“I appeal to you therefore, my dear family, through the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God; this is your reasonable worship. Do not be conformed to this present age, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you may discover in practice what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect.”
In a nutshell, Romans 12:1-2 demonstrates the overlap between this present age and the age to come that every apprentice of Jesus experiences daily. We live in the dawning of the “not yet” in the “now.” And, in the midst of this overlap, we are called to live purposefully in the eschatological reality of the dawning New Age rather than blindly following the old habits, patterns and routines of this present age.
The hallmark of the New Age – God’s future New Creation – is the renewing and remerging of heaven and earth, with God, through Christ, as its nexus.
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
In Jewish theology, there was one location in the present age where heaven and earth merged – the Temple. At that place, God dwelt with his people. I think this is the core of temple-theology as it develops through the New Testament. Jesus’ ‘kingdom of God’ revolution is a counter-temple movement. In him is the fullness of God (Col 1:19). In him, the Word made his dwelling among us (Jn 1:14). Jesus’ body was the new manifestation of the Temple (Jn 2:19-21), the place where heaven and earth met, mingled and merged. As a counter-temple, Jesus’ body was the sanctuary where the Spirit and glory of Yahweh dwelt, moved and operated, birthing the New Creation into this one through forgiveness, healing and life. People met God and experienced his New Creation (the life of the renewed heaven and earth) where they lived, not by traveling to a permanent fixture miles away.
In this light, read John 20:21:
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Missiology is firmly anchored in eschatology. We are “sent” because the reality of the New Creation has been inaugurated in the life of Jesus. He is the eschatological temple (Jn 21:22), the reality of God and his heaven breaking into the earthly dimension.
Being Jesus’ apprentices, he breathes this reality upon us, by the Spirit, so we may be like him. Like God breathing the life of creation into the original humanity as his image-bearers, Jesus breathes the life of New Creation into the new humanity as God’s renewed image-bearers. In this light, our new selves are “being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col 3:9). Our bodies have become the counter-temple presence of God’s Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Our bodies and lives are now the place where we pray and live “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” In Christ, we are slivers of the New Creation (2 Cor 5:17) being transformed into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18). Again, in our bodies, we are living the eschatological reality within the overlap of this present age and the age to come.
This is the subterranean spring that feeds the life of Romans 12:1-2, which in turn feeds the entire chapter and outward through the rest of Paul’s epistle.
In light of God’s eschatological mercies breaking into the present, Paul urges us, as God’s family, to offer our individual bodies as a singular sacrifice to God as an act of rational worship. In this tight statement, Paul entwines the eschatological life with our bodily existence, community and worship. In other words, the outworking of the eschatological life of the New Creation, is to offer our bodies (i.e., the fullness of our embodied life as human beings) together in community as a singular, unified sacrifice of love to God (see Php 2:1-5, 14-16). This is our appropriate worship as rational, image-bearing beings. This is how image-bearing humans truly honor God with the fullness of their existence and in turn become a transforming and reconciling presence on earth.
Paul then unpacks the foundational level from which this eschatological life of the New Creation must spring from, “Do not be conformed to this present age, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” First, we are not to pattern our lives around this present age. For too long we have willingly chosen to be formed and shaped by the rebellious divorce of earth from heaven, which hallmarks this present age (Gen 3). Rather, we are to move from being conformed by this present age to being transformed by the age to come. And the catalyst for this transformation is within the renewal of our “minds,” which incorporates thoughts, feelings, values, philosophy, ideas, and images among other things.
The remainder of Romans 12 continues to unpack the renewal of our minds, fleshed out primarily in embodied community. We must think rightly of ourselves as members of one body, belonging to all the other members in love and service. We must exhibit sincere love and hate evil by honoring one another above ourselves, again, demonstrated by service and giving. We must strive to live in harmony with everyone in community, always overcoming any evil with good. This is the practical expression of the eschatological life, lived out in the overlap of the ages. This present age may rage around us, but we choose not to be conformed to it in community-destroying activities. Rather, we choose transformation. We choose renewal into the likeness of Christ. We choose the life of the new age, which is embodied in authentic community with the divine Trinitarian life as its model.
I love how Henri Nouwen puts it:
“A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones. Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold. When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. But as we step back from it, we can see that all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself. That is what our life in community is about. Each of us is like a little stone, but together we reveal the face of God to the world. Nobody can say: “I make God visible.” But others who see us together can say: ‘They make God visible.’ Community is where humility and glory touch.”
This renewal of our minds is the renewal our new selves into the image of God. It is the renewing and restoration of our unique image-bearing capacity as human beings. It is the fulfillment of our ability to be the place where heaven and earth meet, in caring stewardship of the earth and its community with God’s embodied presence. It is the blessing of the nations with the reality God’s eschatological New Creation lived out, albeit imperfectly yet maturing, within the present.