I remember the very first time I got spanked as a child… it was definitely something that is ingrained in my mind. Maybe you’ve experienced this… but my dad pulled a classic trick that leaves you trembling and in fear… he said, you’re going to be spanked, go up to your room, I’ll be up in a few minutes. What a terrifying experience.
My four siblings and I grew up in a huge house and our house had two staircases leading to the second floor. And one of the stairs had a big wooden door at the top of it. On this particular day, I was running around with my sister and her friend, and I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I ran up the stairs with the door at the top, I knew my sister’s friend was standing in front of it, and in my adolescent boy mind, I thought it would be appropriate to slam the door open as hard as I could to hit her with it. It ended up cracking her in the face and breaking her glasses… and then I got spanked.
The next thing my parents had to do is pretty obvious, they told me to tell my sister’s friend “I’m sorry.” And I complied. But the beauty of the words I’m sorry, is that the words themselves do not mean anything unless they are combined with a feeling in the heart. The reality is, I was sorry. I was genuinely sorry that I got spanked… that I got caught… but remorse for how I hurt my sister’s friend was not something that had even crossed my mind, but like a good child, I paid lip service to something I didn’t fully grasp.
There’s a right way to apologize and there’s a wrong way. I think most people would say that if the person saying I’m sorry isn’t actually sorry, then it’s not a real apology. There are lots of things like this… the words, I love you. If you don’t do the act of loving, then the words I love you aren’t genuine.
What about our worship? Is there a right way or a wrong way to give ourselves to God? Is coming to church and singing some songs and giving some money and hearing some words from some man or woman… is that worship? Or do our hearts matter? Is it like when we say “I’m sorry” or “I love you?”
In Romans 12:1, Paul talks about this very thing to the Christians in Rome and he says that there is such a thing as true and proper worship. So let’s dig into that because I hope that if we have decided to follow Jesus, we want to do it in a true and proper way.
Here’s what it says: (Romans 12:1-2) Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
The very first thing that sticks out about these verses, is that it begins with the word, “therefore.” we have to recognize that before these two verses is 11 chapters that helps us understand what he is currently saying.
Before this section, Paul encourages the church by helping them understand God’s grace. Romans 5:8 – While you were still sinners, Christ died for you. Romans 6:23 – The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Romans 4:3 – Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness… not based on what Abraham had done, but based on what God had promised.
And in the chapter 11, Paul says that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, can join God’s family simply by believing. So let’s be clear, when we sinned, we separated ourselves from God, but God made a way for us to be reconciled to himself, to save us from the consequence of our sin, and offer us eternal life… and throughout Romans Paul declares that all of this is available to all people and it is completely free. There’s nothing you can do earn God’s grace, it is freely available to you and to me. Pretty cool.
This is important because it makes clear to the reader that what Paul says in Romans 12:1 is not something that is required for salvation. What Paul is saying is not something that we need to do to receive God’s mercy, rather, this is about responding to God’s mercy. Free is hard to understanding because we live in a asterisk saturated world. If you go to Verizon you can get a free phone, with a two year contract. If you sign up for a mailing list you get a free pizza with any order over $10.
Arguably, even worse, we’ve seen someone’s so-called love for us manipulated to get something for themselves. I remember doing that often in middle school. No one wanted the last scoop of mac and cheese at lunch, so I would graciously let the person behind me “pass” so I could have the fresh scoop. Many kids actually thanking me for being so nice… But that wasn’t love of neighbor, that was love of David pretending to be love of neighbor. So when we hear something is free, like God’s grace, we assume we’re getting the sour end of the deal… we assume we’re getting tricked into getting the last scoop of mac and cheese… maybe there’s a catch. Where’s the asterisk.
Therefore… in view of God’s mercy… Paul starts off by saying, this isn’t to get God’s mercy, this is because of God’s mercy… his completely free mercy. And with God’s unmerited mercy in mind, Paul tells the church to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice.
Now to the Jewish Christians, offering sacrifices to God was something they were familiar with because they had gone to the temple to offer sacrifices regularly before. But what may have confused them was that a lot of their sacrifices were sin or guilt offerings. It was a way of acknowledging outwardly the remorse they felt inwardly for their sin.
But the Christians knew that those sacrifices were no longer needed because Christ laid himself down once and for all, for the forgiveness of all of our sins… past, present, and future. So Paul is turning the old sacrifice on its head and says, instead of going to the temple and offering dead animals to God, because of what God has already done for you in Christ Jesus, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God.
So what does this mean. Part of the answer is found at the end of verse 1. Paul says that offering our bodies as living sacrifices is our true and proper worship.
There’s a few different words in greek that translate into worship. The first is when a person adores something. My hope is that when we consider God’s unmerited, extravagant grace for us, that in some ways it causes us to pause for a moment, in awe of a love that we cannot comprehend. God is absolutely crazy about you. You… even when everyone else is getting a promotion at work… you, even when certain relationships don’t work out the way you had planned… you, the one who maybe isn’t the best painter in the whole world, the one who makes mistakes at times… God is crazy about you. God’s love for us is good. Sometimes, worship means adoration.
In Romans 12:1 the word worship isn’t adoration, it’s the action of “dedicating one’s life” to something. So, in other words, we are truly worshipping when we offer our whole body, or in other words all that we are… our whole lives, to God. So what does this look like for us?
