Sermon preached on Romans 12:1-2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/17/2013 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“I Beseech You Therefore Brethren”
We now enter into another new section in the book of Romans. This really is like the main second half of the book in many ways. Here Paul gets very practical and has a lot of specific application. Don’t misunderstand me. All of Romans is full of application. But often what people mean when they talk about application is that they want very specific things they should go do. Direct exhortations and specific commands on how they are to live in light of the doctrines of the Bible. Well, that’s the focus on this section of Romans that we are now in. And these first two verses start with this application in a very broad way. Paul’s appeal to godly living here is a great introduction before he delves into some more specific instructions that he had for them and for us. And so in today’s message we’ll think first about this switch to exhortation. Second, we’ll reflect on the call to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. We’ll consider what a sacrifice is, and what it means for us to be a living sacrifice.
Well, then, let’s begin with verse 1 and the switch to exhortation. Now, again, to clarify, there have been many exhortations already in this book. But readers of Paul have noticed a clear transition that goes on here in the book at chapter 12, verse 1. Let’s start with the word “therefore” in verse 1. “Therefore” is a connective word. It connects one thought with another. It says in light of one truth, there is something else to convey to you. That’s what’s going on here. And it seems that this therefore is connecting frankly the whole book up to this point with what now follows. It’s connecting all the doctrinal teaching with this word of exhortation: “I beseech you, therefore!”
This is an example of what is sometimes referred to as the indicative/imperative structure. What we find in several places in the Bible is that there are indicative teachings followed by imperative teachings. This is grammar lingo to help us think about an important dynamic in the Scriptures. When we talk about this indicative/imperative approach, the idea is this: The indicative refers to all the facts about who we are in Christ. The imperative refers to how we are commanded to live. The two work together. The indicative leads to the imperative. If you have the indicative, you must have the imperative. But you can’t have the imperative without the indicative. Think about it another way. If you only learn all the doctrines about your Christian faith, but you never look to live it out, you can have dead orthodoxy. James said faith without works is dead. On the other hand, if you seek to live out the commandments of godliness without the doctrinal teachings of who we become in Christ, then you have moralism. And actually we lose the power to truly live out the imperatives of Scripture.
And so what you find in Scripture is that sometimes the teaching will be structured in such a way where it clearly relates the indicatives and the imperative. Romans is a great example. Romans 1-11 is largely the indicative. Romans 12 through the end is largely the imperative. It is this “therefore” that brings this out. Usually the indicative is put first, with the imperative following. Ephesians and Colossians are two whole books that also very clearly follow that pattern, for example. Sometimes the order is reversed but the connection still made. Titus 2 seems to be such an example — the imperative is first, but then the indicative is given afterward as the reason for the imperatives. But this connection is so important. As we begin now several weeks of sermons that have a lot of practical application, keep this in mind. As we have several sermons of imperatives, i.e. commands, realize that this call is being made to Christians. Christians who’ve been saved by grace not works. That all the works commanded here are to people who did not earn their salvation by doing works. The imperatives are founded on the indicatives. And so we are saved by faith, but such faith demands we strive for godliness. This is in fact a primary part of what it means to be a Christian. That God is transforming you to more fully reflect his image.
By the way, this structuring device not only colors how the Bible often organizes it’s material. It also influences how I craft my sermons. If a passage is all indicative, well I try to bring out the relevant imperatives that flow from it. If a passage is all imperative, I try to explain the underlying indicatives that are the foundation for the imperatives. I want to see both in our sermons, because the Christian life is both. And Scripture is both. The one demands the other. If we hone in on one part in a sermon or Bible study, we want to think about the other part as well.
And so getting back to this passage. We mentioned that the word “therefore” connects us with the indicative of the previous chapters. But other references here bring to mind as well what Paul’s already talked about. His calling us “brethren” here reminds us how we’ve become family. We’ve been united together in our common salvation via faith into that one olive tree of God’s people. When it talks in verse 1 about offering ourselves as a sacrifice to God, it says that we as a sacrifice are acceptable. But how are we acceptable as a sacrifice? By the mercies of God, according to the first part of verse 1. And what all are those mercies? It’s what we’ve been talking about in Romans for 11 chapters. We, the chosen of God, have been declared to be a right standing before God because of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. God has pardoned us from our sins and set us as holy in his sight. He is now growing us in godly living through what we refer to as our sanctification. It is these mercies of God that qualify us to be a sacrifice acceptable to God. In light of these indicatives, through these mercies concerning our salvation, we look to perform these acts of godliness.
