Living Sacrifices

Romans 12:1-2

I want to begin this morning with one of the most significant, life-defining verses in the Bible:

Romans 12:1-2 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.

Perhaps the most important word in these two vss. is “Therefore.” Remember, “therefore” is always Paul’s tip-off word to let you know “so what.” It connects all of what Paul has said in chs. 1-11 with what he is about to say.
• Since we all, Jew and Gentile alike fall short of the glory of God…
• Since the gospel is the power of God to save, Jew and Gentile alike…
• Since God has provided the one means of righteousness and salvation through the death of his own Son…
• Since God is sovereign and his holy purpose will be accomplished in our lives and the life of his church…
These are “God’s mercy” – these are the foundation upon which all of this is predicated.

To this point in Romans, Paul has been very theological in what he has written (some of it very lofty and difficult), but without it we cannot really understand what he is about to say in the following chapters and verses. The foundation is laid, now the application is ready to be made.
Most of us would rather skip the theology and get right to the application – “Don’t bore me with doctrine, just tell me what to do, tell me how to live.”
It’s important to know why you do what you do. We’ve made that mistake before – we give somebody a list of rules and tell them follow these to be a good Christian. And they read that list and think one of two things – “Why?” or “There have to be some loopholes.”

We tell our young people, “don’t have sex before marriage.” They ask why, and we tell them, you’ll get pregnant, or you’ll get a disease, or your reputation will be ruined. And they figure out that you can avoid pregnancy and disease, and in the world we live it enhances your reputation, not ruins it. And they decide, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Paul doesn’t use any of those reasons – he brings it back to our relationship with God – when Paul says “Flee from sexual immorality” he tells them, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The way we live isn’t based on pragmatic, worldly rationale, it is based on God’s nature. We live holy lives because we belong to a holy God.

You cannot have “right living” without “right doctrine.”
And that’s exactly how Paul writes in all of his letters. He lays out a theological foundation. He talks about God, about holiness, about righteousness and justification – and then he says, “this is what it looks like in real life” as he begins to apply to it to their lives.

And that’s what we find here in Romans. Think back over the weeks as we have followed Paul through a discussion of righteousness – needed, provided, experienced, empowered – and then most recently in chs. 9-11, righteousness rejected.
Having laid that theological foundation, he now turns to us and says, “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.”

I want you to notice two specific phrases in this verse:
“Offer your bodies as living sacrifices”
Does one thing strike you as odd about that statement? It did those who heard it the first time they read Paul’s letter.
“Living sacrifices” – in their experience with sacrifices, you never took one away from the altar alive. You took it to the priest who killed it and it was offered.
But Paul says, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices” – Paul is painting a picture for us that he wants us to see in bold, powerful colors.

You are entering the temple of God. The priests are gathered around, you approach the altar, but there is no sacrifice in your hands (no bull, no goat, not even a pigeon). Instead, you lay yourself upon the altar. No human priest steps forward to make the sacrifice. Jesus himself comes to the altar. Instead of raising the knife to take your life, he holds out his hand to lift you off of the altar, and he says, “from this moment on you are mine.” In that one incredible moment you are relinquishing ownership – you are signing over the title to your life.
Your body becomes God’s tool for working in this world – your body becomes his holy temple in which he lives.
Your body – every breath, every bone, every movement, every word, every thought – becomes his. Nothing is left out or excluded. Jesus is your Lord, and he rules your life.
And when the aroma of that sacrifice rises off the altar to the nostrils of God – a big smile comes over his face and he says, “perfect.” Paul says, that’s the kind of sacrifice that is “holy and pleasing to God.”

Then in a remarkable description of this living sacrifice and its significance in our lives, he says, “this is your spiritual act of worship.”
These are familiar words, but they are used in unfamiliar ways.
First, the word “spiritual” (Gk. logikos – reasonable, logical). What does Paul mean? Since God has done all this for you – in his mercy – how else in the world would you respond to that except to be moved to worship him? And the most logical, reasonable kind of worship in the world would be to offer yourself as a personal possession or servant to the Lord.

