MESSAGE FOR MAY 28, 2000 FROM ROMANS 12:1-2
This week, we begin a new section in the book of Romans as we focus now on chapters 12 through the middle of chapter 15. Before we begin this section, we need to place it in the larger context of this book. We must understand that this section is the next logical progression of Paul’s argument in this glorious letter. When we began our study in Romans, we saw this letter is all about the gospel. If someone were to ask you, “What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?” you would do well to follow Paul’s flow of thought in Romans as you answer that question. In Romans, Paul answers, as comprehensively as anywhere else in the Bible, the question, “What is the gospel?”
In chapters one through three we see that the gospel is that which God provides through Christ to meet the most basic need of a rebellious, idolatrous sinner. The basic need of the sinner is righteousness because in their unrighteousness they are under the wrath of God which rests upon them in this life and after they die this wrath will burst into full bloom in an eternal hell. God’s wrath comes to both Jews who sin under the law and Gentiles who sin without the law. All are condemned under the wrath of God because sinners, by nature and desire, are in rebellion against God. There is nothing in the unrighteous sinner to cause them to want God or seek God because, even if they may be outwardly nice, even religious, when it comes to relating to the true Lord of the universe, they inwardly hate Him and revile against Him.
In chapters three through five Paul shows that the gospel alone provides the sinner’s need for righteousness, or a right standing before God. Paul says this need is met by God through justification wherein the sinner who believes on Christ is pardoned of their sin, given the very righteousness of Christ’s earthly life and adopted into God’s family. This righteousness brings into the redeemed sinner’s life the fruit of peace with God and joy in living. In chapters six through eight we see that the gospel not only brings pardon from sin, canceling the penalty of sin but Christ has also, through the cross, broken the power of sin’s reign in the life of the believer. Paul calls us to know that we have been joined to Christ and have thereby been spiritually transferred out of this worldly realm where sin reigns. We have been freed from the reigning power of sin and indwelt by the Holy Spirit so we can live a supernatural quality of life, fulfilling the law. We do this as we walk according to the power and direction of the Holy Spirit instead of our self-centered flesh which wars against God. In chapters nine through eleven, we see that the gospel, through God’s election and predestination, vindicates God in his dealings with national Israel, showing his incredibly mercy to His people.
We have seen part of the glory of the gospel revealed in chapters one through eleven, but yet another element of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ is brought out in chapters 12-15:13. Here in this section we see that the gospel, when truly accepted in the life of a person, results in a changed life characterized by increasing obedience to God. In this section, Paul fleshes out about what it means for the believer to live out “the “obedience that comes from faith” he mentioned in 1:5. He shows us that those who truly believe and have accepted the gospel will be changed in practical, observable, tangible ways—in how we relate to the church and the world. The gospel brings a transformed life. Anyone who teaches you can believe the gospel, trusting Christ for salvation and not have a changed life has effectively torn the guts out of Romans. They have violently ripped chapters 12-15 away from chapters 1-11 and we can never do that. Today, we hear the expression a “full gospel” church. For our purposes as we study the gospel in Romans, a “FULL gospel” church is one who not only accepts the truths of the gospel seen in Romans 1-11, but who lives the life of obedience to Christ Paul calls for in chapters 12-15. That is the full gospel in Romans!
In Romans, Paul says if we are truly believers then we have been made righteous before God, liberated from living under His wrath. We have been given, through our union with Christ, power over sin’s domination. We’ve been elected into God’s family before the foundation of the world and been blessed with all the other blessings of the gospel so that we might, among other things, live in obedience to God. That is the part of the gospel that Romans chapters 12-15 treats. We can never wrench out of the gospel the element of obedience. We are saved and sanctified so that we might live out the “obedience that comes from faith.” Do you hear the progression of that? That is, broadly speaking, Paul’s argument in Romans.
As Paul moves into this section on living our lives in obedience, he begins with two verses that lay out the broad mission of every believer. He paints here with HUGE brush strokes, covering the entire topic of what it is to live as a Christian in these two 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 famous verses. At the foundation of every large, old building are huge stones upon which the building rests. These verses serve that purpose for all other teaching on Christian obedience. They are those huge stones upon which the rest of Christian living rests. Verse one, which we’ll treat today, lays out a sweeping exhortation of WHO WE ARE and WHAT WE ARE TO DO as Christians and verse two tells us HOW we are to do what we must do. Both speak in very broad terms, giving the big picture. He is speaking telescopically here, taking in the full panorama of the grace of Christian living seen in the gospel.
