Romans Lesson 10: 12.1-2, 9-13 - SACRIFICES
LAST WEEK: In Rom. 11:17-21, Paul concluded his examination of God's plan for His people Israel, and left us with three major points of application (that pertain to us as well as the Jews): (1) The only way any person, regardless of race or nationality, can access God's grace is through faith. God doesn't bless anyone based on their heritage, nationality, or even their personal goodness, but blesses those who by faith alone believe in Jesus Christ alone. God doesn't deal in double standards and would not hesitate to cut off a church that falls into apostasy. Mere "religion" can't save anyone, not even the children of Israel. (2) God will one day reverse the destiny of the nation Israel. This grafting-in will happen at the end of the Great Tribulation. During this time great numbers of Jews will finally believe in Jesus as Messiah and will receive the fulfillment of the unconditional covenants of the OT. Belief by the Gentiles is what caused God to graft them in (v. 17), and Israel's belief in the Messiah is what will cause God to reinstate the nation. (3) The principle that God will "show mercy to all" (v. 32) is not universal. Similar to the first point, it simply means that all people, regardless of race, nationality, or anything else, are eligible by grace to receive God's mercy by faith alone in Jesus Christ as Lord alone. No group deserves salvation, but all need God's mercy. We see mercy best in light of our sin: The better we understand our sin, all the greater will we be able to appreciate and understand the magnitude of God's mercy. God could can His mercy to us only because He was satisfied with the death of Jesus Christ on the cross to pay for our sins.
THIS WEEK: A new section of Paul's letter begins with Romans 12. In Chapters 9-11, he has concluded the section dealing with the doctrine of salvation and what it means to come to God through faith in Christ. Now he begins to describe in practical terms how those of us who are now in Christ should live. Today's lesson, in Rom. 12:1-2, answers the question, ''How should we respond to God's great mercy to us?'' The answer is to become living, breathing sacrifices, using our lives up in service to God as an ongoing act of worship. Paul will explain why this is what makes sense. This is not a means to earn salvation, but the natural response we should have to being saved. To do this, we will need to break free from the me-first pattern of the world and have our minds changed in order to be able to understand what God wants. Then we will know how to live. In vv. 9-13, he begins a list-like section of quick commands about how Christians should lead their everyday lives.
Read Rom 12:1-2 - PRESENT YOUR BODIES A LIVING SACRIFICE
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Note: These first two verses set forth what's necessary for a believer to live the Christian life.
v. 1a: "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God" - When Paul says, "I urge you," it's a request rather than a demand, but something that is still expected, and the term, "brethren," makes the appeal as fellow members of the family of God rather than servants. The word, "therefore," links this chapter to what went before; namely, Paul's section regarding God's grace and our faith. This verse is a great dividing point in the book, fork in the road: To this point, God has done things for us, but now we do things for Him. The phrase, "by the mercies of God," gives the basis for presenting ourselves to God and "mercies" encompass all of God's grace toward us, such as our justification, our eternal status before Him, our glorification with Him, provision of the Holy Spirit, and so on.
v. 1b: "to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God" - The "bodies" we are to "present" to God aren't just the physical parts but the whole person-body, mind, and Spirit. Paul uses sacrificial language to describe our walk with God. In the OT, Jews made sacrifices that would die, but in the NT context, Christians are to offer themselves as ongoing, living sacrifices, and our bodies are "acceptable" (or pleasing) to God when we set our whole self apart for His exclusive use.
v. 1c: "which is your spiritual service of worship" - This describes the living sacrifice: a life fully dedicated to God's service in ministry and worship-the logical outcome of following Christ.
TRUTH 1: By presenting ourselves to God, we become living sacrifices for God's will. When a believer presents himself or herself to God, they become a living sacrifice for Him. When an OT Israelite brought a sacrifice to the altar, he relinquished his right to what was offered. In like manner, when a Christian presents himself or herself to the Lord, they relinquish their right to themselves.
v. 2a: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" - In v. 1, Paul told us what we are to present to God; here, he tells us how to present it. The phrase "do not be conformed" means that we now have the power within us to overcome the social norms, traditions, and pressures that formerly shaped our lives. Instead, we are to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind," which is something entirely different. In v. 1 Paul called us to present our bodies and here, he calls us to permit the Spirit to renew our minds. The term "mind" as used here is the center of our thoughts, emotions, will, and attitudes. Unlike something conformal that bends with the times, the transformation and renewing of our minds means changing the inner direction of our thought and will. Biblically-inspired, Godly thought will transform every aspect of our being. It can even improve our health as we treat our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit.
v. 2b: "so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" - The renewing of our minds enables us to discern the "will of God." The will of God is no mystery; it is simply what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. Although we can know what's in the Bible, knowing the will of God in our lives takes serious effort and study. What is "good" are thoughts and actions that are intrinsically good because they accord with God's nature (i.e., His goodness). For example, doing something that has beneficial effect and brings spiritual growth. What is "acceptable" are thoughts and actions that that are well-pleasing to God. It pleases God that our lives are not a waste, and God won't be well-pleased until there is transformation in our lives. Our ultimate, ongoing goal in becoming acceptable is to be fully conformed to the image of Christ. And finally, "perfect" means complete-someone who achieves his or her full destiny as a mature believer. Mature believers know and apply the will of God to their lives.
TRUTH 2: At any given point, we are either being conformed to the world or to Christ. As human beings, we are naturally conformists, going this way and that way with the crowd. God, however, asks believers to march-direct their lives-toward a completely different drummer, no matter what the cost. Sadly, many American Christians are secular in their core values and operate as if this world is all there is. But as believers, God expects us to operate on an entirely different set of values-the values clearly set forth in His Word. God demands that His people be different from the crowd.
