Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 71: A Living Sacrifice
April 1, 2012
Scripture reading: Romans 12:1-2 (Marilyn)
Turning of the book
Sometimes one word can be really important. When my friend Bruce Wersen preached on Romans he spent one whole sermon on the word “therefore.” You will be glad we are not doing the same.
But the “therefore” in 12:1 marks a significant shift in the book. At this point, Paul changes from teaching theology – what to know, to teaching ethics – what to do.
Romans 12:1 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.
The rest of the book is filled with great instruction on how to live the Christian life. Things like
“Let no man think higher of himself than he ought...” (12:3)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (12:15)
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities...” (13:1)
Each of these verses could be a complete sermon in itself, and “I urge you” to read the rest of the book this week.
belief drives Behavior
But the “therefore” is important for another, theologically profound reason. This “therefore” separates Christianity from just about every other religion:
Every command Paul is about to give flows from everything he has just said about God’s forgiveness, his generous grace, the freedom from sin – not the other way around.
* We do not do chapter 12-16 in order to earn chapters 1-11; chapters 12-16 are a response to “God’s mercy.”
Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is still wrong.
* Buying flowers for my wife because I feel guilty doesn’t mean as much as ones bought out of love!
But at the same time, belief alone isn’t enough. Telling Marilyn “I thought about buying you flowers” doesn’t cut it either. At some point, thought has to translate into action.
James 2:17-19 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.
Rather than trying to earn God’s approval one on hand or having faith without works, the Bible calls us to live differently as a response to what God has done, “in light of God’s mercies.”
While NIV is an excellent translation, I think it misses the boat at a couple of points in this passage: “spiritual act of worship” is better translated as “reasonable worship.”
* In light of all God has done, this is what makes sense, anything less would be insulting.
On Friday, Dave Bishop helped me by taking a bunch of pictures for a little book I am working on, “Drinking to the Glory of God.” It involved taking a bunch of pictures at the Porterhouse of beer and Bibles, etc.
* I appreciated his help, so it is was more than reasonable to buy his beer; but there was a time I’d have been too stingy.
So maybe this could be translated at “in light of God’s grace, don’t be stingy.”
* When we fail to live as sacrifices, giving everything to God, it is probably because we forget all that God has given us.
Think of our possessions – God has given us everything we have (it is part of his mercies), yet we are stingy with giving part of it back to him. Really!?!
* A big tithe check means that God has given you a lot!
The new law
So in response to God’s mercy, we are to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”
At first, this strikes us as strange – I thought Jesus was the sacrifice who took away our sins, such as the guilt offering. There were others that were acts of worship, such as the fellowship offering.
* I have learned that flowers work great as a fellowship offering, but lousy as a guilt offering!
We don’t offer ourselves as a guilt offering, but as a fellowship offering, as a “reasonable act of worship.” Paul describes it as:
That’s a lot better than the alternative. It’s better than flowers that are dead before you get them home, or even a potted flower that will soon be dead because you forget to water it.
* We are a living sacrifice, continuing to give and serve.
This means set apart, completely his. Not like regifting flowers to your spouse, but all the way hers.
If your wife is allergic to roses, roses would not be an acceptable gift. In the same way, Paul is calling us to be offerings that are acceptable to God.
In the OT, there were things that would make an offering unacceptable – offering unkosher animals, leftovers, or offerings given half-heartedly.
The new standard
Q So how can we be “acceptable”?
I finally understood the connection between v. 1 and v. 2 this time through. I always thought v.2 was one way to do v. 1, but I now understand it is thee way. See if you can see how:
Romans 12:2 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.
In v. 1, Paul intentionally uses a lot of technical terms for sacrifices. He is bringing to mind the OT law, which regulated every part of life.
* It was a long list of rules telling them everything from how to offer good sacrifices to how to be good Jews.
While these rules continue to be valuable for understanding how to life righteously, Paul knew were insufficient:
They were written to a particular people in a particular time.
They were interested in keeping Israel safe from the world around it, so unable to address how to reach the world.
They did not address motives and internals.
They didn’t take Christ’s sacrifice into account.
In chapters 12-16 Paul gives us better rules and instruction on being a living sacrifice, but he knows it is still insufficient, because he can’t cover every single possible situation.
