Living Sacrifice? Contradiction, don’t you think?

As we’ve walked through Romans together, Paul has made God’s sovereignty and the Lordship of Christ the forefront of the conversation. From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. This truth has a great impact on the way that we live and the way that we exist as a local church on this earth and the church forevermore.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me how to budget my finances. They taught me how to write a check, how to balance a checking account, the importance of saving, and the importance of debt-free living. They taught me how to live within my means by giving me an allowance, teaching me to tithe, and counseling me on prioritizing my purchases so that I could get everything I needed. That knowledge of being a good manager still influences the way that I manage, not only money, but also our household and the time that has been graciously given to me.

What we genuinely learn always impacts how we live. When we understand God’s sovereignty and Christ’s absolute lordship and our own humble estate, there is a certain lifestyle that is inspired. This is called worship. We all worship something. What does worship look like for the one who is in Christ and who is being saved by Christ?

Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Therefore

In this sermon, I am going to be using a different format. I want to preach word-by-word. So, whereas every sermon is expository (exposing the text from an exegetical study of the text), this sermon will itself be exegetical. I want to do this for two reasons. First, the content is intricate. Second, these two verses summarize the entire book of Romans and call us to a very clear response in light of Christ’s lordship.

The verse begins with the word therefore. Anytime we see the word therefore in any argument it means that the previous portion of the argument is being applied. In this case, Paul has taken the first eleven chapters to explain God’s sovereignty. The previous eleven chapters have been summed up in chapter 11, verse 36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

This has been meant in an absolute manner. It is Christ who gives faith and imputes His own righteousness. It is He who calls people to salvation because we are unable to obtain Him. He hardens the hearts of people so that He might show mercy to all. He is selecting for Himself a people. If we missed any part of this argument from Paul, it is important for us to read the first eleven chapters and listen to the previous sermons in this series. This is the truth that is explained and then applied. Because everything is from God, through God, and to God, this is what I am called to. Christ is absolutely Lord, therefore…

Already, some application can be made as we consider the word “Therefore,” in this text. There are many people who have many different opinions about what the content of a sermon or small group lesson ought to be. Some people believe that teaching ought to be purely explanatory. I want to learn about the text and nothing else ought to be said. Simply explain the text to me. Others believe that teaching ought to be purely application. What do I need to do?Don’t take all of that unnecessary time to explain the text. I just want to know what I need to do or not do! A plain reading of the text presents us with this word, “Therefore.” In the text there is explanation of theology (the first eleven chapters of Romans). Then, there is a direct application of those theological truths (the last five chapters of Romans). Teaching, according to the explicit example in Scripture is both explanation and application. These are necessary components and so this is what we dedicate our time to.

This also means that just storing information about God does not suffice for the life of the Christian. Knowledge leads to affection leads to action. According to the first eleven chapters, then, God awakens us in Christ. We arise in our knowledge. Therefore, we act.

Awake, Arise, Act

By the mercies of God

We read on, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…”

If everything is from God, through God, and to God, then everything we experience and every opportunity we have to respond to God is only by the mercies of God. We often imagine ourselves to have much power and much say. If Christ is truly Lord, then it is only by His mercy that we have any opportunity whatsoever. It is by God’s mercies that we have the opportunity to respond to Him. It is by God’s mercies that we are made able in the gifting of faith. It is by God’s mercies that Paul was able to write and to urge.

So, it is not profitable for us to be merely a moralistic people. It does not profit us to teach with behavior modification as our primary objective. There is a very real response. That is what it is, response. We don’t have the ability to initiate anything. Our response to God is made possible only in the outpouring of God’s amazing grace; the mercy of God is the only power by which we can awake, arise, and act.

Living sacrifices

We continue “…by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”

This is the response of the person being saved by Christ and is only possible by the mercies of God. This command is to all people who are under Christ authority because it is the application of the argument that has been made over the span of the last eleven chapters and has been summed up in Romans 11:36, “…from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” Since all are under Christ’s authority, all people are to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Those who are being saved, those called by Christ, are able to obey this command by the mercies of God.

What exactly does it mean for us to present our bodies as living sacrifices? This command, remember, is an application of the theological truth presented in Romans 1-11, namely that Christ is Lord. In the previous chapters, Paul has written about two types of righteousness, one that is produced of self and one that comes only from Christ. The righteousness produced of self is unrighteousness. If I am to be a child of God, I must receive His righteousness because He is the only righteous one. The word sacrifice would indicate that I am being put to death. The word living would indicate that I am remaining alive. So, there is a part of me that is being put to death- my self-righteousness. There is a part of me that continues to live, my body, which now lives in the righteousness of Christ. So, I become a living sacrifice, maintaining my identity as a person, but putting to death my need to earn righteousness in any way.

This command is present throughout Jesus’ teaching during His bodily ministry on this earth.

“If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. What is a man benefited if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25).

Repentance was a constant theme in Jesus’ preaching and teaching (Matthew 4:17, 9:13, 11:21, 12:41, 21:29, 32, Mark 1:15, 2:17, 6:12, Luke 5:32, 10:13, 11:32, 13:3, 5, 15:7, 10, 16:30, 17:3, 4, 24:47).

When Jesus called people to follow Him, He always called them to leave everything in one manner or another (Matthew 9:9, Mark 1:17-20, 2:14, Luke 5:28).

“In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).

In talking with the rich young man in the context of the story, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21).

We could even walk through any portion of Scripture and see the prevalence of this idea. To save time and space, here, I will encourage you to get a new Bible with no markings. Start reading in Genesis and highlight every verse in which God calls His people to, in some manner, give up everything or deny self.

