“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. For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.” (Romans 12:1-3 HCSB)
Last week, we took a look at these first two verses and talked about how God wants to change the way we think. Our actions are governed by how we think and what we think is comprised of our values and our beliefs. So, to change our actions and, ultimately, our destination and life goal then we have to change what we value and what we believe – the truth that governs our life. As Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, you really are My disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 HCSB) How do you change what you value and what you believe? How do you alter what you believe to be true, the beliefs and truths that govern your life and choices, in such a way that it alters the direction of your life and your relationship with God?
In our focal passage, Paul calls upon us to make a choice based on our experience with the MERCY of God. We must consider all that God has done and in an act of spiritual worship, offer our entire self on the altar as a sacrifice to God. It is a very noble thought, but one that is fraught with doubts, fears and hesitation. I mentioned last week, the problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to “wiggle off the altar.” A dead sacrifice isn’t going anywhere on its own, but a living sacrifice… well, that can be a problem. You see, we tend to view this “sacrifice” as a one time event when it is, at the very least, a daily event and often a moment by moment event in the life of a Christian. A continual sacrifice of our desires and our will to the Lordship and authority of Christ. In consideration of God’s mercies on your life, sacrifice yourselves as often as needed, on the altar of God as the only reasonable act of worship He deserves.
It certainly sounds much easier than it really is…
I would remind you of Simon Peter’s struggles, as recorded by Matthew:
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? ” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am? ” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God! ” And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19 HCSB)
What struggles? It sounds, to me, like Peter understood. He GOT IT! Yes, but then this happened… “From then on Jesus began to point out to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You! ” But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” (Matthew 16:21-23 HCSB)
Those two passages are separated by a single verse. Matthew shows us how high you can soar one moment and how hard you can crash the next. While it appears these two events in Peter’s life are separated by more than a just a few moments of chronological time, the point is still the same. We have the capacity to act in faith, obey the commands of Christ and then quickly fall into disobedience, again. But that’s where the mercy of God really shines through. Mercy is not dependent upon obedience but is poured out upon our disobedience through our confession and repentance. Let that sink in a bit… God’s mercy isn’t the result of obedience but is His response to our disobedience as we seek Him and come to Him through confession and repentance.
Ah, here’s the dilemma… does God’s mercy move you to seek God more and to offer yourself as a living sacrifice or does it drive you to selfish disobedience? To put it another way, does God’s mercy motivate you to stay on the altar or to wiggle off? I used to think these choices reflected true belief or false salvation in our lives. If you were motivated to sacrifice then you must truly believe and if you were motivated to selfish disobedience (wiggling off the altar) then you weren’t truly saved. You believed with your head but not your heart and that resulted in disobedience. However, I’ve come to realize that is simply not true and is clearly illustrated in the example of Peter I cited, above. By the way, it is also clearly illustrated in my life and, I suspect, your life, as well. Our faithfulness and obedience is simply not consistent. But why?
Great question, simple answer: spiritual maturity.
Peter was awed and moved to obedience when God helped him recognize the deity of Jesus, “you are the Messiah, the son of the living God!” However, as Jesus began to reveal more of God’s will for His life and it included a painful death on a cross then Peter’s spiritual immaturity took control. Suddenly, the Peter who had recognized the deity of Christ was pushed into submission to the Peter who feared sacrifice and absolute obedience. Being obedient to Jesus was acceptable as long as it took Peter along the path he expected, desired and understood. However, when it suddenly veered onto this path that took unexpected twists and turns and included a cross and death then he began to resist, argue and disobey. How could THIS be God’s will? No, I won’t go that direction. I won’t let this happen to you, Lord! Not on my watch!
So, what does Peter’s experience and Paul’s call to personal sacrifice teach us about discipleship? First, it teaches us that worship must involve personal sacrifice in response to God’s mercy. It is easy to memorize the admonition of Romans 12:1-2, but it is much more difficult to live it out in our daily lives. To claim faith in Christ without personal sacrifice and obedience to God is to live in conformity to the thoughts and beliefs of this age. This age (the non-Christian, unbelieving world) has no problem with a Jesus who speaks of love and peace, but it despises a Lord who demands personal sacrifice and obedience. It values a Jesus who gives of Himself, but it despises the One who deserves Lordship and demands submission.
In our culture, Americans are permitted to have faith as long as that faith remains private, hidden, impotent, ineffective and irrelevant in our public lives, choices and actions. This is clearly evident in the lives of those who seek to live out their faith through their business, celebrity position and status, or through public service. This was evident when former Vice President, Mike Pence, stated that he would not dine alone or attend an event with another woman, other than his wife. The media went nuts and publicly ridiculed Pence for a simple, spiritually based personal guide he strives to follow to honor his wife and prioritize his marriage vows. It is evident in the biblically based business guidelines that S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A, and Dan Cathy, current CEO, are criticized for following. Guidelines that motivate their franchisees to feed the homeless, serve their communities and help others while remaining obedient to historical, Biblical commands. Even their employees are taught to view serving others as “it’s my pleasure.”
