Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 23, 1991
Purpose: To encourage us to yield ourselves to Christ in total surrender.
Suppose a good friend has done you a huge favor. He loaned you a large sum of money, without interest, and let you pay it back as you were able, with no pressure. Or he took a week of his vacation and spent the entire time helping you put your yard in. You are deeply grateful.
But now he has a request to make of you. A small request. He wants to borrow a book from you for the rest of the day. Or he needs a few minutes of your time to help him work through a problem he's struggling with. What are you going to say? If you really do appreciate what he's done for you, you're going to say, "Why sure. I'd be glad to! Nothing I could ever do for you would begin to repay you for what you've done for me."
It would be unthinkable to turn down his small request after the great favor he did for you. Unthinkable.
The first eleven chapters of Romans tell the story of our best friend, the Lord God, and the immense favor He has done for us.
Think about it. Our sin and self-will had left us alienated from Him and doomed to eternal condemnation. But out of the goodness and grace of His heart He dealt with our sin problem, declared us to be righteous in His sight, set us free from slavery to our sinful natures. He provided the means for enjoying a victorious and abundant life here on earth, and guaranteed us a glorious future in His heaven free from suffering and pain. And beyond that, He has assured us that He will be faithful to every promise He has ever made. What a wonderful Lord. He's done us a huge favor.
And now He asks us for a favor in return--small by comparison. He wants us to live the few short years of our lives here on earth for His glory rather than for our own selfish interests. It's not to pay Him back for what He's given us. Nothing we could ever do would even begin to reimburse Him for the infinite kindness He has extended to us. It would just be the natural response of our grateful hearts for what He has done for us.
After eleven chapters in Romans describing God's favor to us, it's as if He turns to us very gently and very kindly, and says to us, "Will you do Me a favor?"
He asks it through the pen of the Apostle Paul as he writes--"I beseech you therefore, brethren." Not, "I command you, or I demand of you," but rather, "I urge you, I encourage you, I implore you." Whatever it is that He is about to ask of us is something that we will do voluntarily, not of necessity--in gratitude for what He as done for us. That's the significance of the word "therefore." It sums up the whole book to this point. Now, will we or won't we do the favor that God is asking us to do? The decision is ours to make.
Well, what is it that He wants us to do? As I study the verses, I see that it involves three things.
Present Your Body
Romans 12:1. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."
That word present means literally "to place beside." It was used of an Old Testament worshipper placing his sacrificial animal on the altar as an act of consecration to God. This is a strange concept to us who have never seen an animal sacrifice and to whom the whole idea may be rather repulsive.
But let's try to project our minds back to that day. Come with me to the tabernacle. You are an Israelite, a farmer, and the Lord has been good to you. He's given you a good harvest. Your flocks and herds are reproducing. Your children are healthy and strong. There has been peace in the land. But best of all, you are thankful to God for providing the means for your sins to be forgiven. And you want to worship Him, to thank Him for what He has done, and to rededicate yourself and your family to Him. What do you do?
You bring an animal: a bull, a sheep, a goat, a dove or a pigeon. At the entrance of the tabernacle you give the animal to the priests. One of them takes a knife and slits the throat of the animal while another catches the blood in a bowl, takes it to the altar and sprinkles it there as a reminder that God has forgiven your sins. Then the priests skin the animal, cut it in pieces, wash the pieces and lay them on the altar, one by one, until every part is sizzling on the hot fire.
You have given God the whole animal, because He has given everything to you. And you have given it up completely to Him. You have surrendered your right to use it as you please. It is no longer yours but God's, to be used for His purposes. Your sacrifice actually represents your life. You are consecrating anew to the Lord everything you are and have.
Now in some similar way, God asks us to offer to Him a sacrifice. What is it?
The Substance of the Sacrifice
"Your body." God is saying to us today, "I want your body." That seems like a strange request. "Lord, why in the world would you want this body. It's shaped kind of funny. It's wearing out. It's racked with aches and pains. It causes me no end of trouble in my walk with You." And God says, "That's exactly why I want you to give it to Me. I want to take control of it, and use it as an instrument for accomplishing My purposes. I want your eyes to absorb my Word. I want your mouth to speak my praise. I want your hands to help others in needs. I want your brain to lay plans that glorify Me." With our bodies goes everything we are. "But Lord, why should I give you my body?"
