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MESSAGE FOR MARCH 22, 2009 FROM ROMANS 12:1-2

"Offerings to God."

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Sixth in a brief series on corporate worship

         Over the past few weeks, we have looked at some of what the Bible has to say about corporate worship.  Our goal in this has been, by God’s grace, to encourage a more God-honoring corporate worship time when we gather together here.  First, from Malachi chapter one, we saw some Scriptural principles about the importance of worshipping God with a passion born out of God’s grace to us.  Next, we spent some time thinking about what it is to worship God, as Jesus says, “in Spirit and truth.”  From John chapter four we saw that Jesus is not looking for any particular form of worship, he is looking for worshippers.  From Psalm 34, we did some Biblical thinking about what a worshipper is.  Next, we examined several texts that reveal a Biblical theology of music within corporate worship and saw how central music is to expressing our love to God in a corporate setting.  Last week, we searched the Scriptures to help us balance worshipping God in deep reverence to him, with worshipping him out of a sense of deep personal intimacy with him.

         As we’ve said in many different ways, if we expect God-honoring worship to occur when we gather, we must be worshippers in our daily lives.  This morning, we want to focus in on that as look at Romans chapter 12, where Paul helps us to see that, our core identity in Christ is that of--worshipper.  In Christ, believers wear many hats—we are children of God—co-heirs with Christ. We are subjects of the King. We are disciples of Christ. We are members of the bride of Christ, his church. We are friends of Jesus and missionaries and ambassadors for Christ. Because of God’s grace to us in Christ, believers are all those things and more.  But when you boil it all down, those in Christ at their spiritual core are worshippers.  When you open the book of Revelation and peer into the heavenly throne room, the perfected saints in glory are primarily identified as worshippers as they surround the throne of God in praise and worship.

         The purpose of evangelism and missions is to create worshippers who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and it’s very important for our spiritual health to see ourselves fundamentally as those who have been re-born in Christ to be--worshippers.  In recent weeks, we have been looking at one expression of that worship—corporate worship when we gather as Christ’s church.  However, the Bible also uses that term to describe all of life and that is what we want to think Biblically about this morning.  As we see ourselves as worshippers and increasingly live that out within the context of our marriages and families and careers and friendships and trials and temptations and studies and recreation, that will not only comprehensively honor God, it will carry over powerfully into our times together in corporate worship.  Before we look at the text for this morning, let’s remember Paul’s context here.  In Romans, the first 11 chapters are an exposition of the gospel—what God has done for those in Christ.  Beginning in chapter 12, Paul gives the implications of the gospel for believers—how the gospel impacts a person who genuinely believes it.

         He introduces this very early on in the letter.  In chapter one, he begins the letter with his call as an apostle and in verse five we see that he had received “grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name…”  Paul preached the message of the gospel and when that message savingly takes hold in a person as they believe it, the result is increasingly heartfelt, joy-filled obedience to Christ that expresses their faith in the gospel.  Beginning with chapter 12, Paul reveals what that obedience looks like for these believers in Rome.  As he moves into this section on living in obedience to God, he begins with two verses that depict that life of obedience in broad terms.  He paints with HUGE brush strokes here; looking at what it is to live as obedient followers of Christ from 20,000 feet in these opening verses.  The rest of this section and the rest of all Christian ethical teaching in the Bible is nothing more than an unpacking of what Paul says here in these two well-known verses.  Verse one, which we’ll treat today, lays out a sweeping exhortations and he uses the language of worship to communicate this. 

         Let’s read Romans 12:1. 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.”  Again, we see that Paul uses this rich Old Testament language of worship to frame all of Christian living and we’ll look into that more in a moment.  First, we need to examine his introductory first phrase.  Therefore, …in view of God’s mercy…”  The “Therefore” points back to the first 11 chapters where Paul treats the manifold mercy of God unveiled in the gospel.  He wants to make sure the Roman believers understand that all their obedience must be rooted in the gospel and flow from the gospel in what God has done for them through Christ.  We are to live our lives of obedience in response to God’s mercy.  Now, we must clarify what this means.  It does NOT mean that we are to live our lives to pay God back for what He has done for us.  We can never pay God back for his mercy to us and all attempts to do that only insult God (it implies we CAN pay him back!) and drain off our joy.  The Christian life is not to be lived to pay back a debt. This “debtor” motivation undermines the fact that salvation is a gift of God and turns it into a loan.  If salvation is a gift of God, then we don’t have to pay Him back for it.  You don’t pay back a gift, but you DO respond to the Giver with gratitude for the gift. 

