A Living Sacrifice: Romans 12:1,2
Introduction: Total Devotion to Christ
David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary, abolitionist and physician who is known for his work in Africa. He crossed this great continent in the mid-nineteenth century. It was he who said these words:
People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own best reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It was emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this, we ought not to talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father's throne on high to give himself for us."
In the past 11 chapters of Romans, Paul has been talking about the Gospel. It is the good news that man receives the righteousness of God by grace alone, through faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. None of us deserves the salvation that Christ offers through faith. For we have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). But now, because of what our Lord has done and His great mercy toward us, salvation is a free gift to all who call upon the name of the Lord, whether they be Jew or Gentile (Romans 10:9-13).
In Romans 9-11 we see that our God is a promise-keeping God and we can trust Him, no matter what, to give us the many promises that Paul has enumerated in the Book of Romans regarding our salvation in Christ and our future with Him. Even if His people prove to be unfaithful, like Israel who was given many promises but did not choose to receive them by faith. God temporarily set them aside so that He might have mercy on us all (32). That fact is made plain through God's dealings with a remnant of Israel who remained faithful, and with the Gentile nations. We learn from other Pauline writings that they are all, both Jew and Gentile alike, currently being placed together in one Body, which is the Church, the Body of Christ.
But we see in Romans 11 that God has not finished with His people Israel. And of course, this proves that God will fulfill everything that He has vowed to us as well.
God's plans for all of mankind make the great Apostle wax eloquently in a hymn of praise as he writes:
"Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things! To Him be the glory forever. Amen!" (10:33-36).
The question that Paul now turns to in chapter 12 is: "Since all of this is true and God has had great mercy on us, and if all things are for His glory, how must we, His people, respond to this?
The answer is found in Romans verses 1 and 2.
I. Present Your Body as a LIving Sacrifice (1)
Paul begins this practical section of the book by urging his fellow-believers to present themselves as a "living sacrifice" to God. The word "urge" or "beseech" here comes from the Greek word that means "to call alongside for help." Jesus used a related word that was translated as "comforter" in referring to the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,26). This family of words later came to refer to "exhorting", "encouraging" or "counseling." So Paul was acting like the believer's counselor here in strongly encouraging them by the authority of the Holy Spirit, to give themselves totally to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The reason he gives for this is the "mercies" of God. He says:
"Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God..."
By these, he means all the things that he's been showing us in the previous chapters. We don't deserve them. As a matter of fact, we deserve judgment and punishment in Hell. However, because the Lord is merciful, by our faith we don't receive punishment. Christ has taken that upon Himself. Instead, we enjoy things like:
- Being free from the penalty and the power of sin (Romans 6:6-8)
- Being sons and daughters of God by adoption (Romans 8:15)
- Being part of the elect of God and predestined to be conformed to Christ's image (Romans 8:29-30)
- Not being condemned (Romans 8:1)
- Having no charge which is able to be brought against us (Romans 8:33)
- Having nothing which can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:38-39)
All these things and many more which we could add are the mercies of God that should cause us to want to serve the Lord who has done so much for us. We literally owe Him everything! If Christ is who He says He is and has done what He claims to have done, then He needs to be more than a figure that we talk about on Sundays. He should be at the very center of our lives. He is, in fact, Lord of the universe. He may allow us free will but ultimately He is causing all things to work out for His glory. In another passage, I Corinthians 6:19,20 Paul says that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we are not our own, having been bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ.
In talking about us being living sacrifices Paul is using the language of the Law and its many offerings. In the Old Testament, God accepted the sacrifices of dead animals to represent the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross. However, because of what our Lord has done, these dead animals no longer have any effect. Before Christ, they only covered the sins anyway. They could never take it away (Hebrews 9:11-22; Hebrews 10:14). Now that He's completed His offering of Himself, once for all (Hebrews 10:14), believers in him no longer need another offering for sin. Jesus paid it all.
What God does accept is our bodies as living sacrifices, a life that is completely dedicated to Jesus Christ. This kind of sacrifice can never be accepted by God from the unbeliever. Their sin separates them from a Holy God. However, Jesus' sacrifice for our sin makes us righteous and capable of doing things that please the Lord. It makes what we do for Christ to be holy or set apart for His glory.
We don't do them to become saved, or even to remain saved. Christ's sacrifice took care of our past, present, and future. We do them because we love Him and want to please the one who died for us. And we do it out of gratitude.
Paul says that this is our reasonable service, or as the New American Standard Bible says: "which is your reasonable service of worship." This is a good translation here. The Greek word is latreia and it can mean:
- A service rendered for hire. Any service or ministration such as the service of God.