Let me give one last thought here about this first point. We’re talking about this switch to exhortation in the book. And so then notice then the word of exhortation. I beseech you, Paul says. The point I’m drawing to our attention here is that Christians need beseeching. We need exhortation. We need to be commanded to godliness. In a real way our sanctification is rightly said to be God’s work in our life. And yet there is still the need for commandment. We are called to work toward godliness, even as God works godliness in us. It’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. God is the ultimate cause. Yet, there is still a place for us to be exhorted. The idea is simply that God works through our actions of striving for godliness. Particularly as we strive for growth in godliness by making use of the things he’s given us to grow. Such as prayer and the Word. Next week we’ll think about how verse 2 calls us to seek mind renewal. That mind renewal happens through the Word and prayer. We need to devote ourselves to prayer and the Word. But when the growth comes, we still thank God because he told us he would work through the Word and prayer. And so Scripture exhorts us to godliness. Hear then the exhortations of this passage!
And so we’ll look at the first one today. This is now our second point. Let’s consider how we are called here to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. Let’s begin that discussion by remembering what a sacrifice in Scripture is. It’s giving something to God. Now, the Bible is full of sacrifices, especially in the Old Testament. And in the Old Testament there were various kinds of sacrifices. A common denomination of all the sacrifices, however, was this: They were holy. In other words, a sacrifice was being offered to God. That means it had become consecrated unto God. Before the sacrifice was offered, it was common. When it was offered to God it became holy. Read the book of Leviticus on this, and you see this stated over and over again. Leviticus is the book in the Old Testament, by the way, that primarily deals with the subject of sacrifices. And you study Leviticus we find that a great concern of the book is to see the holiness of the sacrifices. For example, Leviticus 2 says that the grain offerings are most holy. Leviticus 6:25, the sin offering is most holy. Leviticus 7:1, the guilt offering is most holy. I could go on and on. Leviticus 10:10 tells us the important principle in all of this, that we need to, “distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.” And so the point here is simply to say that the backdrop behind verse 1 here today is that a sacrifice is to consecrate something as holy unto God. You are giving it to God. It’s belonging to him in a special way. It’s being set apart from everything else. The sacrifice is His!
And that is what we are to be, if we are to be a living sacrifice offered to God. A most holy gift to God. A holy living sacrifice. And yet notice how that sounds a bit odd even to say. Surely the original audience would not have normally used the word “living” and “sacrifice” together. They would have used the word “holy” and “sacrifice” together. But not “living” and “sacrifice”. When you sacrificed an animal back then, it involved taking the life of the animal. Such sacrifices were presented as dead sacrifices, not living ones! Of course when we think about this with regard to us, we can remember that there is a sense in which we’ve been put to death. Paul said in Romans 6:8 that we died with Christ. And yet that brings out the whole point, doesn’t it? There is a sense we died with Christ, but not in the physical sense. Our old sinful self was crucified with Christ, but we didn’t actually physically die. And so we are able, in light of such mercies of God, to present ourselves as a sacrifice to God even though we are still alive. And we don’t need to kill ourselves to make this sacrifice acceptable and holy in God’s sight, because there is no longer any more atonement needed for our sin. The most common reason animals were killed in old covenant sacrifices was to make atonement for sin. But Christ was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, at least in terms of atonement. Our sacrifice does not atone for sin, rather it’s a thank offering. And so it can be a living sacrifice.
Romans 12:1 calls this our reasonable service. The word reasonable there is sometimes translated as spiritual, by the way. That’s not my preferred translation, but it’s an area of debate among translators. The word itself only appears twice in the New Testament. Here and 1 Peter 2:2. It’s the Greek word logikos and is related to the Greek word logos which means “word” or “reason”. The English word “logic” is derived from this word. The Greek word here roughly means according to reason, or belong the realm of the rational. That would explain the translation of “reasonable” service. The translation of “spiritual” service takes this word with regard to emphasis on the mental, in other words, the non-material, and extrapolates it further as simply “spiritual”. There is a case in the Greek that the word did get used this way sometimes. It’s uncertain if it’s used here that way. If Paul has the “spiritual” sense in mind here, he’s reiterating the point about this being a living sacrifice. In other words, you aren’t really, physically, being offered up as a sacrifice on top of some altar. It’s just that we mentally perceive our lives as something akin to a sacrifice.
And yet, I still prefer the translation of “reasonable” service. That seems like the more simpler reading of this word. In other words, I think the pew Bible translation has it right. And so that would mean that this is the service that is fitting in light of the “therefore.” In light of what God does for us in our salvation, the reasonable, fitting, appropriate, response is nothing less than to give our whole selves to God. I think of Christ who willfully sacrificed himself for us; that would say it’s reasonable for us to present ourselves in return to him. How could we think this unreasonable to be upset at a living sacrifice when Christ went through a dying sacrifice for us. No, it’s completely reasonable, fitting, appropriate, and the logical demand that our salvation puts upon us. What’s nice in all this discussion is that regardless of whether you translate this as “reasonable” or “spiritual” the context already brings out both ideas anyways.
