Christmas is now over. And you are either elated with the gifts you received, satisfied with your gifts and the responses to the gifts you gave, disappointed at not receiving something you wanted, rejoicing that the whole thing is over, despairing over bills that will need to be paid, or a little depressed that another Christmas season has come and gone.
This morning I take you to a very popular and familiar text in Romans and apply it to the end of this Christmas season. My contention is simple, if we look beyond the superficial elements of Christmas and really understand what Christmas is about . . . .then we will not be let down by Christmas . . . we will find ourselves motivated..
When Paul wrote these words in Romans chapter 12 it was after a lengthy explanation of the gospel. Paul explained the sinfulness of man, the way of salvation God has provided through Christ, the goal of holy living for every child of God, the continuing struggle with sin that would be with the believer, the power of God’s spirit to help us overcome the struggles we still face, the sovereign plan of God that brought us to salvation and will bring us ultimately to Heaven. And in response to this Paul proclaims,
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 him?”For from him and through him and to him are all things.To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)
Paul’s response to understanding the gospel is a declaration of worship and praise. The Gospel is wonderful and astounding! If we really understand what God has done for us in Christ. If we understand the true meaning of Christmas, then we will worship the Lord. But there’s more. There is a practical side to understanding the gospel. Paul writes,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer 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.
WE SHOULD SERVE HIM
Our text tells us that we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices. In the past, those who worshipped the Lord offered sacrificial animals as a way of paying for their sin. Now, says Paul, we should go beyond the offering of animals we should offer ourselves to God.
Let me clarify a couple of things. First, note that we are to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices “because of” or “in response to” God’s mercy. We are not doing these things in an effort to gain or earn God’s mercy. There are people all over the world who are trying to earn their way into heaven.
they hope to give enough money
serve on enough committees
visit enough needy people
go on enough mission trips
learn enough Bible verses
sing enough songs
attend enough church services
get enough people to like them
receive enough awards that will earn them God’s favor.
The Bible is quite clear. We cannot earn God’s favor. We have already destroyed God’s standards with our sinfulness. We cannot undo what we have done. It is like shattering a window. Once you have broken the window you cannot put it back together again. You must have a new window installed. In the same way, our sin has ruined any chance for us to be good enough. Our heart has been defiled. We need a new heart, and that comes from Christ.
Please be clear in your own mind and as you encourage others in the element of holiness. We are urged to give ourselves to the Lord in response to His love toward us. We serve Him BECAUSE of our salvation and not as a MEANS to our salvation.
Second, we serve the Lord because it is the appropriate response to a loving God. The word for “spiritual” or “reasonable” is the word, “logikos” or logical. Serving God with our lives is a logical response to the great news of the gospel. In coming to Christ we have learned several things,
God is good . . . He punishes sin (in Christ)
God is loving . . . He sent Christ on our behalf
God knows what He is doing
God is seeking what is best for us
God is able to accomplish what He sets out to do
With these truths in mind, what is the most logical thing you could do? You would want to do everything this God told you to do . . . . even if you didn’t understand all of it.
Let me give you a sports example. Suppose you played for a coach that had an incredible winning percentage. The coach had a great reputation as someone who was fair and could help anyone who was willing to be helped. What would the logical thing be to do? Would you do what the coach said or would you believe you knew better? The smart person would pay attention to the counsel of the coach.
Let’s take a lesson from finance. Suppose a person who had made millions on the stock market gave you advice on a stock. Suppose he told you about a stock that he believed was going to grow rapidly and steadily. What would be the logical thing to do? You would find some cash and buy some of that stock!
We understand this with sports and with finance, why don’t we understand this with God? Why do we resist His commands? Why do we always seem to feel that we know better? After all He has done to prove His wisdom and love, shouldn’t we be willing to serve Him?
Paul tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. This implies several things,
Our service is to be total not partial. If we give our bodies we are giving ourselves completely. Some who give their bodies to the Lord end up dying a martyrs death. But even that kind of sacrifice is a logical response to the greatness of the gospel.
