An exploration of Paul’s instruction to the Christians in Rome about how to respond to Jesus’s sacrifice for them. This sermon was preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Taylor BC on a day the Anglicans of Fort St John considered buying a new building-August 23, 2020.
My favourite preachers in history, like Lancelot Andrewes among others, only preached on one verse of scripture at a time. This morning we are going to sit deeply in two verses: Romans 12:1-2: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.
to present your bodies
We are not Gnostics. The Gnostics believed that all physical things were evil and that spiritual things were on a higher plane of reality. Christians don’t believe this, God does not want our disembodied souls. You know there are some people, the Albigensians who believed the only way to be saved was to commit suicide, that we had to kill and destroy our bodies in order to receive the promises of God. We do not believe that. We believe that God desires us to offer ours selves, our bodies, the strength of our arms, the grace of our movements, the taste of our tongue and the sight of our eyes to Him. He asks us not to die for him, but to give our lives to him.
by the mercies of God
We are only able to give our bodies to God because of the mercy of God. We cannot give them to him out of our own self-satisfaction, out of our desire to good, or as a payment to purchase his favour. We give our bodies to God by his mercy, by his pouring out of himself our lives can be received into his life.
as a living sacrifice
There is an image in the book of revelation of all the saints and the angels and the living creatures waiting on someone worthy to open the book of life. But none can be found who is worthy. But one of the saints turns to John who is seeing the vision and says to him: do not despair, the lion of Judah will come. Then enters a lamb who was slain, who had clearly been killed, whose sacrifice was visually apparent – a living sacrifice… in the worship of the temple a sacrifice was burned or killed or poured out, it was gone and dead. Christians are not called to suicide or to the mutilation of their bodies but they are called to another kind of death. We are called to die to ourselves so that we no longer live but that it is Christ who lives in us. I had a supervisor in my training who meeting with parents who wanted their children baptized asked them: why do you want to kill your child? Why do you want to offer your child up to death? In baptism we share in the death of Jesus so that we might share in his victory. We give up our way, our desires, our whims and our agenda and we recognize that there is a king and lord who has rightful authority over our lives, whose coming reign overturns all usurpers. We are asked to live as a sacrifice, that everything we do, everything we say, all our relationships and all our efforts are a pouring out of ourselves to the glory of God. We have a purpose, the purpose of praising God and making him known in our lives.
holy and acceptable to God
Our bodies, by God’s mercy, are to be a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable. We are made holy by Jesus’s righteousness and his Spirit at work in our lives. And the life we live is acceptable to God, he will receive it with open arms like an overjoyed father, he will take real pleasure and delight in us, imagine.
which is your spiritual worship.
That’s what we’re doing in worship, as we read scripture, as we gather together, as we sing, we are offering our hearts and our lives to God. Thomas Cranmer, the framer of Anglican worship in the reformation, understood Christian worship not to be a sacrifice of bread and wine on an altar, but the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving from transformed believers. He put it like this:
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee, And although we are unworthy, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Spirit be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
Jesus’s sacrifice once for all makes it possible for us to be living sacrifices in worship.
Do not be conformed to this world
We are all being shaped. We are changed by the lives we live, the actual synapses in our brains get reprogramed and reinforced by repetition in activity. Aristotle put it another way: we are what we do. We could take the shape of the world, living like everyone else lives, having habits that everyone else has, letting the culture shape us and tell us who we are. But Paul recommends to the Romans that they not be conformed to this world, that they do not bind themselves to the culture they are living in. Because we trust that this world is passing away and dying.
but be transformed by the renewing of your minds
We are not to be bound to the world but to the person of Jesus, the mystery in whom humanity is taken up into the presence of God, we are to be bound to him. This means spending time with him, in the reading of scripture, in the visiting of the sick, in providing for the needy, in hours of silent prayer, in hours of singing praises, in the Lord’s Supper, in spending time with other Christians encouraging one another. All of this is spending time with Jesus, making your heart and your life available to him as a living sacrifice, being molded into the image of God, not by your power but by God’s. For our minds are to be made new, to be torn down and raised again, to be given new life by the presence of God in our live.
so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.
C.S. Lewis put it this way: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” Living our lives in and for Jesus allows us to grow in wisdom, allows us to recognize what is profitable for us and pleasing to God. The renewal of our minds changes how we see the world, how we see others, how we see ourselves and use the opportunities provided to us. May we in our worship today again continue in the sacrifice of our lives in this new life.
Let us hear it again altogether, Romans 12:1-2: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.