For just about a year we have been working our way through the first 11 chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Our intention has been to examine Christian belief in a systematic manner. Romans is really the only book in the Bible that seeks to explain Christian doctrine in an organized and systematic way. If you want to understand what Christians believe you need to understand the book of Romans.
Romans 12 begins with the word “Therefore”. It indicates that Paul is going to draw some conclusions. These conclusions are going to be the practical implications of what he has taught in the first eleven chapters. In the weeks to come we will look at these applications.
This morning we are going to look at just the first verse.
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. [Romans 12:1]
This is a rich and potent verse. Let’s draw some principles that will hopefully be helpful.
Solid Theology Leads to Changed Lives and Not the Opposite
James Boice relates the following story,
There was once a mill manager whose workers were not producing. The owner was named Charles Schwab, and he asked the manager what was wrong. “I have no idea,” the manager said. “I’ve coaxed the men; I’ve pushed them; I’ve sworn and cussed; I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. Nothing works. They just won’t produce.”
How may heats did your shift make today? Schwab asked.
Without saying anything else, Schwab picked up a piece of chalk and wrote a big number “6” on the floor. Then he walked away.
When the night shift came in they saw the “6” and asked what it meant. “The big boss was here today,” someone said. “He asked how many heats the day shift made, and we told him six. He chalked it on the floor.”
The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. That night shift had rubbed out the “6” and replaced it with an even bigger “7”. When the day shift reported the next day they saw the “7”. So the night shift thought they were better than the day shift, did they? They’d show them. The pitched in furiously, and before they had left that evening they had rubbed out the “7” and replaced it with a “10” Schwab had increased production 66 percent in just twenty-four hours simply by throwing down a challenge. [Boice, Romans Vol. 4 p. 1508 quoting Dale Carnegie]
Too often the church is guilty of trying to motivate like this manager; we exhort, threaten hell, and use the mighty weapon of guilt to try to get people to live more godly lives”. This kind of motivation is seldom, if ever, effective. The best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.
Paul knew that what a person believes ABOUT God will determine the way you live FOR God. Unfortunately, the teaching of theology has fallen on hard times (which may explain the church’s lack of transforming power in the world). Today, you are just as likely to hear people say, “I don’t care about theology, I just want to follow Jesus.” It sounds pious but is actually quite foolish.
Before you can follow Jesus you have to know,
- Who is this Jesus you plan to follow? Where does He come from? What does He believe?
- Why do you wish to follow this Jesus? What makes Him a better spiritual leader than someone else?
- Where do you think this Jesus is leading you?
These important, essential, and preliminary questions are all theological questions. We must start with the truth and then build our lives from there.
True Worship is About Who We Are and Not Our Order of Worship
In the Christian community today there is a big debate that is often called the “worship wars”. There are debates about what kind of music to sing, how much music to sing, what kinds of media to use, what instruments should play, how the Pastor should dress (this is actually debated) and what a good order of service should be. The debate is spirited.
Paul gives us a different focus. The idea of offering a sacrifice as worship was common to the readers of the letter. All the religions of the day offered sacrifices to their gods. In most cases (except the most perverted) these sacrifices were animals who were killed as part of the sacrificial process.
Paul changes this image. He calls us not to offer the body of an animal, but our own bodies. We are not to offer something dead, but something living. We are to offer ourselves. In other words, the highest form of worship is when His priorities become our priorities, when His values become our values, and when His will takes precedence over our desires.
Worship is not a series of activities we perform. That is not worship; that is a worship service! The church has become caught up in the details of the worship service and is overlooking the true nature of what it means to worship God. True worship has to do with the whole person. It involves our heart, our mind, and our body. If we get true worship correct, the other stuff will barely matter.
Look at some of the Bible characters. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son if that is what was required to honor the Lord. Isaac seemed willing to allow his father to bind him and put him on the altar. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were willing to go into the fiery furnace rather than deny the Lord; Daniel honored the Lord when he was willing to go to the Lions rather than turn from the Lord; David walked out to face the giant. The best example is our Savior who prayed in the garden, “Not my will but yours be done.”
This is the true attitude of worship. God does not want our songs, prayers, time or money if He can’t have us.
Let’s face it; the idea of sacrifice is not very popular. Our society urges us to indulge ourselves, not deny ourselves; to spend (or hoard) rather than give; to live for the moment rather than live for eternity. Even churches work to soften the ideas of commitment and sacrifice. Am I exaggerating?
- How many abortions have taken place because a child was inconvenient
- How many marriage vows have been tossed aside for a new thrill?
- How many people are enslaved by debt because they can’t say no to their desires?
- How many people are having physical problems because we won’t exercise or push away from the table?
- How many ministries, acts of compassion, and other good things never take place because we won’t give up our time in front of the television or computer?
- How many projects remain undone because we have spent all our resources on “fun” stuff?
- How many people never hear the gospel message because people aren’t willing to put themselves out to tell them?
Worship involves sacrifice of our agenda, our desires and our dreams to His will and direction. Is it a big price? You bet. But Jesus told us that we must count the cost. Jim Elliot who was killed by natives on the mission field wrote in his journal, “He is not a fool who sacrifices what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.”
Sacrificial and Total Service is Reasonable
Our head reels at the thought of what God wants from His people. We are tempted to walk away and say, “He is asking for too much.””