Remember that context is important. This is the proper response to God’s saving grace. We cannot earn salvation by appearing to have sacrificed much. I am awake by the mercies of God. By the mercies of God I arise, coming to a greater understanding of who God is. By the mercies of God I am brought to more and more action. On this earth, that means becoming more sacrificial in my living. God is bringing me, by His mercies, to be more sacrificial with my time, with my finances, with my hobbies, with my preferences, and putting to death my self-righteousness, my self-glory, and the authority that I have fooled myself into thinking I have. We proclaim as did John the Baptist: I must decrease.

We are holy and pleasing to God by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. This is our spiritual or true worship. If we are not presenting our bodies as living sacrifices in this way, then we are not worshipping God.

Not conformed

These next two instructions help to explain to us what it means for us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God by God’s mercy. First, we read, “Do not be conformed to this age…”

To be conformed to something is to be like that thing. Paul has argued that the ways of this world are ways of self-righteousness. People have assumed that they have something to offer and that they must contribute to in some way and to some degree earn salvation or righteousness for themselves. This is impossible. It is confirmed here that to present our bodies as living sacrifices is to put to death this tendency. We no longer live as though we can actually earn salvation. We have admitted our unrighteousness, realized that we are unable to obtain God, and have trusted in God to impute His own righteousness so that we will be acceptable to Him.

Those who are in Christ, have forsaken the self-righteous ways of the world. We are sinners, so we admit it. We have no need to any longer try and justify ourselves or our actions. We must decrease.

Transformed

The next instruction further helps us to understand what it means for us to present our bodies as living sacrifices and helps us to understand what it means to no longer be conformed to the ways of this age. We read, “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

First, we must be transformed before we are able to not conform any longer to the ways of this age. Second, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices before God means that we are being transformed. This transformation takes place by the renewing of our minds. What does it mean for our minds to be renewed?

To renew our minds means that we are always renewing and growing in our understanding. As our understanding is renewed, we experience transformation. Notice the same order is presented- Awake, arise, act. We are called, we grow in our understanding, then it shows in our action.

The renewing of one’s mind takes work and dedication. Our tendency is to hold on to what we think we know about God or about other things. Much self-denial is required. My pursuit must be to not merely seek to learn more, but to let my understanding of things always be renewed. This is an idea known as semper reformanda (always reforming). This should be our attitude because without this attitude, we conform to the ways of the world and are not presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual or true worship.

Here, I feel a need to issue a challenge. If the renewing of our minds is the way that God does His work in us, then we ought to strive to take advantage of every meeting possible with the genuine local church. What we put into church is what we get out of it. This is why services are too important to cancel unless we absolutely have to, and not according to our own preferences. If we attend casually or if we do church casually, we will experience nothing deeper than a casual faith and we will feel like we are not “being fed.”

If we are involved and committed, awakening, rising, and acting, then we will feel our minds being renewed and will experience this transformation that Paul writes about in response to Christ’s lordship. Most people who refer to themselves as Christians in our day are not committed, and so they don’t experience this transformation. Root determines fruit for both the individual and the local church (and any other entity).

Discern the will of God

Finally, we read, “…so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

We often wonder why we can’t hear God or why it is so difficult for us to figure out what He wants from us or what He is doing. We want a part in God’s work. We desperately yearn to hear or feel or see something. Here, we come to the understanding that we can discern or prove the will of God. The words, “so that,” indicate that the prior instruction is necessary if we want to understand God’s will and participate with Him in accomplishing His will. If we want to discern God’s will, if we really want to know what He has for us and if we really want to follow Him well, we must be, by the mercies of God, living sacrifices who no longer conform to this world but are, instead, transformed by the renewing of our minds. Without these, we are unable to discern God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. This is not because God is not working out His will. It is because we are unable to obtain God or seek after Him, which is revealed for us in Romans 10. The limitation is ours, not His. To seek the will of God, we deny ourselves and seek to renew our understanding. This is accomplished by the mercies of God.

We are not instructed to follow a three-step process for salvation. Faith is gifted first, then by the renewing of our minds we are able to discern God’s will. Form follows faith. No matter what we do, we will not succeed without first the fire of the Holy Spirit moving and thriving in our lives. Jesus builds His church! We are the ones He is building into His church.

The reality of our response

So, there is a very real response that we have as Jesus calls us to follow Him. What I fear is that we have made a serious response into something trivial in most churches today. If someone walks an isle and says a prayer, then we assume that all is well. The human response to God’s grace is much, much deeper and more meaningful than this.

If we have been called by Christ to follow Him, by the mercies of God we actually become living sacrifices who are holy and acceptable to God. If we are not becoming living sacrifices in this way, then we are not following Jesus. If we are still conformed to the ways of this world, then we are not following Jesus. If we are not being transformed by the renewing of our minds, then we are not following Jesus. Why would those who are not following Jesus ever be able to discern His good, pleasing, and perfect will?

For the genuine Christian and for the genuine local church, then, the Christian life is marked by one, single attribute: sacrificial living. We often limit worship to a song, but if we are not sacrificially giving of all we have, as individuals and as the local church body, then we are not living in worship to our Lord, who saves us by His mercies.

This explains the direct application made through the remainder of Romans. I would encourage you to read Romans 12-13 on your own, looking for those verses that require denial of self. Next week, we will be in Romans 14. Let this be our mantra. Let us strive for sacrificial and simple living, always renewing our minds.

Awake, Arise, Act.

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