The Motive for the Sacrifice
"By the mercies of God." The entire book thus far has been a revelation of God's boundless mercy and grace. His mercy has been especially prominent in the discussion of His plan for the nation Israel, mentioned ten times in those three chapters (refer to Romans 9:15-24; 11:30-32). Our motive for presenting our bodies to God as a sacrifice is not to enhance ourselves, or to put Him in our debt so we can manipulate Him into doing what we want Him to do, but purely out of gratitude to Him for what He in His mercy has done for us.
But even so, of what use is a sacrifice? There it is lying there on the altar burning up. What good is it? The answer to that question comes in an understanding of the nature of the sacrifice.
The Nature of the Sacrifice
There are actually three characteristics of this sacrifice. You would not know that from most of our translations, but the three adjectives all follow the word sacrifice in the Greek text. It says more accurately that we are to present our bodies a sacrifice--living, holy and well-pleasing to God.
Sometimes I think it would be easier to be a dead sacrifice than a living one. It can be so difficult to do what God wants us to do at times, and so discouraging to fail, that we think we might be better off with the Lord. But we wouldn't be much good to God in this world dead. And he wants to use us in this world. So He wants us alive, at least for the present. The problem with a living sacrifice, however, is that it can climb down off the altar. And that's exactly what we do at times.
For example, we lay our family relationships on the altar, then we jump down and demand our own way from other family members, harbor a grudge and refuse to look at things from their point of view, refuse to forgive them for hurting us, refuse to put their best interests before our own. It's tough to be a living sacrifice.
Or we lay our business on the altar, and then we jump down and pad our expense account, or shade the truth about our products. Or we lay our dating life on the altar, and then we jump down into situations where we know the temptation will be more than we can handle, and end up compromising our Biblical convictions. Or we lay our tongues on the altar. And then we jump down at the first provocation and speak angry words. Or we let critical words slide from our mouths, or derogatory words, or dirty words. Or we lay our feet on the altar, but then we jump down and let them carry us to places that put a strain on our relationship with the Lord. Or we refuse to let them take us where we ought to go--to apologize to that person we wronged, to visit that person who is sick or in need, or to share the gospel with that unbeliever.
Presenting our bodies as a sacrifice is a decisive act at a point in time. We come to a place in our lives when we say, "Lord, my life does not belong to me any more. I give it to you to use as you please. I want to do your will rather than my own." But that attitude is something that must be renewed daily, moment by moment--because we're a living sacrifice. We still have that will that can act contrary to God's will.
When we do keep renewing that attitude of consecration to God and acting on the basis of it, we are not only a living sacrifice, but we are holy.
The word means set apart to God, separated unto Him, belonging to Him. And holy sacrifices are also pleasing to Him.
3. Well-Pleasing to God
They bring joy and delight to His heart. He takes great pleasure in the obedience of His children.
Paul adds one more thing about this sacrifice...
The Purpose of the Sacrifice
That seems to be the idea in that last clause, "...which is your reasonable service." The NIV says "...your spiritual act of worship." There are two words here. The first (logikos) can mean either "reasonable" or "spiritual." The second (latreia) can mean either "service" or "worship." Some commentators think Paul purposely chose words that were ambiguous so as to convey both ideas. In view of all that God has done for us, it is only reasonable and logical to give our lives to Him and live to do His will. It's the least we can do.
But it also means that giving ourselves to God is one way He wants us to worship Him. Our worship as Christians is not primarily a ritual, like the ancient Jewish sacrifices, or the pagan Greek and Roman sacrifices. It is not just coming to a place, like a church building, reciting a prayer or a creed and singing songs of praise. The worship God wants from us is also living our daily lives in obedience to His Word. We can come to church to worship. But we ought also to be worshipping God in our neighborhoods, homes, offices, businesses, factories, farms, and schools by being God's people in those places--living as He wants us to live, behaving as He wants us to behave, speaking as He wants us to speak, using our bodies to do His will and accomplish His purposes. That's a spiritual act of worship.
