God’s call is clear; don’t allow your life to be conformed to a world of evil. Let your life become the “thusia,” or sacrifice, on God’s altar, and give Him everything. Your engagement with our Creator in this manner will cause you to see the evils of this world with a clarity that those who simply practice “church-going” won’t see. It will help to keep you in a state of non-conformity to the world you must live in, and it’s the first step toward the beautiful gift of transformation. I call it a gift, because I think it is. I'll explain that later in this post.
So, let’s discuss a little more of this verse...
Romans 12.2 - …but be transformed…
The word transformed here is the “metamorphoó,” and it means “to be changed after being with.” It’s the root of our own English word "metamorphosis." Our own dictionaries define it well, “a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.” Interestingly, the English language dictionaries also describe it this way, “the transformation from an immature form to an adult and mature form.” It’s a conversion or alteration from and old “A" to a new and very distinctive “B.” I like to call it a “renovation.”
Also important, the conjunction “but” is the word “alla.” Here, this is a strong term of contrast that represents an abrupt halt and reversal from the negative command to “not be conformed” and to the positive command to “be transformed.” It reveals how important this transformation is to God and should be to us.
As sinful people who tend to crawl off of altars of living sacrifice, the good news for us is that metamorphoó, or transformation, is in the passive voice and the present tense.
What in the world does that mean? Let’s talk about the passive voice aspect first.
The passive voice here means that it’s something only God can accomplish, and we are only required to be passive (accepting of the process without resistance to it) as God undertakes the renovations (transformations) within us. It doesn’t mean that we have no responsibilities in the process. Our very first responsibility would be to stay on the altar and continue the surrendering of our life to God, growth in our relationship with Him, engagement with Scripture, dying to the old self, etc…. The One who will do this work within us is the Holy Spirit.
Look at the beautiful words of II Corinthians 3:18, which states, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The outside force catalyzing this transformation is the Holy Spirit of God. Hang on to the altar friends, because God will do the work within you. Even more profound, He will continue to do it.
As I said before, transformation is in the passive voice but present tense. Simplified, the present tense implies that this is not a one-time brush with God’s power that’s only for a moment and then He pulls away. Instead, it’s a continual process, and often a very gradual process, that moves us from who we were to who God desires us to be. It’s a lifelong journey, and the Holy Spirit will never retire from His transformational work within us as long as we walk this globe. What an incredible promise revealed through digging into the Greek!
So, we are to have non-conformity to the world and be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirt, as a result of our presence on the altar as a living sacrifice. To many, this may mean a simple disengagement with worldly “things.” Look at your life’s list of activities and mark through the bullet points that don’t glorify God. Actually, that’s probably not a bad first step, but I think there’s much more to real transformation than that–much, much more. Marking thought bad bullets points may deal more with our external behaviors than our internal nature, meaning that excluding them from that list may help in our transformation, but it will not, by itself, achieve true transformation.
The truly God-led alternative to our immoral behaviors is not as simple as replacing them with a shiny new list of moral behaviors, complete with boxes to check when we “perform” what we deem to be required. Again, we love the “box-checking” method of tracking. It makes us feel good. Sunday School: check. Worship attendance: check. Tithing: check. I prayed a little longer and missed the opening kickoff of the football game: check, check. True transformation isn’t about checking boxes or altering our works to become more righteous. Scripture addresses the filthy nature of our works. With true transformation, our works will certainly be altered, but it will require more than a change in physical works. If we have a genuine relationship with God, we can’t become more righteous in His eyes through activity, because He views us through the shed blood of our Savior.
Real transformation is something much more. It’s purposes have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, the very same blood that makes us righteous in God the Father’s eyes. It’s not a simple work of praying longer or attending church; instead, it’s the complex process of real internal change that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Real transformation is profound, so profound that we must be passive and offer no resistance to the process, as we are unable to work out any part of it in our own lives. And, real transformation is life-altering, because it’s not a box-check that we may eventually become too distracted by the evils of the world to accomplish. Instead, it’s a renovation of our core drive, a conversion of our baseline character and morals, a transformation of the way think and act and a rebirthing of the Lordship in our life. Again, it’s more than works.
I would say the very best examples of what real transformation looks like can be defined by the fruit of the Spirit of God.
Galatians 5:19-22 says, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”
The Holy Spirit doesn’t replace our old list with a new list of works grounded in legalism; instead, He replaces it with beautiful things that are supernaturally birthed within us–things only God can bring about. This is why I view transformation as a gift. We can’t achieve it on our own, the Holy Spirit must enact it, and the results of the transformation are things of such extraordinary quality that we will wonder how we ever lived a day on this earth without them, and we hope our remaining days are full of them.
I’m going to end here for today. I know we’re not moving very fast, but the depth of meaning found in Scripture should be given respect, and it should be given time.
Let me say this, as well…. I recently received an email from someone who reads my blog, and they were very complimentary regarding the depth of the content. They said that “they wished their pastor and Sunday School teacher went this deep.” Friends, your pastor doesn’t have the time to go this deep during a Sunday or Wednesday service, and neither does your Sunday School teacher. I would almost guarantee that your pastor breaks apart Scripture in this manner weekly, but there's only so much time to present a message. I would hope your Sunday School teacher studies Scripture in this same manner, but I will almost assure you that your pastor does. With that being said, know that it is our responsibility to grow in Christ, and that growth should inspire us to study Scripture in a way that can only be achieved through the personal sacrifice of our time. You don’t need a theological library to research the text in Greek or Hebrew. Honestly, you really only need a computer or your mobile phone. The resources are there, but is your passion? Don't blame your pastor for not being able to fit 10 hours of study into a 40 minute message. And, don't blame him for the knowledge that you don't possess of Scripture. You have a Bible, right?
The longer I spend in God’s Word, the more desire I have to dissect it for it’s real worth and value to my life. Let me encourage you to do more than read Scripture as a means to “check it off the list” for the day. Let me encourage you to read Scripture without seeking a prejudiced message, or trying to find the perfect “cherry-picked” verse to fit nicely into the “hole" of your broken emotions or troubles. Read Scripture for what it is, for the message it contains, and rejoice when it offends the fleshly nature we all hold so dear to our hearts. When we become offended by God’s message, that means it’s finally talking to us in a way that we can understand, and it’s addressing our life, transforming our way of thinking and equipping us to leave a definitive mark for God on a world that is scarred by hatred, evil and rebellion. Read Scripture for communication, absorb it into your soul and allow it renovate your old and build inside you something beautiful and new.