TRUTH 3: The renewing of our minds enables us to discern the will of God. The will of God isn't a mystery but simply what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. Although we can know what's in the Bible, knowing the will of God in our lives takes serious effort and study. When a person chooses to reject the world system and decides, instead, for the will of God, this demonstrates that his or her life is yielded to God. A constantly yielded life pictures a mature believer who strives to do what is good, acceptable, and complete.
Read Rom. 12:9-13 - LOVE WITHOUT HYPOCRISY
9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Note: In these five verses, Paul lists thirteen bullet point-type behaviors that all believers should adopt, starting with love.
v. 9a: "Let love be without hypocrisy" - The word for "love," (Gk. agapé) is self-sacrificial love that puts the interests of others first, and it is to be truly sincere love from the heart, the opposite hypocrisy (Gk. hypocritos, lit. depicts an actor in a drama wearing a mask). This kind of love is totally without any selfish agendas, love that seeks good towards the person loved.
v. 9b: "Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good" - To "Abhor" evil, we should have an aversion against it that actually causes us to feel horror, disgust, and shock. Rather, we should "cling" (Gk. kollao, lit. be glued-to) "what is good"-thoughts and actions that are intrinsically good because they are consistent with God's nature, beneficial things that cause spiritual growth (v. 2).
TRUTH 4: Biblical love requires objectivity and discriminates between good and evil. Biblical love (agapé) isn't sentimentality without standards but is a type of love that requires believers to give to others, seek to do what is best for them. Christians are obligated to love every believer, even when we don't agree with them or particularly like them. True Biblical love discriminates between good and evil because there is no middle ground in God's standards. Verse 9 tells us we should abhor evil, which means we should hate it and be repulsed by it.
v. 10a: "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love" - "brotherly love" (Gk. philádelphos) is family love, which can include both immediate family and church family. A healthy, devoted family is one where family members can speak transparently about their most personal concerns. When trouble comes, the family is a refuge and strength second only to God.
v. 10b: "give preference to one another in honor" - Here, Paul is really talking about giving others praise and encouragement. He is calling us to focus on satisfying another person's need for approval-to help another person achieve their success. In a sports analogy, to make an "assist" instead of a goal. There are many ways of doing this: saying thanks, remembering birthdays, telling people they did a good job, telling them they have important gifts, and sometimes, just listening.
TRUTH 5: Christians should give due recognition to others in the family of God. We should keep this idea at the forefront of our thinking because out natural tendency is to think of ourselves first. Our personal status in the Christian community shouldn't be our primary concern but that of others.
v. 11: "not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" - Paul is literally saying don't be lazy or sloppy in your work but do the job quickly and carefully. There's always more work to be done in a church than there are willing hands to do it. So it's easy to allow ourselves to get burned-out or discouraged. When we feel this way, we need to stop and consider (1) the importance of the mission (whatever it is) we've undertaken. Ours is often life and death work-saving souls to build God's kingdom. (2) We need to realize that we can only do part of the job and remind ourselves that God is working behind the scenes in ways that we will not know until the day we meet Him face-to-face and learn how all our small efforts bore fruit in ways that we could never imagine. Another way to avoid burn-out is to be "fervent in spirit." Fervent in Greek literally means to boil, and to us it translates to enthusiasm. When we pursue Christian ministry, whatever form it takes, there is no substitute for personal enthusiasm, which results from Spirit-driven conviction. People see this-in the form of joy and passion for what we are doing. We're devoted because we're "serving the Lord."
TRUTH 6: It takes a lot of energy and effort to serve the Lord. Our efforts in Christian ministry should never be slack or sloppy. Our work, whatever form it takes, should be timely, conscientious, and complete. We should approach it with enthusiasm because of who we are serving-Jesus Christ.
v. 12: "rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer" - Remember that the definition of the Greek word for "hope" (elpis) is not a wish but the expectation of something that is certain, and it's certain because it's a promise grounded in the truth of God's Word. As Christians, when we contemplate the eternity that lies ahead for us-this certain hope--it gives us a sense of joy because no matter what happens in this life, we will be with the Lord-forever. Paul's point is that when we focus on what we have in Christ, it should shape our attitudes about our current condition. It enables us to "persevere in tribulation"-endure various trials and problems that life on this world inevitably brings and gives us the strength to maintain stability during times of pressure, whatever it may be. When Paul says, "devoted to prayer," he's telling us to make it a habit. We need to keep an open line with God day-to-day because it's central to our life and the life of our church.
TRUTH 7: When we maintain a focus on what we have in Christ, it will shape our attitudes about our current condition. Our "hope" that we will spend eternity with Jesus is something we're certain of because it's a promise grounded in the truth of God's Word. It enables us to "persevere" in the various trials and life and maintain stability under pressure.
TRUTH 8: Prayer requires constant attention. As believers, we should never lose sight of the importance of prayer. God ordained prayer as part of His sovereign plan for us. The truth is that some things never happen because we fail to pray for them. For us, prayer should be a habit that keeps us on an open line with God on a day-to-day basis.
TRUTH 8: God expects us to share our resources. We have a responsibility to share the resources with which God has blessed us with other Christians who are in need. There are times when fellow Christians facing financial hardships need and deserve help. Hospitality, not to be confused with social interaction but actually providing food and shelter to someone, may not be as critical today as it was in Paul's time, but there are still opportunities to help people in need or even to facilitate ministries like missionaries and evangelists.
Note: vv. 14-18 were skipped because of the length of this lesson.