So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.Romans 12:1-2 The Common English Bible
I have been pondering recently why it seems that the Church is losing the culture wars. It looks like the Church has become more like the world when it should be the other way around. The Church should so impact the world that the world is changed.
Dr. David Graves, several years ago, told about what is happening in the Church of the Nazarene over in Africa. He spoke of a District Superintendent who never showed up for any of the District or Regional meetings, and they were having a challenging time tracking him down. The leadership wanted to give him some increased responsibilities. Still, they just couldn’t make regular contact with him and get him to come to meetings.
They finally got a hold of him and told him that he had to be at a meeting on a particular date and at a specific time. The date came, and he didn’t show up. The regional leadership was very concerned about him. Several days later, he arrived at the location where the meeting was to have taken place. He explained to the regional leadership that he started from his home walking to the meeting and he passed through a village with a Nazarene church in it and greeted the pastor who told him about a brand new work in a neighboring village so he went to that village and there he organized a brand new Church of the Nazarene. The pastor of that Church told him about another new work in another village, so he detoured there and organized another brand new Church of the Nazarene. On and on it went as he made his journey to the meeting he was supposed to be at. I forgot to write down how many churches he organized on his way to that meeting.
What a refreshing reminder that God the Holy Spirit is still at work, bringing people into a saving faith with Jesus Christ. There is a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit happening in Africa not just through the Church of the Nazarene, but in virtually all denominations that have churches there. I asked God, “why is that not happening here?” It used to be that if you opened the doors of the Church, people would come. That doesn’t happen any longer.
As I’ve sought answers to my pondering from God, I think that I’ve stumbled on maybe a partial answer. I think that perhaps we’ve lost touch with the real radical transformation that God wants to do in each of our lives. I think we’ve lost touch with the sense of holiness and glory of God, and what it means to be a true blood-bought, Holy Spirit-filled child of the King, the creator of the universe.
I think that by and large, we’ve just settled for a tame religion. A religion where we come to Church do a few rituals, maintain a list of do’s and don’ts, and then live our lives as if God hasn’t made any difference at all in our lives. One writer put it this way: “We have lost our vision for the glorious, transforming presence of Jesus Christ – how he really makes a difference. This transformation goes well beyond a few instances of slightly modified behavior.”
Peter, in his first epistle, urges us by reminding us what God said:
“Be Holy, because I am Holy.”
What does it mean to be Holy? What does a holy person look like?
Paul, in Romans 12:1-2 tells us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God.” Let us take a look at that passage of scripture and see what God wants to say to us today.
Paul spends the first seven chapters in this letter to the Church at Rome, laying the groundwork for this passage. He talks about sin and how we’ve all sinned and are separated from God. He reminds them that the wages of sin is death, and then in chapter 7, he goes into that tongue-twisting section about the sinful nature.
And then, in Chapter 8, he seemingly turns the corner, and we have two significant passages. He tells us in verse 1, “So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And he follows that up in verse 15, where he says, “you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.”
So we come to chapter 12, Paul says, “So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies.” Paul has spent the first 11 chapters talking about our sinful condition and about how through God’s mercy and grace, He reached out to us. He now says, “because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God”.
One thing about this encouraging of Paul is that we often make it very individualized. It is as if Paul were writing this specifically to me, saying, “Nathan, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Paul is not writing to an individual; he is writing to the whole group of Roman Christians. It’s a community thing – they, the Christian family, need to offer their bodies, themselves as a living sacrifice. It’s a refreshing reminder that we’re not just individual Christians but that we are a community, a family, part of this Christian family.
Paul is building on the idea he raised back in chapter 6 verse 13, where he said: “Don’t offer parts of your body to sin.” He’s changed direction and now says to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. What a radical reordering of our lives he’s challenging us to.
Previously we offered our bodies as instruments of sin and wickedness. Now the challenge is to offer them as instruments of righteousness, sanctified, wholly available to God.
Paul is not writing about a tame religion. He’s looking for a radical transformation in our lives. Too often, Christianity becomes nothing but a set of rules, a list of don’ts. True Christianity can not be defined by the list of things that we don’t do. Indeed, there are things as a Christian that we should not do, but that list should not and must not define us.
When I say the word “holiness,” what comes to your mind? Does it refer to as I use to hear many times in Church when I was much younger, “I don’t drink, and I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do?”
Does holiness refer to the words you use or don’t use? Does it refer to the prayer concerns (gossip) you share or choose not to share? Does it refer to whether or not you drink an alcoholic beverage? Does it refer to whether you smoke or don’t smoke? Does it refer to whether you were jewelry or don’t wear jewelry? Does it refer to whether our ladies wear dresses or pants to Church?
You see, without a powerfully transforming faith, our faith is reduced to just a set of intellectual beliefs and a list of things that we’re forbidden to do. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that kind of faith. Our young people don’t want that kind of faith. People out in the world don’t want that kind of faith. They want to see a person powerfully transformed by the Holy Spirit of God. Now they may not know that it is the Holy Spirit who does this work within the life of a Christian, but they do know that a person’s faith should make a difference in how that person lives his or her life. They want a kind of faith that is recognized by what we do.