As we move into verse 2 of Romans 12, we see some attributes associated with the living sacrifice of ourselves on God’s altar. God knows how hard it is to sacrifice the old self, and He understands the many things that Satan has designed to purposely trip us up and give us a desire to reclaim our independence. Remember that the main problem with living sacrifices is that they tend to crawl off the altar. Our existence in a world of half-hearted cynics, greedy and Godless culture, nominal Christianity and rampant evil doesn’t necessarily bring great empowerment to our goal of living a life that is holy and righteous. The world works against us, but since we can’t move to another planet, we should probably learn to live a life for Christ in the world where we’ve been planted, and we should live that life in a state of preparedness.
12:2 - Do not be conformed…
Conformed here is the word “suschématizó” (Gk). It’s meaning is “fashioning oneself in accordance with another (i.e., one’s mind and character.). It also means to “assume the similar outward form of another.”
The conformation that Paul is referencing here is twofold, including both an internal and external change. Frankly, in either order, one would most likely always follow the other. It is conformity that would cause us to act like and even begin to look like something else. This conformity takes place because of our exposure to something, and I would say, on many occasions, it happens because of our unprepared exposure to something.
12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world…
As I mention above, we live in Godless and greedy world that is literally overflowing with all kinds of evil, but Paul isn’t referencing the earth in the sense of the our “orbiting world” of dirt, stone and water.
World here is “aión” (Gk), and it means “an age, an era (characterized by a specific quality or a cycle (of time), especially of the present age as contrasted with the future age.”
This is important, because the terrestrial ball on which we live doesn’t have a say in the weighty conversation of how sin effects the life and eternal security of man. The world itself, with its vast and beautiful horizons, mighty oceans and magnificently rugged mountain ranges is a creation of God, and in that creation, we can clearly see the glory of Him who spoke it into being. (See: Romans 1:19-20; Psalm 8:3-4; Psalm 19:1-6). The earth screams the splendor, beauty, sovereignty and magnificence of God. The earth itself is not evil; however, those inhabiting it tend to be.
Paul is referencing the age and cultural qualities of the timeframe in which we live. He’s calling into focus the evil practices that seemingly worsen with the passing of each year. He’s calling out a generation of people who have embraced humanism (an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters) and dismissed God as something of lesser importance than their own current and growing selfish and evil desires.
Paul urges us to not let this age alter us, internally or externally. He knows the clear and present dangers to the disciple of Christ sojourning on this earth, in this age, with the Godless and humanistic mindset of culture. Although he doesn’t word it this way, Paul, in verse 1, is literally pleading with is to be prepared for our brush with this age by laying our very life down to the power, purposes and promises of God. He’s calling for us to kill off the old and sinful self, which would very much enjoy the delicacies of humanism, devote ourselves to communication and growth in God, which will prove necessary in avoiding crawling off the altar and back into the muddy filth of culture, and to allow God to be the Author of good works in our life. Paul knew that we would have to live our lives among such great evil and Godlessness, and he didn’t want us to experience it unprepared to engage it in a manner that is reflective of God’s love and power in our own life, laid on the altar of God as a living sacrifice.
We live in such a difficult age of hatred and recklessness. We see evil and Godlessness at every single turn.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
Matthew 24:6-8 (ESV)
We see it across the globe, as strife and conflict continue to grow on a worldwide stage, nation against nation. It will only get worse.
“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
Matthew 24:12 (ESV)
We see the pure hatred of political movements bent on dividing the races and dismantling the laws which delicately hold together such a fragile structure of peace in our societies. Our peace is purposefully being disturbed, and, in that, our love for one another is placed under pressures that challenge even the most loving and forgiving among us.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray…And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”
Matthew 24:5,11 (ESV)
We even see evil parading around as "well-dressed Godliness" from many pulpits. This shouldn’t surprise us, as the church was the enemy of Christ when He walked this earth. Why would we assume it would be different today? Sadly, celebrity pastors, more concerned with creating a name and following for themselves, can be seen leading and abusing way more churches than I am comfortable admitting. We have seen it with the atrocity of Mars Hill. Some would hide their true intentions behind Biblically-based messages, making it hard to detect the evil in their real motives and character. Other false prophets would just outright teach a contrary gospel. Many spiritual leaders are now “stepping away” from the faith, claiming there is no God. Either way, the church is now in more danger from the pulpit than it has been in the past, and it’s up to us to become self-feeders of the truth so we can see God clearly. A living sacrifice, prepared to engage with an evil world, will have this clarity of vision.
My last point today is this, and it’s an ugly truth that many casual Christians dismiss outright, but it’s in the context of Romans 12:2, and it’s important to know and understand.
Possibly one of the most stark and pointed warnings of Matthew 24, regarding the signs of the end of the age, is found in verse 9 and 10.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”
Matthew 24:9-10 (ESV)
Bad things are coming on this earth for the true child of God. The casual Christian with only a nominal understanding of God’s Word doesn’t like to discuss things like imprisonment or death for their faith in Christ. I don’t know if they have never read the Bible, don’t believe it, think that these things will come thousands of years down the road, or just don’t care, but either way they are important to understand in the context of today and what Paul is trying to prepare us for in this present and evil age.
Hiding behind the profound Scriptural ignorance of many who would today call Christ Lord is the lack of understanding that these things (imprisonment and death) are already occurring on our globe. Christians are imprisoned and killed every single day for their faith in many countries, and we can be assured that those tribulations are headed to our very nation. Shouldn’t we be mentally and spiritually prepared to meet this aspect of an evil culture when it arrives at our doorstep?
