Call to Worship: Romans 11: 33 – 26 NIV
Scripture: Romans 12: 1 – 2
By Bobbie Hunt, CLP
Today’s text begins with the word “therefore”. It is a word of transition and looking at its synonyms helps us understand how it functions in language. Some synonyms and synomic phrases for “therefore” are: for that reason, consequently, so, as a result, that being so, on that account. In our call to worship, we heard the verses from Romans 11 that immediately precede chapter 12. Those apply directly to the “therefore” result. But the whole of Romans chapters 1 to 12 lead us to therefore. In the chapters before 12, Paul explains to us the need for salvation, the provision made for salvation, the result of salvation, and the scope of salvation. The result is: Freedom From Wrath of God; (Rom 5:1-21); Freedom From Our Individual Sin (Rom 6:1-23); Freedom From The Law of the Old Testament which was impossible to keep (Rom 7:1-25); Freedom From Death by the gift of eternal life to those who believe in Jesus (Rom 8:1-39) and how the scope of the work of Jesus encompasses both Jew and Gentile. Romans gives of the foundation of gospel truth. And Paul ends that section with what is called “Doxology” – his outpouring of praise to God. Those verses bear a second hearing:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Therefore….consequently…..Paul continues saying that:
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
When, in light of God’s mercy, our sacrifice in offering ourselves as worship, we will be transformed and in that state we will be in sync with God’s will.
This sacrificial living can be confused with good works. Good works are pleasing to God, but good works are part of our response. Sacrificial living is our response to God’s great mercy … and good works will come from that. It is important that we, as believers, understand that good works do not buy God’s love or His mercy. Good works are a side benefit to sacrificial living. The world is full of good people who are being good in the mistaken belief that being good and doing good earns them a place in heaven. It is God’s goodness that provides for our place in heaven. Human goodness is defined by humans is humanism which is not faith in Christ.
Paul’s original audience understood the sacrificial system of the temple. Living animals gave their lives to be presented as offerings. There was a cost to the giver of these offerings given sacrificially, but the offerings themselves were dead. In the Old Testament, God made it clear that he desired love and obedience in conjunction with these temple offerings. He rejected offerings given insincerely as unworthy. Paul’s original audience would have understood that God wanted more than dead animals from His followers. In light of God’s great mercy to His fallen creations, what does being a living sacrifice look like?
The sacrifice that is a living sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God incorporates the soul, the body, the mind, and the will. Those are the four elements – the soul, the body, the mind, and the will. And, obviously, they’re all bound up with each other, but they help us to see aspects of ourselves that we are to give to God.
As Christ’s followers our souls are secured as children of God. Paul was speaking to “brothers”, those who had already accepted Jesus as the only way to their eternal salvation. To become a living sacrifice, our soul belongs to God and we recognize and accept that as fact.
The second component is our body. Paul cautions us to not be conformed to the pattern of the world. Many temptations are carnal – desires of the flesh. They are actions and behaviors that provide pleasures that are not pleasing to God. He designed us to enjoy bodily pleasures, but with boundaries. Our boundaries for behavior need to be surrounded by scriptural truths. Of course, we think of sexual immorality at the top of the body list. But it is so much more than that. Think of murder, violence, addictions, revenge, hate speech, gluttony, self-centered living are all carnal-based. Then there are things that are ethically-based which idolize human thought above God’s Word. If people say it is OK, then our community accepts that as truth for living without regard to the light of God’s word. World thinking justifies itself by the authority of itself. Sacrificial worship of God requires that we know what and how to use our physical presence and our physical strength in ways that glorify His Name.
The third component is our mind. What we fill our heads with greatly influences our overall health – physical and spiritual. Philippians 4:9 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” If you spend thinking time dwelling on the pleasure of revenge for a wrong done to you, or a temptation to sin, soon your thoughts will be poisonous. You will become bitter and angry or you will lose control and act out your revenge fantasy or your sinful desire. Thoughts about what is right in God’s eyes, divert Satan’s whispers of hate and self-serving gratification. Your mind is influenced by what you see and hear. And, you have to know what scripture says to be able to think on it.
The fourth component is our will. The benefit of being a living sacrifice is that with time and discipline and the work of the Holy Spirit, you become conformed or transformed so that what you desire is what God desires. This is a huge and necessary protection from temptation. The trials and tribulations of life are much more bearable when the desire of our heart is to accept God’s will for our life. Accepting His will has the perquisite that we love Him, obey Him, and serve Him in response to the work of Jesus.
Scripture gives us two images of living sacrifice. The first was Isaac who went willingly to the sacrificial altar, and whose life was spared by the appearance of a substitute sacrifice. The second living sacrifice was, of course, Jesus Christ himself. There was not a substitute for His sacrifice because He was the substitute for each and every one of us.
We call this time together “worship”. And, indeed it is. It is like Paul’s Doxology in Romans 11 – we praise the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge. We come to praise His Holy Name and we come to be enriched in knowledge as His disciples. He commands us to praise him with singing and with instruments. But, worship that is holy and pleasing to God continues when we leave this place. We take with us a refreshment of our soul with the knowledge that our worship continues in living a life that reflects Jesus Christ through our bodies and our minds, by our words and by our deeds, lives that are God-honoring…..made possible by His great mercy and grace and the power of His Holy Spirit so we can live a life that is true to the gospel. A parent gives up things for his or her children. If you asked most parents if they felt they had sacrificed for the children, they would say “No, we loved them. It wasn’t a sacrifice.” A life of real living sacrifice is loving God so much, that it doesn’t seem as if we have given up anything at all, because we really haven’t.
A life that is true glorifies God and ushers us into the peace of Christ and the power that comes from trusting in Him in all things.