         Because the mercy of God is the foundation upon which this verse is built, let’s review some of God’s mercy in the gospel and I want to do that by repeating what I said earlier this week in our Senior High doctrine class when we discussed the various streams of God’s mercy to us in salvation.  Much of this is found in Romans 8:29-30 where Paul says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

         We saw God’s mercy shown to us in the call of God through the gospel.  When we were living in flat-out rebellion against him, God—out of pure grace--summoned us irresistibly to himself through the message of the gospel.  Out of his mercy, God called us to himself through the gospel.  We responded to that gospel because in the mercy of God we have been born again—made alive to begin to understand the gravity of our sin and the wonder of God’s grace.  Through our regeneration—our new life in Christ--we experienced the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit as he gives us a new heart that causes us to fear God and love God and therefore obey God.  This obedience is first seen in our repentance—when in God’s mercy, he enabled us to do what we could never do apart from the gospel.  That is—turn from our treasured sins, clearly seeing them for the spiritually lethal things they are--and turning to God through Christ in faith.  In God’s mercy, he gave us the saving faith to believe on the gospel so that we could be converted to Christ.  As we believe the gospel, by God’s mercy we are justified—not only pardoned of our spiritual crimes by the Judge of the universe, but declared “not guilty.”  God not only cancels our immense spiritual debt but he deposits a Christ-sized positive spiritual balance in our account in the form of the very righteousness of Christ.  Not only is God not mad at me anymore, he counts me as righteous as his perfect Son, Jesus.  In God’s mercy, we also are adopted as his dear children.  The Judge of the universe comes out from behind his bench (as it were) and embraces us as his children.  No more alienation—no more cowering—no more distance, but genuine intimacy with the Lord of the universe.  

         Another expression of his mercy is the work of gradually perfecting us spiritually as we are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ through his sanctifying work by the Holy Spirit.  As we increasingly behold his glory in the gospel, we are changed more and more into his likeness—a mercy of God.  More mercy is seen in his work to keep us saved—to enable us to persevere in the faith.  He will complete what he began in me.  Apart from his mercy, we would run from him like he was the plague, but because of God’s mercy, I can have assurance that I will—“fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith” until the day I die. And for the believer, even death is an expression of God’s mercy because, even in the midst of death’s curse, death transports the believer directly into the presence of God.  Finally, in the mercy of God we will be glorified as this work of salvation is completed when we are reunited with our resurrection bodies that are glorious, spiritual, immortal and imperishable—never to die, never to get sick, never to weaken or grow old as we live forever in glory in the light of God’s mercy.

         That’s some of God’s mercy in our salvation looks like through the gospel.  The more we internalize that mercy to us—made possible for us only through the scandalous sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvarythe more we will live out our identity as worshippers.  For the believer, in the mercy of God—as we take in more and more what is the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us, the more we love him who first loved us.  That love is expressed through our obedience, which Paul sees as our worship of God—our increasing desire to do anything for him.  The main point Paul makes in verse one is simply, In response to the gospel, believers are called to give themselves totally to God, seeing their lives as worship offered to Him. 

         He says we are to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”   Paul uses the language of Old Testament temple worship.  We see this in the phrase, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices.”  This small phrase says so much.  The Old Testament image of offering or presenting this sacrifice is of a person presenting his lamb or goat or pigeon to be sacrificed in worship to God.  The difference here in verse one is that WE present OURSELVES to be sacrificed to God.  That image conveys several truths and we will discuss two this morning.  In broad terms, this tells us who we are and what flows out from that identity.  First, let’s look at who we are as believers, those who have received the mercy of God through the gospel.