For so many, the punishment of “death for belief” isn’t even in the orbit of personal rationalization for them, because they can’t even comprehend being disliked or hated for their faith. This is going to sound harsh, but my description here is clearly intentional: The average bobble-headed worshipper found in so many churches today, sporting their Christian jewelry and snazzy screen-printed t-shirts, that boldly read “Blessed,” (or some other feel good message) is probably not hated for the “faith” that is so pronounced and defined by their t-shirt. Why is this? I would say it’s because their faith is thin, feckless, and without depth of character and integrity. If it were a faith that was life-changing and sincere, there would be those in the world who could identify it (without the assistance of the t-shirt), and they would hate them for it. They would hate them because Scripture promises us they will, no other reason is needed. Yet, we see so many “Christians” who are embraced by a culture, and they have an embrace for a culture, where they should not fit in. What’s the reason for this? The reason is they have been conformed to culture and their lives, lived in a manner that is not challenging the corrupt evils around them, are accepted by the present age. Their faith isn’t a challenge to Satan’s agenda, and their lives, although full of good works, are not leaving a definitive mark for Christ on the world around them. They, and their snazzy t-shirt, have crawled off the altar, because they met have met the “aión” (the present age) unprepared.
So, Paul is directing us to not allow the evil of culture found in this present age to mold us into its disciple. We should be prepared to engage this present age of evil, greed and humanism with the timeless message of God’s love, His sovereignty and His eventual return.
If we read Scripture, specifically Matthew 24, we know where the world is headed. Love it or hate it, that’s where we’re going, and the speed of the trip seems to be increasing exponentially. We might as well embrace the truth and prepare for the actions of an evil world toward Christ and those who would claim His name. These things are Satan’s fleeting attempts to corrupt and destroy as much and as many as possible in a battle that he has already lost.
Thank you for reading, and I pray you leave a definitive mark for Jesus on your world today.
It’s day three, and we’re still in Romans 12:1. There’s always a wealth of knowledge to unpack from the language of Scripture. If you’re hanging with me, it is my prayer that you’re seeing this verse come into focus in a new way. We ended the previous post with the understanding that the life (“zaó”) we bring to the altar of God, the life that God is desiring of this willing sacrifice, is a life that is much more than physiologically processing blood and air, but a life that is alive in, not only the recognition of, but the practice of the goodness, mercies, grace, and increasing knowledge of God. It is a life with a vibrant and growing relationship with our Creator. God desires that life to be brought to the altar and willingly laid down as a “living sacrifice.” But, what does the sacrificial surrender of our life mean? To really understand this current sacrificial concept, we must first look back at the Biblical significance of sacrifice.
The Biblical idea of sacrifice deals with our way of approach to Almighty God and finding approval before Him by means of sacrificing an acceptable substitute offering given in place of the sinner. This “substitute” bears the curse of sin and appeases the righteous nature of God, a nature which demands justice be enacted upon our sin.
Sacrifice holds a prominent place in the entire cannon of Scripture, but specifically in the Old Testament, extending all the way to the root of human kind being planted in the Garden of Eden. Starting in Genesis, we must only read through 3 chapters before God must enable a sacrifice to cover the sins of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). Cain and Able followed with their own sacrifices in Genesis 4:2-5. Noah sacrificed in Genesis 8:20, and Abraham sacrificed in Genesis 12, 13, 18 and 22. And so it continued with Isaac and Jacob, etc….
As early as Exodus, we see God laying out to Moses a very detailed set of instructions, including instructions for sacrifice, that would form the foundation for Israel’s very specific system of worship before God under the old covenant. There were burnt offerings, guilt offerings, sin offerings and peace offerings. All of these were to be used at various times for specific purposes. Sacrificial offerings take a less prominent role in the New Testament, but sacrifice still dominates the narrative because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It’s safe to say that God has always covered our sin and shame in a way that demanded the death of something.
An important aspect of sacrificial offerings before God is the fact that they must be acceptable before Him.
12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…
Holy is “hagios” (Gk), and it has a multitude of different meanings. Primarily, it means “sacred or set apart by (or for) God.” This word also implies the idea of “being different,” as in “different from the world because it is like God.” Where sacrifices are concerned, for an offering to be “hagios,” it would need to be “solemnly and explicitly prepared for God with the purest of intentions and cleanliness.”
Acceptable is “euarestos” (Gk), and it means “well-pleasing or grateful.”
Where animals were concerned, God demanded the very best. How often do we give God our worst, because we believe it’s all we can afford, or possibly it’s all we’re really willing to give? Do we think God will understand and smile down upon it, simply because we showed up with something? Did we prepare it for Him, or was it just something easy or convenient to offer? Possibly it’s something that we didn’t even want? It’s easy to sacrifice the pitifully deformed calf born with two heads and three legs (one of which is growing out of it’s ear) – yeah, it’s easy to load that ugly little beast up on the trailer and bring it to the altar. We should, however, be very careful to examine the amount of certainty with which we throw it on the fire. The fact that we’ve arrived with a sacrifice doesn’t necessarily qualify it as being “euarestos,” or pleasing to the Lord.
Sacrifices are important in God’s eyes, and they should be important in our eyes. There’s so much more that I want to say on this, but there’s just not the time, and I don’t want to distract from the main point which is God desiring our very life as a living sacrifice, willingly made, as a result of our recognition of His glorious mercies already poured out into our life (as well as those we know are coming).
In 12:1, the word sacrifice is “thusia,” (Gk) and it means “sacrifice, offering, or a victim.”
We know that the sacrifice of our own living flesh could not possibly be meant to cover any sins, because our sins have already been atoned for by the blood of Jesus. The evidence of this can be found in Scripture. Among those verses are Hebrews 9:12, II Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 3:24-25. So, it’s not a sacrifice for sin. It’s also not an offering of symbolic nature, performed as a remembrance or recognition of the atonement that Christ’s blood has already paid for on the cross. It’s not an offering to keep our salvation intact and in good standing, because our salvation is not works-based (Galatians 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:9-10).
If we’re going to understand the meaning of “living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1, we may want to exegete the rest of the verse.
The whole of 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The last phrase is important.
The word translation of spiritual here very interesting. It is “logikos” (Gk), and it literally means “reasonable or rational.” The root word is “lógos” (Gk), meaning “a word (as embodying and idea) or the expression of a thought.” The word “lógos” is preeminently used of Christ expressing the “thoughts” of the Father through the Spirit. It’s Christ sharing God the Father’s “reasoning” through the Holy Spirit, expressed by words. More properly, it means “logical” because of something being “divinely reasonable.” So here, concerning worship, the implication is this worship, in the logical thoughts and reasoning of God the Father, expressed through the Spirit (spiritual) is to be found “euarestos,” or pleasing to God.
And finally, the word worship is “latreía” (Gk), and it means “sacred service, divine service, service rendered unto God or worship.”