Let’s read Romans 12:1-2. 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.” As we said a couple weeks ago, Paul grounds our motivation for living the Christian life in the mercy of God. Therefore, …in view of God’s mercy…” We are to live our lives in response to God’s mercy. Now, we must clarify what this means. It does NOT mean that we are to live our lives in such a way as 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 will insult God and rob us of our joy. The Christian life is not to be lived before God as an attempt 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. The Bible teaches that what is to motivate us to live for Christ are: 1. faith in the promises of eternal reward and 2. the glory of the Person of God. That is Paul’s point here. When we meditate on the boundless mercy of God in the gospel, this glorious plan of salvation from eternity past—when we contemplate the awesome wisdom here, when we soak up the immeasurable love in His Person, that should compel us to want to be totally sold out to Him.
We see the power of this kind of motivation on a smaller, more superficial scale in the whole realm of media celebrities. Some people will do anything to serve, even to touch a celebrity. They will give up their seat on an airplane, they will even give themselves sexually to someone they don’t even know just to be close to them—they are “star-struck” and that brings out a desire to serve, even worship the object of their affection. Their admiration and esteem of the person compels them to sacrificially serve them. The believer should be the ultimate “star-struck” person as it relates to God. We should be absolutely smitten by His glory. When we see this universe and His merciful dealings with us, that should spur tremendous admiration and that WORSHIP of Him is expressed in a desire to do anything for Him. This is why we should always be seeking to know God and asking Him to reveal Himself to us. The more intimately we know Him, the more we cherish and adore Him and that translates into a desire to do anything for Him. And a willingness to do anything for God is precisely what Paul exhorts here. The first point Paul makes in verse one is simply, As Christians, we are called to give ourselves totally to God, seeing our 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.” In these two verses 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 more than we could possibly cover in a multitude of messages. The Old Testament image of this offering of sacrifice is of a man presenting his lamb or goat or pigeon to be sacrificed in worship to God. The difference here in verse one is that WE are the ones who present OURSELVES to be sacrificed to God. That picture communicates several truths and we will discuss two this morning. This, in broad terms tells us who we are and what is our primary duty as followers of Christ. First, let’s look at who we are as believers, partakers of this gospel.
We are offerings to God. At our most essential, basic level, this is who we are before God. We are that offering presented before the sacrificial altar to be a blessing to God. This is an incredibly humbling picture. There is nothing glamorous or eye-catching about a sacrifice. The focus is not on them—they die very early in the process. The focus is on the One to whom they are being sacrificed. This is a radical, biblical God-centered view of who we are. We do not exist for ourselves or for the people around us, not even our family. 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 sacrificial offerings presented to God. We belong to Him for His use and His enjoyment. We may DO many of those other things, but that is not WHO we are. We are offerings to God.
All Christians are sacrificial offerings to God. That’s who God created us and saved us to be. It’s not a question of whether we are an offering but rather what KIND of offering we are. The only issue is this—will our lives emit the pleasing aroma of obedience to God or will our lives give off the rotten stench of sinful disobedience? God calls us here to be “holy sacrifices, well pleasing to God.” This picture of ourselves as sacrificial offerings to God is a powerful reminder that this world and all our service is not about us, but Him. We exist for HIM and HIS pleasure. We have been created for Someone else. John 17:2 tells us that we are a gift from God the Father to God the Son. The Father has chosen for his Son a bride and that is us. Do you see how our existence is not about US? We don’t exist for ourselves. As much as people try to be autonomous and independent, they are only living a lie. Humanity was created by God to exist for Him. We are a servant race of people. We will either serve God or Satan, but we must serve someone outside ourselves. If we think we are serving ourselves, we are deceived. Those who serve themselves are serving the Prince of Darkness and they don’t even know it. Humans cannot live independently. That is totally opposed to the purpose for which we were created and we cannot reprogram ourselves to be different than we essentially are.
There is something both unsettling and wonderful to think of yourself as a sacrificial offering to God. For the believer, there is a deep peace and joy to be found in this identity. The reason for this is because there is within our hearts the strong sense that we will never be truly happy until we learn to rest in this identity as offerings. We know internally by the Spirit that this is who we were created to be--an offering of worship to God. We never feel more at peace than when we are lost in the wonder of God. That is home for us and our spirit delights in that. On the other side, our sinful flesh HATES this designation—this identity as a offering to God. It’s self-centered pride chafes at this. It wants to be important, popular, well known, highly respected, outwardly significant and to be “only” an offering sacrificed to God flies in the face of all those selfish ambitions. This just throws a big wet blanket on our flesh’s godless agenda. A huge part of finding our joy in the Lord is discovering and resting in this truth of who we are before God. It takes so much of the pressure off of us to BE someone special or important or impressive. It allows us to be who God created us to be and frees us to do more and more things for God in His power because God can trust His power with someone who has learned that they primarily exist to be a sacrificial offering given to Him.
