Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on December 28, 2014
Today marks the last Sunday in 2014. For many of us, this week is a week of reflection. We take a moment and look back over the last year and evaluate our life, both the good and the bad. It is also a week of resolutions. Based on our evaluation, we decide we need to change some things, and we come up with a list of goals. Usually, these goals include things like lose weight, learn a foreign language, spend more time with family, save more money, etc.
This morning, I would likewise like us to reflect and resolve, not in a materialistic, superficial way, but in a spiritual way. This is something, God willing, I plan to do on every last Sunday of the year.
So with that said let me ask some questions. There are approximately 8766 hours in one year. Of those hours how many of them did you devote to God? How many hours were spent soaking in God's Word? It only takes 75 hours to read the entire Bible. This is less than one percent of last year. How many hours were spent in prayer? God calls us to pray without ceasing, does that mean before meals only for 30 seconds? What about the Great Commission? This was the final command that Jesus gave to the Church, go and make disciples? Did you share the Gospel with anyone this year? How about your testimony? Did you tell, what should be your favorite story in the whole world.? What about Church? God tells us not to neglect the regular meeting as Christians, and that we should wash each others feet, and stir each other up in love? How did that go in 2014?
I don't know about you, but 2014 was a big giant failure for me. It almost makes me sick to think about how little of my life I devoted to my Lord. In fact, it almost seems wrong to call him Lord, because my life sure didn't seem to reflect that he is my Lord. In fact, my life didn't reflect that I even like God, let alone love Him. I am guessing that many of you may feel the same way. In fact, some of you may not like how I just made you feel. You are now annoyed at me. Good. Mission accomplished.
What I want to stir up inside of you this morning is the desire to change. I want you to walk out of here with a spiritual resolution to live differently in 2015. The text, that I would like to use this morning to achieve this is Romans 12:1-2. If you have your Bible, please turn with me there.
Appeal of Love
The first thing I want to draw your attention to is that Paul is making an appeal to his brothers. I believe this is crucial because as I said earlier, Paul is an Apostle. In fact, he is more than just an apostle, he is a super apostle. He wrote 13 of the books of the Bible. God had revealed more to Paul than anyone else in the Church, except for maybe the apostle John. Of all people who could stand over the Church and pull rank, it was Paul. He had a position of authority, but he did not leverage it.
The word for appeal in our text is parakaleō. This is an interesting word because it is commonly translated as beseech, encourage, urge, and even beg. Not at all a posture of authority. This is then paired with Paul calling them brothers, a term of affection and of unity. Paul is making a heartfelt plea to the Church to live differently, and as I teach on this text today, I hope that each one of you will likewise see this same humble, affectionate posture from me. I do not stand up here with an iron rod in one hand and the Bible in the other. I stand before you as a sinner saved by grace begging you to join me as your brother in the pursuit of God's glory.
What is Paul's Objective?
With this said, what is Paul's objective in these two verses? He wants the church to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
Paul is playing with words. Normally we think of a sacrifice be be dead, not living. The Old Testament is full of this type of sacrifice. Sacrifices were regularly brought to the temple to be slaughtered so as to atone for the sins of Israel. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was, of course, merely a foreshadow of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As John the Baptist rightly said in John 1:29. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” With the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, no longer was Temple sacrifice necessary, for the shadow of man's sacrifice was consumed by the substance of God's sacrifice. And as the author of Hebrews says in 10:14, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.“ The single sacrifice of Jesus took care of all sins for all time for all believers. Jesus' death on the cross was entirely sufficient to pay for all of humanities sins. Jesus paid it all.
Therefore being a living sacrifice does not mean paying for you sins. So what does it mean? It means to be holy. The word Holy is a common word in scripture. We see it in Genesis 2:3 when God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. We see it in Exodus 19 when God is beginning his covenant relationship with Israel and says, “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” We see it in Isaiah 6:3 when these crazy looking and massively powerful creatures called Serephims are in the temple of God worshiping Him by saying , “"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" So what does Holy mean? It basically means other. Different. Not common. Distinct. When the Serephims were saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” they are basically saying there is no one like our God. He is off the charts other. You can't define Him, he is just set apart.
So how does this help us to understand what it meas to be a living sacrifice? Take a look back in our text. Living sacrifice is further defined as holy. If you keep reading you will find that it is once again defined as “do not be conformed to this world.” Paul is saying, be a living sacrifice, by that I mean be holy, by that I mean do not be conformed to the world.” So what does that mean?
Do not be conformed to the World
What does Paul mean when he says the world? This is what Paul says about the world in one of his other letters.