So worship here means service, specifically “service rendered unto God.” Now we can begin to understand the sacrifice. Breathe easy, you probably won’t have to die.
As I mentioned earlier, “killing” sacrifices in the New Testament are less prominent than in the Old Testament. We see a N.T. example of sacrifice as being something more of service than slaying. Look at what Paul says in Philippians 4:18 as he describes a gift he received from a Philippian church. This verse says, “…I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Here, Paul is saying that the church, in meeting his needs and serving him, was giving an offering and sacrifice that was pleasing to God, because it helped to serve the causes of God being performed by the ministry of Paul. And, God was pleased.
With that being said, I believe that the “living sacrifices” Paul is referring to absolutely means our lives, fervently committed to God, but, the sacrifice itself is a sacrifice of service to the things that build up the kingdom of God, make His name known, and bring blessings to God and to His children. Among those, and probably the very first sacrifice that should be made daily, is the sacrifice of our old self.
As I’ve written previously, the word sacrifice is “thusia,” (Gk) and it means “sacrifice, offering, or a victim.” When our lives are committed to the things of God, and we are consistently growing in intimacy with Him, there are victims found in the wake of those circumstances. Those “victims” are the desires, habits, language, opinions and rebellion of the old self. The diminishing of these “old ways” pave a clear path forward to relationship and service to God in a “new way.” When we are in Christ, we have a new self. We are a new creation.
Look quickly to Colossians 3:1-17. I believe this passage of Scripture is a great roadmap to the type of sacrificing of the old self that we must choose to perform on that altar of God.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
I believe the primary sacrifice God is looking for us to make daily is the continual killing of the old self, enabling in us the opportunity to serve God far less hindered by our flesh nature. This doesn’t happen by accident; It happens by choice, in a headlong pursuit of a holy and righteous God. Sacrificing the sinful natures of who we were before Christ is pleasing to God, as He sees us journey forward in our relationship with Him. Note that it doesn’t make Him love us more. I John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We can’t buy God’s love for us by performing Godly actions, because His love for us was perfect from the beginning. So, it won’t make God love us more, but it will make us love God more, and, in turn, other beautiful acts of service and worship will flow, and God will be pleased.
Paul is urging us to make the choice to offer ourselves up to God, sacrificing the old and sinful self, and become a new creation daily, which is pleasing to God. This is our reasonable, and even logical, service/worship to Him for the wonderful mercies that He has bestowed upon our lives.
In the following verse, Paul addresses some of the qualities of a “living sacrifice.” We’ll discuss those in the next post. Until then, stand in awe of the opportunity that God has given to each of us to live our lives in a sacrificial mindset. Daily, we can seek Him. Daily, we can absorb more of His Word. Daily, we can eliminate a little more of the old self and find even more beauty in the new creation that God is enabling in us through our choice to become a living sacrifice.
My last post left us with Paul’s begging appeal to Rome. It’s an appeal to all of us, and the strength behind his urging is the limitless love and incredible, proven, reliable, and undeserved mercy of God toward His children. Paul is saying, “Please come, I beg you to come because of these wonderful things that God has already done!” But what is he inviting us to? Many would be disappointed that the destination of the invitation is a sacrificial altar. Don’t animals die on such things?
As we move into the second part of Romans 12:1, Paul moves from a begging appeal to a challenge that involves exactly everything we are.
Romans 12:1 states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies…
Present is the word “paristémi” (Gk), and it means “to stand close beside or bring up to.” Bodies is the word “sóma” (Gk), and it can mean “the body of church;” however, here it would mean “our physical living flesh or mortal bodies.”
Leave it to Paul to not ask for much. I’m sure some of the first readers of this text thought Paul’s appeal would be for some cash, or maybe a little extra time in prayer or service. But, no. Paul just asks for everything, our whole body, all we are, the substance of everything we’re made of.
Although we didn’t ask for it, Christ offered to us the substance of everything He was made of on the cross. However, even before the crucifixion, we see Jesus offering everything. He left nothing on the table. Christ left the splendor of Heaven, a place of perfection in the presence of God, the Father. He left a glorified body to become flesh and subject Himself to the harshness of life on earth. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”. He even chose to make His entrance into our world through the womb. There were certainly easier ways, but He chose to empty Himself of the glory of Heaven and subject a frail body of flesh to the rigors of childbirth.
But the totality of His sacrifices did not end with His birth and eventual death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-7 says, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christ spent His life serving mankind. He walked from town to town teaching them truth, healing their sick, raising their dead and serving as the ultimate example of humility and love among groups who were often hostile toward Him.
There was no sinful pride or destructive narcissism displayed in life of Christ, although He could have manifested Himself to be King at any given time. He didn’t have to live His life as a homeless nomad with “no place to lay His head” at night (Matthew 8:19-20; Luke 9:57-58). Although Jesus and His disciples would often stay in the homes of others who would allow them shelter, He was functionally homeless and living in poverty. He also lived His life on earth under the microscope of scrutiny and rebuke from the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two religious sects of Judaism, both holding powerful seats within the 70 member supreme court of ancient Israel (the Sanhedrin), eventually allied and conspired together against Christ. Christ could have stopped their foolishness at any time, demanding they kneel and serve Him, but He chose to humbly defeat every argument they posed and use these interactions to teach those involved that the truth of God will arise victorious when challenged–every single time.
Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This last example is the ultimate sacrifice that Christ chose to make on our behalf. To most of you, it needs no explanation, but let’s agree that the King of kings did not have to submit to any of the treacherous planning that eventually led to His mock trial, intense physical abuse, and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government. He could have taken complete charge of those situations, but He chose to become a living sacrifice, and He chose that path for us.
Just as Paul is pleading with us, based on the mercies of God already expressed and proven trustworthy, Jesus has already set the example of the highest bar of sacrifice. He’s always ahead of us in proving Himself to be trustworthy and deserving of our highest praise and allegiance.
Continuing in verse 12:1, Paul is pleading with us to bring our living flesh (bodies) to God’s altar as a living sacrifice.
In 12:1, the word living is the verb “zaó,” and it means “to live, be among the living, not lifeless or dead.” This word is interesting, because it conveys more than just the presence of life. In the emphatic and Messianic sense, this word is used to describe the quality of life of the one living it. The same word is used in Luke 10:28, John 5:25, John 11:25, Romans 1:17, and at least 15 other verses to imply that this life is "blessed, true and a life worthy of the name of God.”
