Life-Altar-4x3-1Thank you for reading along for the last few months. I appreciate the words of encouragement that have come from some of you who have kindly read my weekly offerings.  These blog posts are a part of a larger writing project that I hope will form a book sometime this summer entitled, “Life on the Altar: The Life We Are Called to Live.” With the next two posts we finish Part One: “Presenting Ourselves to God as Living Sacrifices.” My focus in this opening section has been Romans 12:1,2 which provides a unique picture of the Christian life. 

In these verses, the apostle Paul brings us to the altar of sacrifice, not for atonement, but for surrender. This altar is for those who have been transformed by the mercies of God found in Christ. Here, in the spirit of Jesus’ demands of discipleship set forth in the Gospels, we are called to a life of surrender.  Paul’s use of sacrificial language is a vivid picture of what it means to follow Jesus.

One of the richest blessings that flows from this “altar life” is the ability to know and do the will of God. Paul closes this exhortation with one of the great outcomes of presenting ourselves to God, namely the ability to prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”[1]  I find in this promise a demystifying of God’s will for every believer. By that, I am not wanting to be cavalier or flippant with something as important as knowing and doing God’s will. I am not advocating that we will always know in the clearest terms every specific decision we are to make. We won’t. Neither am I suggesting that God’s will is not mysterious. It most certainly is. However, I do find in this statement of Paul tremendous clarity for the believer to live in confidence of God’s pleasure and direction over their life.

Prove What the Will of God Is

An important word used by Paul in v. 2 is, dokimázō, which is translated “prove” (NASB) or “discern” (ESV).  This word refers to testing something to establish its value, and even further the ability to recognize the value when we see it. It has the idea of testing and approving something that involves more than a logical process. It has the idea of savoring something that one has taken in as valuable and true. John Piper’s comments are helpful, “The root of Christian living… is a profoundly renewed mind. It doesn’t just think clearly, but assesses truly and values accurately and approves strongly and treasures passionately what is good, acceptable and perfect.”[2]

In our efforts to discern the will of God, I think it is important to better understand how this term is expressed in Scripture. The will of God is presented in the Bible in two ways: God’s sovereign will; and God’s commanded will. Making this distinction is vital to navigating the difficult tensions in Scripture as expressed by Piper, “God is sovereign over all things and yet disapproves of many things. Which means that God disapproves of some of what he ordains to happen. That is, he forbids some of the things he brings about. And he commands some of the things he hinders. Or to put it most paradoxically: God wills some events in one sense that he does not will in another sense.”[3]

God’s Sovereign Will

One of the attributes of God we discover about him early in the Bible is that He is a God of order. He gives directives and commands.[4] He rules the universe with purpose and a predetermined plan that all things will be brought into complete submission to Christ. We find this expressed powerfully in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:9-12)

God has revealed that he indeed has a sovereign plan that is centered on the redeeming work of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Christ, he will unite all things in the universe. This is an amazing comfort in a world groaning under the weight of untold sorrow. God has a sovereign plan, and it will be fulfilled in time. 

While we know that God has a sovereign plan for the world and everything in it, we don’t know the specific details of it. A reach back into Deuteronomy and we find that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”[5]   There are somethings that we will never know concerning how God works in the drama of history, nor do we know the details of how he will bring history to a close. But we know he will! We don’t know when Christ will return, but we know God’s sovereign plan is that he will return and every eye will see him.[6]

For believers, the proving and discerning of God’s will in v. 2 is not a reference to our knowing the details of God’s sovereign will. We are not charged to figure out his plans. I believe v. 2 is pointing us to God’s commanded will because we are called to discern the revealed will of God and how we are to live accordingly.

The commands God has given in Scripture are to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.[7] We believe God’s word is the only decisive authority for what we are to believe and how we are to live. We will pick up here next week with a closer look at discerning God’s will and believe it will be an encouragement as we live life on the altar.


[1] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ro 12:2). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[2] accessed April 5, 2021

[3]  April 7, 2021.

[4] In Genesis 1, the Creation account, God is mentioned 32 times in 31 verses. In this account, He “created,” “said,” “saw,” “sepearated,” “called,” “made,” “blessed.” All to the refrain that it was “good,” and on the sixth day, “it was very good.”

[5] Deuteronomy 29:29

[6] Matthew 24:36; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 1:7; 19:11-16.

[7] Psalm 119:105