Last week I went through the entire chapter 11 in one sermon. Something I normally don’t attempt to do. Today I am only going to be looking at two verses. Oddly enough, the sermon length should be exactly the same.
I think that the two verses we are looking at today are some of the most important in Romans. They serve as the culmination of Paul’s entire epistle and his argument up to this point. Up through chapter 11 he has examined and explained the theology of our salvation; particularly the grace and mercies of God in producing and procuring salvation for those who are unable to achieve it on their own merits. And now in the opening verses of chapter 12 he transitions to the results of our salvation; in other words, the practical applications of our salvation.
Salvation is not just theoretical. But it is also practical. It is not only spiritual, but it is also physical. It is not just intellectual, but it is transformational. What Paul introduces in these next passages is an exposition of the admonition found in Phil.2:2, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” How our salvation is worked out in us and through us is now the focus of Paul’s epistle. Paul has given us his exposition in chapters 1-11, and now comes his exhortation in chapters 12-16.
True salvation includes both doctrine and application. As James said, “faith without works is dead.” Saving faith will produce righteousness living. Righteousness imputed will generate righteousness produced. To use theological terms, justification produces sanctification.
So there is an urgency in Paul’s admonition, that our faith be not merely cerebral, or intellectual, or even just spiritual, but practical, physically manifested through our bodies. He says I urge you. Or I exhort you. It is with the strongest sense of urgency to take action. Faith without works is dead. We have a living faith that must be worked out. It is a faith that puts love to work, a love for God, a love for others that must not be just in word, but in deed.
I urge you brethren. Notice that Paul is speaking to fellow Christians here. This is not an exhortation to become saved, it is an exhortation to those who are saved. Brethren is a term of affection used for the church. So the following is not an exhortation on the method of salvation, but the effect of salvation on those who are saved.
I urge you brethren by the mercies of God. On the basis of the mercies of God which he has been explaining for the last 11 chapters in regards to our salvation. Particularly the sovereign mercies of his salvation which He poured out upon the undeserving, His patience towards those that were running from Him, His love in seeking us and choosing us to be His own, and His grace to a people that are by nature in rebellion against Him.
Because of these tremendous mercies of God which have resulted in such a great salvation, Paul says, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to God which is your spiritual service of worship. By bodies, Paul of course is referring to the fleshly body, but not only the body. John Calvin said that “by bodies he means not only our skin and bones but the totality of which we are composed.” In other words, he is referring to our full being. Our bodies are the house in which also dwell our soul and spirit. So we offer to God our spiritual house.
Those of you who own a home at the beach might be able to imagine a situation in which you offer your house to some relatives to use for their vacation. You give them the keys to the house. And consequently they have full access to all the rooms in the house to use for their pleasure. Or perhaps you parents have at some point given the keys to the car to your teenager. He then has full use of your car. He gets to use it and drive it where he wills.
Those are poor metaphors of what Paul is getting at here. Offer to God your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. I’ll give you another option though, and one that I think is true yet does not negate the other. And that is to use the translation which says “present your bodies.” I like present. When I was a little kid in grade school, the teacher would call the roll at the beginning of class in the morning. And we were supposed to answer in a loud voice “present.” In other words, I am here. I am presenting myself to instruction.
I’’m not a military man but I think it even has military implications. To present yourself to your company, to your commander for duty. I think we are to present ourselves to God. I think we can even go so far as to say we present ourselves to the church. This is our spiritual service of worship. Is that not what we claim to do on Sunday mornings, is to present ourselves to worship God? Is that not a means of our sanctification, that we regularly, faithfully present ourselves in body to the church? We have recently had to explore the possibilities of virtual church because of the government restrictions on worship due to the virus epidemic. And I for one found out how inadequate such a worship is without being physically present together.
Hebrews 10:24 instructs us to “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [one another;] and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” I think that is at least part of what Paul is getting at here. Spiritual worship must be physical. Present your bodies. Church is an assembly of bodies assembled together to worship the Lord and receive instruction from the Lord and to love and encourage one another. It’s important that if we are to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth, then we must worship Him in body, in communion with one another with Christ in the midst of us. According to Ephesians 4:12 the church is Christ’s body on earth and we must present ourselves to that body for the work of service.