Our “living” sacrifice should be more than bringing a stagnate and uninspired living form to the side of the altar of God. An example of this today would be cold, uninspired worshipers who fill church houses in 2021. They have arrived "at" worship, but their faces and hearts are cold, appearing dead and lifeless, before the magnificent presence of God Almighty. They have not come to worship; instead, they have arrived to be entertained, while they lazily and half-heartedly scratch at the surface of a relationship with the Lord that they know they need, but, by the fruit of their example, have little interest in pursuing. God could often receive a greater “sacrifice of praise” by propping up corpses in a morgue than He receives during a service time specifically set aside to honor Him.
This is not the living sacrifice that God is looking for. This is not the “living life” (“zaó,”) described in the text. Instead, our living sacrifice should be a vital and active presence that is as alive from the intentional and daily pursuit of the blessings and virtues of God as it is from the blood and oxygen that feed it’s physiological processes. Paul is urging us to bring a life that is alive and well in Christ to the altar, because a life of half-hearted devotion and nominal Christianity will not make a true sacrifice. It would be safe to assume that the average Christian church attender today wouldn’t crawl off of this altar, because they would never even approach it to begin with.
Paul has pleaded, and Christ has proven His mercies, We’ve discussed how Jesus sacrificed everything on our behalf, setting the bar. He’ll never ask us to venture down a road where He has not already been and won the victory. And now, in this verse, we’ve arrived with our bodies, wholly alive and blessed by a vibrant and active relationship with God, at a sacrificial altar. Hmm? I’ve already posed the question above, “Don’t animals die on such things?” Is God now expecting us to assume a similar role to Jesus and literally die? Would He bring us so far in our relationship that He would ask us to end our life, and if so, for what cause?
What does offering our bodies as a living sacrifice actually mean? We’ll discuss it in the next post. Until then, be reminded that Christ is a Savior full of proven mercies to His children. He’s also a Savior who emptied Himself completely for the cause of sacrifice in the service of those same children. We could ask for no greater actions on our behalf, and we have received no less than His absolute best. What a gift to be loved so deeply.
This post will start a new blog series on Romans 12.
Before we begin, and if you’re unfamiliar with Romans, let me give you a brief summary…
The book of Romans is the New Testament’s longest and certainly most well structured description of Christian theology. It’s also the most detailed. In Romans, the Apostle Paul lays out before us the very core of the Gospel message. That message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. I believe Paul’s intention in writing Romans is to clearly, accurately and unapologetically explain the good news of Jesus Christ to a world, and a Rome, that is clearly in need of the grace and mercy of a Savior.
In Romans, Paul takes the time to address the issues that are often confusing. He expounds on the conflicts between law and grace, Jews and Gentiles and between sin and the righteousness of a holy God. Common to writings by Paul, he closes out this letter with a series of practical, real life applications.
Paul begins Romans with teaching on doctrine and ends with teaching on how we should live because of what is true. This pattern of theory, followed by application, is a hallmark of his writing. Romans 1-11 focuses intently on the doctrine of salvation by God's grace and through our faith in Jesus.
Knowing those ideas, how then should those saved by God's grace live today?
How should we respond to the incredible mercy God has shown to us?
Romans 12 begins to answer that question…
The Living Sacrifice
It’s been said that the problem with all living sacrifices is that they continually try to get up and crawl off of the altar. This is most likely true. It takes a great deal of patience, courage, trust and unrelenting faith to lay your body down to the discretion of the will of God, but this is the first call of Romans 12. Let’s look at it closely.
12:1 - I appeal to you, brothers…
The word appeal is the verb “parakaleó” (Gk), and it’s a call of exhortation to “definitively do or pursue something emphatically (without fear or doubt).” It could even mean “to beg” of someone. Paul is calling to the reader (the Romans and us) and even begging to them.
Paul’s first words in Romans 12:1 clearly identifies that the decision which is forthcoming in the verse, to make our body a living sacrifice, is ours alone.
One of the countless characteristics that I find intriguing about God is His lack of authoritarianism when dealing with beings that He created. Be careful to understand that I’m not questioning His sovereignty in any way; instead, I’m looking at His methods. As creations of God, we could absolutely be bound and even forced to always do things God’s way all the time. He could have “built” that type of mindless obedience into our DNA, but He didn’t. He wants us to choose Him.
God desires a relationship with us, and He desires an intimacy with His children that most certainly supersedes everything we have ever held dear in the past. It is only in that closely formed relationship with Him where we will find true peace, joy and passion to live our days creating things of eternal worth and value. God knows this, but we often fail to daily recognize the treasures this relationship holds in both the current days of our life and our future. Yet, God doesn’t place us in a bridle to be led. Instead, He allows us to have command of our decisions.
Many Christian theologians who have far greater knowledge of Scripture than I will ever possess say that this urging by Paul is and exhortation to perform our duty to God. Do I believe we have a duty to serve God based off everything that God has done for us on our behalf? The answer to that is a definitive yes, but I believe that Scripture, including Romans 12:1, reveals to us another possibility of God’s desire in exactly how our hearts and lives come to Him.
We can serve someone or some thing out of the singular call of a duty, because we feel compelled out of simple legalistic obligation. That’s the definition of duty–obligatory service or responsibility. I don’t sense that is how God desires our life and service to Him to be framed. An army may expect it’s soldiers to transverse themselves across a battlefield, under a hail of enemy fire, to fight and even die for a ruler or a cause they may not personally know, like, or even agree with. Possibly it’s a cause that doesn’t benefit them in any way, yet their duty to ruler or country drives their service. This is not the mindset of how God desires our service to Him. I would submit that God desires our service to Him be grounded, not in duty, but in devotion. We should draw near to God and serve Him, because our hearts have found in Him a love for us that is priceless and even beyond comprehension. We don’t fall in love with God because we ourselves are full of love, we fall in love with God because of our recognition of His profound love for us, even when we were unlovable. Paul’s plea is based on us making the choice, because of our devotion to God, to enter into a deeper relationship with our Creator–deeper than we’ve ever gone before.
And, the call for us to choose this course is tied to the reason for our great devotion to God–His uncompromising love for us displayed in His mercies toward us.
