Text: Romans 12:1-3
Imagine if you will this morning, being invited into a person’s home for dinner. Maybe you haven’t yet known this person very well up until now, but you’ve received an invitation to come and dine with him, that he wants your presence, and he’s indicated that he wants to get to know you, that he wants to express his admiration of you. What are some ways that you could respond?
1) Reject his invitation. No thanks buddy. Not interested. I don’t need any more friends. See you later. End of story.
2) Proudly Pay Your Own Way. You accept his invitation, spend the evening with him, eat his food, and then at the end of the meal ask, what do I owe you. It violates the point of him freely giving you of himself because he wants a relationship with you.
3) Presume Upon Your Host’s Grace. You show up late. You haven’t washed. You’ve made no attempt at caring what your appearance looks like. You sit down and start eating before the host is even seated, you talk on your cell phone throughout the meal, get up, burp, ask him for a few bucks for a cab and leave.
While these are only illustrations, they demonstrate that there is a proper response to a gracious invitation. That’s what we find in Romans 12:1-3. Although this is a brief passage, it is extremely important. It can establish a pattern in your thinking that, if followed faithfully, will enable you to internalize Christ’s teaching in a life changing way. The way the passage is written, Paul is calling for a decision. We need to dedicate ourselves to God. The visual picture is that of offering ourselves to God instead of some sacrifice. In these three central verses we find a why, a what, and a how.
The Why: God’s Mercies: In verse one we see the basis of Paul’s appeal: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” Mercy is a great theme running through chapters 1-11. While grace has been defined as getting what I don’t deserve, mercy is defined as not getting what I do deserve. Romans is very clear about what we deserve. We deserve wrath. We deserve condemnation. We deserve to be separated from God. We deserve death. But God poured out his mercy upon us in Christ.
· Chapters 1-4 speak of the mercy we received in Christ when we were justified by grace.
· Chapters 5-6 speak of the mercy of God in giving us new life and setting us free from the power of sin (next week’s message)
· Chapters 7-8 speak of the mercy of God in giving us the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.
· Chapters 9-11 speak of God’s mercy in choosing the Jews to be the people through whom his promises who be realized and how he extended his mercy to the Gentiles so that he could show mercy to all.
Romans 11:30-32 “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
This is his invitation to dine with him. He’s inviting you to a feast in which you are the guest of honor. He’s the king who chose you to sit in his presence, to share his secrets with, to glory in. Nowhere else in the universe has there ever been such an invitation. No other gulf has ever been so wide yet cross so shamelessly. If a rich or powerful man invited me to dine with him, I might tremble in his presence, it might take me weeks to prepare, it would become the focal point of my entire life, but I have already been invited to dine in the presence of the one who causes the rich and powerful to tremble! How do I respond to his invitation? To his grace? It is that rich mercy, that grace in which Paul grounds his exhortation.
The What: Living Sacrifice
Romans 12:1 describes for us the proper response to Gods grace: “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Here we have a picture of us offering ourselves to God, in particular our bodies, as an appropriate response to God’s mercies. The most tricky words here are “the two words translated as “spiritual worship”. American Standard “Spiritual service” The NASB says KJV “reasonable service”. “Spiritual service of worship”, Does the first word mean reasonable or spiritual. Does the second word mean service or worship? What’s the deal? The second word Latrien referred to the service the priest did in the temple. This makes sense in the context because Paul is asking us to present ourselves as living sacrifices, not animals or goats or sheep, but ourselves, our bodies to God. It is our worshipful response to God’s mercies that we do through God’s mercies. Because our bodies are not holy or acceptable to God. The are sinful, corrupt, base and defile. In the Greek culture, the body was evil. But as we give them to God, he accepts them, he makes them holy. So yes, it our worshipful priestly service to God to offer ourselves to him. The other word can mean spiritual or reasonable depending on the context. Some people see the “worship” from the second word and immediately presume that Paul is talking about a spiritual service since we don’t actually physically offer our bodies to God. I think they miss the point. I believe Paul’s point here is that our priestly service of offering our bodies to God is reasonable, because I see a great reflection in what Paul is calling us to in this verse with what Christ has done for us. Christ was the priest who offered himself for our sins, and so we reflect Christ by offering ourselves to him. Not to pay him back, but by his grace as the life of Christ and the spirit of Christ inhabit our lives we do the things Christ does in our bodies. I remember teaching this passage last year in our adult Sunday School and one of the Chinese girls misunderstood and said really, I have to kill myself? But isn’t that what Jesus did for you?Also, I don’t think Paul is talking merely about us making a spiritual sacrifice. He is urging us to offer our bodies to him – as he has said already in Romans 6:19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. He truly wants us to present all of ourselves to God. That’s worship. Not the songs you sing, not shouting the name of the Lord, not even crying and weeping (although they all might be part of worship)
The How: The Renewing of Our Minds Verse 2: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
How do we present ourselves to God? What does this require? An entire transformation of our lives. To get his idea across, Paul sets up a contrast – being conformed to this world versus being transformed. In regards to conformation – we talked about this last night at youth. If we are lying, cheating, hating stealing, lusting than what do we really have to offer the world. We need to be transformed. But transformed according to what? We can’t forget what Paul has already taught in Romans. This is not a call to give up what we desire and live a boring life by rules and regulations. That was chapter 7. Romans 8:1-16, Paul tells us that we can either set our minds on the things of the Spirit (God's things) or on the things of the flesh (our natural desires tied with this world). It is as we are transformed by His Spirit! As we are transformed according to what God wants, we will see for ourselves that God's will is perfect. It will be a far richer fife than the world could ever offer.