Now this exhortation is not strictly limited to corporate worship within the confines of the church by any means but the worship service is the first fruits of our labor. So I believe to present our bodies to God starts with worship in assembly on the first day of the week and then we carry out the ministry of Christ in our lives as we go on throughout the week.
“I urge you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” A living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God… A living sacrifice. That’s a paradoxical statement. Sacrifices were slain. God wants us alive, our lives to be offered to Him for His use, His purposes.
In the old covenantal system, sacrifices were offered for worship and as an atonement for sin. But in the new covenant we recognize that Jesus is the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin, and by trusting in HIs sacrifice we have atonement once for all.
So we are not saved by the sacrifice of our life, but the sacrifice of Christ’s life on our behalf. But our response to His sacrifice is to offer our own life in gratitude as a sacrifice to God to be used for His purposes.
The hermeneutical principle of first mention is a principle by which we can determine the proper interpretation of a word by looking at the first time a word is used in scripture. And if you look at the word “worship” you will find that the first mention is in the passage in Genesis when Abraham takes Isaac his son to be offered as a sacrifice on the mountain. Abraham knows that God has asked him to sacrifice his son on the altar. And yet when Abraham speaks to his servants who traveled with him, I want you to notice how he speaks of it.
Genesis 22:5 “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you.’” Notice how Abraham, as he is taking his son to the mountain to slay him before the Lord, refers to this sacrifice as worship. Worshipping God requires a sacrifice. David said on one occasion, I will not offer to God that which cost me nothing. Sacrifice has a cost.
Paul says the sacrifice we are to offer is our life. A living sacrifice. He is speaking of the new life that comes as a result of our salvation. A sacrifice of our will for His will. A sacrifice of our priorities for His priorities. Listen, that kind of life requires a sacrifice. It is a living sacrifice born out of gratitude for the sacrificial death that Christ died on our behalf.
Notice how Paul further describes this sacrificial life; holy and acceptable or well pleasing to God. Holiness is the product of the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. It is being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ in our attitudes, in our words and in our deeds. Holiness is being consecrated for service to God. Our bodies, our vessel is set apart for service to God. No longer consumed by temporal things, by material things, by earthly things, but consecrated as holy to the Lord, to be used for the things of God.
And to holiness Paul adds, acceptable or well pleasing. Not just accepted by God, but living in such a way that we are acceptable to God. Doing things which are pleasing to God. To be well pleasing is to consider how we may please the Lord. And that is simply to obey His word, to follow His instructions. It would be the same response that we would hope a child would respond to his parents, to please them, to follow their teaching and instruction. The apostle John said of the church he was writing to in 3Jo 1:4 “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” To walk in the truth sums up I think perfectly how we may be well pleasing to the Lord by our lives.
So then Paul urges us, by the mercies of God, to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service of worship. Some translations substitute reasonable service of worship. And it is certainly reasonable or logical that we should worship God for His many mercies toward us.
But I think the better translation is spiritual service of worship. Jesus said that God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. So worship must be spiritual. You must be reborn in your spirit and you life must be in accordance with the truth of God. So worship must be service. It is rendering to God the things that are God’s, your life, your resources, your all. It must be sacrificial. It costs something. It means putting God first and sacrificing your priorities for God’s priorities.
And in the context of corporate worship as the church, that means at the very least setting aside Sunday as a day when we worship the Lord with His church, in body, presenting ourselves to the Lord and to one another. Worship is not just clapping your hands watching a band onstage. Worship is bowing your will to the Lord and listening to His word, being holy as He is holy, consecrating yourself in service to God, doing the things which are pleasing to Him in obedience to HIs commands out of a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness to Him.
Now in vs 2, we see that Paul not only urges us to sacrificial worship, but he also shows us how to achieve holiness and acceptableness. To do that he shows us first what should be shunned, and secondly, what should be done if we are to worship as we ought. First let’s look at what must be shunned; “And do not be conformed to this world.” Another way of saying that is stop allowing yourselves to be fashioned after the pattern of this world.
In Rom 8:29 Paul said, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” So sanctification is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Thus contrarily, we can not be conformed to the world. Jesus said “You cannot serve God and mammon.” And James 4:4 says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
1Cor. 15:33 which we studied last Wednesday night in our Bible study says, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” You hang around the world, you are going to have a lot of the world rub off on you. Unless we are on guard, we are in danger of falling prey to the pattern of this world.