12:1 - I appeal to you, brothers, by the mercies of God…
You’ve probably heard the word mercy defined as “not getting something you deserve.” Of course, this definition means not having the consequences of our rebellious sin nature held against us for eternity, because God has chosen to have compassion and pity on His children in their depraved state. And, this is exactly what this word “mercy” mean in Romans 12:1.
Mercy (mercies) here is “oiktirmos” (Gk), and its literal translation is “compassion and pity.” It can also hold the meaning of “favor.”
Paul is linking his plea to the bold and undeniable facts involving the great compassion and pity (mercy) God has for His children. God has made a way to save us from our sin, to save us from ourselves, to save us from Him and His demand for justice where sin is concerned, to save us from an eternity devoid of His presence, to save us from a life lived without depth of purpose, peace and joy, to save us from fear and uncertainty, to save us from, well everything.
What has God not done for us? What road that we travel has He not already been down? What weight of temptation has He not already experienced? What scheme of Satan has He not long ago defeated?
Paul is calling, even begging, for us to come, and he’s tied our decision to the everlasting mercies of a God who has paved the way for us from creation to the cross, and the cross to eternity. He’s not commanding we follow; instead, he’s begging us to consider taking the journey because of what God has already done.
How often do we judge the call of God on our life by what we’re afraid He may do instead of by the examples of what He’s already done? It’s as if we expect God to punish us with something substandard when we submit to His will. How foolish. God may call us to another location or occupation, yet we remain fearful that we won’t embrace it heartily as we have our current circumstances. God may call us to relinquish some of our treasure, yet we can’t imagine how we could live another day without the very things He’s asking us to surrender. God is certainly calling us to share our faith, yet we stand on our church attendance, our tithing and our current relationship with Him, one where we don’t really witness to others, as enough. We do this because we don’t want to exist, even for one second, beyond the fragile zone of our comfortable and nominal Christian walk. But God, and Paul, in Romans 12:1, would direct our focus to the “mercies” of God which have already been accomplished. These are the reasons we can trust taking another step toward God, often into the unknown, and do so with confidence.
God has looked down on us from His position as our wholly righteous Creator, and He has seen us through unfailing eyes of compassion. I think of Christ, His beaten and scourged body being stretched across the rugged frame of a Roman cross–what depth of compassion He showed to not vaporize the frail bodies of His persecutors. I think of God, the Father, who watched as this atrocity took place. “Oiktirmos,” compassion and pity, were both in full swing on this day. It was because of these mercies that Paul urges us, pleads with us, even begs us to come…
In the next post, we’ll discuss what he’s pleading with us to do, and it’s not a small decision on our part. Frankly, it’s a huge decision that, if undertaken properly, will change every aspect of our life. It will push us into areas that we previously had no desire to go. It will cause us to act in ways that are contrary to our very nature. It will compel us to surrender everything and everyone we hold dear. It will destroy us as the head of our life and install a new governance. It’s a call to change, a call to surrender, a call to make the choice to become subservient, and if the decision is made, everything will change.
As I normally do, I started my day off around 4:30 a.m. this morning with a wonderful reminder of God’s love for us. Romans has the simple reminder, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 (ESV). That’s good news anytime, but it’s especially good news at 4:30 a.m.
God loves me, and He loves you. His love is unconditional, uncontested, and unadulterated by our messy lives. He loves you and your pile of two-week old unfolded laundry on the couch and it’s counterpoint of dirty clothes on the floor in the laundry room. You know those clothes to which I’m referring – the clothes laying on the floor beside your fancy laundry basket? God loves you and your messy kitchen. God loves you and your poor spending habits. God loves you even though you tightly hold on to some hatred of your neighbor over things which should have long been forgiven. God loves you when you decide T.V. is of greater worth than a few moment of prayer and interaction with God. God loves you when life and people overwhelm you and your words and actions fail to represent the kindness, compassion, and mercy to which you have been shown. God loves you when you doubt Him and fail to trust.
In the middle of our mess, God has never failed to love us, just as Satan has never missed a chance to whisper destruction into our mind. Satan will tell you that your life is not reflective of Jesus – you’re just too far gone, you’ve walked in independence of God too far down a path of your own choosing, and God has no further interest in you. You’re not worthy of God’s love.
The blood of Jesus screams a different story. God has long loved us, and His love for us, shown most dramatically through the sacrifice of Christ, continues on. Don't let your messy life, and Satan little whispers, cause you to miss it, and don't let your messy life cause you to not show love to the world around you.
As you begin your day, start it with the knowledge that God loves you through every failure you’ll experience in the next 24 hours. Use that as a reminder to show love to others (whether you like them or not), because you are loved so perfectly by God – and God loves them just as much as He loves you. Remember that every person you experience today needs love, because their lives are as messy as yours. They don’t want you to know that, but they are. Be the person who surprises them with compassion instead of judgment, help instead of criticism, and the simple beauty of being kind and friendly. That’s becoming less common. We need more kind and friendly.
There will be enough evil, hatred, and animosity shown today on the news, social media, and other places to cover that quota. Let your day be filled with the personal knowledge of God’s love for you, and let that knowledge catalyze some love in your own life for a world that seems to be screaming for a fight.
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation
is not to utter the words, but to live them out."
John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Memorial Day is special to me, as it should hold a special place in all of our hearts. I've lost family and friends to both war and training accidents in military service. Their memory hasn't faded from my mind, and their sacrifice screams out to me every time I see the flag of our nation. We often mistake this day as just another patriotic holiday that relieves us from the obligations of our employment, without fully examining those it is meant to honor. I think we should honor our veterans everyday, but Memorial Day is not set aside to show respect to those who currently serve; instead, it was established to honor those who, through their selfless dedication to our nation, paid the ultimate price. Those honored on Memorial Day are no longer here with us to accept the gratitude of a thankful country; instead, they lie entombed, having given far more than their best for the United States of America.
The Civil War ended in 1865, and before the turn of the decade, Americans in various towns around our nation began to meet together and decorate the graves and pay honor to the nations fallen heroes. Originally called "Decoration Day," Memorial Day was recognized as a federal holiday in 1971.