- The service or worship of God according to the requirements of the Levitical Law.
- To perform sacred services.
In other words, we can say that our everyday life is a way to worship Him. Worship is not just what we do on Sundays. It isn't just singing or praying, or even listening to a good sermon. These things are really a means to worship and not worship itself. True worship begins in the heart and includes an attitude of desire to bring glory to God. If we have a heart desirous of praising the Lord, then our work Monday through Friday is an offering of worship. And it is also how we treat our families and friends as well as our enemies.
Brother Lawrence, who lived from 1614 to 1691 was a lay brother in a Carmelite Monastery in Paris. He worked as a cook in the monastery but has become famous for the book: "The Practice of the Presence of God" which was a compilation of his writings after his death. In it he said that everything he did was to be to the love of the Lord. He saw his work as a duty and as a means of worshipping Christ. Here are a few of his words:
"We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of Him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before Him, who has given me grace to work; afterward I rise happier than a king."
When we can, like Brother Lawrence, see every moment of every day as a chance to commune with and practice the presence of our Savior, then we will truly know what it means to offer our lives as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. And we will truly know what it means to worship the Sovereign of the universe and acknowledge Him to be the Lord that He truly already is.
II. Don't be Conformed, but Transformed (2)
Besides offering ourselves as living sacrifices, another reasonable response to all that God has done for us is not to allow ourselves to be conformed to the world in which we live. The word here can better be translated age. It has to do with the world-system of beliefs and values which is opposed to God. Sometimes referred to as the "spirit of the age" it is the sum total of contemporary thinking that is present in the world at any one time in history. Satan is said to be the "god of this age" who blinds the minds of unbelievers (II Corinthians 4:4).
"Conformed" refers to the assuming of the outward expression that doesn't reflect what is really on the inside of the believer in Christ. In this way, we are masquerading as someone we are not. In other words, we shouldn't take on the world's characteristics and follow the evil mess in which they are a part. We shouldn't allow Satan's realm to be in control of our actions at all. Rather, we need to be able to show the world a better way to live. God's way!
Rather than being conformed, according to the Apostle, we must "be transformed by the renewing of our minds." "Transformed" is the Greek word from which we get the English metamorphosis. We all probably remember what we were taught about the caterpillar in Science class. He goes into a cocoon as an ugly worm and comes out as a beautiful butterfly. During the time he was in that chrysalis, he underwent a change, a metamorphosis. The word implies a change in outward appearance.
In Matthew 17:2 the Apostle Matthew uses the same word to describe the transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, just as Jesus, for a brief time and in a limited way, displayed his inner divine nature at the Transfiguration, so Christians should outwardly manifest their inner redeemed natures. And it needs to be done on a daily basis.
We do this by the "renewing of our minds." This type of transformation can only come about as we allow the Holy Spirit to consistently change our thinking by our study, meditation, and memorization on the Word of God (Psalm 119:111) A renewed mind is completely saturated by Scripture and controlled by it.
The outcome of the transformation is that we "may prove what the will of God is, that which is acceptable and perfect." Prove here is dokimazo. This word can mean one of two things. It can be defined as:
- To test, examine, prove, scrutinize, to see whether a thing is genuine or not, as in metals.
- To recognize as genuine after an examination. To approve or deem worthy.
In the case of Scripture and doing God's will it is the latter. By doing what God says to do we recognize it as genuine and it is shown to be worthy of our trust and faith and it brings about a life that our Lord approves as well.
The words good, acceptable and perfect harken back to the Old Testament sacrificial system again. They describe a life lived that is morally and spiritually spotless just as the sacrificial animals were supposed to be.
As we put all of this together, it might help to give a story. An article in the Sunday School Chronicle related this:
A celebrated philosopher of antiquity, who was accustomed to receiving large sums from his pupils in return for his instructions, was one day approached by a poor youth, who asked to be admitted as one of his disciples. "And what will you give me in return?" said the wise man. "I will give you myself," was the reply. "I accept the gift," replied the philosopher, "and engage to restore you to yourself at some future period, much more valuable than you are at present." Those who give themselves to God will become day by day more like Jesus Christ."
And if I might add to this story, those who give themselves to God as a living sacrifice in total allegiance will become completely themselves because they will, in the end, become what they were designed to be in the first place.
Those who seek lives that are completely wrapped up in themselves will end up with a pretty small and sad package. But the ones who seek God's will can ultimately find joy and happiness in this life, but more importantly, in the one to come.
May each of us choose wisely what we do with the time left that God has given us and give ourselves totally to Him as living sacrifices. For that is a sacrifice which is never given in vain.
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© 2019 Jeff Shirley