A Reasonable Sacrifice
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 12:1-2
Since we are between series, this morning we are going to revisit our theme for 2021, “Devoted to God.” This year we are emphasizing how God has set us apart from the world as his special possession. It’s a wonderful privilege to be devoted to God, but it also means that Christ has radically altered the course of my life. I live for his glory, not my own.
Today, we are going to look at an important text regarding how I must respond to the marvelous mercy of God, by living a life devoted to God (read). This is a very familiar text. But I was reminded this week why we love this passage.
It is both theological and practical. It is encouraging and convicting. It’s deeply rooted in grace, but it also emphasizes duty, and it gives practical help for getting there. So, even if you have heard 100 sermons on this text, and you memorized it in AWANA, I’m confident that God has something for you in this passage.
The center of the passage is the challenge to “present your bodies as a sacrifice to God.” God demands everything. And then v. 2 explains how to make our lives a worthy sacrifice. We must transform our thinking resulting in a transformed process of decision-making. But for the sake of ease, my outline is built on 4 challenges. The first is…
I. Remember God’s mercies (v. 1a).
Notice that Paul frames the central challenge to “present your bodies as a sacrifice to God” with the introduction, “I beseech…” I want to emphasize that this statement is vital to what follows.
First, “therefore” is a major hinge within Romans. This is because Paul just spent 11 chapters giving us the most detailed exposition in the entire Bible of God’s grace in the gospel.
Paul has explained that our sin leaves us hopelessly condemned before God. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves from God’s wrath. But Jesus suffered our punishment on the cross so that we could receive the righteousness of God. And remarkably I can receive this incredible gift simply by faith. I don’t have to earn it; I simply receive it.
Then chapters 5–8 detail the many blessings I receive through Christ. The mercies in these chapters are amazing. Finally, chapters 9–11 set my salvation in the context of God’s ultimate redemptive purpose. It’s truly amazing to consider God’s plan to glorify himself through saving sinners.
So, the “therefore” in 12:1 looks back on all of this and sums it up as “the mercies of God.” I have been blessed beyond measure. And I can’t take any credit for it. I deserve condemnation and wrath, but God has blessed me with manifold mercies both for today and eternity.
It is vitally important that we appreciate God’s mercies, because you will never think rightly about Christian duty unless you see it from the perspective of grace. It’s only when you clearly see all that you have received, that you will gladly want to obey the rest of this passage.
And it is only when you appreciate the power you have received through the gospel that you will believe that any of this is possible.
I want to emphasize that within true gospel Christianity, grace drives duty. We do not fulfill duties to receive grace, as legalistic religions teach. No, we fulfill the duties that are coming in this text, because we have received grace.
Christian, remember God’s mercies. I heard a preacher say this week, “For every glance that you take at your duty take 100 glances at the at the grace of God.” That’s a hyperbolic statement, but you get the point. Christian duty must flow from thankfulness for all that Jesus has done for me and from deep confidence that his grace is able to change me. The 2nd and primary challenge of the text is…
II. Gladly devote yourself to the Lord.
The Sacrifice: Paul says, “I beseech you,” or “I strongly urge you” to respond to the mercy of God by “presenting your bodies as a sacrifice to God.” Paul is clearly drawing on imagery from the OT sacrificial system. When Israel approached God in worship, they had to bring a sacrifice, which they would “present” at the tabernacle/temple.
Don’t forget that doing so was very costly. Growing up on the farm, I remember well how painful it was for my dad when we lost a calf or a hog that was close to market. We had a lot invested in those animals, so it hurt to lose one. Similarly, when an Israelite brought a burnt offering to the temple, he was making a very costly sacrifice.
But God doesn’t just demand an animal from us; God commands you to “present your bodies” to the Lord. Paul highlights the body, because it especially fits the imagery of an Israelite bringing a lamb to God.
But it also highlights the totality of the sacrifice. Afterall, there are many people who will tell you that they love God, but where they go with their feet, what they touch with their hands, what their ears hear, and their eyes see doesn’t reflect sincere love for the Lord. That’s not enough.
In January we saw that my body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, my appearance and every action should accurately reflect the fact that my body belongs to God.
Of course, what people see on the outside must reflect a heart of submission. God has no interest in hypocrisy. He demands that I present my whole person as a sacrifice to God.
I must mention that this is not a one-time decision. As a kid I remember being challenged to dedicate my life to the Lord, as if (a) you can be a Christian and not be committed to the Lord, and (b) a one-time commitment can fix my rebellion. But that’s not how it works. My flesh will always strongly resist this command.
Therefore, I must daily and often moment by moment choose to submit to Christ’s lordship. Whenever my flesh resists God’s will, I must consciously choice to present myself to him. I must say, “Here I am Lord. Do with me whatever you desire.”