I thank God for the American solider, and it is with a humble heart that I remember those who have died on my behalf, and for my safety and freedom, while proudly wearing the uniform of our nation. I fear that the sacrifices of our fallen heroes have been somewhat forgotten over time, as we live in a nation today that shows a great distraction from the hard lessons of history. This is painfully evident to me as I sadly observe how politics and politicians recklessly abuse the spirit and message of our founding documents and, with profane arrogance, seek to undermine the freedoms that heroic men and women have labored and died to preserve. It's a different country – a divided county. If we're not careful, our division will catch up with us. There's a possibility it already has.
Arlington National Cemetery currently has over 400,000 graves. Not all of those present were soldiers, and not all died in combat, but the many gravestones present should still stand out to us as a stark reminder of the sacrifices that have been made for the preservation of our national freedom.
Let us also remember that each grave represents much more than a fallen solider. These gravestones represent an individual who took upon themselves the defense of nation full of people they did not know or necessarily agree with. They represent months and even years of hard training, learning the art of war. Each gravestone represents a great degree of courage, and, most assuredly, a great degree of palpable apprehension and fear that may have never been conquered as they fought America's battles on foreign soil. These gravestones also represent their families. Too often we fail to understand that each solider is a son, daughter, mother, or father. These gravestones represent the shared grief that can only be understood by families who, as Abraham Lincoln said, "have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom" (From a November 12, 1864 letter from Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, mother who lost five sons during the Civil War).
The entire letter reads:
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
In the current and costly political divisiveness so prevalent in America, let us choose to take a moment and stand together in unity to honor the sacrifice of heroes. Let us acknowledge that they were only normal people who became extraordinary, because they did not run from evil when freedom was challenged. Instead, they answered the call, trained for the cause, and overcame their fear. They stood up and took action, leaving their homes and families, drawing a line in the sand between freedom and tyranny, and, in that pursuit, they gave their life. We are indebted to those who have fallen, and let us not forsake the beauty of their memory or diminish the weight of their sacrifice.
To the fallen America Solider, Sailor, Airmen, and Marine, from the hearts of a grateful nation, and from the heart of a very proud and humbled American citizen...thank you.
"...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Romans 5:8 (ESV)
Swiss theologian and Catholic priest, Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “What you are is God's gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”
I love the picture I chose in creating the graphic for this blog. It's simply two people walking down a desolate road. One of those adorable little humans has her arm around the other. Maybe her walking partner is lonely, frustrated, or angry? Maybe they just need a friend? Whatever the case, she's comforting them and showing love. One of the things that stands out to me in this picture is that she's doing so in the absence of the eyes of others. She's not trying to impress anyone or persuade the masses to think of her as loving and compassionate, because there's no one there to watch. To me, this little girl is showing genuine affection to someone for whom she holds great care and concern...and obviously a depth of love. I think it's precious, and it's a picture of the goodness of God...so often found on a lonely road.
On many occasions, God puts us directly in the path of someone who simply needs a friend – if only for the moment. Earlier this year, I was in a store, minding my own business, when I saw a lady walking towards me. She had obviously been crying, and I could tell her conscious was distracted by the source of her tears. My heart just went out to her, but I didn't know anything of her situation. It wasn't my place to say anything to her...or was it? I feel it was, because the compassion I had for her, and the desire to speak to her, were put there by a God who was asking me to show her His goodness. (We often think God will only give us direction in a way that awes our senses, but I feel He mostly just gently "hints" to us in our mind.) As she passed by me, I simply said, "Ma'am, are you OK?" She stopped, almost shocked, and starred at me with red, puffy eyes...but eyes that were completely focused on me. I was ready for her to tell me that her condition was absolutely none of my business. I could almost feel it coming. But, her response was kind and almost submissive. She said that she was upset, but that she would be fine. I didn't know what to tell her, because I didn't know anything about her situation, but I still felt that God made her walk down that specific aisle, directly at me...giving His often rebellious child a reason to be obedient. So, shooting from the hip, I dug down deep into my collection of "things you say to upset people" bag and simply came up with this: "I don't know what's happened to you that is causing your tears, but just know that it's not something God can't heal."
It was the interaction that she needed, at the very moment, right in the middle of the paper goods aisle of the Dollar Store in Jackson, GA. We stood and talked for another thirty minutes. I won't share her problems, because there were many, and none of them easy to solve. My words didn't solve any of them, but this kind lady just needed a friend. She needed one right then, and God saw fit to cross our paths. I reminded her that Jesus died on the cross for us, but that our eternity isn't His only concern. Jesus is concerned with our day-to-day struggles, and He was well aware of what she was going through at that very moment. I asked her if she had taken these problems to the feet of God in prayer, and she no. So, we prayed right there, in front of the paper plates...holy ground is wherever you find yourself when you realize God's already present in that place.
Who are we becoming?
Are we becoming disciples of Christ who spread God's goodness? If we're living our life with God as the foundation, then we should be becoming more like Jesus. Although there's many verses I could choose from, let me just use one today...
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me."
Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
It was Jesus who put His arm around us as we walked down a lonely road. It is Jesus who paid our debt, comforted our rebellious heart, and offered us an eternity with Him – an eternity that surpasses anything we can currently comprehend. We should become more like Him, because He is a part of us. It is Jesus who is always there. He's there in our life when our friends fail us; He's there when our health fails us; He's there when our finances fail us, and He's even there when we fail Him. What great love. The Spirit of God shares with us this earthly life we live. Through every victory and defeat, He walks the same road our feet trod. Through the cross, He showed us the goodness of God. Should it not be our desire to bring into the light this same goodness?
We live in a world full of people who need the love, forgiveness, and life-sharing companionship of a Savior. We live in a world that needs us to act like the disciples of Christ that God intends. A great picture of this in action is the graphic of the little girl walking with her arm around her friend. It's a selfless act, because she has nothing to gain. There's no one there to be impressed by her "Godly compassion." There's no one there to Facebook the moment. It's just her and a needy soul who needs love.
Life can be hard, and, like the picture, the road we travel can be a little desolate at times. The scenery may be beautiful, but the road is often lonely...and we need someone to come beside us in genuine love and give us a reason to believe in the goodness of God.
