Scripture: Romans 12:1–12:1
Today and next week we are going to put a wrap on our series of messages on the first half of the Book of Romans. We began the series last September. And last time I preached (on April 13) we came to the end of chapter 8. Since there are 16 chapters in Romans, that means we are half way through. The end of chapter 8 makes a convenient place to break in terms of content and outline as well. In addition, I am only going to be here a couple more weeks before we depart for our summer travels in the US. So this makes a good place and time to take a break from Romans. Lord willing, we will come back and pick up our study in chapter 9 in September.
Before we break away, though, I want to preach two final messages – a kind of conclusion to this part of the series. It is a call for a response to what we have learned in the first 8 chapters. To find the first call for a response, we are actually going to leap ahead into Romans chapter 12. It is an appropriate leap, because we are going to find that Romans 9, 10 and 11 comprise another detour in Paul’s thought; another parenthesis in his logic. We found one lengthy detour in Romans 6 and 7. Romans 9-11 is another one. To test this conclusion, you simply need to read directly on from the end of Romans 8, straight into Romans 12, skipping over Romans 9-11. You’ll find that it makes perfect sense. There is no gap in the logic.
So, in a very real sense, to find Paul’s conclusion to the first 8 chapters of Romans, we need to look ahead to Romans 12. That is what I want to do in this message, looking at just the first verse.
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.
Therefore. I have actually chosen that single word as the title for my sermon. In a very real sense, it could be used as a title for all of Romans 12-16. Paul is drawing conclusions. They are conclusions based on the Gospel message that he has expounded in the first 8 chapters of the letter; conclusions based on the truth that there is available to us “a righteousness from God …that is by faith from first to last.”
We have spent 8 months exploring what that means and how we can be justified by faith. Now Paul is ready to call for a response. Based on what we have learned in chapters 1-8, there is something Paul wants us to do.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy,
We learn a couple more things here. In the remainder of Romans, Paul is speaking specifically to believers; to members of God’s family. He refers to them as “brothers”. Remember, we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we call God, “Father.” As God’s children, that makes us all brothers and sisters. Paul is not here calling for a response of faith. He is speaking to “brothers and sisters” who have already responded to the Gospel with faith and been justified before God.
We also learn the basis for Paul’s appeal: in view of God’s mercy. The first 8 chapters of Romans have been filled with the mercy of God, haven’t they? Grace, redemption, Christ’s blood shed as the sacrifice of atonement, Christ dying for us while we were still sinners, saving us from the wrath of God. The Gospel is all about mercy. As those who have believed the Gospel and received this mercy from God, what should our response be?
That is what this verse is about. In view of God’s mercy…I urge you… To do what? What action is Paul calling for? How shall we respond? I urge you to offer…
Paul is using the language of sacrifice here. The word “to offer” means to present as a sacrifice. There were many sacrifices called for in the Old Testament; sacrifices of atonement, sin offerings, fellowship offerings, thank offerings… “Come to the temple and offer your sacrifices,” was the call to the people of God.
What kind of sacrifice is Paul calling for here? What are we to lay on the altar? Your bodies. Why our bodies? Our bodies are the only means we have of expressing ourselves; of acting in the world. When Paul calls on us to offer our bodies, it is his way of say, “Offer God everything.” Paul is really repeating an earlier command he gave back in Romans 6: 13: Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. When Paul says, “Offer your bodies,” he is saying “Offer yourselves, in totality, to God.”
As Christians we are often fond of dedicating buildings to God. “This building was dedicated to the glory of God on such and such a date.” We sometimes even talk like that. “This is the house of God!” We tell our children, “Don’t run! Don’t make noise! This is God’s house!” The thing about dedicated buildings, though, is that you can leave them. You can go outside and run and make noise. But when is the last time you went anywhere without your body? If your body is dedicated to God, all of life is dedicated to God.
The other thing we like to dedicate are special days. “This is a holy day!” we sometimes say. The implication is that this day belongs to God in a way that other days don’t. But you and I don’t have different bodies for Sunday (or Friday) than we have for the rest of the week. If we offer our bodies to God, it means every day of the week belongs to him.
Paul goes on. We are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. We don’t have to offer blood sacrifices anymore. Jesus shed his blood for us once for all. Now we are called on to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, and our lives to serve God.
When I was young, I was intrigued by stories of Christian martyrs; followers of Christ who died for their faith. I used to wonder if my faith was strong enough. If I was faced with that ultimate question, would I have the courage to die for Christ? That question remains unanswered. But every day, God (and life itself) asks me a different question. Will I live for Christ?
There is another adjective we need to consider here. What kind of sacrifice are we to offer? It is to be “holy.” What does that mean? For many of us, holiness conjures up certain images accompanied by organ music, stained glass windows and white robes. Ask the average young person if he wants to live a “holy life” and he/she will look at you cross-eyed.
The word “holy” is actually a much more practical, everyday concept. It means to be set apart for a particular use. I have brought along one of my most holy possessions today. (Bring out a toothbrush.) Can you see what it is? That’s right. It’s my toothbrush. Let me ask you. What do I use my toothbrush for? (That’s right – for brushing my teeth.) What else do I use my toothbrush for? (That’s right – nothing else! At least as long as I’m using it as a toothbrush.) Let me ask a second question. Whose teeth do I brush with it? We have a cat at home. I like my cat. But I don’t brush his teeth with my toothbrush. I must confess as well that I am very selfish with my toothbrush. If you ask to borrow my toothbrush, I will say, “No!” I will not share my toothbrush with you! My toothbrush is holy! It is mine and mine alone and it has one and only one use! That is what it means to be holy – set apart for a particular purpose and use. That is the kind of sacrifice Paul is calling for here. To give our bodies to God for his specific purpose – to serve him and him alone.