Paul says that this transformation, this offering our bodies as living, holy, and pleasing to God.
In living, Paul is saying that it is the choice to offer ourselves in service of a cause that is greater than we are. In the Old Testament, the sacrifice is killed and placed on the altar. Here Paul says its living, and we die to nothing but sin and self so that we can live wholly for Christ who died and rose again.
Sanctification is both a crisis, that moment of consecration where we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, and it’s also a process, it is living out the life of holiness. It is taking up our cross and daily following Jesus.
Our sacrifice is Holy because our lives belong to God. The Bible tells us that “You have been bought and paid for.” That price was Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’ve been set free from the bondage and slavery to sin, and now we are called to consecrate ourselves wholly and entirely and unreservedly to God.
Our sacrifice, our consecration, is pleasing to God because it satisfies his expectations. Paul says this is our spiritual act of worship.
We most often think of worship as that one hour on a Sunday morning where we come together to sing some songs, read some scriptures, offer some prayers, give a little money, hear the preacher and then go home and say that we went to worship today.
Worship is so much more than what happens for that 1-hour time slot on a Sunday morning. Worship is the entirety of our lives daily. It is that lived-out sacrifice daily.
Paul, in verse 2, moves more in-depth into this radical transformation that God wants to do in our lives. He says, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
The verbs that he uses “conform” and “transformed” are passive, which means there is some external force at work. The Message reads this way “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” Paul is saying that we either cooperate or refuse to work with these external forces.
When he says to “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world ” he is telling us that we are to refuse to cooperate with the world, as that paraphrased passage says, ” Don’t become so well-adjusted.”
We’ve been set free from sin, and we must never, ever, ever allow sin to exercise its rule in our life again! He is giving a command. That command is that we not let the world, sin around us to again squeeze into its image. Going back to verse 1, how can we be living, holy, pleasing sacrifices to God if we allow sin into our lives. Runaway from it! Paul is not writing to individuals; he is writing to the community, the Church. You cannot defeat sin on your own.
Sanctification is not a solo performance; it demands a choir, an orchestra, a community of saints. That was John Wesley’s point when he wrote:
“Holy solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than “holy adulterers.” The gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.”John Wesley
Paul says, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”
This transforming and renewing of our minds is not something that we do. We don’t get up one morning and make the determination that we’re going to transform and renew ourselves. I’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work. We do the offering of our bodies as an act of consecration to God. By consecrating our entire being to God, we allow his indwelling Holy Spirit to transform us.
The word “transformed” is where we get our word “metamorphosis.” As a kid, you probably were fascinated by a caterpillar who made a cocoon. Then from that cocoon, a beautiful butterfly emerges. That butterfly is not just a caterpillar that grew some wings, but it is a whole new creature.
That’s the type of transformation that Paul is talking about. We don’t just change our behavior and actions. Our very essence is altered.
We are not just acting out a part as if we were in a play, but we are entirely different. It’s the result of the Holy Spirit working to do this inside-out transformation. He’s reproducing Jesus in our lives.
Gary Thomas, in his book “Holy Available,” said:
Biblical holiness and person transformation depend on how Christ becomes really present in his followers’ lives and how he makes a real difference there…”Gary Thomas
That’s the kind of life that will attract people to Jesus. As the Holy Spirit transforms us, and we live out our worship daily, people will be attracted to that kind of living faith.
Don’t think for a moment that this transformation and renewing of your mind is going to happen overnight. It’s a continuous process as the Holy Spirit continually molds and makes into the very image of Christ.
Frances Havergal is one of the writers of hymns that we find in our hymnbook. She grew up in a strong Christian home and, by all outward appearances, was a model Christian. By her early twenties, she had memorized the majority of the New Testament, the book of Psalms and most of Isaiah. Her biography says, “she still longed for a deeper, richer, fuller Christian experience.” She wrote, “I want Jesus to speak to me, to say ‘many things’ to me that I may speak for him to others with real power. It is not knowing doctrine, but being with him, which will give this.”
About 15 years later, she wrote, “I first saw clearly the blessedness of true consecration. I saw it as a flash of electric light, and what you see, you can never unsee.”
That longing that she had for intimacy with God, that longing for holiness was answered in a moment of consecration to God. She was truly transformed that day and wrote, “Why should we pare down the promises of God to the level of what we have hitherto experienced of what God is ‘able to do,’ or even of what we have thought he might be able to do for us? Why not receive God’s promises, nothing doubting, just as they stand?”
Out of that experience with God, she wrote the great hymn: “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
Are you tired of trying to keep connected with God through mere morality? Are you tired of knowing an awful lot about God but precious little of God? Are you exhausted from trying to make the Christian life work in your own strength?
If so, why not take the time right now to move from knowing about God to experiencing His transforming power in your life? God is offering you real life!