Why should we attempt to be holy? Many people do not realize that genuine Christians have a different motivation for holiness than most other religious groups. Romans 12:1 admonishes us: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
That little phrase, “by the mercies of God”, is an important one. It refers to the motivation the Christian has for holiness. Many religious people attempt to be holy in order to justify themselves before God, to “secure” for themselves a place in heaven. But that is not the motivation the scripture teaches here. It encourages us to be holy “by the mercies of God” — in other words, NOT in order to attain God’s mercy, but because He has already shown us mercy.
The mercy of God towards us had just been mentioned in the previous chapter, Romans 11. Verse 30 says, “(you) have been shown mercy because of their disobedience”, and then verse 32 follows up: “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” It is no coincidence that at least twice in Romans 11 God’s mercy is mentioned, and that Chapter 12 then encourages us to be holy “by the mercies of God.”
What the scripture is teaching is that the Christian is not trying to be holy in order to gain God’s mercy, and heaven. On the contrary, he knows he already has salvation, based not on his own works, but on the finished work of Jesus on the cross. His motivation for holiness is not to garner God’s mercy, but out of gratitude that he already HAS it. It is a motivation that makes all the difference!