And that's the favor God is asking of us today. "In light of all I've done for you, will you present your body to me as a sacrifice--living, holy and well-pleasing to me?" Present your body--that's the first part of His request. There's a second...
Resist the World
"And do not be conformed to this world." The word conform (suschematizomai) means "to fashion or shape one thing like another," particularly in its outward appearance. And that is exactly what the world is trying to do to us. Phillips' now famous paraphrase still conveys the idea best: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold." Or more accurately , "Stop letting the world squeeze you into its mold" (Pres. tense).
It's a gradual and continuing process. It doesn't usually happen overnight. Like walking out of the bright sunlight into a dark restaurant. When you first enter you can't see anything. But slowly your eyes adjust to the darkness and you can begin to identify shapes and objects. After awhile you can almost read the menu. And when your food comes, you can almost see what you're eating.
The longer we live in the world and carelessly expose ourselves to the world's values, the more we adjust to them. What looked dark and sinful to us before begins to look normal and acceptable. The world is squeezing us into its mold without us even realizing it. It often happens so gradually. Our spiritual eyes are becoming so accustomed to spiritual darkness that we almost prefer it. Let's look at some examples.
Some find themselves parroting the world's view of sex outside of marriage. They're not married, and yet, they're having sexual relations, and they're saying things like, "It's just a little fun. And besides, we love each other." The world sees nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, they laugh at us because they think our standard is obsolete. They keep hammering it home and squeezing us into the mold until we find ourselves saying just what the world says.
Or we begin to accept the world's attitude about success. "There's nothing wrong with making money, or climbing to the top of the ladder. In fact, at the top, think of the influence I could have. When I feel secure, then I'll spend time with my family, and get down to business with the Lord." That's the world's perspective. And before we know it, we're saying it, even though there was a time when we realized that wasn't true.
We may even begin to adopt its view of religion. They say, "You don't want to talk about your faith too much. Nobody likes a fanatic. Just keep it quiet. That's a personal thing." That's the world's point of view! And some professing Christians begin to adopt it in spite of what God says in His Word.
Slowly but surely we become conformed to the world. We're like the goose that was flying south for the winter with his flock and spied a group of domestic geese by a pond on a farm. He notice that they had plenty to eat, so he decided to join them until summer, when his own flock flew north again. When summer came, he heard his flock and flew up to join them, but he had grown so fat that flying was difficult. So he decided it might be wise just to stay one more season on the farm and join his flock the next winter. But the following winter, when his flock flew by, he flapped his wings a little but he could hardly get off the ground, so he just kept eating. The next time they passed overhead, he didn't even notice them. He just kept right on eating...until the day he ended up on the farmer's dinner table.
I'm afraid that's essentially what is happening to some professing Christians. Without realizing it, they have grown to love the world so much, and have become so much like the world that nobody can really see any difference any more between them and the unbelievers around them. And their testimony for Christ is dead. Paul says, "Resist that pressure." Stand firm on your Biblical convictions. Don't give in to the world. It's the least you can do in light of all God has done for you.
Present your body, resist the world. There is one more part to this favor God asks of us.
Romans 12:2. "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
It's actually a plea for transformation. The word transform (metamorphoo) means to change from one form into another. Not just to change the outward appearance, but to absolutely transform it. From it we get our English word metamorphosis. God wants us to undergo a complete transformation of inward character which is expressed in a totally different kind of outward conduct, much like a caterpillar is transformed in a butterfly.
You can't change a caterpillar into a butterfly by pasting wings on it. There has to be a change from the inside out. It has to be transformed. Metamorphosized. And God asks us to be experiencing continual changes, day by day (present tense), that bring us progressively more into the likeness of Christ (refer to 2 Corinthians 3:18, where this same word is used).
Instead of being unconsciously squeezed into looking like the world, we are to consciously reshape our lives so that we look like Jesus. How can we do that? It's right there--"...by the renewing of your mind."
We are what we think. We act on the basis of what we feed into our minds. When we allow the world to shape our thinking, we will live like the world. But when we allow the Lord to shape our thinking, we will live fruitful, abundant and triumphant Christian lives.