Remember the Gerasene demoniac… that’s exactly what he did. After Jesus healed him and gave him his life back, he begged Jesus to let him go with him – he wanted to follow him and serve him. What else would you do, if you had been given your life back?
What it tells me:
• If your “worship” to God is comprised wholly of what you do on Sunday morning, sitting in a pew in a sanctuary, and never affects what you do or how you live the other six days of the week – then what you do on Sunday morning is NOT holy, NOT acceptable to the Lord, because you haven’t offered yourself as a living sacrifice.
• It is a repetition of routine, it may include all the right elements, but it is not worship if it is not a continuation of the outpouring of your service to God throughout the week – affecting every facet of your life.
What it does not say:
• Some read this verse and conclude that worship, then, is individual and personal – that our worship assemblies are irrelevant and have nothing to do with worshiping God. I’ve heard some express the opinion that God just wants us to worship him in the kind of lives that we live.

Isn’t that strange?
• Some deceive themselves by thinking all God wants is for us to show up at the right time and perform a few religious rituals and then we’re off for the rest of the week.
• Others exclude the corporate worship assembly and say worship is what you do on your own throughout the week.
• Both are unbalanced and dangerous.

Our assemblies bring us together to focus our minds and our attention on the Lord – not on man. And if we cheapen our worship assemblies to “feel good” sessions where we are focused on us and not on the Lord, telling ourselves how good we are and how lucky God is to have us – we have missed the point of scripture.

But scripture does affirm that our assemblies are a time of encouragement and mutual building up and strengthening of each others’ faith. The Hebrews writer tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but to spur one another on to love and good deeds and encourage one another as we see the day approaching.

Worship is the combination of both that personal, life-sacrificing, God-serving devotion that characterizes the days of our week, culminating in the outpouring of praise and adoration in our worship assemblies as we corporately join with other Christians to bow before our great God and sing his praises and honor him as Lord and King.

One without the other is incomplete. When we gather on Sunday mornings we are, as individuals bringing our weeks that have been filled with worship, together as a body, and out of that corporate assembly offering our worship to God. And in the process we receive that encouragement and strength from each other that we need to be in this world but not of this world.

Turning to the second verse, Paul says there is something that will essentially kill that ability to worship God in living sacrifice – it is compromise. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Phillips – “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remake you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.”
• Compromise isn’t a bad word in and of itself. It depends on what you are compromising. Compromise is a relationship saver. The person who never compromises with anyone over anything is a miserable, lonely person.
• But there is a compromise that destroys one most important relationship. James describes it in James 4:4 “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
• Satan’s most powerful weapon is compromise.
• He doesn’t launch a frontal assault, he comes in through the back door, through an open window. He makes things that are evil and abominable seem not too bad. He desensitizes us to ungodliness by slowly enculturating us and making it palatable by setting it in humor and protecting it behind a wall of toleration.
• Poem by Alexander Pope:
Sin is a monster of such frightful mien,
To be hated, needs only to be seen.
But seen too oft, as face to face,
We first pity, then endure, then embrace.

Compromise occurs when we try to make our lives with God compatible with the ways of the world. When we let worldly priorities and values impose upon and infect what is really most important.

John describes it this way: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn 2:15-17).

There is a story that comes out of the island of Haiti: A man needed money, but all he owned was a small hut. He offered it for sale and found a buyer who was willing to pay what he asked. He made one stipulation – “I will retain ownership of one small nail that is driven above the door frame.” It seemed an insignificant request and was granted. Time went by, and one day the man decided he wanted his house back, but the new owner refused to sell. Well, the man went out and found a dead dog and brought it to the house. “I am ready to make use of my nail,” he announced, and hung the dead dog on the nail. What was sickening soon became unbearable, the house became unlivable, and the owner was forced to sell.

I think of how many people I know whom God redeems and purchases from Satan by the blood of his Son, but who let Satan retain a nail in their lives. And lives that begin with newness and holiness soon begin to reek of sin when Satan hangs a dead carcass on that nail.

God didn’t purchase us from sin to let Satan keep a hold on our lives. When God let his Son die on the cross for us it was for every part, every right, every moment of every day. Don’t let Satan keep a nail in your life.