the grace of God day by day, through ongoing surrender to the leading of the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 5:16-25). We must look at ourselves realistically and accept our need of the power and grace of God to keep us on track moment by moment (as Wesley would say)!