I'm convinced that this is one of the most important concepts relating to Christian living found in the entire Bible. Right here in Romans 12:2. If you want to change the way you live, you will have to change the way you think. And to change what you think, you must change what you feed into your mind. It's that simple.
I didn't say it was easy. I said it was simple. It's that simple. It's difficult because the world is constantly trying to feed in its views and its values. But that's the way it's done.
So what are you feeding into your mind? That's the question before us as we read this. What kind of music do you listen to? What do the lyrics say? What books and magazines do you read? What movies do you attend? What videos do you watch? What TV programs do you enjoy? Whose advice do you listen to?
If you are feeding your mind with the views and the values of the world, you will think like the world and act like the world. That's just the way it is. It's that simple. But, if, on the other hand, you feed your mind with the Word of God and the things of Christ, you will become more like Him and act more like Him. And that's what God asks you to do. That's not asking too much, is it, after all He's done for you?
That's the request to us. Look now at the results of granting that request. That you may "...prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Almost every Christian wants to know God's will for his life. Here's the way to find it. As we let the Holy Spirit change our thinking, we will begin to discern what the will of God is in our experience (that's the idea of "proving"), and we will follow it as the only tried and proven way to live. We will recognize that it's good, that it leads to spiritual and moral growth. We'll realize that it is acceptable, "well-pleasing" to God. By the way, that's the same word used of the sacrifice in verse 1. Well-pleasing to God. And we'll realize that it's perfect: the only sensible way to live.
Isn't that what you want? To know and do the will of God, and enjoy the blessings of God on your life? Then present your body, and resist the world, and renew your mind. It's the least you can do after what God has done for you.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Some of you may have never trusted Jesus as your personal Savior from sin. You're not in the family. This was written to people in the family. You're not sure that you've been born anew and that heaven will be your eternal home. May I review, again, what God has done for us as this Book reveals it? Though we were lost in sin, God reconciled us to Himself, and provided a release from the condemnation that sin brings. He made us right with Him. That is, He offers us that in the death and resurrection of His Son--release from our bondage to sin that brings so much frustration to our lives. He offers us all that in Christ.
You see, it's a matter of acknowledging our need, our sinfulness--that we don't deserve His favor. But when we put our trust in His Son who died in our place and paid for our sins, and receive Him as our Savior, He saves us. Then we live a joyful life as we present our bodies to Him, and resist the views and values of the world, and renew our minds through the Word of God and the things of Christ.
But it begins at the cross, where Christ died for our sins. Have you put your trust in Him? Let's bow before His presence right now, prayerfully.
Let me ask you if you do know the Savior. Have you trusted Him as your own personal Savior from sin? Do you have that assurance? If you're not certain, would you settle it right now? Are you willing to acknowledge your sin and turn from it in faith to Jesus Christ? If you are, I would suggest you tell Him so right now. Just quietly, in your own soul.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I believe that Jesus died for my sin. And, Lord Jesus, I put my faith in You right now and receive You as my Savior."
At the moment of that commitment, the Lord Jesus Himself in the Person of His Spirit comes into your life. You may not feel a thing, but He's there--in the authority of His Word--and He brings with Him eternal life. This is the record that God has given to us: eternal life, and this life is in His Son. "He who has the Son has life, and he who has not the Son of God has not life." Will you receive Him as your Savior?
But the bulk of this message is to Christians. Christian, have you made this decision: Have you presented God your body? If you did it, are you renewing that attitude and spirit day after day, or have you climbed down off the altar? Are you resisting the world and its attempts to squeeze you into its mold? Are you renewing your mind so that your life can be transformed? Would you be willing to make those commitments to the Lord today, right now? Tell Him so, will you?
Father, you know what's happening right now in our lives, and I pray that it may be magnificent. Oh, God, I pray that it will bring great joy and delight to Your heart as your people respond to You in total commitment, in full surrender. And then, Lord, do a great work in our midst and through us in our world, to the glory and praise of Jesus Christ. We ask it in His name. Amen.
Continue to ROM 24: Use Those Spiritual Gifts