* Even if you were to memorize every single verse, you would still run into situations it doesn’t cover.
But perhaps even more importantly, it doesn’t deal with the spirit of the law:
Q Have you ever notices how good kids are at finding loopholes?
You tell them to clean off their bedroom floor, and they put all of their stuff under their beds. They may have followed the letter, but the missed the intent.
Paul knew that God promised that under the new covenant, we would no longer need the specific statutes of the law because we understand the intent:
Jeremiah 31:33-34 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
God isn’t saying there is no more law or moral requirements, nothing to say what is pleasing to God and what is not, but that it will be increasingly written on our hearts and minds.
Q Do you see the connection between this and Romans 12:2?
God’s plan isn’t for the Christian life to be a new set of rules to memorize and obey, but the ability to understand him through what he has already said in the OT and the NT and then be able to apply it to our lives and our situations.
* We want rules to obey, lists to follow, God wants us to change how we think; the appeal of legalism is laziness.
Test and approve
God’s end goal is not simply that we memorize every verse in the Bible, but that we be able to look at a situation “test and approve” of what God would want.
* Those words actually translate one word, which means “discern, understand.”
The end goal of 12:2 is that we should be able to look at a situation, a question, an opportunity and immediately know what God’s will is.
* This is the difference between having direction and knowing how to read a map.
The skill of intuition
Q How do you improve your ability to discern? Is it some magic ability?
In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell tells us the J. Paul Ghetty Museum having a chance to by a Kouros statue...
* He gives other stories like that, people being able to quickly discern based on years of experience.
Paul is giving us a two part process to help us become more discerning of God’s will:
1. Don’t be conformed to the pattern of this world.
* “This age” is a better translation than “this world,” this world is God’s, this age is not ruled by him.
The problem is we are imitators by design. Remember the first time you heard a child repeat something you said. Your first thought is “oh crap,” then, “I shouldn’t say that!”
* Worse is when they imitate your attitudes and actions.
We are so accustomed to receiving all of our input from this age that we don’t realize it’s biased.
* EG: Movie “facts.”
In what areas are you following the worlds’ values? Self-worth is based on what you have; all roads lead to God; God is “a” priority.
The answer to this is not isolating ourselves, but getting a better source:
2. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
In other words, have the way you think be changed by God.
This is a passive imperative – passive means it happens to you, imperative means you are being commanded to do it. How do you do that? It begins by submitting.
* Again the analogy of willing sacrifice is helpful, a lamb that puts itself on the altar.
Submission is both the hardest and the easiest thing to do. You don’t have to do anything, but you have to let God do his will.
* Many, many time we pretend to be confused about God’s will because we don’t want to do it!
BW: Taking the submission as far upstream as needed.
But it doesn’t end there. Back to the “faith and works” thing – it doesn’t do any good to say you are submitting to God and asking him to renew your mind, but watching TV for 40 hours.
* Read your Bible in the AM.
* Devotions with your kids.
* Bible on the toilet.
Like it or not, this takes work and time – time spent reading the Bible, listening to sermons, interacting with believers. It is my hope that my sermons make it easier to read the Bible.
* So many Christians are confused about God’s will because they don’t spend any time studying it.
If in high school you spent all your time texting, hanging out with friends, it would be no surprise that you aced typing but failed everything else!
Good and pleasing
Here at the very end of the passage, Paul turns it around on us. Up until now it has been about God, being an acceptable sacrifice to him.
But here at the end, he brings it back to us, “his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Once we begin to understand it and do it, we find that his will is what we want, what is pleasing to us, and what is perfectly best.
* I have great faith in God that in the end everything he does will be what is best.
The order of this passage is important: We first are obedient sacrifices, then we find that obedience brings us what we want.
Said another way, if we seek to please God, we find that we end up doing what pleases us. But when we seek to please ourselves, we neither please God nor ourselves.
You may have notices that I sign my letters “To the glory of God and the joy of the saints.” I deeply believe that they are one in the same, but only when they are in that order.
To put this all together: The only fitting way to respond to God’s grace, love, and forgiveness is to give ourselves back to him as an acceptable sacrifice.
Scripture is filled with insights on how to be acceptable, but the goal is not simply to know all the rules, but to so completely fill ourselves with God’s truth that we are able to intuitively know what pleases God from Scripture.
Q & A