Recent Sermons

    Living Sacrifices
    Robert N. Stradling
Scriptures: Rom 12:1-2
    Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this 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.     NIV
    Today we resume the main content of Romans.  Paul has described our need for forgiveness, the forgiveness offered us in Christ, and the new life Jesus earned for us.  He has told us how we are meant to live as new people, alive from the dead, with no condemnation, full of God’s Spirit.  He has assured us that we are able to trust in God, because God works out everything for our best – meaning building a great relationship with God Himself.  We are His people, His children, and with God for us, nothing can separate us from God’s love.  
    But then Paul made a diversion into the topic of the salvation of the Jews, his own people.  Partly, because Paul’s own heart was broken by the large numbers of his people who had not recognized and believed in their Messiah.  And second, because Paul wanted to assure us that God remains faithful to all His promises – even those made long ago to the Jewish people.
    Today we begin a section from chapter 12 to the middle of 15, describing what the new life we have in Christ looks like in practical, everyday living.
    It’s important to see what Paul is doing here is not laying down a new set of laws.  Paul does not believe in living by the law.  But what Paul is doing is showing what a life led by the Spirit looks like.  Because he believes those who are being transformed by the Spirit will give evidence of this way of life in how they live, and seek to grow in living for Christ because it’s what they want to do.
    If Romans 1:16&17 are the basic theme of the whole book of Romans, then Romans 12:1&2 are the theme of this last main topic of the book.  But I think Romans 12:1&2 are often misunderstood, and so I want to take a careful look at just these two verses today.
    Before you can understand them, you must affirm all the basics of the Good News Paul has already told us:  That we can’t save ourselves from our sin.  That God in Christ has saved us – given us free righteousness, free goodness, so that when God looks at us He only sees good.  That we are new people in Christ, and live by the Spirit’s power.  That God works all things together for the ultimate good of our having a great relationship with God.  That God’s love is always there for us – and no matter how we feel or what happens, we are kept in God’s love.
    I know I am repeating myself, but these basics are essential.  If you don’t understand the Gospel Paul has presented to this point, and don’t live in it by the power of the Holy Spirit, you will misinterpret these next three chapters as stuff you have to do – like a legalist – rather than want to do, because you love God.  You must love God and Christ and have accepted their amazing grace for you to truly understand these last chapters of Romans.
    An older stamp collector met a young boy who was very interested in stamp collecting. The old man had decided he did not want to sell his collection before he died, and he had no children.  So he decided to give away his most precious set of stamps to this young boy.  The boy was thrilled to get them.  Later, the older collector found a couple pages that were part of that set that had gotten mixed up with another part of his collection.  The older man was quick to call the boy back to give him the two pages.  There was never a thought in his mind to do anything else, because he thought he had already given them to the boy.  In fact, he was so thrilled to be able to add to the boy’s collection, he gave him another set as well.
    That is what is going on here in these chapters in Romans.  If we have followed Paul up to this point, we have already given to God the most precious elements of our lives.  If we find that we have left some parts out as we go along, we are thrilled to give more of them to God.  Because that is our heart’s desire.  To be God’s child in Christ, wholly and completely.
    Yet that does not mean this comes totally without struggle or difficulty.
    That’s why Paul uses the image of a ‘living sacrifice’ to help us understand how we give more and more of ourselves to God each day.
    Some people have a hard time understanding these two verses because they think that a sacrifice is only about shedding the blood of an animal, or the death of Jesus for our sin.  But the word sacrifice in the Bible is used in a much broader way at times.  It can include the giving of something to God in a way that has a cost to the giver, but also in return blesses and benefits the giver.
    Think of the Passover lamb.  It would be sacrificed to remember and celebrate the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.  It cost something – if the family were shepherds, it cost them their best lamb, but if they weren’t shepherds, then they had to purchase a spotless animal.  But it was also then the center of the feast which they ate!  It was a blessing to them!
    So too when we live for God, it will be a blessing to us.  When we are attracted to and love God’s ways of doing things, and live that way, it leads to blessings in this life.  We get closer and closer to God.  And the practical blessings God gives us in this life take on new meaning.  They aren’t just about our being secure and comfortable.  They become ways of sharing God with others.
    Paul is talking about making our bodies a ‘living sacrifice’ to God.  What does that mean?  Well, first, Paul is talking about our bodies.  So he is talking about our behavior.  He is saying what we do should be given over to God.  So all we do in this world should be for the honor of God.
    This is about being holy.  Not just ‘spiritual’ in our talk, but in all we do and are every day.  We love God.  God is Holy.  To love God is to love holiness.  Sometimes we are afraid of being accused of having a ‘holier than thou’ attitude.  While we certainly don’t want to be self righteous, we also need to be careful that we don’t use that as an excuse not to seek holiness.  God wants a holy people.  And God wants you to be holy.