How do we do this in our personal lives? How can we achieve this level of commitment to Christ? Next, by seeing personal sacrifice, spiritual discipline and absolute obedience as the normal response to God’s mercy in the lives of disciples while resisting the world’s influence to see sacrifice and obedience as unnatural, restrictive and demeaning. The world’s normal is to see our personal desires as normal, natural and personally satisfying. The Spirit’s normal is to see our personal desires as corrupted by sin, in opposition to God’s desires for us and personally dissatisfying. As mentioned last week, our thinking about these things must change. Does that mean that every thought we have is bad and wrong? No, but we must able and willing to recognize those that are. “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 HCSB)
In our focal passage, Paul puts it this way: “by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think.” Now that slaps our culture in the face – and leaves a mark. Generally speaking, we are told that we don’t think of ourselves enough or think of ourselves highly enough. Paul says, don’t think of yourself more highly than you should. That means we need to keep our pride in check and our place and position in this world correctly related to God. Are we highly prized by God? Are we loved by God? Do we have purpose and meaning, as found in God? Yes, we are loved by Him, created in His image and created for His purpose but we are also broken, sinful and our desires and thoughts are corrupted by that sin. So, one of the first things that we must sacrifice on this altar of worship is our personal pride and self-sufficiency. We are not nearly as intelligent and self-sufficient as we tend to think and act.
Finally, Paul says that we must “think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each” of us. THINK SENSIBLY. In Luke 8, we are told about a man who was “possessed by demons” and could not be restrained even when confined by chains and shackles. He would rage and snap the restraints and then flee into the wilderness. When Jesus encountered him, He drove out the demons and sent them into a herd of pigs. When people came out to see what had happened, they found the man sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind. IN HIS RIGHT MIND. Thinking and acting sensibly and not crazy, driven by his former wild thoughts and desires. Paul uses this same word. We use it, too. It comes through in our word, sober minded. Thoughts and actions that aren’t influenced by outside influences or substances. Thinking in a manner that is consistent with the way God created and intended for us to think. Thinking in a way that is not influenced by outside forces or sin.
Now we are drawn into a contrast in how we think. First, we were warned about thinking too highly of ourselves and then we are encouraged to think sensibly about ourselves. To think sensibly with minds that aren’t influenced by foreign, outside sources or substances but rather as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Some take this phrase to mean that God has given differing measures of faith to each one, but that doesn’t appear to be the intent in this passage. The word measure, metron (Greek), is where our English word “meter” comes from and appears to imply a standard of measurement and not differing measures for each one. In other words, we are each called to meet the measurement of faith that brings salvation in Christ and nothing less.
So, don’t think too highly of yourself, you are a sinner in need of God’s grace but don’t disparage yourself either because as Christians we are all called to the the same standard of measure, saving faith in Jesus Christ. Change how we think about ourselves, sinners desperately in need of God’s mercy but beloved children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Just for a minute, let me take you back to the story in Luke 8 where we met the man controlled by the Legion of demons. Nobody was able to restrain him or change him. Nobody. Until he met Jesus. Jesus drove out the demons and restored the man’s mind. When the crowd found them, he was dressed, sitting at Jesus’ feet “in his right mind” and they were afraid.
Afraid. Interesting response, don’t you think? What they had been powerless to do, Jesus did and they responded with fear. I think our world is afraid of this kind of Jesus. Perhaps you are afraid of this kind of Jesus. One whose power you can’t explain and whose will you can’t control. You may wonder how this idea was somehow mixed into our study of Romans 12:1-3 but, I assure you, it fits. Living sacrifices squirm off the altar when they begin to fear the consequences of the altar or the results of their sacrifice. We quickly rationalize those fears and suggest that a loving God would not make such demands. Surely God would never ask us to do such “outlandish” things. That’s crazy…
“Then He said to them all, “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 HCSB)
You and I aren’t excused from God’s call to personal sacrifice. To think so is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Instead, we should think sensibly, soberly, clearly and in accordance with the measure of faith distributed to each of us. The man who was released from the demons didn’t run away from Jesus in fear. Instead, we find him “in his right mind” while sitting at Jesus’ feet – a place of submission and obedience. Today, you and I must decide whether we will surrender ourselves in service as a living sacrifice to Christ or whether we let our fears motivate us to squirm off the altar. This is a choice you and I make and must continue to make, day after day and moment by moment. Sometimes we fail and our fears get the best of us. When that happens, we must confess our sin and seek God’s forgiveness, restoration and return to the altar. Thankfully, we are assured that’s also His desire (see 1 Jn 1:8-9). Sometimes we succeed, we stay on the altar surrendered and available for God’s use. When that happens, Christ is glorified and God is pleased.
Where will you be today? On the altar in sacrificial service to Christ or stepping away from Him in fear?