The Character of the Sacrifice: Then notice that Paul describes this sacrifice with 3 adjectives. It is to be living, holy, and acceptable.
There’s some debate about how to understand living. But considering the sacrificial language in context, it’s best to understanding living as the opposite of dead. I am a living sacrifice in the sense that I must live for him every moment of every day.
Holy in a sacrificial context speaks of devotion to God. I do not belong to the world; I have been set apart to God. And acceptable speaks of God’s acceptance or approval of the sacrifice. It’s a reminder that don’t serve Christ primarily to impress or please people. No, what matters is that God is pleased, that he accepts the sacrifice of my life as pleasing in his sight.
These adjectives remind us that God will not accept just any sacrifice. Just as God would not accept a lame animal from Israel, he will not accept the scraps of our lives. He demands all of us. He demands that we live holy lives in submission to his will and that we give ourselves to ministry and good deeds. I must live for his pleasure, not my own.
The Logic of the Sacrifice: Then notice the final statement of v. 1. The Greek word translated service, latreia, is a fascinating, rich word. It combines the concepts of worship and service into a single word.
Think especially of the priests serving in the temple. Worship was their job. They led Israel in approaching God, expressing gratitude for his grace, and seeking atonement for sin. But they didn’t spend most of their time standing in one place singing or sitting down to hear a sermon. No, it was hard work to manage all those sacrifices. At the end of the day, they were dirty, sweaty, smelly, and exhausted.
This is the kind of service that Paul has in mind. He reminds us that we don’t just worship on Sundays. No, I worship God in every act of obedience and every resistance of the flesh. Yesterday, we worshipped God by organizing storage and cleaning the building. We worship God by loving each other through kind, encouraging words or through confronting sin.
All of life is worship. All I do should be a testimony of the beauty of my Savior and an expression of how much I love him and believe him.
But when we hear this, to some extent our selfish defenses all go up. Isn’t God asking too much? Don’t I have the right to keep some of my life to myself? Aren’t some of God’s demands too difficult or unreasonable? Well, Paul answers that all of this is “reasonable.”
This is another very interesting Greek term. The word is logikos. We get our word logical from it. So, God is saying that what he demands is not outlandish. It is reasonable or logical. Think about the mercies we have received. We are justified, we are alive, we are God’s adopted children. God has given us so much. And he did so at a high price. It cost Jesus his life. In light of all this, his demands are more than reasonable. In fact, I should be glad to joyfully give my life back to him.
So Christian, I want to urge you to gaze on the incredible mercies you have received. Be amazed at all that Christ has done and at the power he has given for the pursuit of godliness. Holiness is in reach! So, present your body and your whole life as a sacrifice to God. Every day make a conscious choice to gladly devote yourself to God. The 3rd major challenge of the text is…
III. Purify your mind and heart (v. 2a).
Priority of the Mind: I want to emphasize that Paul is especially concerned with the transformation of the mind. This is because true godliness always begins in the mind and then works down to the heart and the hands.
I emphasize this, because we live in a hyper-emotional age. I read a tweet recently that said, “Literally the only thing you should do in life is maximize your happiness. And hopefully the things that make you happy also help other people in the process.” The highest good is feeling good. And we’ve all heard our world urge us to be “true yourself,” or “true to your feelings” as an essential ethical priority.
In contrast, Christianity always prioritizes the mind. We are driven by truth, grace, and duty, which are outside us, not by feelings.
So, Paul says that spiritual growth begins with renewing the mind. And Scripture teaches that as my mind is renewed, my affections and actions will also be renewed. So, if you want to be godly, don’t primarily focus on how you feel or even on what you do. No, renew your mind through deep biblical instruction, Bible saturation, and disciplining your mind to think on truth.
As your thinking is transformed, you will be much better equipped to address everything else. With that in mind, notice that Paul describes renewing the mind by means of a strong contrast. First, God commands us…
“Do not be conformed to this world.” The “world” that Paul has in mind is not the planet but this evil age that Satan dominates. It’s what we often call worldliness. We’re all very familiar with the fact that unbelievers have their own philosophies and values that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture.
In particular, worldly values are never God-centered. The unbeliever does not see life from the perspective of God’s authority, grace, and coming judgment. Instead, he sees himself as the center of his universe.
As well, eternity and God’s eternal joys do not drive the unbeliever. Instead, he is focused on the pleasures and ambitions of this life.
We could go on, but you get the point. Every day we are surrounded by a philosophy and value system that dramatically shapes how people think and live, and it is hostile to a biblical perspective on life. Therefore, what makes us outsiders in the world is not fundamentally what we do or how we speak but our foundational beliefs.
And Paul warns that the world is constantly trying to “conform” us to its likeness. In other words, the world wants to squeeze us into its mold so that we think like them, love what they love, look like them, and behave like them.