I remember the dress patterns that my mother used to buy to make my sister’s clothes. They grew up in the 60’s and 70’s when not a lot of dresses were being worn, but my mother wanted her daughters to wear proper dresses. So she would buy these patterns and cut out fabric to sew together to make dresses for them. A pattern then produces the same thing, again and again. And Satan has so designed this world as to press people into the pattern or mold of this world, so that they become conformed to this world. They look like the world, they dress like the world, they act like the world. I know that sounds old fashioned and out of touch. But the fact is that bad company corrupts good morals. If you hang out in a bar long enough, sooner or later you’re going to drink, and if you drink long enough, sooner of later you’re going to get drunk. And that’s simply the principle of conformity.
Contrarily, we become like Christ by hanging out with Christ. By being in communion with HIs body, the church. Or we become like the world by hanging out with the world. It’s that simple. Stay out of church for any length of time and you will soon find yourself immersed so deep in the world that the things of God no longer have an interest to you. When you immerse yourself in the culture of the world’s movies, television shows, music, entertainment and media, you will soon find yourself disinterested in the things of God.
Last week I talked about how the devil makes sin like a lure we may use to go fishing. He makes it so attractive looking that we don’t notice that there is a hook hidden underneath. And that’s the devil’s strategy for our lives. To get us so enamored by the world that we waste our days chasing after the mighty dollar or fame or power, whatever things that this world sees as desirable. Ephesians 2 talks of that being a strategy of the devil to get us to walk according to the course of this world, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind by which he is able to take us captive.
This allure of the world is kind of like travelers in a desert who see in the distance a shimmering oasis. They eagerly quicken their steps in hope as they imagine in their minds how great it will be to sit under the palm trees and drink some refreshing water. But when they arrive they discover that it was all a mirage, and what they thought they saw was only an illusion that faded away. The devil’s strategy is to use the allure of the world to waste our lives in pursuit of things that do not satisfy. 1John 2:17 warns us that “the world and it’s desires are fading away, but the person who does the will of God lives forever.” Whatever treasures we hope to lay up for ourselves here on earth will not endure. Only what is done for Christ will last.
So the things are things of the world are to be shunned, then what is to be done? “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What is needed is not following the fashion and trends of the world, but a transformation, an inner change, a renewing of the mind, or the heart. The idea in the original language is to continue to be transformed. It’s a day to day experience. It’s continually being transformed. The first church which started at Pentecost is reported in Acts 2 as “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”
Furthermore, we are not told to transform ourselves, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. But to be transformed. To allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, transforming our minds. Sanctification is progressive. It’s a continual process until we get to heaven.
So how are we transformed by the renewing of our mind? I believe it is in the reading and study of the word of God. As we read and study the scriptures, the word changes our mind so that God’s thoughts become our thoughts. We start thinking like He thinks. Once again, I think that is accomplished at least to some extent by meeting together as a church and listening to the reading of scripture and the preaching of God’s word.
Psalm 19:7-8 speaking of the effect of the scriptures on the mind says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
And 2Tim. 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, renews our mind, from being conformed to the world to be transformed in the image of Jesus Christ. As we study His word, our minds are renewed and as our minds are renewed, our lives are transformed. As a man thinks in his heart so is he.
So scripture renews us and transforms us and equips us to do the works of God. And what is it that God wants us to be and to do? The answer Paul gives in vs 2 is “that which is good, and acceptable and perfect.” Notice the parallel in this statement from vs 2 with that in vs 1, “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
So here is how we offer that sacrifice that is a holy and acceptable service of worship. We become holy by renewing our mind through the reading and teaching of His word. We learn what is acceptable service through the reading and teaching of the word. And then there is the word perfect. In most cases, I find that a better translation would be complete. So we learn how to complete our sacrificial service of worship to God through the reading and teaching of His word.
This is how Paul says we are to know what God’s will is, and how we will be able to do His will. If we shun the things of the world and cleave to the things of the Lord, then we will offer to God a holy and acceptable sacrifice of our lives that will be well pleasing to Him and in accordance with His will. I pray that you know the mercies of the Lord in regards to salvation, and that in gratitude you will consecrate your life to Him. There is no greater success in life than to walk in fellowship with the Lord and to do His will and be found pleasing to Him.
Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Song; the wonderful cross