“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.” (Romans 12:1-2 HCSB)
What motivates you? I think we are often motivated by a variety of things and each has varying levels of effectiveness. We are often motivated by fear and while it might elicit a strong response, it is often short lived and without lasting effect. It elicits the “flight or fight” response and while it might be effective for a quick and powerful response, it always wanes just as quickly and leaves us feeling tired and emotionally drained. We can also be motivated by guilt and this is often exhibited in relationships where one person tries to use guilt to elicit a response from another. Guilt can often have varying degrees of success as a motivator, but it always leaves the relationship damaged and in need of attention and healing.
In today’s passage, Paul wants to motivate us and elicit a response to God and he uses what is likely the strongest and best motivator: gratitude. I was taught very early in my studies of scripture to pay attention to “words” and how they are used. Paul begins this new section by urging us to “look back” on all he has already shown us and taught us regarding the “mercies” of God. Not just the generic, broad concept of God’s mercy but the specific and very personal “mercies” of God that have been expressed in our lives. In other words, consider all that God has done and is doing in your lives and how His mercy has been expressed (salvation) and is being expressed (demonstrations of God’s love) in your life and then respond accordingly.
While we don’t have time to go back and review all of Paul’s examples, Romans 8 stands out in stark contrast for our consideration. He begins that chapter with what may be one of the greatest declarations in all of scripture: “because of this, there is NO condemnation from God on anyone who is IN Jesus Christ.” Because of faith in Christ we are not condemned but are ongoing recipients of God’s mercy. So, stop living in obedience to the desires of your flesh and start living in humble submission to God’s Spirit. God’s purpose in all that He’s doing in your life is to continually make you look more and more like Jesus so that Jesus will be just the first of many sons and daughters who walk in humble obedience to God and His will. If you’ll walk with Him in faith then nothing will ever be able to separate you from God’s love as He has expressed that to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord!
So, when the impact of God’s mercies, the weight of what God has done for you in Christ and is doing in you through His Spirit, finally settles upon you then it should motivate you to respond out of gratitude towards God. But Paul wants to direct our response in an appropriate and meaningful way and that’s the focus of these opening verses of chapter 12. We ought to respond in gratitude towards God but how should we respond? What’s the best and most appropriate response? Let’s take a look…
First, Paul urges us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. While I’ve often quipped that “the problem with a living sacrifice is that they tend to wiggle off the altar” the real focus here is that we present our entire person (body and soul) and that we present it as a living sacrifice in contrast to a dead or sin/blood sacrifice and I’ll address those two aspects separately. Notice that Paul calls upon us to present our bodies as sacrifices to God. While some see this admonition as a contrast between a physical sacrifice and a spiritual sacrifice, it really seems to be more of a focus on giving the entire person over to God’s service. The recipients of Paul’s letter live in the midst of a culture that tends to separate the physical body from the spirit when it comes to worship and so do we.
Paul’s emphasis is that worship involves the entire person in the same way that Christ reminds us that our love of God involves heart, soul, mind and strength (Lk 10:27, Matt 22:37). In many ways, modern belief has fallen into this trap of separating body and spirit. Based on the truth of scripture, this is a false dichotomy. In our modern culture, our children and grandchildren are constantly being bombarded with the idea that the “mental and emotional” aspects of their person are separate from the “physical” aspects of their person. This is how they are able to mentally and emotionally separate their spiritual condition and relationship with God from their physical actions. In other words, what they choose to do physically is not a reflection of who they are spiritually and emotionally. They believe they are able to satisfy their physical desires without it reflecting on their spiritual condition or affecting their spiritual relationship with God. While this might be what culture is telling them, it is not consistent with the biblical view of God or man and this is evident in the ongoing emotional, relational and spiritual struggles they exhibit in their lives.
This is also evident in Paul’s admonition when he calls for us to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Our bodily sacrifice is to be presented as “holy and pleasing” to God. While holy certainly carries moral intent and should be reflective of holy, righteous living it is much more than that. Holy means “for God’s use and purpose.” Are you only committed to God for what you receive from Him or are you also committed to God for what you are able to offer to Him in service? “Here I am God, completely and surrendered to whatever purpose and use you see fit. I am yours, I lay my life on this altar offering myself up for your exclusive use.” But in addition to holy and dedicated to His use, it should also be a life that is pleasing to God. Bodies offered up to Him for His service that are holy and pleasing. This is in stark contrast to how most view their relationship with God – as a spiritual relationship.