The concept of being transformed is a very important and very precise one. The literal word is metamorphidzo in the Greek, which is where we get the word metamorphosis. It is literally the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. It is written in a way that means that we are allowing someone else to transform us while we do our part—actively renewing our minds. As we renew our minds in the ways of Christ rather than the ways of the world, the Spirit of God gradually transforms us into the image of Christ.
How do we renew our minds? We do it by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit in the Word of God, the Bible. If we focus on the principles and philosophies of this world, the world will press us into its mold. If we focus on the principles and philosophies of Christ, the Spirit will transform us into the ways of God, or as Paul says in many of His letters—into the image of Christ. In another passage Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20), which is done by letting Christ's words saturate our minds (Colossians 3:16-17).
We need to internalize and be changed by the renewing of our mind, but we cannot do that on our own. We need the Holy Spirit to be transforming us. The Spirit will supernaturally transform us; However, it is critical that we know our part in the process. What do we need to be doing in order for the Spirit to do His work?
Growing in Christ involves more than just learning concepts. The principles must be internalized by the Spirit so that the lesson of Romans 12:1-2 comes full circle: By the mercies of God we offer ourselves to him while being transformed into merciful people. This is what the rest of the letter of Romans is about. It is not about, now you’re a Christian, so now you do this. Its not even about, you’re a Christian you should know this. Its about offer yourselves to God, receive the transforming power of the Spirit, and this is will be your life.
In the rest of Romans we see this principle working itself out. The New Testament commands are not a new law. They are an outworking of transformation that comes through deep reflection on the things of the Spirit and the Love of the Father in Jesus Christ.
1) The first application is personal and introspective. If I am being transformed by the Gospel – what does that mean in regards to how I view myself?
Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
As I reflect on the Gospel, as I set my mind on things of the Spirit, as I am transformed by Christ’s love, it will begin to affect my understanding of myself. I was meeting with one of the fellows who will be baptized next weekend and he said, when I came to know Christ, I cam to know myself more. Notice what Paul says, not to think of yourself more highly than you ought , for you are a sinner who deserved God’s wrath, but think of yourself with sober judgment – this also mean don’t think of yourself so low – for you are a sinner who God has loved and accepted and created to do great and glorious works in Christ. Understanding who you are will naturally flow out into your service in the church as you recognize that God has uniquely created you to serve the body. This is not the self-esteem teaching that is so prevalent today that says “Embrace yourself for who you are.” This is redemptive self-esteem in which we consider ourselves carefully as the spirit changes us into who we were created to be by God’s grace.
Setting our mind on the things of the Spirit and being transformed into the image of Christ will also change our relationships. Here is the Gospel, God is love, Jesus is the expression of his love for us, and the Spirit is transforming us through his love to reflect his love. So how does this love flow through us toward our friends?
12:9-13 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
How does love flow through us toward our enemies? Romans 12:14-21 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
You see, the entire Christian ethic is not based on works, or based on law, or even based on God’s moral perfection. It is based solely and entirely on God’s transforming love.
Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Again this is not a new law, and if you approach it as a new law, you will fail. How do you do these things. By taking yourself again and again to the God of grace who loves and accepts you through Christ who makes you holy. By daily setting our mind on the things of the spirit, being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we come to hate the worldly systems and values in which we used to live. This is why that daily time of connecting with God and his word is so important. It is where we commit ourself once again to him. It is where he teaches us the application of his love. It gives the Spirit an opportunity to transform us into his love.