SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 24 July 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 12:1-2
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”
I. Do not be conformed but transformed
II. Offering of your body as a living sacrifice
III. You may discern the will of God
In this reading, the word that grabs our attention is ‘therefore.’ And it links the previous three chapters to what follows from chs. 12, 13 and 14. The apostle begins v. 1, saying, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers,” meaning that, based on what has been said earlier, ‘I make the following appeals to you, my dear brothers and sisters in Jesus.’ So, remembering what has been said earlier is necessary for us to follow the apostle’s appeal made here and the next three chapters of Romans.
What have we heard in the previous chapters? In chs. 9-11, the Apostle Paul taught us the truth of God’s election of His own nation, that is, the true and spiritual Israel, and we believers are of this nation. This truth tells us that the true Israel is composed of people from all families and tribes and languages. Before Jesus’ time, the members of the true Israel were mainly from the physical and ethnic Jews, but in the NT time, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the members of this true and eternal kingdom of God are from various families and peoples and nations. What amazes us is that this has been God’s plan since the beginning of time. Our gathering together here and now, having Jesus as our Lord and King, is an undeniable proof of this truth.
This is the mystery of God. Mystery, not because it is confusing or enigmatic, but because it is too profound and full of grace in election and administration. It was hidden to the eyes of not all but many Jews in the OT. God did not hide it from the Jews of the OT – instead, He disclosed His plan for the nations and declared it many times through His prophets. But the Jews of the OT did not attend their ears to God’s voice. But now, in the NT, the same message is declared by Jesus’ apostles and so clearly revealed to us by the Holy Spirit that everyone who believes in Jesus may understand this mystery of God and rejoice.
Last Sunday, I mentioned the vastness of the universe, illustrating the profundity of this mystery. The universe is the most mysterious thing among all matters visible. It’s too vast and too huge for us human beings to comprehend. But compared to the mystery of God, its size loses its pomp, its radiance loses fascination. What I mean is that, before creating anything of the universe, God embraced in His heart each of His beloved nation Israel – I mean, the true Israel. You and I and all who truly believe in Jesus were the precious to God’s heart since the beginning of time. The creation of the universe followed His election. In fact, He created all for us whom He chose to save in His Son Jesus with a promise, that is, we’d rule the world together with His Son.
‘Therefore,’ says the apostle and makes his appeal to us in Rom. 12 and following chapters. Because you are God’s beloved since the very beginning of time, not a year or ten or 30 or 50 years ago when you started believing in Jesus, you ought to live your life after what God speaks to you through His apostle. In short, because you’re your Father’s delight, you ought to live accordingly.
And the very first appeal made to us is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to our Heavenly Father. Let us hear what it means to present and offer our bodies to our gracious Father.
I. DO NOT BE CONFORMED BUT TRANSFORMED
I’d like to begin with v. 2 because it explains what offering our bodies means. V. 2 begins with these words, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” We hear two commands here; first, ‘do not be conformed’ and, second, ‘be transformed.’
Literally, ‘be conformed’ means submitting to a pressure that comes from without, whereas ‘be transformed’ points out a change initiated from within. So, it means, you should resist the pressure coming from the world and defy its attempt to change you, but welcome and actively participate in the transformation that takes place in you which is the works of the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of presenting your body to God.
It seems an easy task, doesn’t it? We resist, reject this world but follow Christ, continually trusting Him. But the reality is neither simple nor easy. To not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the Holy Spirit is not so easy.
Consider this world you and I are living. Look around and see what sort of world we’re in. Everything this world offers is seductive and enticing – almost irresistible. Whatever it offers seems to be after peace and joy. The world tells us Christians not to be so obstinate but pliant that we could do both, that is, to worship God and enjoy all pleasures the world provides. You can be a genuine Christian on Sundays but, during weekdays, you can disappear in the crowd of worldly hedonists, doing whatever you like to do. You can be a Christian but subscribe to evolutionism or humanism or such ideas as gender fluidity. You should read the Bible but interpret it with what is generally upheld by the majority of the present generation. The rewards of accepting and following this offer seem attractive because they seem to promise less conflicts and more pleasures.
Not easy is to welcome the internal transformation the Holy Spirit carries out in us. Joining the Holy Spirit and working together with Him seems not a simple task either. Let me give you some examples; when you get up in the morning, you know that you should begin the day with God under His grace and power. You know you should begin the day with God’s word and prayer. But usually, this idea vanishes in a flash and almost immediately your mind is occupied with various plans and concerns and worries for the day.
During the day, your heart constantly brings back to your attention the need for having intimacy with the Lord. You remember the Holy Spirit’s guidance and intercession in your thoughts and deeds; the Holy Spirit leads you to God’s word and what it teaches for your daily sanctification. But not always do you enjoy these; walking with the Spirit occasionally, if not often, becomes burdensome. You’d prefer to being lazy; you don’t want to keep your heart too much occupied with the works of the Holy Spirit. You’d be rather passive than active in the inward transformation, the renewal of your mind. This doesn’t mean you’re resisting the Holy Spirit; you’re simply unenthusiastic or uninterested in this renewal from within.