So let the implications of that sink in, a bit. What God truly desires of us is more than just a spiritual commitment, more than just our spirit or soul. This isn’t just about what happens in “the sweet by and by” but is very much tied to what happens in the “here and now.” Our physical response to God should be guided by and consistent with our spiritual response to God. In other words, what is in our hearts should come out of our mouths and flow through our hands. Jesus said, “when I was hungry, you fed me” and the crowd responded, “Lord, we don’t remember feeding you.” He replied, “when you fed that hungry man, you were feeding me.” In contrast, He told them that when they refused to feed the hungry man, they were refusing to feed Him. But to give our bodies to God as living sacrifices is a reasonable act of spiritual worship. Not a sacrifice for sin, but a sacrifice of worship.
Next, Paul calls upon the Roman Christians to stop being molded by the spirit of “this age” but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Belief is a powerful factor in how you choose to live and what you choose to do. We tend to pursue what we believe is in our best interest. I can change your actions if I can change your beliefs and values. The best way I know to illustrate this truth is with an aircraft auto pilot. An auto pilot is simply a computerized method of reaching the defined goal or destination. The aircraft auto pilot reads and interprets the conditions of the plane and the environment and responds by adjusting the course to reach the established destination. As conditions change, the various factors like course heading, altitude, and speed are adjusted as a means of achieving the goal. The destination or goal is the intended result and various elements of the craft are simply means to achieve that result. Make sense?
If a life that is holy, pleasing and dedicated to God is our goal, then the various factors that influence our lives must simply be adjusted to keep us on course to reach our destination. Paul tells us that the influence of “this age” will not keep us on course but will, in fact, drive us off course. To achieve our intended goal, we must stop being “molded” or conformed to the way “this age” thinks and stop embracing what it values. This isn’t as easy as it sounds because these things can be quite attractive and seductive. “And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15 HCSB) Satan makes it appear as though what he offers is attractive or “light” and his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In other words, Satan doesn’t entice us by telling us how “bad” things are but he entices us by telling us how “good” they are. He gets us to believe that what we want and really need are those things that “this age” offers.
Isn’t that exactly what our culture tells us? You don’t really want what God offers, that’s so boring and not any fun. We’ve fallen into this trap because we tend to emphasize the those things you must “give up” to follow Christ. But that’s now how Jesus defined it. Jesus told the crowds, what you’re really seeking I can give you. Are you thirsty? I have living water. Are you hungry? I’m the bread of life. Are you trapped? I’m the one who sets you free. Are you lonely? I’ll never leave you or walk away. Are you afraid? Walk with me. Are you burdened? Take my yoke, it’s lighter and easier to carry. Does He call us to give up on some things? Absolutely. Don’t think the way they think, it will only lead you astray. Instead, let me change the way you think and let me change how you see life. Life isn’t about getting and having, it’s all about giving and loving.
But what happens when God changes the way we see things? What changes when He “transforms” our minds and the way we think about life? Paul tells us, “so that you can discern what is the good, pleasing and is the perfect will of God.” We begin to understand what is good, what is pleasing and what is the will of God in our lives. Until we let God change the way we think, we tend to misunderstand what is good, what is pleasing, we misunderstand what God truly wants of us and in us. We set our life goals on what the world values and we end up missing God – SURPRISE! We set our auto pilot on the wrong destination and then we fight the controls because they keep adjusting our course for the WRONG destination.
So, don’t be molded by this age or culture but be TRANSFORMED. This word is the same one used to describe the Transfiguration of Christ (Matt. 17:2). What happened during the transfiguration? For a moment, the real glory of Christ was revealed. In a very real sense, that’s what Paul wants to happen in us. He wants our minds to be transformed and the way we think changed so that our life goal is altered and God’s glory becomes our focus.
Let me be very blunt here. Paul has spent the first eleven chapters of Romans telling us how God can change us, by grace through faith in Christ. If we let God change the way we think, then it will change the way we act. If our destination is changed then the steps we take to reach that destination will also change and will begin to coincide with that goal. So, give yourselves (body and soul) completely to God as a living sacrifice because it is the only reasonable act of worship God deserves. Don’t think the way this world thinks. Don’t value what this age values. Let your minds and the way you think about life be transformed by God’s Spirit and let your values be determined by what is good, what is pleasing and by what is in line with the perfect will of God. God’s mercies demand it and your soul needs it.