         We are offerings to God.  This is just another way for us to say that we are worshippers using this Old Testament language of worship.  Oh, that we would increasingly see ourselves this way!  When we read through those seemingly endless texts about the sacrificial system in the Old Testament in Leviticus, we must see that the culmination of those sacrifices was Jesus Christ who offered himself as our Great High Priest on the cross.  But, as priests of God—in response to his mercy, we offer ourselves back to him in love.  At our most essential, basic level, this is who we are before God.  We are offerings presented on the sacrificial altar to be a blessing to God.  This is a humbling picture.  There is nothing impressive or eye-catching about a sacrifice.  The focus is not on the offering—it dies very early in the process.  The entire focus is on the One to whom it is being sacrificed.  This is a God-centered view of who we are.  We do not exist for ourselves, or for the people around us--we are offerings who exist for God and His pleasure.  We are not to think of ourselves primarily as preachers or teachers or singers or parents or grandparents or workers or anything else.  We are worshippers--sacrificial offerings presented to God.  We belong to Him for His use and His enjoyment.  We are offerings to God. 

         That’s who God created us and saved us to be.  If we are in Christ, it’s not a question of whether we are an offering, but rather--what kind of offering we are.  Do our lives emit the pleasing aroma of obedience to God, or do they give off the stench of self-worship seen in disobedience?  There is something both unsettling and wonderful about thinking of yourself as a sacrificial offering to God.  For the believer, there is deep peace and joy embedded in this identity.  If we have offered ourselves to God on the altar, surrendering ourselves in obedience to him, what can possibly happen to us?  You can’t kill or harm a sacrifice—he’s already dead!  On the other hand, our sinful, self-centered flesh hates this identity as an offering to God.  Our pride chafes at this.  Our flesh wants to be important, popular, well known, highly respected, outwardly significant.  To be “just” an offering on the altar of God flies in the face of all those selfish ambitions.  This throws a big wet blanket on our flesh’s self-centered agenda.  A huge part of finding our joy in the Lord is discovering, resting in and in faith, living out this truth of who we are before God.  This takes the pressure off us to BE someone special or important or impressive. 

         Implicit in who we are as sacrifices of God is what flows out from that identity.  What does a sacrifice do?—it dies.  But, Paul says we are “living sacrifices. By that, he means that we are alive in Christ.  When Paul says we are living sacrifices, he is not drawing the contrast between animal sacrifices that DIE before they are placed on the altar and believers who are ALIVE on the altar.  Paul’s main intention is not to convey that that we are alive as we smolder on the altar.  The verb is “offer/present your bodies.”  The emphasis is on offering ourselves as sacrifices to God.  The animal doesn’t have any choice and probably has no understanding that it will die—it doesn’t present itself to be sacrificed.  When we offer ourselves as a sacrifice, the idea is that we are presenting ourselves to give ourselves wholly to God.  To present ourselves to die is to make a total commitment to the One to whom we are presenting ourselves.  WHO we are as believers is an offering.  What flows from that is the offering of ourselves, as we obey God--up to, and including death.
          Christianity is by definition of its Founder--a life of total commitment.  A believer who isn’t willing to die for Christ is a walking contradiction.  They are like the Old Testament Jew in the temple who brings his lamb to the altar, but won’t let the priest slit its throat.  That’s why you BRING the offering to the temple---to give its life to God.  That’s why you offer yourself to God—to give your life to God so that through your death to self—the supremacy of Christ would be seen in your life and so that others might live as you offer yourselves to God.  The way the gospel works is that as we offer ourselves to God and die to ourselves—that is what God uses to bring life to others.  Paul says it this way in Second Corinthians 4:11-12, “For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  12So death is at work in us, but life in you.”  As Paul died—offered himself to Christ in worship—others lived through that death.  That’s the gospel—Christ died so that we might live and we die so that Christ might give life to others through our obedience.  Show me a marriage where both spouses are regularly dying to themselves as they live for Christ in their marriage and I will show you a marriage that is filled with vibrant life that flows out of their daily dying.  This life of total commitment intrinsic to Christianity is why G.K. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”

         This sounds very intimidating and preachers can fall prey to scaring people with this commitment, but this level of commitment is really only the logical consequence of being a sacrificial offering to God.  You see, what we are to DO—daily DIE, must always flow out of WHO WE ARE—OFFERINGS.  For the believer who sees himself as an offering to God—existing for God’s pleasure—the commitment required to die is perfectly consistent with their love for God.  We must never divorce our obedience to God from our love for God.  Jesus never intended our obedience to be grounded in anything but our love for him.  He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” [John 14:15]  As Paul looked ahead to his imminent death in Second Timothy 4:6 he sees it very much as an act of worship.  Again, we see him using the language of temple worship sacrifice and says,  6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”  Paul is about to have his head separated from his shoulders, but he understands this within the context of worship—this will be his final earthly offering to God.  His willingness to endure physical death for Christ is a natural outgrowth of his identity as an offering to God. 