Have you ever told your child to do something and had your child say, “Why should I?” Of course you have. We said it when we were children and our kids have said (or will say) it to you. It is often at that moment that we find ourselves saying what we vowed we would never say as a parent, “Because I said so!”
Maybe that phrase sounds so bad because we are saying it wrong. It is not, “because I said so”, it should be, “because I said so.” “Look, I brought you into this world, I have provided for your needs, I have demonstrated my love for you time and again, and I want what is best for you. I love you more than you can imagine. You should do what I say because I have proved that I have your best interest at heart.”
Paul tells us to give ourselves as our spiritual service of worship. The King James and New King James translate that word “spiritual” as reasonable. The reason for this difference is a disagreement on how to translate the Greek word, Logikos. I think the word carries both meanings. The word logikos is where we derive our word, logical. The idea of giving ourselves as a spiritual and reasonable act of worship fits the context well. Paul’s argument is simple: “after you have seen God’s wonderful plan of salvation and new life (which he has explained for eleven chapters), giving yourself to the Lord is a reasonable expression of true and spiritual worship.”
Giving yourself to the service and obedience of the Lord is logical for several reasons. First, it is reasonable because of what Christ has done for us. If someone made a great sacrifice for you, would you want to show that person your gratitude in some tangible way? Suppose you wanted to go to school but had no way to pay for your schooling. Suppose someone came to you and offered to pay your educational expenses. Would you want to do your best in school to show that this person’s generosity was a good investment? Would you keep in touch with that individual? Would you ever forget what they had done? You would be exceedingly grateful and would be eager to show that this was an investment that paid rich dividends.
So, what would be the appropriate and reasonable response to one who laid aside the riches of Heaven to come to earth to give His life as a payment for our sin? What would be the reasonable and appropriate response to one who has saved us from eternal damnation and given us the privilege of being children of God? What would you think would be an appropriate or logical response?
Second, it is reasonable to serve the Lord because of what He is continuing to do for us. The Lord’s work in our life continues. The Lord didn’t just (pardon such a silly word) send Jesus to die for us. He also gave us His Spirit to,
- lead us to the truth
- equip us with everything we need to serve fruitfully
- purify us and help us to change our habits and thoughts
- pray for us when we don’t know how to pray
- give us strength when the waves of life crash around us
- assure us when we are uncertain
What are these things worth to you?
Third it is reasonable to serve the Lord because of what He will do for us. He is preparing a place for us. It’s a crass illustration but I think it works. How many children do you know who are very attentive to their parent because there is a rich inheritance that awaits them? These people don’t want to be “written out of the will”.
We are running the race of life seeking an inheritance that is better and much more valuable than money. We are pursuing everlasting life, bodily transformation, reunion with loved ones, full understanding and most of all, we are running to see Him face to face. We are right to live differently in light of the inheritance that will soon be ours.
Fourth it is reasonable to serve the Lord because of God’s character and nature. The three previous motivations for serving the Lord we are centered around what we have received. The number one reason for living a life of service to the Lord is simply because of who He is. He is the Creator. He is Good, Holy, Merciful, Righteous, Pure, incorruptible, consistent, dependable, fair, compassionate, and loving. These great words don’t even begin to scratch the surface of His magnificent person and character.
We honor those who have athletic prowess. We plan our schedules around the NCAA Finals, the Super Bowl, the World Series and College Bowl games. Imagine what would happen if we gave God as much regard as we do our sports teams and heroes.
We treat law enforcement officers, military commanders, and employers with respect and pay attention to what they tell us because of the power of their offices. What if we honored God in this way and determined to do what He said? God is greater than the sports people and the people with authority over us. God deserves far more than what we give to these people. However, consider the transformation in churches and communities if we were willing to give God even an equal amount of respect and honor.
I hope you have seen the reasonableness of what Paul is saying. A question remains: if this is all so reasonable, why do we resist so strongly. Why is it so difficult to surrender to the Lord? Why do we make so many excuses for not serving Him?
I see a couple of answers to that question. First, some people don’t really believe. They are playing a game in religious profession. We do the church thing but don’t really believe we are all that bad. Others may need a Savior, but not us. Maybe we don’t really believe in a Heaven or Hell. These people are lost.
Second, it is possible we resist because we misunderstand God’s motives. We think He is trying to keep us from having fun, while all the time He is trying to teach us about joy. We think He doesn’t understand what we need, when in truth it is we who don’t understand what we need. We think He wants to take everything from us; in truth, He wants us to let go of the things of this world, so He can give us the riches of Heaven.
So, where does this leave us? If you have come to realize that maybe you are just playing a game . . . maybe you don’t really believe. . . I encourage you to examine the evidence. I have some books I’d be happy to recommend to you.
For the rest of us, I think we are left with a haunting question, “If I really believed . . . what would I be doing?”
- is there some sin you would repent of?
- a ministry you would get involved in?
- a habit you would change?
- a gift you would give?
- a move you would make?
- a person you’d contact?
If you really presented yourself to Him as your sacrifice to Him, how would your life be different.
Friends, in view of God’s astounding and transforming mercy I urge you to present yourself to Him as a living sacrifice. Trust His counsel, follow His Spirit’s leading, and give Him all you have. Afterall, in light of who He is and what He has done . . .it just makes sense.