30 January 2008

Romans 12:1-2

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

I was sitting behind a gentleman at church one night. He had on what appeared to be a brand new, white dress shirt. And as I sat there writing notes with my black pen, something occurred to me: if my pen slipped—just a little—and put a small mark on his shirt, many people would consider that shirt to be ruined. Brand new, right out of the package. But because of a little mark that would be no larger than the tip of the pen itself, many people would never be able to bring themselves to wear that shirt ever again.

What's my point?

Only this: how many times do we get so consumed with a fear and dread that something we have isn't perfect. We can't wear a shirt with a mark on it. We can't wear our sneakers if they get scuffed. We lose sleep because somebody nicked the paint on our car. And don't get me started on how we view our bodies, and how we grieve and spend years in therapy over some blemish on our skin.

And yet when it comes to living the life that God has called us to, we don't really give much thought to it. Eh, we might go to church this Sunday—if the football game didn't end too late the night before. We don't like to hear people use God's name as a cuss word—unless it's in the really good movie that we just have to see. We have a Bible—somewhere, if we can remember where we put it.

But look at what Paul is telling us here. …present your bodies a living sacrifice… That’s a word we’re kinda uncomfortable with. "Sacrifice" isn’t really near the top of our list of priorities. In America, anyway. We want to be comfortable. We want only the best coffee and snacks in our Sunday School class. We don’t want a preacher who will talk about sin and Hell. After all, we’re giving up our Sunday morning to be here.

Present. "To provide; to place a person or thing at one’s disposal." We are to place our bodies at God's disposal. We don’t get a vote in the matter. If God tells us to go to Alaska and take the gospel to the Eskimos, then we go north to Alaska. If God tells us there's something we need to give up, we give it up. Not just for a little while, but for good. Some people think that going without cable TV for a week is such a sacrifice. How is that a sacrifice? So you go without something you don’t need anyway for a little while. Big deal. Try going without electricity and running water for the rest of your life so a group of people in China or India—or even America—can hear the gospel of Christ.

Now, we're not all called to go to Africa. But we are all called to sacrifice. That's what salvation is all about! Jesus sacrificed His body for us—what are we going to do in return? There's nothing we can give Him. There's nothing we can do to repay Him. We owed God ten thousand talents, and Christ paid every single one of them with His blood. Likewise, we are to present your bodies a living sacrifice—put to death the deeds of the flesh (Colossians 3:5), crucify our old self (Romans 6:6), put off the old man (Ephesians 4:22-24).

What kind of sacrifice? A living sacrifice. That doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. But look at what "living" means. Not only does it mean "to live, breathe, be among the living," it also means, "to have true life and worthy of the name, active, blessed, endless in the kingdom of God." Notice some of these descriptors. Worthy. Active. Blessed. We could go into all the ways one becomes blessed in the kingdom of God. But let's look at "worthy" and "active." We are called to be a "worthy sacrifice." Philippians 2:12—…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 2nd Peter 1:10—…give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. Ephesians 5:15—…walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise. Present your bodies as a sacrifice that is worthy of the name of Christ. As the Moravians used to say, "May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering."

Active. Many people think of going to church—sitting on a bench and listening to a guy give a speech—as their way of being active. But it means so much more than that. Our whole life should reflect the glory of God. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. (James 2:18). The new life in Christ compels us to go forward in the good works that God has appointed us to do from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). We may only be called to be a doorkeeper, but it's better than being a doornail. If you know what I mean.

…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy. What does it mean to be holy? Does it mean that you live on a mountaintop where people struggle and climb to plumb the depths of your vast wisdom? No. It simply means "set apart, sanctified." A living sacrifice is easily distinguishable from a child of the devil. You can tell when a person is a living sacrifice because of the way they talk, they way they act, the things they enjoy, the things they do not enjoy, the things they take pleasure in, and the things that repulse them.

A living sacrifice is "holy, set apart, and sanctified." But it is also pure, undefiled, unblemished. What would be the consequence of a Jew in the Old Testament presenting a lamb for a sacrifice, if that lamb had a spot or a blemish? It would have been unacceptable to God, and the wrath of God would not have been assuaged. This is where my story of the man in the white dress shirt comes in. We look at other people's clothes as being unacceptable if they have a spot or a blemish or a wrinkle. Yet we are only too quick to offer ourselves to God with such defects, thinking He will overlook them. Do not be fooled! God does not accept that which He despises. We are under grace, yes, and we do not depend on our own righteousness for our salvation. However, if one says, "I believe in Christ as my Savior," yet lives a life that is devoted to pleasing his own flesh, and is no different than the life lived by the children of wrath—do you think God will accept that life as being lived to the glory of His grace?