This is the course of the world, and all of mankind floats down this river of our lusts. If you want you can picture this giant pontoon with all of humanity reclining in their seat sipping on a drink as the current continues to take the boat and everyone on it farther and farther down stream. The ride is enjoyable for a moment, however, it does not end well. For at the end of this river is a waterfall that drops into a lake. The fall is guaranteed death and the lake is called the lake of fire. In verse 3 Paul calls it the wrath of God. This is where the boat ride ends for all who stay on the boat. And this is the world and this is what surrounds you every day of your life.
As Christians, however, we are called to not lounge on the boat. We are called to wake up and look around and recognize our drifting away from God and we are to do something about it. We must stand up and present ourselves at the edge of the boat and with reckless abandon jump in the river and start swimming upstream, against the current. Why? Because we know the ride does not end well and there is something better in the opposite direction. Of course while doing this we are begging and pleading that others will join us. Warning them of the eternal dangers that await us downstream.
To a majority of those on the boat, they will think you have lost your mind. They will see your actions as suicide. They will first attempt to entice you to sit back down. Perhaps they will do it with a cold drink, or a comfy chair. When this doesn't work, they may try to scare you into staying put by talking about the temperature of the water or the snakes that lurk beneath. When this fails they will take a more aggressive stance and start to ridicule you, call you names and may even throw things at you to claw at so that you sit down and stop rocking the boat.
The sad thing is that these tactics work. In fact, most time they work. The world is able to convince many of us that what it has is better than what God has. So instead of reading our Bibles we spend an hour on pintrest, facebook, or watching hours and hours of pointless sports games. Instead of praying in the car on the way to work we drink our coffee and gossip on the phone with our bff. Instead of sharing the gospel with our coworker we buy them a beer, as if beer will put out the flames of Hell.
Let me ask you, do most people know you are a Christian? And I am not asking if they know you go to Church, or know that you have a fish sticker on your car. I mean do they know you are a sold out follower of Jesus Christ? If not, why not? Is it because you have conformed to the world.
So how do we break free from conforming to the world, how do we strive for holiness, how do we present ourselves as a living sacrifice? What does it say in our text? “ Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” So what does this mean?
The renewal of your mind begins with a new heart. What I mean by that a foundational prerequisite for being transformed is that you must be a new creation in Christ, you must be born again, you must be a Christian. If you are not saved by grace through faith, then your attempt to be a living sacrifice will not be acceptable to God. Many of you in this Church may think this is obvious, but unfortunately it is not for many people. Many people wrongly believe that being a living sacrifice is what makes you a new creation. This is not true. Being a new creation gives you the capacity to be a living sacrifice. The desire and ability to surrender to God's will flows out of a heart changed by God's Grace. If you have not believed and confessed that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, then you have no hope of being Holy or acceptable to God.
After this new heart has been received, it is important to understand that this new creation is not a perfect creation, meaning that you are born again and you begin your new life in Christ as a spiritual infant. You have to learn to crawl and walk before you can run. The Christian life is a life of transformation, it is a process. As it says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” This is what we call sanctification, which is a fancy way to say becoming Holy.
But we still haven't answered the question, how does this renewal of the mind occur? What does it say in verse 1?
The motivation to present your body as a living sacrifice is not guilt, it is the gospel. My earlier questions about how much you read the Bible, pray, etc, etc. was not to motivate you, it was to awaken you. The motivation to lay down your life on the alter of God is the laying down of the Son of God for you.
Verse 1 of chapter 12 starts our by saying, “I appeal to you therefore.” When you see the word therefore in the Bible your ears should perk up because it is a signal to us that the words that follow are connected to the words that proceed. Paul has spent eleven chapters in the book of Romans laying out the mercies of God. Paul laid out eleven chapters of doctrine, and not just any doctrine, but the most comprehensive teaching on the Gospel in the entire Bible. Eleven chapters talking about how we deserve God's wrath, but instead God gave us His Son instead, so instead of Hell we get Heaven.
The reality of this truth is powerful, it is literally a truth that produces freedom. For the more we dwell upon it the more it gives us the capacity to lay aside the things of this world and live for God who has given us everything including his Son.
Not just gospel power in the salvation of the lost, but gospel power in the sanctification of the found. The more we understand the immeasurable riches of God's grace the more it will cause our hearts to respond in like manner. This is the power of the gospel and this is how are minds are renewed and how we have the desire to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
Conclusion and Challenges
So in conclusion, my appeal to you today, is exactly that of Paul's. I am exhorting you, urging you, begging you to set your eyes in 2015 upon the mercies of God. Think about God's love towards you a wretched sinner. Think about Jesus' leaving the glory he had in heaven to come and die in your place. Think about how through his death you now have eternal life. Think about how his suffering purchased your joy. And then present yourself to God and say, “I am yours.”