The next adjective only adds to this concept; pleasing to God. To live a life that is pleasing to God. Paul describes his life-goal this way in 2 Corinthians 5:9: So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. In other words, as long as I live, as long as am here in this body, my goal is to please God. That is what it means to be a living sacrifice.
He concludes with this phrase: this is your spiritual act of worship. There has been a great emphasis in recent years in churches on the subject of worship. Much of the discussion has focused around music and musical forms and what music is worshipful and what is not, and what is the “worship” like at your church. Here Paul cuts through all of that. Without discounting music or its importance, Paul tells us clearly that the most sincere and authentic act of worship is this: to offer yourself wholly, body and soul to God for his service. True worship involves offering our whole lives to God.
This is the response that Paul calls for. This is his conclusion from the first 11 chapters of Romans. He will go on to expand on the specifics of that call in the rest of the letter. But the basic response is clear and fundamental. Christ offered himself for us as a sacrifice of atonement. Now, as recipients of that mercy, we are to offer ourselves to God for his service.
I want to come back one more time to this word, “Offer.” What kind of act of presentation is this? As I have told you before, there are different tenses in Greek which describe different kinds of action. There is a tense which describes action that is progressive, ongoing, repeated, continuous. And there is a tense which describes action which takes place decisively, clearly at a point in time. Which tense do you think Paul uses for this verb?
Does it surprise you that he uses the tense for decisive, point in time action? Lest we think this is an error or an oversight on his part, if we go back to Romans 6:13 where Paul told us to “offer yourselves to God,” we will find that he also uses the same point in time tense there as well. I want to review some of what I said in that sermon on Romans 6, because I have done a lot of thinking about why Paul chooses this particular tense. I believe Paul is calling for a commitment; a deliberate, life-altering decision in which we clearly and without ambiguity say to God: “Here I am. I belong to you. I will do whatever you ask. I will go where you want me to go. I will do what you want me to do. I will be what you want me to be.”
In the earlier sermon I likened this decision to someone joining the army or armed services of their country. One day he is a civilian, free to come and go as he chooses. Then he stands in front of an officer to be enlisted as a soldier. Suddenly everything changes. He must now salute every officer. He must obey commands. He must please his commander. In Romans 12:1, Paul is repeating his earlier call for us to enlist and take the oath of service to our new commander in chief. To offer ourselves in service to him.
Maybe another illustration will help us understand how this call relates to all of life’s decisions. As many of you know, Esther Ruth and I spent 7 years in Alaska. Alaska is a very large state with very few roads. Many of its communities are only accessible by small airplane. Hence there are many such aircraft coming and going. Imagine a small airplane taking off from an airstrip. It takes off into the wind to get maximum lift. After getting into the air, the pilot may circle the airstrip to get his bearings. But then he does something very important. He fixes on his destination. Whether he is flying visual or flying by instruments, he sets his eyes or his instruments on the direction he wants to go, and he begins his journey. That initial setting of his objective is crucial if he is to reach his destination safely and on time.
Now, admittedly, things can happen during the journey. He may get distracted by something he sees on the ground and fly down to take a closer look. He may develop mechanical difficulties. Strong winds may blow him off course. But when he realizes he has drifted he can lift his eyes once again, or reset his instruments on his original goal or destination and resume the journey.
But here’s the tragedy. There are many Christians who are still circling the airstrip. They have never made that original decision of fixing on their destination, on the essential direction of their lives. They are still zigging and zagging around the countryside, without direction or purpose. It is this decision that Paul is calling for in Romans 12:1. It is the issue of life direction and purpose. It is the issue of sovereignty over life’s decisions.
Therefore, I urge you, brother and sister, in view of God’s mercy, (in view of all that God has done for you through the Gospel), to offer your body as a living sacrifice…
I have given my testimony before – how, when I was a teenager, a speaker at a campfire service at my school in Kenya, challenged us all to make this very decision. There was not show of hands, no throwing of sticks on the fire, no going forward or even signing a pledge card. We were just challenged in our own hearts, in the quiet of that evening, to pray and offer our lives to God. I responded to that call. I made that commitment and put my life, my body on the altar of service to God.
Here is my challenge to you. Have you ever made a similar commitment – just between you and God? If not, isn’t it time you did?
Or maybe you did make that commitment at some point in the past, but the winds of life have blown you far off course. Do you need to renew your commitment and get back on the altar?
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
Share a highlight from our studies in Romans 1-8.
“In view of God’s mercies…” How does this phrase capture the essence of the Gospel message as presented by Paul in the first 8 chapters of Romans?
What images does the phrase “living sacrifice” create in your mind?
Why do you think Paul focuses on our bodies? How does this verse relate to Romans 6:12-14?
In his message, Pastor Cam used his tooth brush as an illustration of something holy. What did you learn from this? What other everyday objects do you have that are “holy”?
“This is real worship,” could be a paraphrase of the final phrase of Romans 12:1. Do you agree or disagree? How does this compare or contrast with the emphasis on worship in churches today?
The verb “to offer” is in a tense describing a point in time action or event. Discuss the implications of this in your understanding of the verse.