         We often speak of the cost of discipleship as being death to self and that is true.  But the person who understands they exist to be an offering to God, daily laying themselves down for him out of love for Him and for His pleasure—that person doesn’t fundamentally conceive of this in terms of COST—its simply consistent with who they are as an offering and their love for Christ in response to his mercy to them.  Oswald Chambers said, “It never costs a disciple anything to follow Jesus; to talk about cost when you are in love with someone is an insult.”  Picture this.  A person’s spouse is lying in a hospital bed, near death from a lengthy illness and they set up a 24-hour personal vigil around the bed so they can be there with their beloved when they die.  In the waning moments of their life, they stir and momentarily regain consciousness.  They look up at their exhausted spouse and ask, “Honey, why don’t you go get some rest?”  Does the spouse respond by saying, “No dear, this just part of the cost I agreed to pay when I married you?”  NO!  They look into their beloved’s eyes for one last time and say, “I love you—I just want to be with you.”  To frame obedience to God fundamentally within in the context of cost when you are in love is an insult.  The issue is not cost, its love.  When we live like the world, our root problem isn’t that we aren’t committed enough to Christ.  Our root problem is that we don’t love Jesus very much.  If you love me, you will obey me.”  Paul puts Christian living in the context of worship and says in essence.  If you are truly a sacrificial offering to God, you will do anything He asks.”  His point is to say that those who are truly sacrifices, die—they give it up for Jesus--that’s what they do—that is intrinsic to being a sacrifice—a willingness to die to our own selfish desires and follow Christ.  Jesus’ point is the same—those who love me obey me—obedience is intrinsic to being a lover of God—a worshipper. 

         The question for us this morning are no more complicated than “Do I love God?” and “Am I a worshipper of God?”  And the answer is found, not ultimately in what we say or sing, but in our willingness to die to our selfish desires and obey.  Are we worshipping God as we daily offer ourselves to him--dying to what keeps us from him, whether it is a habit a possession, a relationship, an ambition, a job or anything else?  Are we daily presenting our lives as a sacrifice to God?  Or, as Jesus would say, are we daily picking up our cross and following him?  Or, are we like the ones who stand in line at the temple to sacrifice, but when the moment of truth comes for us, we bow out and keep our offering away from the flames? 

         You perhaps see the connection between this broader understanding of life as worship in Romans 12:1 and the more narrow topic of corporate worship. If a church is filled with people see themselves at root as “offerings” who live their lives in love with Christ, presenting themselves to Christ in their marriages, as they do housework or fix the plumbing or study for a test or go to work or share their faith or confront a brother--when those people get together, the corporate worship will be just one more expression of their sacrificial love for Christ.  There will be a pleasing aroma to God in that place because the people are on the altar when the come through the door of the worship center.  To offer themselves to God in praise and worship is a glorious way for them to express their love for God. 

         On the other hand, if the church is filled with people who love God little and show that by self-centered living—who don’t see themselves fundamentally as worshippers offering themselves to God, but as people who mostly live for themselves and only mouth words of worship to God—then that worship will be a stench in God’s nostrils, no matter how excellent the choir, how enthusiastic the praise team, how loud the music, how emotional is the display.  God’s indictment of those people comes to us through Isaiah, which Jesus also quotes.  He says, "Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,” [Isaiah 29:13]  There’s no reality in their expression of worship—its just something they have to do.  If that is your heart—come to God and ask him to reveal his mercies to you in the gospel--plead with him to make you a worshipper who lives in response to what he has done for you in Christ—to see yourself as one who offers him/herself to God.  May God give us all the grace to be worshippers in all of life for the glory of God.

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