Well, as we are thinking about this reasonable service, let me note that the word translated as “service” here is usually used in a sense of cultic worship. It’s a word you’d expected to be used when you are talking about offering sacrifices. But this worship isn’t something constrained to Sundays. This is about your whole self being set apart for God. This is what the Christian does when he turns to God in faith and is saved. You respond by saying, Lord, take my life and let it be consecrated to you.
When we think of this idea of presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, we should think of our discipleship. Think of how Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and daily take up our crosses and follow him. This essentially means we are not to hold back in how we serve God. It’s about how we daily acknowledge that we answer to him in all that we do. That our own desires and plans are put in the background. We report to duty first to him. Of course, it’s not that we just squash our desires and plans. Rather, a life consecrated to him will seek to turn our desires and plans into God’s desires and plans. That God and his ways would become our delight. Maybe you like artwork, so you look to serve God with that desire.
This doesn’t mean that you have to become a graphics designer for church web sites, but it does mean that you do all your graphics work to his glory, under his laws, and see that you serve him in it all. Maybe you are wired as an engineer, so you look to use your passions and talents for his service. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to become an engineer that say is involved in building churches. But it does mean that you do all your engineering work to his glory, under his laws, and see that you serve him in it all. Yes, you won’t do this perfectly this side of heaven. But that’s what we seek as those sacrificed to God. In all of this, you keep his kingdom’s interests and demands in your heart and mind as you live and work in this world.
And so brothers and sisters, this is all about holiness. If you present yourself as a sacrifice to God, it’s like what we said sacrifices are about. They are about the thing offered as being most holy to God. That’s what Leviticus teaches us. It’s what should inform our minds as we read Romans 12:1 here; it specifically says here that this is holy to God. When we offer ourselves to God, it’s a most holy gift to God. That means we belong to him in our entirety, in a special way. Therefore, all of us belongs to God. There is nothing we can withhold from him. We are his. We are holy! Consecrated.
As I’ve prepared this sermon, my mind kept turning to the hymn, “Take my Life and Let it Be.” The different lyrics of the song talk about different things of ourselves that we offer for God to take. Take my life. Take my moments and my days. Take my hands. Take my feet. Take my voice and my lips. Take my silver and my gold. Take my intellect. Take my will. Take my heart. Take my love. Take my self, and I will be, ever, only, all for thee. This is the language of sacrifice and offering. It’s to say, Lord, I give myself consecrated to thee!
Surely, if we truly do this, then we will not get too busy for things like time with the Lord. Surely, if we live to see that all is for God and unto God, then we will find time for studying God’s Word. We’ll find time for prayer. We’ll make the time in the midst of everything we do. And surely if we truly give ourselves to God this way, ours words will be different. Our thoughts will be different. Of course our actions will be different.
In the past history of the church, monks and nuns and priests were often considered as the people who had sacrificed their lives in a special holy way unto God. They might have been seen as having holy lives unto God in a unique way. With the protestant reformation gave a challenge to that kind of thinking. And it’s a passage like this which brings that sort of challenge as well. It’s not for only some elite among Christians to have a life holy unto God. It’s not for a subset of the members in Christ’s church to sacrifice your life for Christ. All of us, have this call. All of us are to live consecrated lives. All of us are to be sold out completely for the Lord. That is our reasonable service. It is the “therefore” of your Christian hope. We cannot, must not, believe the lie of Satan that your life is to be a Christian on the fringes. We must not be sold the lie that Christianity is something you can compartmentalize as just something you do some of the time. Sacrifice is at the heart of our response to our salvation. A sacrifice of our entire selves.
I must say, I found this verse hard to preach in some sense. Because it is so convicting. I look at my life and would like to think I’ve tried to live this out. But when you think of the absolute demand this puts on you, I know I suddenly have a long list of things pour through my mind where I’ve held back from God in some way. Maybe you can relate. Lord, you can have this, but I want to keep that. Lord, I present myself to you as a living sacrifice, except in this way or that. Or, whatever it may be. Again, we’re not saying you have to become a monk or a nun to live this out. It doesn’t mean you can’t have enjoyments, or treats, or recreation, or take vacations. It doesn’t mean that at all. But are we holding back some aspect of our lives from God? Some part of yourself that you are afraid to lose if you give it to God? Let us not be afraid. We won’t lose ourselves. We’ll find ourselves. God will bring out the best in you as you present yourself holy unto the Lord. Let us repent of that which we’ve held back from God. Let us offer it to him today. And let us pray for more and more grace to daily offer up ourselves, and all ourselves, as a living sacrifice to God. Praise the Lord that it’s in Christ and by his mercies that he accepts this, and is well pleased with it. That means that even though we don’t do this perfectly, it’s accepted by the mercies of God. Because of Christ. Because he’s made us right because he has perfectly offered himself up as dead sacrifice. And as he now lives again, we too can begin to offer ourselves alive to God in Christ Jesus. Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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