    This is also about worshiping God.  You want to worship God?  That is great!  But Paul says here that true worship of God isn’t just coming to church to sing His praise on Sunday.  True worship is carrying your love for God into all you do, everyday, every week, every year you live.
    The negative of all this is being ‘conformed to the world,’ which we are to avoid.  That does not mean the natural world.  We can celebrate all in nature that God has given us.  This doesn’t mean the world of things.  We can enjoy the things God gives us.  This doesn’t mean the love of people in the world.  In fact, Jesus calls us to love them whether they are friend or enemy.
    ‘The world’ as Paul means it here is the world separated from God.  If you love nature but don’t honor God in doing so, you are loving the world.  If you love your possessions without thanks to God, you are loving the world.  If you love people, without any love from God, then you are loving the world.  Loving the world can be tricky, because we are called to love all that is in God.  It’s when we try to love it without God that it becomes a trap and a snare.
    So all the ‘deadly sins,’ like pride and greed and lust are all about things God wants us to appreciate with Him.  We are supposed to know God loves us, and receive that love into ourselves so that we know we are loved.  But if we love ourselves to the exclusion of God it is pride.  We are supposed to desire the good things God gives us.  But if we love those things without God, it is greed.  We are supposed to express our love for our spouse sexually, with full enjoyment in God.  But when sexual pleasure is the end in itself, it becomes lust.
    In verse 2, he also talks about our minds being changed or renewed.  Now when we think of the word ‘mind’ we usually mean our thinking and beliefs.  But for Paul and the Jews in general, this word means all of the inner being:  Our thoughts, our feelings, and the choices we make.  So the transformation Paul is talking about is a total change of what is inside us.
    This certainly includes changing the way you think about things.  That’s why we need to read the Bible everyday, especially the New Testament.  We need to change the way we think so that we think about who God is and what He wants naturally as part of the way we live.
    But this also needs to penetrate into our emotional being.  Whatever helps you feel the presence of God – singing hymns or praise songs, reading the Psalms and allowing yourself to react emotionally.  All so your feelings of love for God begin to line up with what you have been taught about Him.
    And this results in a change in your will – in what you want to do.  Because in your thoughts, you love God enough to take His desires for you into account.  Because you feel His love and feel love for God.  Because the Holy Spirit leads you in all you are – you want to do God’s will.  And you enjoy doing it!
    So these two verses talk about our being given over to God completely.  Both in our outward, bodily performance, and in the inner soul, all that we are.  This all leads to us living in God’s will.  We ‘prove’ it in our lives in the sense that our living for God demonstrates the truth of Jesus’ forgiveness and new life changing us from deep within.  It will be good for you and pleasing to you because you love God.  And the more you live in it the more perfect you become.
    Now someone will probably ask me about becoming perfect or talk about it with the expectation that I will agree you can’t reach perfection.  It is true, but it is the expression of the desire of someone who is not willing to seek perfection.  And God is perfect.  If you aren’t seeking perfection, you are short sighted in your seeking of God.
    But it is true we should not seek perfection on our own.  Perfectionism is a terrible psychological malady, in which the person wants to become flawless by their own power.  We need to know and believe that it cannot be done.  Perfectionism and legalism are strongly related, and are a defective way of approaching God.
    But when we love God, we love that He is perfect, and we love getting nearer and nearer to Him.  You seek God, think about Him, feel His love, and do what He wants because it is the center of your life.  And as you do it, you grow in God’s goodness, enjoy being near Him, and grow in perfection.
    I love playing golf.  But even the best pro golfers never become perfect.  I don’t come close to them.  I still play because I love the thrill when I do something good.  One of the first times I played golf this year was on Pickering Valley Golf Course.  Near the end of the round, I was tired and hadn’t played the last few holes well.  I faced a long downhill par 5, the 17th hole.  My last few drives hadn’t been very good, so I tried to just meet the ball  And in one of those things that happens in golf, I just creamed it down the hill.  It went 290 yards!  Now I only hit most drives about 225 yards and not even that when tired.  Then I was able to hit my second shot just short of the green.  Never happens for me on a par 5.  I hit a great chip to a pin in the back, and sank a 3 foot putt for a birdie.
    Now I don’t get many birdies.  While there is a lot of that round I don’t remember, I remember that one hole!  I loved hitting good shots and getting a good result, as near to perfect as I ever get on a golf course.  Praise God!
    But that’s the way we are meant to ‘play’ life.  We love God, and think about things and do them for Him, because we love getting a good result for Him.  We love thinking about God, feeling His presence and doing His will.  And when the result is in His will, we know we are growing toward God, in His perfection.  We live lives as a sacrifice of love and joy in God, seeking Him.