Our service should be personal not general. It is easy to write a check. It is easy to serve in a group. What God wants from us is a service that is personal, individual, and total. He wants us to serve Him in our daily lives not just in our organizations. He wants a service that is just as devoted in the shadows as it is in the spotlight. He wants us to be just as committed to Him when no one is looking as we are when the crowds are applauding.
Our service is to be practical not theoretical. We serve the Lord often by the way we serve each other. The service God wants is not just something we talk about . . . it is something we do. It is manifest in our worship and in our day to day encounters with others. When we show love to others, even when it is difficult, we are responding appropriately to the God who saved us. When we work to alleviate the suffering and pain of those around us we are responding logically to the gospel. When we look for opportunities to build bridges of grace to the people of the world, we are engaging in a spiritual act of worship.
Please understand, that according to Paul, being spiritual in worship has little to do with the songs we sing or the experience we have. Spiritual worship is the attitude of the heart that we have before the Lord. It is a willingness to give ourselves to Him not just during the formal time of worship, but every moment of every day. A good example is the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6. Isaiah has a great vision of God and a wonderful experience of cleansing. Then the Lord asks, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?” And Isaiah’s response is “Here am I, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) True worship is not evidences so much in our experience but in our response.
WE MUST ADOPT A NEW WAY OF THINKING
In order to truly serve the Lord we must begin by adjusting our thinking.
We must resist the world
The Apostle John writes,
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
John is not telling us that we must hate life or creation. We must however resist the system and the values of the world. The world’s philosophy is pretty simple,
If you want something, go get it (that goes for partners, possessions, and power)
People are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them.
Public opinion defines truth . . . popularity is more important than holiness
Faith and everyday living are unrelated
Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences. (We’ll see lots of evidence of this on New Year’s Eve)
You are the center of your universe, don’t let anyone push your around!
This is the mentality of the world around us. It explains why God’s law is ignored. It explains why there is deception, corruption, and disregard for human life. These things are all seen as merely a means to an end. We must be aware of and resist this worldly mentality. The “world” works hard to get us to submit to its values.
We Must Think God’s Thoughts
Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In other words, in order to serve God appropriately we must learn to think differently. But how do we do this?
First, we must saturate ourselves in Godly thinking. We do this by reading God’s Word. But it is really more than just reading. It is a matter of absorbing and interacting with God’s Word. When we read the Bible we must constantly be asking ourselves, “What does this mean for my daily living.”
But saturating ourselves in godly thinking also means exposing ourselves to godly writers, teachers, and influences. We need to meet regularly with friends who share our commitment to Christ. We must work to expand our thinking so that we are not just one-dimensional believers.
Second, we must learn to submit our decisions and our calendars to the Lord. In other words, instead of always doing what we feel like doing, we need to ask the Lord if what we feel like doing is right and good. This demands a kind of prayer that is often lost. We spend a good deal of our time asking God to take away the burdens of other people. We must also spend time talking with God about the everyday decisions of our lives. We must learn to submit our thoughts and decisions to the Lord. We need to ask if God will be honored or dishonored by what we plan to do. Will our actions build bridges or destroy them. Will it enhance our testimony or weaken it?
If We Do These Things We will Get Stronger in Our Faith
Paul tells us that in doing these things “you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Very simply Paul is telling us that the only way to discover how superior God’s will is for living is to do what he tells us to do. There is no shortcut. You have to dare to obey and then watch what happens.
When we obey the Lord we find that His way is perfect. We find that His values bring satisfaction and joy. We find that His methods bring real and lasting change in us and in those around us. When we trust Him rather than the gimmicks and devices of the world, we find that He is superior to everything else.
A doctor may tell you that if you exercise regularly your aches will go away. But you won’t know if he is telling you the truth until you do what he says. Many of us will exercise for a day or two and find that we are sore. We conclude that the Doctor was wrong. But he isn’t. He told that “regular exercise” will make us feel better. We must develop the habit of exercise before we can experience the benefit.
