Last Sunday I preached on the text, Romans 12:1-2. My sermon was entitled, "In Light of God's Mercies." As I did my sermon preparation I couldn't help but recall how this passage was misapplied by so many teachers and pastors in my past. By ignoring the little phrase, "therefore...by God's mercies" we do great injustice to Paul's line of reasoning and take these verses out of context. By ignoring this phrase we circumvent what has preceeded it -- Romans 1-11.
John Calvin hit the nail on the head with these words from his commentary on Romans,
“But this exhortation teaches us, that until men really apprehend how much they owe to the mercy of God, they will never with a right feeling worship him, not be effectually stimulated to fear and obey him. It is enough for the Papists, if they can extort by terror some sort of forced obedience…But Paul, that he might bind us to God, not by servile fear, but by the voluntary and cheerful love of righteousness, allures us by the sweetness of that Favor, by which our salvation is effected…”
The key words I want to draw your attention to are 'extort' and 'allure.' Those who ignore Paul's reasoning ('therefore...by the mercies of God) use extortion in their teaching and preaching to garner obededience. In Calvin's day he spoke about the Roman Catholic Church: in our own day we can speak of most evangelicals who use this passage to preach Law instead of Gospel. Extortion, properly defined, is forcing someone to give you something that they are not inclined to give. So pastors who extort use threats of divine judgment, harangues and guilt trips to get people to become 'living sacrifices.' In short, they argue, "Do this or else God will get you."
In contrast, Paul, and Calvin, use a different methodology. Instead of extortion they relied on the subtle, yet powerful method of attraction and allure. They argued that if we can understand God's mercies (ie. the doctines of Romans 1-11) we will willingly give our hearts to God in response to all that he has done for us. The Heidelberg Catechism captures this beautifully with its three sections: Guilt, Grace and Gratitude. So does Calvin, who is often viewed as cold and austere. Here is his motto, first in Latin, then in English:
"Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere."
"My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely."
Would that today's preachers repent of their methods of extortion and begin to attract and allure God's people by expounding His mercies. Believers will only offer their hearts to God on silver platters if they can understand the mercies of God and how much he has done for them in Christ.