And we all feel that pressure, right? Our flesh longs for worldly pleasures and worldly acceptance. We want to fit in and be accepted and respected.
And because this pressure is so great, we can become calloused to how evil it all is, and we can become very skilled at justifying conformity to the world. We conform to worldly values, and we justify worldly behavior.
I wonder what Paul would think if he walked into the typical American evangelical church or Christian home. I’m pretty sure he would be appalled at much of the entertainment Christians enjoy, the clothes they wear, and how they speak. We’ve become so calloused to the perversity of our age that we can’t see how disgusting it is.
But God says that my life has been devoted to God. And there is no way I can present myself as a worthy sacrifice to God and “be conformed to this world.” By God’s grace we must not let the world squeeze us into its mold. Instead…
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It’s noteworthy that Paul doesn’t merely command us to resist worldliness. We need to be transformed, because worldliness does not only reside outside me; it lives in my own sin nature. My biggest problem is me, not everyone else. Therefore, I need a radical transformation of every part of my being.
Notice also that “be transformed” is a command. I must pursue transformation. But it’s also in the passive voice, meaning that ultimately someone else is doing the transformation. Of course, God by his Spirit is the one who ultimately changes me. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).
So, if I want my life to be an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord that reflects the mercy I have received, I must do all that I can to put myself in the best position for God’s Spirit to transform my mind and my heart.
2 Corinthians 3:18 states that this begins with continually “beholding…the glory of the Lord.” So, if I want my mind to be transformed, I must constantly gaze on the beauty of the Lord. You need to immerse your mind in God’s glory. You need to be in the Word, you need to meditate on Scripture, you need to sing about God’s glory or listen to others do so. You need to talk of God’s glory with fellow Christians. Discipline yourself to “behold the glory of the Lord.”
Of course, this necessarily means eliminating worldly influences. Folks, there is so much trash in our world. You cannot have a renewed mind, if you are constantly stuffing trash through your eyes and ears.
Of course, Satan is often most effective with subtle influences. For example, watching the news might seem entirely innocent. But there are values that undergird every story that are hostile to a renewed mind. So, be discerning and be disciplined about everything you put in your mind.
Christian, God says that the foundation of a life that is acceptable to God is a transformed mind. Do not let the Satan, the world, and your flesh drive your thoughts and values. No, be transformed through the grace of God and disciplined, strategic work. The 4th challenge is…
IV. Live a life that reflects God’s character (v. 12b).
Notice how v. 2 moves from my mind to my actions. The “good and acceptable and perfect will of God” has to do with the choices I make and the actions that follow.
And when we read a statement like this, it’s important that we remember Paul’s context. He was raised a Pharisee, and he was taught that the Law and all of the Jewish traditions that surrounded the Law define very specifically what the will of God is for just about every facet of life.
So, this statement represents a radical shift in how we approach holiness. Rather than having someone tell us line by line how to live, Christians are responsible to “prove what is…(the) will of God.” We must know what God has said in his Word, and we must work to apply it to the most basic issues of life—how to use my time and money, what entertainment is appropriate, how to care for my body, and many other things.
And it’s important to emphasize that this shift from detailed laws to discernment does not mean that God’s will is now Play-Doh that I can shape into whatever form I desire. Paul says that God has a “good and acceptable and perfect will.”
God’s will is good, and the implication is that my way is never as good, no matter how much I want it. It is acceptable, specifically to God. Really that’s all that matters, because God defines what is right, not me. As such, his will is perfect. It is pure and clean.
So, Christian discernment is not about finding a way to justify what I want. No, it is about transforming my mind into the image of the Savior so that I think like he thinks, and I love what he loves. As a result, when I look at my checkbook, my schedule, and the TV guide, I evaluate them the same way Jesus would, and I make wise and holy choices.
I want to emphasize that developing this skill takes a lifetime of hard work. We always have more to learn about the will of God through studying his character, the stories, and the principles and commands of Scripture. As well, we live in an ever-changing world that raises new questions every day. So, don’t get lazy. Keep studying, keep praying and keep thinking.
I also want to emphasize that exercising discernment requires genuine godliness. I remember being taken back, when I was reading a teen parenting book by Paul Tripp, and he said that teenager are the worst legalists.
His point was that they generally aren’t committed to the heart of the law; instead, they are experts at working the system and finding loopholes like a good lawyer. Of course, that’s often true of all of us, not just teens.
You can’t fulfill v. 2 if you come to the will of God with your own agenda. God isn’t looking for “technical obedience”; he is looking for genuine submission and faith that believes God’s will is good and wants to please him.
So, remember God’s mercies. God has been so good to us, and he has given all that we need for life and godliness. Therefore, devote yourself to the Lord. Give him what he already owns. And then work this devotion out through a transformed life and godly decision-making.