When my father had heart failure a few years ago, I arrived at Piedmont Hospital while an ambulance was still transferring my dad from another medical facility. I sat in the CCU waiting room completely alone. It was tough. The only comfort I felt through the uncertainty of that situation was Jesus, walking beside me, His arm around my shoulders...just me and Him. Shortly after I arrived, my good friends, Wally and Kelly Bryson walked in...and then my pastor, David Cofield. They made it to the hospital before my father even arrived. Elizabeth Wootten, Craig White, and so many more just showed up at a time I needed them the most. I received concerned calls, texts, and emails that entire afternoon and evening, some from people that I didn't even know. I didn't answer most of them, but I saw them...people, my friends, showing the goodness of God. These precious people will never know how much that meant. Their presence didn't take away my anxiety regarding my father's health, but their presence and calls of concern did relieve the loneliness of walking that road by myself, and almost every person referenced their prayers for me and my family – prayers to a God of goodness. They were showing me a reason to believe in the goodness of God. So often God shows His goodness to others by our actions. Those actions are powerful, healing, and they carry the weight of God's call on our life – a call to be Jesus to the world around us.
Look for reasons to join someone in their walk down a lonely road. You may not have the answers to address any aspect of their situation, but your compassionate and caring presence is a reflection of Jesus. Ultimately, although they may not even be aware, it is Jesus they are seeking. Be the individual who puts your arm around the shoulders of the hurting, not because you can necessarily help, but simply because you care. In this, we show the goodness of God.
There's a lot of discussion today about what things are really essential, and the criterion we use in making those determinations are important. Certainly we would deem grocery stores as being essential, because we need to eat. But everything we would like to classify as "essential" may not really be necessary in a time of crisis. Consequently, as I mentioned previously, the criterion we us in making our classifications are important, and the criterion is often swayed greatly by the interjection of a "crisis."
In crisis, we are first seeking a solution, and when the solution fails to be easily established, we then seek comfort. What's essential in our life is often determined by the things that stabilize our ability to feel comfortable. Is your mobile phone essential? If it is essential, is it placed in that category because it can connect you to your family and emergency services, or is it primarily essential because it connects you to social media on demand? If the latter is the case, it's more a device of comfort and distraction than safety and necessity.
What's really essential in our life? What things bring with them the sheer weight of absolute necessity for our survival, both physically and emotionally? That list would be much shorter than our predilection for total comfort would allow, but they would be the things that are truly essential.
Let me just speak of One...
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." – John 1:14 (ESV)
Jesus is essential, and He's certainly essential for more reasons than I could ever express here, but lets name a few...
As I close, let me briefly discuss the last bullet point, because it's important for today.
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
Jesus is essential, because He offers peace, hope, and rest...
COVID-19 has not only peaked our concern about the immediate availability of toilet paper – it's done far greater damage than that. COVID-19 is a stark reminder that life is not only fragile, but our health, freedoms, finances, employment, travels, purchases, graduations, and "necessities" of comfort can all be changed in only a moment. Life can be uprooted and thrown completely out of balance. Future plans can be destroyed, and fortunes can disappear in the blink of an eye. Peace, hope, and rest can take a position far outside of our ability to recognize where they even exist, but Jesus offers them daily. He says, "Come to me..." He also says, "...learn from me..." There's something greater in our current situation than surviving a pandemic; there's an opportunity to learn from the God of all creation about His willingness to be involved in our fear, our insecurities, and our inability to find peace and rest.
It is here, in the rubble and debris of everything we deemed "essential" falling completely apart, that we are forced to examine the criterion of what's truly essential. Is Jesus essential to your life? If living in peace and security are essential, if rest is essential, then Jesus is certainly essential. He calls out to us, not from the periphery of the crisis, but from His position right beside us, in the middle of it all, to come to Him and find what the government and medical science can't provide. He's not looking to provide us with a cure for a virus; instead, He's offering Himself...and if you will accept His offer, you will find He's more than enough.
"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:19 (ESV)
“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us,
we have to see it as something done by us.”
– John R.W. Stott –
At times, I get along pretty well with my sin nature. Don't you? I'm sure I'm not alone.
It's often way too easy for me to walk comfortably through my day and not even think about my very large predisposition to sin, and when I say large, I mean it's huge...really, really big. You know...just like yours. I fight it frequently, but I don't fight it constantly. I guess it's just a sad fact that my focus isn't always on what's been done for me; instead, my focus may just be fixated on the beauty contained in the "results" of what's been done for me. However, we shouldn't just live in the "results." The results (in this case, forgiveness, redemption, and grace) aren't fully appreciated unless the effort put forth to enable them has been identified and thoroughly examined.
What's been done for us is both sad, violent, shameful, and yet, still beyond precious...all rolled into one. What's been done for us was the passing of our guilty punishment onto the life of an innocent – an innocent who willingly took our place. Our spot on the cross was assumed by another. The price for our sinful rebellion was paid in full by the blood of a Savior. It was our cost to pay, but He took our blame. Ultimately, we hold the responsibility for the activities that took place on Calvary that day. We did it.
In his quote above, John Stott had it correct, "Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us." That's a hard truth, but the dark reality of our guilt stands in stark juxtaposition to the beautiful, redeemed innocence we enjoy through the blood of Jesus. The two stand side-by-side as further proof of Christ's great love for us...both His guilty executioners and His forgiven children.
Our lives are far from perfect, and they are often imperfect because we choose to embrace that sinful imperfection over God's will. Christ was sentenced, shamed, beaten, and ultimately killed for the same imperfections that we gravitate to in our unchecked, and often shamefully ignored, sin nature. Let's not make a claim to the "results" of what He has done on our behalf without first taking complete ownership as the cause. We may find it helps our focus to remain on the One who took such punishment for transgressions He could lay no claim to...but claimed all the same.
Jesus didn't really choose the cross. What Jesus did was to definitively choose us, while accepting the cross as part of the process. When He made that choice, the cross was inevitable, but He made the choice anyway. What a wonderful Savior!
This Easter, as you will most likely be sitting in front of a screen watching your church, take ownership of the events that happened to Jesus. It's only then that we can begin to fully understand and appreciate the depth of what was really done for us.
Calvary, the pivot-point where justice met grace. I thank God for the cross of Calvary, and I thank Jesus for draping His innocence upon that cross to stand in my place.
It's Friday on the hill of Golgotha, and Jesus is dead, but the tomb won't hold Him very long. Resurrection and redemption is on the way. But what was necessary has been accomplished. It is finished...well, almost. Sunday is coming...
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!