A Doctor may give us a prescription for our problems but we will not experience the benefit of the prescription if we don’t take the medicine and take it consistently. If you are on antibiotics and only take them until you feel a little better you are opening yourself up to a return of the problem with a greater force because all you have done is made the bacteria resistant to the antibiotic. You must take all the medicine to completely eliminate the bacteria..
The same is true in our spiritual life. Some people read the Bible and pray for a few days (often at the beginning of a new year) and conclude, “nothing happened”. Some worship for a few weeks and declare, “it didn’t work”. Some people venture into areas of service and conclude “I was unsuccessful”. Some “get religion” until their guilt goes away or a crisis passes and then they forget God. But you become renewed in your thinking from habitual exposure to the Word of God, not just sporadic exposure. We will become transformed in our thinking and living as we begin to regularly test God’s Word in our daily living. We must put it into practice regularly before we will see the superiority of God’s way to the way of the world. If you want to test God’s will and see that it is good and pleasing and perfect, you must dare to trust God and to keep trusting Him.
Let’s get practical. If we are going to respond appropriately to what the Lord has done for us in sending Christ for our salvation, we need to take action. Here’s some suggestions for following Christ in the new year. Maybe you will want to use some of these things as your New Year’s resolutions.
Set aside some unhurried time every day to read God’s Word and to talk to Him in prayer. Maybe you will want to use a Bible reading schedule, maybe you would rather take your time and read through one book of the Bible at a time. Maybe you can find a quiet place to pray. Maybe you will find it easier to talk to God if you write it down. Maybe you will talk to Him better while you are walking. Whatever form you use, make time daily for God.
Memorize Scripture. The Bible tells us that hiding His Word in our heart will help guard us from sin (Psalm 119:11). Set a goal of memorizing one verse a week. Put it on an index card and review often, post your verse for the week on your mirror, use one of the memory systems on the market. Make God’s Word a part of you.
Resolve to make worship a priority this year. You know that God tells us that we are to worship regularly (Hebrews 10:25). We are to set aside a day that is His (Exodus 20:8). Refuse to hide behind the excuse that “I only have one day a week to sleep in and it’s Sunday” or some of the many variations of that excuse. Remind yourself that anything you do instead of worshipping on Sunday is something that you are declaring more important to you (at least at that moment) than God is. Flee from all idolatry and give God priority in your calendar.
Set a goal of reading several solid books this year. There is nothing wrong with reading for amusement . . . but in addition to reading for fun, plan also to read for your spiritual growth.
Be diligent about serving God at work or at school. Resist shortcuts that reduce quality. Do the job or assignment that was given to you to the best of your ability. Be ruthless about confronting excuses for doing less than your best. Remind yourself that the way that you do your work will speak more powerfully than any of your reasoned arguments.
Look for ways to give of yourself to others. Notice things that you can do for those around you. Do some chores, run an errand, lend a hand. Take the extra time to make a visit. Pick up the phone and check on the one who is going through a struggle. Volunteer to help on a project that will show God’s grace to someone else. Look for ways to demonstrate your love for the Lord in practical ways. If you have to choose between your amusements and building God’s kingdom, realize the implications of your choices.
Make it a point to notice people. In our rush to meet goals, accomplish tasks, and make appointments, we often overlook people. Make it a point to notice the people around you at the bank, the grocery store, the mall, the post office, and even at church. Be attentive to the hurting, the rejected, and those who feel alone. Remind yourself that Jesus loves people more than buildings. He loves people more than concepts and programs. He loves people more than titles and trophies. God brings hurting people into your life and mine every single day. Ask God to help you notice them and to love them.
My point this morning is really pretty simple: Christmas is really about God’s grace extended to sinful people like you and me. Christmas is about radical transformation. It is about a new heart and a new motivation for living. And if you understand God’s message in Christmas, then even though the celebration is over and the decorations are put away . . . the real impact of Christmas will just be beginning.