It means that worship is us orienting our lives around Christ. There are lots of things in our world that demand our allegiance and the orientation of our lives… and they come in all different shapes and sizes. When I played basketball in high school, our coach wanted us to orient our lives around basketball… he demanded that we live, breathe, and sweat the sport. The best way to do this was to commit yourself to certain practices. One was being committed to being on time. If you were a starter on the team, every minute you were late to practice was one minute that you would sit out of the next game. So if you were 5 minutes late, you would not be able to play until 5 minutes into the game. Everything we were encouraged to do was for the sake of basketball. We were encouraged to commit to school work for the sake of basketball. It didn’t matter if you actually cared about school or not, but players would go to extra tutoring so they would be eligible to play basketball. The team was committed to staying out of trouble in school during the season so that they wouldn’t be penalized on the court. We were encouraged to orient our lives around basketball.
Other things that demand the orientation of our lives are a little more subtle, but may be more relevant to where you are in your life. Security, Social status, material wealth, “the perfect family.” My life might be oriented around social status if the thing that matters most is the way people see me. I’m committed to buying my clothes at a particular store because that’s where my peers shop. I’m committed to tithing to the church because I see all my friends from church tithing, and I want them to think highly of me so I fit in better. I’m committed to buying the latest phone from my favorite manufacturer because people are jealous of the people with the newest and nicest stuff. Don’t get me wrong on this stuff, it is easy to get sucked into it. We’re all tempted to orient our lives around something other than Christ.
The most challenging part of this is that it kind of brings us back to apologies. The genuineness of the apology lies in the heart of the individual. I can play basketball in high school and get tutoring, and make it to basketball practice on time, but that doesn’t mean i have oriented my life around basketball. I can buy the latest smart phone, I can tithe at church, I can live in a particular neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean I have oriented my life around social status. What matters is the why.
If my life is oriented around basketball, I get tutoring… why? in order to play in the games. If my life is oriented around Christ, I get tutoring… why? because I know that God wants me to do everything as if I’m doing it for Him. If my life is oriented around wealth, I tithe to the church… why? because I’ve bought into the idea that God will line my wallet if I give a certain amount to him. If my life is oriented around Christ, I give to the church because I believe in its mission and because I trust that God is the one who is going to take care of me, even if I don’t have as much money. So it’s important that we don’t look at the people around us, and look at the car they drive and assume their lives are or are not oriented around Christ. Our response has to be introspection. At times we need to check what drives us. Is it our pursuit of Christ, or is it something else?
If our life is oriented around Christ, it means our finish line, our goal… is to honor God in everything and share the love and mercy of God with those in our sphere of influence.
But the reality is there’s always going to be something else begging to be your finish line, but we have to stand firm… because he is the only one who has offered us the hope we so desperately needed. All the other stuff that we may want to orient our lives around will pass away… the basketball team, social status, material wealth… all of that stuff doesn’t matter when we’re six feet under and our loved ones are mourning their loss.
The reality is, offering our bodies as a living sacrifice is not the norm. It is a counter-cultural way of life, which is why Paul encourages the church specifically to not be tempted to buy into the example that they see in the world around them. In verse two, Paul says, (Romans 12:2a) “Do not conform to the pattern of the world.” Orienting our lives around Christ will make us feel out of place at times. But Jesus is our example in this.
In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus to orient his life around something other than His Father. Satan said, “If you’re the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus said no. Satan said, ““If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from this mountain.” Jesus said no. Satan looked over the city and said, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said no. Essentially, Satan tempted Jesus to orient his life around his own physical desires, having a high status, and wielding power… and Jesus said no, because he was not going to conform to the world, but he was going to orient his life around the purpose for which he had been sent.
For what purpose have we been sent. Jesus’ final command for his disciples was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Orienting our lives around Christ means fulfilling his purpose for us… to share the love and mercy of God with those in our sphere on influence.
What steps do we take to orient our lives around Christ. If we want to orient our lives around basketball, we have to do certain practices and likewise, if we want to orient our lives around Christ, there are some practices that will be helpful. Romans 12:2 – Do not conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind – Paul says this transformation happens by renewing our minds and we renew our minds when we learn the truth and Jesus says he’s the truth. Jesus is revealed to us in Scripture. So if we want to renew our minds, one way is by committing ourselves to reading Scripture.
A second practice that renews our minds is our time here in worship. Through worship and Scripture, we renew our minds by learning the truth about the world, about humanity, about ourselves, and about God.
Here are some examples to help make this clear… A lie we may be tempted to believe is that we can have security if we save up enough money. The truth is, On Christ the Solid rock I stand because all other ground is sinking sand. A lie we may believe is that we’re only good enough if we meet the expectations of those around us. The truth is that we are fearfully, beautifully, and wonderfully made by God. A lie we may believe is that if we mess this up, we’re going to lose everything we’ve worked so hard for. But the truth is that God makes beautiful things out of the dust. A lie is we’re not really good enough for people to love us… but the truth is that our King is here, out of love, to bring us back to him.
When we sing, we’re learning the truth… When we practice giving during the offering, we’re going against a lie and putting our faith in the God who is more than enough for us. Through the practices of our worship gatherings and the practice of reading Scripture, we grow closer to God and see things for what they really are.
We also need the practice of prayer. If we want to orient our lives around Christ, we need to pray and ask for God to lead us and empower us. Ask him to show us the way. Ask him to identify the things that we may have a tendency to orient your life around or that we are currently orienting your life around.
Finally, notice how it says, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice. We cannot do this alone. We need the practice of Christian community. We need to surround ourselves with people who are helping us live according to the truth. Our Christian community can offer guidance and support as we live this out. We can’t do it on our own, but by the grace and the guidance of God, he can.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the Lord. This is your true and proper worship.