The apostle urges you and me against both. He warns us against being submissive to the world’s seductive offer; he tells us to stop this! He also tells us to stop being unenthusiastic toward the renewal of our mind but eagerly work together with the Holy Spirit. This is, in fact, the very basis and beginning of presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. This is the key, main idea of offering ourselves as a pleasing aroma to God in Jesus.
II. OFFERONG OF YOUR BODY AS A LIVING SACRIFICE
Having said that, let me ask you a question – why is it not your heart or mind but your body that the apostle asks to offer as a living sacrifice? Isn’t God delighted in receiving a broken and contrite heart as Ps. 51:17 or Isa. 57:15 say? Why is he telling us to offer to God our bodies? Is Paul opposing the psalmist and Isaiah?
The answer is that Paul does not contradict the OT writers. All of them agree perfectly with each other, telling us the same thing. With the broken and contrite heart, the focus is on the inward cause or basis of a sacrifice that pleases God; the offering of our bodies emphasises the outcome of the heart. In fact, Paul has also pointed out the absolute necessity of inward renewal of the mind in v. 2 of today’s texts.
So, the offering of your bodies to God means your inward transformation evident in your outward appearance; it means the renewal of your mind synchronised with your daily living. What is taking place inwardly becomes evident in your life, being visible to everyone. As the Holy Spirit works in you and transforms you, you appreciate Jesus’ death and resurrection more and this leads you to love your Saviour more. Then, your love for Jesus becomes visible to people around you. Such is the presentation of your body to God as a living sacrifice.
I believe you’ve heard people saying this, ‘Do not judge me by my external appearance because you don’t know what’s inside my heart.’ Of course, we shouldn’t judge anybody by his/her outward appearance. But we can see anyone’s love for the Lord Jesus and commitment to God with his words and deeds. In this sense, one’s outward appearance reflects his inward obedience to God. The way anyone dresses in Sunday worship service is no matter of salvation nor the measure of his commitment to Jesus, but his words and attitude in worship clearly reflect the renewal of his mind; his relationship with fellow Christians manifests how much he delights in the works of the Holy Spirit in him.
Moreover, presenting our bodies to God is not just a sacrifice, but a ‘living’ sacrifice. As you know well, a sacrifice to God is an OT term and, in the OT, all sacrifices were dead sacrifices. But here in Rom. 12:1, the appeal is to present our bodies to God as a ‘living’ sacrifice. This reminds us of an OT case of giving a living sacrifice to God, that is, the case of Abraham and Isaac. On the mountain top God asked them to go, Isaac was placed on firewood not as a dead but living sacrifice. Isaac willingly gave himself to God and God accepted that offering without taking his life; He substituted Isaac with a ram. Yet, the ultimate case of a living sacrifice was Jesus on Calvary. He gave Himself up for His elect in obedience to His Father. That’s not all, He rose from the dead to make us the living as He is now!
Since then, we no longer need to offer dead sacrifices, but a living sacrifice after Jesus, the Lamb of God who died for us. We die to sin every moment in Jesus and rise to live by Jesus. In Him, our Saviour and Lord, we present our bodies as a ‘living’ sacrifice.
This means that you and I stop following the way of this world. Although we cannot completely shun all things of the world, we compromise our faith less with the worldly principles, gradually getting more confidence in obedience to God. Whenever our conscience accuses us of sin, we hear that voice and seek God to intervene and help us to leave sin and never return to it. At the same time, we enjoy more of the transformation of our minds manifested in outward obedience to the Lord. So, we enjoy more of worship to God on the Lord’s Days, more of sharing fellowship with God’s family, more of sharing with the unbelievers this joy we have through faith in Jesus!
This is our act of presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice which is our spiritual worship.
III. YOU MAY DISCERN THE WILL OF GOD
The last point we need to understand and take to our hearts is the reward promised to our spiritual worship. That is, as the second half of v. 2 tells us, we may ‘discern or prove what is the will of God’ for us. This is a great prize and blessing. Understanding God’s will is what every Christian wishes. We desire to know the will of God, know the full picture of the Lord’s grace for us. Moreover, this will of God is something ‘good and acceptable and perfect’ as the end of v. 2 says. So, being able to discern the Lord’s will is a great prize, and this is promised to offering of our bodies to God as a living sacrifice.
How can this be possible? As we offer our bodies to God – in other words, dying to sin and arising to life in Jesus – we learn by experience that God is faithful, never changing His mind, and fulfills what He says and promises. Offering to God our bodies as a living sacrifice enables us to prove the Father’s will which is described as ‘good and acceptable and perfect.’
In sum, the message for us is clear – you and I should know who we are – we’re God’s beloved, more precious than anything of the world. The whole universe is not worth than the life of a beloved of God. After all, this is why Jesus the Son came and died, shedding His precious blood.
Then, we should live our days as God’s beloved; we should fix our eyes on how to please our Heavenly Father. And its beginning is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Offering our bodies begins from rejecting the way of the world and welcoming the transformation of our minds, thus, joyfully working together with the Holy Spirit. ***