This is all very humbling but when you consider what God has every right to do with sinners, send us all to hell, it is really an awesome privilege to be an sacrificial offering for God. Instead of our bodies being scorched by the flames of hell, we can, by the grace of God, be offered to Him in worship as a pleasing aroma to Him. That’s a wondrous arrangement and an awesome honor when you think about the magnificence of God.
Beyond telling us who we are, this texts tells us what we are to do. What does a sacrifice do?—it dies. Now, Paul says we are “living sacrifices,” but by that he means that we are alive in Christ. When Paul says we are living sacrifices he is not drawing a contrast between animal sacrifices that DIE before the altar and Christians who are ALIVE on the altar. The image Paul employs here is NOT of a sacrifice smoking on the altar. The verb is “offer your bodies” and when the animal is offered as a sacrifice it too is still alive. The focus is on offering ourselves as sacrifices to God. The animal doesn’t have any choice and probably no understanding that it will die—they didn’t present themselves to be sacrificed. When we offer ourselves as a sacrifice, the idea is that we are presenting ourselves to die—to give ourselves totally to God. If we present ourselves to die, we are making a total commitment to the One to whom we are presenting ourselves. WHO we are as believers is an offering. What we do as believers is, anything God wants--up to, and including death.
Paul here is doing nothing more than reiterating what Jesus said a disciple is. A disciple is one who is willing to daily pick up his cross, an instrument of death, and follow Christ wherever He leads. The gospel is all about bringing life out of death. Christ’ death brings life to all who believe in him. And our willingness to die, brings more and more of the life of Christ into our experience through the Spirit. True Christians are those people who are willing and available to die for their Lord. That is at the very core of what we do for Christ. If that isn’t part of us, then we are not believers. Christianity is, by definition of its founder, a life of total commitment. The Scripture doesn’t speak of any other commitment level for the follower of Christ. Its total commitment. Anything less than that is a counterfeit, mutant strain of Christianity. A person who claims to be a Christian, but isn’t willing to die for Christ is a walking contradiction. This person is 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. This life of total commitment intrinsic to Christianity is why it has been said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”
This level of commitment is very intimidating and preachers can fall prey to scaring people with this commitment, but this level of commitment is really only the consistent consequence of one who knows they are a sacrificial offering to God. You see, what we are to DO—DIE must always flow out of WHO WE ARE—OFFERINGS. For the Christian who sees himself as an offering to God—existing for His pleasure—for the Christian who is totally “star-struck” with God, the level of commitment required in dying is perfectly consistent with their love for God. Paul looked ahead to his imminent death in Second Timothy 4:6. He uses the language of the temple worshipsacrifice and says, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.” Paul is about to have his head separated from his shoulders, but he understand this to be just another part of his existence as an offering to God. His willingness to endure physical death for Christ is a natural outgrowth of his sense of being an offering to God.
We speak of the cost of discipleship as being death. But to the person who understands they exist to be an offering to God, given out of love for Him and for His pleasure, dying for Christ is just one more way they can offer a pleasing aroma for God. They don’t conceive of this in terms of COST—its just part of what it means to be an offering. 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 malignancy and they set up a 24 hour 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 regain consciousness. They look up at their exhausted spouse and ask, “Honey, why do 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 and I want to be with you.” To talk about cost when you are in love is an insult. The issue is not cost, it’s love. Our root problem is not that we aren’t committed enough to Christ. Our root problem is that we don’t love Him very much. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey me.” Paul would put it this way. “If you are truly a sacrificial offering to God, you will do anything He asks.” Paul’s 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. Jesus’ point is the same—those who love me obey me—obedience is intrinsic to being a lover of God.
The main stress should not be placed on whether we obey God or whether we are willing to die—those are the branches. The stress should be placed on whether we truly are a sacrifice, whether we truly love God. Those are the roots. And if we are truly a sacrifice, then we will die for Christ. We will die to those things, people, relationships, attitudes that separate us from Him, because we LOVE HIM and we don’t want anything to separate us from fellowship with Him. And if we are someday called to literally lay our life down then that’s just one more expression of our intrinsic nature as a sacrifice offered to God. Dogs bark because they are canines and Christians die for their God because they are sacrifices offered to Him. Who we ARE dictates what we DO. In Romans 12:1, Paul tells us both who we are and what we do in broad terms.
The question for us this morning is no more complicated than “Do I love God?” And the answer is found not ultimately in what we say or sing, but in our willingness to obey. Are we dying to what keeps us from him whether it be a habit a possession, a relationship, a job or anything else? Are we daily presenting our lives as a sacrifice to God? Are we daily picking up our cross and following Jesus? Or are we like the one’s who stand in line at the temple to sacrifice, but when the moment of truth comes for us, do we bow out of line? May God give us the grace to know the truth and may we forever conceive of ourselves as living sacrifices.
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