We are to offer a worthy, active, living sacrifice that is different, set apart from the world, sanctified to God, and acceptable to God. Our spiritual lives may look good to other people. We may gain accolades from men. We may impress them with our minds and our intellect. And we can look good doing it. Big deal. Is it acceptable to God? Because, in the end, He's the only one who matters. If we have been held in the highest esteem by men because we have developed some new philosophy from picking and choosing different parts of His word that we want to believe, and it has tickled men's ears for a season, when we stand before God it will all be stripped away, nothing that was unacceptable to Him will remain, and if we had not Christ, we will be sent away from His presence into outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

How do we make sure that our living sacrifice is holy and acceptable to God? … do not be conformed to this world… Oh my, where do I begin? How many churches have taken their scalpels and removed this phrase. They do not want to make people feel uncomfortable, they want people to feel all warm and cozy in their sins, they want people to walk, with outstretched arms, right into Satan's clutches. So, they water down God's word—if they use it at all. They embrace the latest pop culture psychobabble. They neglect the parts of the Bible that are hard to understand—and harder still to hear. They declare sinners to be saints because they prayed a little prayer and asked Jesus to come into their heart. They make a mockery of the pulpit. They elevate the human heart over the will of God. They entertain, they tickle ears, they cater to "felt needs." All the while, sending their people on a collision course with an eternity in Hell, because they never hear that they need to turn away from sin—of course how can you turn away from sin if are never told what sin is?

These same churches employ music that makes us feel good about ourselves, doesn’t use too much Scripture, doesn’t sound like that old-timey with all of its "Thou's" and "Thine's". The singers are hip, cool, hair-gelled pop-singer types who work hard at keeping the people entertained, rather than ministered to. They may be Elvis impersonators, or maybe poker players, who just want to get people in the door, then, maybe, they might talk to them about a little phrase they found somewhere in the Bible (Where isn't really important, after all, we don’t want to overwhelm them) that they can use as a sound bite to use to somehow cope with their everyday life. We don’t want to worry them about Hell and God's wrath, mind you, because that might make them feel too icky. And we don’t want that, because they might not come back.

The verb "conformed" is in the passive voice. It is something that the conformee allows the conformer to do to it. We do not conform ourselves to the world. It is the world that does the shaping and molding. The Greek word translated "conform" is suschmatizesqe (suschématizésthe). It comes from the two Greek words sun (sún) and schema (schéma). It literally means "To fashion together." Paul is saying, "Do not allow the world to fashion you together." When a church allows the world to influence what it should believe, and how it should perform its duties. When those who claim the title "Christian" allow the evolutionists to dictate what they should believe about the Bible's literal account of creation. When the world says, "Do this!" and the church does it. This is "being conformed to the world" and it is not being a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

Instead, we should be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Again, this is in the passive voice. Can we transform—metamorfousqe (metamorphústhe. Guess what English word we get from this)—ourselves? That depends on what sense you mean by "transforming." You see, if you simply change your way of thinking or acting according to man's ideas, beliefs, ideals, morals, and ethics, then you have not been "transformed." You are still aligned with this world, and you are no more transformed than you were before. However, if we allow the renewing of our mind to do the transforming, then it will be a true change. The word "renewing" is a noun. It is synonymous with "renovation." It refers to the new mind. And if we are in Christ, do we not have His mind? 1st Corinthians 2:16For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. Philippians 2:5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Let this new mind transform you into a new man, that you do not return to the beggarly elements of the world (Galatians 4:9); do not allow them to fashion you into something that is unacceptable to God.

What purpose does this transformation serve? That you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Prove. The Greek is dokimazein (dokimázein). "To recognise as genuine after examination." If you allow the world to fashion you as it pleases, you will never know God. For how can the carnal mind understand spiritual things (1st Corinthians 2:14)? If we hardly understand earthly things, how can we understand spiritual things (John 3:12)? And what fellowship does righteousness have with unrighteousness (2nd Corinthians 6:14)? However, if we, with the new mind—the mind of Christ—examine the word of God, we will test it and try it and examine it and find it to be truth. For His word is truth (John 17:17).

Now, the rendering of this last part of this verse has been the cause of not a little speculation. Is Paul referring to God's will as "good, pleasing, and perfect"? Or is he talking about God's "good will" and His "acceptable will" and His "perfect will"—as if they are three different wills? The first hypothesis—perhaps. The second hypothesis—I doubt it. For God has only one will—His. And His will for us is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. But this will not happen in this age, while we still inhabit these bodies. Yet while we are in these bodies, we are to seek God's will for our lives. And according to that will, there are things that are good, things that are acceptable, and things that are perfect. That is what Paul is saying here. If you read this verse word-by-word from the Greek, it says, "…but be continuing to be transformed by the change that is occurring in your mind, that you may know the will of God: what is good and acceptable and perfect." We don’t always know His will. We are clothed in these bodies of flesh, we think with imperfect minds and we hear with imperfect ears. But, if we search His word with the new mind we have, we can determine:

1) What things are good. Those things that we should always seek to do.

2) What things are acceptable. We may have questions about certain issues that are not addressed specifically, by name, in Scripture. However, there is no question, no issue, that Scripture cannot give an answer to. And we need to look to the Scriptures as our final source of authority and determine, as best we can, the proper course of action.

3) What things are perfect. There are some things we are absolutely commanded to do. These things are crystal clear, there is no controversy about them. They are spelled out word-for-word, and these are the things make the man perfect.

Let us never be so flippant with our service to God that we would mix it with the weak and brutish things of the world. Let us never be more concerned with the things we own than with those things we offer to God. Let us always consider the calling that He has called us to, and offer up our lives to that service, not allowing the world to dictate how we should do it, never allowing the world to influence how we worship Him and serve Him. But with a mind renewed by God, let us always stir one another up to good works (Hebrews 10:24), and allow that renewed mind to transform us into people who seek the will of God to determine what is good, what is acceptable, and what is perfect.

No comments: