"Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing
to God - this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1
This is an extraordinary verse of Scripture, which deserves our
prayerful consideration. I want to explore in detail some of what
I think it means, and calls on us to do. But first I want to look
at it in the context in which Paul has placed it. I shall cross
over the chapter divisions in which our modern text appears, recognizing
that the verse and chapter divisions of our modern text are not
in the original, and sometimes lead us to make artificial divisions
in our consideration of that text.
I want to make it clear that, in everything I write in this paper,
I am preaching to myself as much as to anyone else. I have chosen
to write about this because I need to hear it. If it is helpful
to someone else, that's an extra benefit.
A. THE CONTEXT
"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge
of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing
out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his
counselor?' ' Who has ever given to God that God should repay
him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. Therefore, I urge you, brothers,
in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices,
holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be
transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able
to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and
perfect wil." (Romans 11:33-12:2). (Except as otherwise noted,
all Scriptures are from the New International Version, and any
emphasis has been added.)
I encourage you to read this remarkable passage several times
as a whole, and then we shall look in detail at its implications.
I believe much of the heart of Paul's teaching, and of what our
Christian life should be, can be found in this passage.
1. God is far greater than our human understanding
of him. (Romans 11:33-34).
Paul was the best educated and most intellectually proficient
of all the writers of the New Testament. Yet we find in Romans 11:33-34
the profound sense that Paul does not, and never will, fully understand
the greatness of God. God's wisdom and knowledge has depths that
no man can plumb. God's judgments are unsearchable and his paths
beyond tracing out. This may seem a shocking statement to some,
but Paul wrote it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and I believe
it is true. God does, or allows, things that we just don't understand,
and he doesn't owe us any explanations.
Paul expresses the same sense in many other passages. Thus he
speaks of God's "incomparably great power for us who believe"
(Ephesians 1:19), of the love of Christ "that surpasses knowledge"
(Ephesians 3:19), of God's ability to do "immeasurably more
than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20), and of the peace
of God "which transcends all understanding" (Philippians
4:7). He tells us that "No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"
(1 Corinthians 2:9). He speaks of the relationship between Christ
and his church as "a profound mystery" (Ephesians 5:32).
He says, "Listen, I tell you a mystery" (1 Corinthians
15:51). He says that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures
of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). God is immeasurably
greater than anything our limited minds can conceive. Whatever we
may think or say about him, God is greater.
Paul also emphasizes that our knowledge and understanding of God
do not come from our intellect, nor, indeed, from any attribute
of ours, but from the Holy Spirit and from revelation. (We should
use our intellect, but our intellect is not sufficient.) Paul was
strong in warning against false doctrine, but he emphasized that
our faith must be, not in doctrine, but in a person. "I know
whom I have believed" (2 Timothy 1:12). Whom,
not what. Paul was not taught the
gospel; he "received it by revelation from Jesus Christ"
(Galatians 1:12). His gospel "came to you not simply with words,
but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction"
(1 Thessalonians 1:4). His message and preaching were "not
with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the
Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on man's wisdom
but on God's power" (1 Corinthians 2:4). He insisted that the
man without the Holy Spirit cannot understand spiritual things,
because "they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians
2:14; see also 1 Corinthians 1:20-25). Thus he prayed that God would
grant believers "the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that
you may know him better", and that "the eyes of your heart
may be enlightened" (Ephesians 1:17-18). He prayed that God
would "fill you with the knowledge of his will through all
spiritual wisdom and understanding" (Colossians 1:9).
Paul wrote that here on earth "we see but a poor reflection,
as in a mirror" and we "know in part" (1 Corinthians
13:12). I believe this statement applies to our understanding of
Scripture and our knowledge of God. Here on earth we cannot know
God fully. We cannot even understand Scripture fully. This is not
because Scripture is obscure or God unapproachable. Far from it.
It is because our finite human minds are limited in their ability
to understand. God has given us "everything we need for life
and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3), but he does not answer all the
questions we may have.
We get this same sense of mystery throughout Scripture. I have
room only for a few examples. God's ways and his thoughts are immeasurably
higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we have the
mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) we can hope to understand God's
ways and thoughts somewhat better, but I think we can never achieve
a complete understanding of them. Job said, "Surely I spoke
of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know"
(Job 42:3). The Psalmist spoke of God's knowledge as "too wonderful
for me, too lofty for me to attain" (Psalm 139:6).
Scripture gives us visions of God. It even tells us that God knew
Moses "face to face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). Yet it also
tells us that "no one has ever seen God" (John 1:18),
and that God "lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has
seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16). Some men have seen aspects
of God, bits of God, but no human on earth has seen God in his full
glory and magnificence.
God is incomparably great. "'To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?', says the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:25). He
is greater than the whole earth, greater than our sun, greater than
all the galaxies, greater than the millions of suns the astronomers
have identified, greater than the suns they have not yet identified.
His greatness is beyond our comprehension. His wisdom, his holiness,
his goodness, his faithfulness, his love are all beyond our comprehension.
His wrath, also, is beyond our comprehension. He is so much more
than anything we can imagine that we can only stand in awe of him.
2. All things belong to God. (Romans
These two verses tell us that God is the source of all things,
and all things belong to him.
In heaven the cry goes up to God continuously, "You are worthy,
our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you
created all things, and by your will they were created and have
their being" (Revelation 4:11). In the days of Nehemiah the
people of Israel prayed, "You alone are the Lord. You made
the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host,
the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them.
You give life to everything" (Nehemiah 9:5-6). "He commanded
and they were created" (Psalm 148:5). "In the beginning
you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work
of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear
out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they
will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will
never end" (Psalm 102:25-27). "Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep
of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3). "I am the Lord, who has
made all things" (Isaiah 44:24; see also Isaiah 42:5). God
"gives all men life and breath and everything else" (Acts
Not only did God create all things, but he sustains all things
by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). "In him all things hold
together" (Colossians 1:17). Nothing could continue to exist
unless God were actively sustaining it and holding it together.
God has said, "Everything under heaven belongs to me"
(Job 41:11). "The world is mine, and all that is in it"
(Psalm 50:12). Indeed, "from him and through him and to him
are all things" (Romans 11:36). Whatever we may think we give
to him, it is simply a matter of returning to him what is already
It follows also that nothing we can do can put God in our debt.
"Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?"
(Romans 11:36). "Who has a claim against me that I must pay?"
(Job 41:11; see also Ephesians 2:8). Indeed, God has given us so
much that we could never deserve, and has blessed us so greatly,
that we could have no possible basis for claiming anything from
him. "How can I repay him for all his goodness to me?"
I think there is a broader implication to all this, which I can
only briefly sketch out here. "The Lord our God, the Lord is
one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). He is "the only true God"
(John 17:3). "I am God and there is no other" (Isaiah
46:9). "Apart from me there is no God" (Isaiah 44:6).
There is nothing, and no one, that is equal to God. There is nothing
that is independent of God. Everything is subject to God. Everything
is under God's control. No purpose of God can fail (Isaiah 14:24,
46:10, 11, 55:11). No plan of God can be thwarted (Job 42:2). God
"works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his
will" (Ephesians 1:11; see Psalm 57:2). Not only does everything
belong to God, but he controls everything.
3. Offer yourself as a living sacrifice.
Chapter 12 starts with the word "therefore". There is
a causal relationship to the preceding verses. It is because
God is so incomparably great, beyond our capacity to understand
or imagine, and because all things
belong to God and are controlled by God, that we should offer ourselves
as living sacrifices. (Note that I am here, and in the rest of this
paper, deliberately broadening Paul's language. Where he speaks
of offering our body, I think what God really wants is an offering
of our whole self, of everything. We can't really offer him our
body without offering our mind, will, emotions and spirit. They
go together. I think other passages of Scripture will make this
How do we do this? What does it mean to do this? I shall attempt
to deal with such questions in the next part of this paper. But
I want to continue with the context in which this verse appears.
There is a sequence to Romans 12:1-3 that I think is quite important
4. Be transformed by the renewing of your
minds. (Romans 12:2)
I believe this transformation is basic to our life and growth
in Christ. In a sense this transformation is part of the way we
offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. Our old self passes away
and we become a new creation. We die to Christ and Christ lives
in us. We put off the old self, and put on a new self created in
the image of God. It is only as we sacrifice the old that we can
put on the new. I shall discuss this further in the next part of
But I think there is significance in the sequence in which Paul
has expressed these truths. That sequence suggests that the process
of transformation cannot fully occur unless and until we have made
a decision to commit ourselves totally to Jesus Christ and to offer
ourselves to him as living sacrifices. There is an overlap, but
the full transformation requires the total commitment to Jesus Christ
that is involved in offering ourselves as a living sacrifice.
5. Then you will test and approve God's good,
pleasing and perfect will.
Here Paul makes the sequence absolutely clear. "Then
you will be able to test... " He is saying that it is only
after we have done two things - (1) sacrificed our body to Christ,
and (2) been transformed by the renewing of our mind - that we can
test and approve God's perfect will for our lives. I would go a
step further and say that it is only after we have done these things
that we can be sure we know what his perfect will is for our lives.
B. OFFERING OURSELVES AS A SACRIFICE
Let us now explore what it means to offer ourselves as a sacrifice
and how we can do it.
First, two general comments.
(1) In one sense we have nothing to offer. Everything belongs
to God. We have nothing to give. We have nothing that we can call
our own. This is the ultimate spiritual reality.
But in another sense we do have something to offer. In worldly,
material terms we have certain exclusive rights to various things.
We can exclude any other humans from them. We also have something
we call ourself, which we will not allow others to invade. Apart
from God, this self (shabby as it may be) is our most precious possession.
So we do have to be willing to give up something that we have considered
of great importance.
(2) There is another sense in which what we offer is not a sacrifice,
because what God gives us in return is far greater than what we
have given up. Jesus used two images, of a man who found a great
treasure buried in a field, and of another man who found a pearl
of great price, the most wonderful jewel imaginable (Matthew 13:44-46).
In each case he sold everything he had to acquire the treasure.
Jesus said the first man did this "in his joy", and I
think we can assume the second man did so also. We, too, can find
joy in the sacrifice that Romans 12:1 calls on us to make. In some
cases, however, it may seem like a sacrifice at the time and the
joy does not come until later. At any rate I shall, as Paul did,
refer to it as a sacrifice.
In what follows I shall list some ways in which we can commit
ourselves wholly to God, and in which some Christians have committed
themselves wholly to God. I am not saying that all of us need to
do all of these things. We need to be ready to do whatever God calls
on us to do in our particular situation, and he puts different calls
on different people. I am also not saying that I have achieved all,
or even many, of these. But I think it is useful to study Scripture
for the purpose of setting the goals towards which we can aim.
1. Literally offering our bodies.
Until the fourth century A.D. the Christian Church was a persecuted
church. Many Christians were fed to the wild beasts in the Roman
arenas, or otherwise put to death for their faith, often in very
painful ways. Such records as we have make it very likely that 10
of the original 12 apostles were martyred for their faith. (Judas
committed suicide and John is believed to have died a natural death.)
The book of Revelation speaks of many who were beheaded or otherwise
Today, in some parts of the world, Christians are put to death
for their faith. We are told that there were more Christian martyrs
in the 20th century than in all the previous history of the church.
Paul was flogged, beaten with rods, and stoned (2 Corinthians
chapter 11). The early apostles were flogged (Acts 5:40-41). Both
Paul and Peter were imprisoned. Many others have been flogged, tortured,
imprisoned and killed for their faith (Hebrews 11:32-38). Many today,
especially in Communist or Muslim countries, have been imprisoned,
sent to labor camps, flogged, and tortured because of their faith.
Many, also, have had to see their wives and children suffer because
of their faith. In many parts of the world, Christianity is a "suffering
This suffering can be in material things also. Scripture speaks
of those who "joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property"
(Hebrews 10:34). Paul experienced need and hunger (Philippians 4:12;
2 Corinthians 11:27). Today, in Muslim and Communist countries,
believing Christians, because of persecution, often find it difficult
to get and keep jobs, and many live a life of great economic hardship.
The families of those who are imprisoned or killed often suffer
great economic hardship.
In today's Western world we do not encounter such persecution.
It may come. Are we prepared to face it if it does come? For myself
I cannot say. I hope that, with God's strength, I will be able to
if I am put to the test, but I cannot be sure unless it happens.
2. Being a slave to Christ.
Many of the epistles begin, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus"
(Romans 1:1; see Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1), "James, a servant
of God" (James 1:1), "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle
of Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1), "Jude, a servant of Jesus
Christ" (Jude 1:1). John calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ
(Revelation 1:1). (Paul also calls himself "a prisoner [or
captive] of Jesus Christ" in Philemon 1). The Greek word translated
"servant", doulos, has
a variety of meanings , but its root meaning is that of a "slave".
Spiros Zodhiates defines it as "one who is in a permanent relationship
of servitude to another, his will altogether consumed in the will
of the other." (Zodhiates, ed., Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study
Bible, Revised ed. 1991, AMG International, p. 1709, #1401).
Other Scriptures use doulos to
describe the Christian's relationship to God or to Jesus Christ.
(See, for example, Acts 20:19; Romans 12:11; Colossians 3:23; 1
Thessalonians 1:9). Jesus said, "No servant can serve two masters.
Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted
to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and
Money [KJV Mammon]" (Luke 16:13).
Paul writes, "Don't you know that when you offer yourselves
to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom
you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death,
or to obedience, which leads to righteousness. But thanks be to
God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly
obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have
been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
I put this in human terms, because you are weak in your natural
selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery
to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them
in slavery to righteousness, leading to holiness.... You have been
set free from sin and have become slaves to God" (Romans 6:16-19,
Peter writes, "Live as free men, but do not use your freedom
as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God" (1 Peter 2:16;
see also Galatians 5:13).
John writes, "The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave
him to show his servants what must soon take place" (Revelation
1:1; see also Revelation 6:11, 7:3, 19:2, 5, 10, 22:3, 6 and 9).
We "belong to Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:6). "You
are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore honor
God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The image is that
of a slave, who was redeemed from his former master by the payment
of a price, and who now belongs to the one who redeemed him.
This idea of our being slaves to God may be shocking to some.
In today's Western society we value our freedom. But it is the vocabulary
that Scripture uses over and over. Being a slave to a master who
is all-good, all-wise, all-powerful and all-loving is a good place
to be. And it is by our submission to this perfect master that we
become free from slavery to anyone or anything else. It is when
we are servants of God that we can "live as free men"
(1 Peter 2:16).
Not all Christians are called to be martyrs, but all of us, I
believe, are called to be servants of Jesus Christ, voluntary slaves
of Jesus Christ.
The function of a slave or servant is to serve. He puts his master's
interests ahead of his own, his master's will ahead of his own.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Your will be done on
earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). I believe this must
be the essence of all prayer. Let God's will be done. One of the
purposes of prayer is to find out what God's will is, so that we
can pray in accordance with it. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus
prayed "not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).
We know that "if we ask anything in accordance with his will
[God] hears us" (1 John 5:14).
Jesus spoke a parable that illustrates the kind of service we
are called to. He said, "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing
or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he
comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would
he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait
on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'?
Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?
So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do,
should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty'"
"My ministry" is not yours, but God's. The credit, the
glory, the power, all belong to God. "Not to us, O Lord, not
to us but to your name be the glory" (Psalm 115:1). When the
lame man was healed Peter said, "Why do you stare at us as
if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk... By
faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made
strong" (Acts 3:12, 16; see also Acts 14:14-18). Paul warns
us, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit"
(Philippians 2:3). And he said he would "boast" about
his own weakness, "so that Christ's power may rest on me"
(2 Corinthians 12:9).
When we get an anointing, an empowering from God, it is so that
we can do the work God has for us to do. When God gives us provision,
it is so that we can do the work that God has for us to do. Whatever
God entrusts us with is to be used for his purposes, not ours. It
all belongs to him anyhow.
4. Obeying God.
The function of a slave is to obey his master. Paul described
his entire ministry in these terms: "Through [Jesus] and for
his name's sake we received grace and apostleship to call people
from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith"
(Romans 1:5). Jesus "learned obedience from what he suffered"
and thereby "became the source of eternal salvation for all
who obey him" (Hebrews 5:8). "Not every one who says to
me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who
does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).
"This is love for God: to obey his commands" (1 John 5:3).
Obedience is a word that many of us do not like to hear today.
But I believe it is central to our faith as Christians. (See my
paper on "The Importance of Obedience.")
5. Giving up our agendas.
Part of what it means to be a slave is that we give up our own
agendas. As Zodhiates says, our will is totally consumed in the
will of the one we serve.
Jesus modeled this for us. During his earthly ministry he did
only what he saw the Father doing, and said only what the Father
told him to say (see John 5:19, 7:16-18, 8:28, 12:49, 14:10). He
came to do his Father's work (John 4:34, 7:38). He said, "the
Son can do nothing by himself" (John 5:19). He said, "I
always do what pleases him" (John 8:29). And then he said that
"Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing"
(John 14:12). I think this means that those who have faith in Jesus
should be doing only what they see the Father doing and saying what
they hear the Father saying. We should be doing the Father's work,
doing what pleases the Father. Jesus had no agenda of his own. His
agenda was to do the Father's will. Similarly, if we are to "walk
as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6), our agenda should be to do the
The disciples modeled this. Jesus said "follow me" and
they left whatever they were doing and followed him Peter, James,
John and Andrew left their fishing boats and their families and
followed him. Matthew, a tax collector, was sitting at his tax booth
with money in it; he "got up, left everything, and followed
[Jesus]" (Luke 5:28). As Peter said, "We have left everything
to follow you" (Mark 10:28).
Paul modeled it. Paul was a comer, what we today would call a
Yuppie. He was trained by the best rabbinical teacher, and entrusted
by the Sanhedrin with important tasks. He was on the way up. Listen
to his own words. "Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people
of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, in regard
to the law, a Pharisee, as for zeal, persecuting the church, as
for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my
profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more,
I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness
of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all
things. I consider them rubbish [KJV "dung"] that I may
gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of
my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith
in Christ - the righteousness which comes from God and is by faith"
Paul, with a brilliant future before him, gave up that future,
gave up his own agenda completely, so that he could become a slave
of Jesus Christ.
I an not saying that every Christian
should give up what he or she is doing and become a full-time pastor
or missionary. God uses us in different ways. He has different callings
on our lives. Increasingly, today, we are hearing about the importance
of serving God in the "marketplace". Many of us are called
on to live committed Christian lives as businessmen, professionals,
politicians, workers, teachers, parents, etc. In whatever capacity
we function we can serve God. We can "serve wholeheartedly,
as if you were serving the Lord and not men" (Ephesians 6:7).
We can be "a letter from Christ... written not with ink but
with the Spirit of the living God" (2 Corinthians 3:3). Jesus
said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John
14:9). In whatever our occupation may be, we can so live that those
who see us will have caught at least a glimpse of Jesus Christ.
6. Being transformed by the renewing of our minds.
The transformation which Romans 12:2 calls for is a total one.
The Greek word is metamorphoo,
which suggests a change as complete and radical as that from a caterpillar
to a butterfly. "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). (See
my paper on "Be Transformed by the Renewing of your Mind.")
The purpose of this transformation is that we become like God in
character. We are "transformed (metamorphoo)
into [God's] likeness with ever-increasing glory" (2 Corinthians
3:18). We "put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge
in the image of its Creator" (Colossians 3:10), "the new
self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness"
(Ephesians 4:24). We "participate in the divine nature"
(2 Peter 1:4).
To do this requires a sacrifice. (What we receive is far better
than what we give up, but still it often seems like a sacrifice.)
In order to put on the new self we have to put off the old self.
In order to become a new creation we must allow the old creation
to pass away.
Scripture puts this in vivid terms. "Put to death, therefore,
whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (Colossians 3:5).
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but
Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Christ died for us "so
that we might die to sins and live for righteousness" (1 Peter
2:24). I suggest that this is part of what Paul means when he tells
us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.
Paul tells us that, "our old self was crucified with [Christ]
so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should
no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been
freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will
also live with him.... Count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to
God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:6-8, 11). "If Christ is
in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive
because of righteousness" (Romans 8:10).
When we receive Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes into our spirit.
Then there is a conflict between the Holy Spirit and our flesh.
The Holy Spirit and our sinful nature "are in conflict with
each other" (Galatians 5:17). There are two spirits "waging
war" (Romans 7:23; see 1 Peter 2:11). The conflict is resolved
only when we put to death our fleshly desires and learn to "live
by the spirit" (Galatians 5:16), to live a life "controlled
by the Spirit" (Romans 8:6). It is only when we crucify the
old self that we can receive the new self.
7. Do not be conformed to the pattern of this
One of the things we have to give up is conforming to what Paul
calls "this world." "Do not conform any longer to
the pattern of this world" (Romans 12:2). ("World, aion,
also translated "age", refers particularly to the prevailing
thought-patterns and attitudes of the current age.) This does not
mean that we should all live in isolation, as hermits or monks.
Quite the contrary. We are called to be salt and light to the world
(Matthew 5:13-14). Jesus moved about actively in the world of his
day. But we must resist the pressure to conform to the world's ways
Scripture repeats this theme over and over, in many different ways.
Christ came to "rescue us from the present evil age"
(Galatians 1:4). Jesus warns that the "cares of this life (aion)"
can choke out the word of God (Matthew 13:22). Paul speaks of satan
as the "god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4 - KJV "god
of this world"). He contrasts the wisdom of this world, or
of this age, with the eternal wisdom of God and warns against following
the former (1 Corinthians 1:20-25, 2:6-8). Paul says that we once
were "dead in your transgressions and sins, when you followed
the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air"
(Ephesians 2:1). He says that Demas deserted him "because he
loved this world" (2 Timothy 4:10). He tells us to "say
'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions" (Titus 2:12).
Another Greek word translated "world" is kosmos,
which refers to the physical universe, the material in contrast
to the spiritual. Scripture warns us against it, also. Jesus spoke
of satan as "the prince of this world" (John 12:31). He
told the Jewish religious leaders, "You are of this world;
I am not of this world" (John 8:23). He told his disciples
"you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out
of the world. That is why the world hates you" (John 15:19,
see also John 17:14). Paul wrote, "We have not received the
spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may
understand what God has freely given us" (1 Corinthians 2:12).
We should not be "engrossed" in the things of the world
(1 Corinthians 7:31). Paul warned against "hollow and deceptive
philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles
of this world, rather than on Christ" (Colossians 2:8), and
said that we "have died with Christ to the basic principles
of this world" (Colossians 2:20). James tells us that pure
religion is "to keep oneself from being polluted by the world"
(James 1:27). "Friendship with the world is hatred toward God"
(James 4:4). Peter warns us to "escape the corruption in the
world caused by evil desires" (2 Peter 1:4; see also 2:20).
John warns us not to love the world or anything in it (1 John 2:15-17).
Why is the world such a danger? Let me mention some, among many,
reasons: (1) It contains much corruption and tempts us to become
corrupt. (2) Our desire for material things can become a form of
idolatry. The love of money, and of what money can buy, "is
a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have
wandered from the faith and have pierced themselves with many griefs"
(1 Timothy 6:10). (3) The world's ways, the world's values, are
not God's ways and values. I believe that one of the major causes
of weakness in the body of Christ today is that many individuals,
churches and denominations have tried to conform to the prevailing
patterns of the world, both in thought and in conduct, and have
been drawn away from God's ways and values.
One of the greatest temptations we face, as Christians, is the
desire to please the world rather than God. Our goal should be to
please God (2 Corinthians 5:9). "Find out what pleases the
Lord" (Ephesians 5:10; see Colossians 1:10). But the temptation
is always to seek to please men, or to avoid their displeasure.
In an effort to be more acceptable to men, we often fall into the
world's ways of thinking and acting. John's gospel speaks of religious
leaders who "loved praise from men more than praise from God"
(John 12:43). I'm afraid there are such leaders today. Paul set
us the right example when he wrote, "We are not trying to please
men but God, who tests our hearts" (1 Thessalonians 2:4). He
wrote of those who "gather around them a great number of teachers
to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3).
Jesus said "Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for
that is how their fathers treated the false prophets" (Luke
6:26). God said, "Who are you that you fear mortal men, the
sons of men, who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth"
8. Acknowledge him in all our ways.
"In all your ways acknowledge [God]" (Proverbs 3:6).
"Ways" refers to a journey, a path, a way of life. It
refers to our goings in and our comings out. This passage, which
underlies much of the Book of Proverbs, is saying that in everything
we do we should acknowledge God. Paul said something quite similar
when he said, "in [God] we live and move and have our being"
We are not our own. We belong to God. Apart from God we can do
nothing (John 15:5). We can prevail only in God's mighty power (Ephesians
6:10), only by his "incomparably great power" (Ephesians
1:19) that is "at work within us" (Ephesians 3:20). Hence
we need to "cast off everything that hinders" (Hebrews
12:2), to "put to death" everything that conflicts with
the Holy Spirit in us, and to "take captive every thought to
make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).
I suggest that all this is part of what Jesus meant when he said
"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his
life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). If we hold
on to what we think of as ours, we will lose the life that Jesus
Christ wants to give us. If we surrender everything to him, he will
give us an abundant life on this earth and eternal life with him
in heaven. This is the sacrifice we are called on to make, and the
tremendous reward we receive for making it.
9. Our reasonable act of worship.
Paul tells us that to sacrifice our body to God is "our spiritual
act of worship" (Romans 12:1 - KJV has "reasonable act
of service") The word translated "worship" literally
means service as a hired servant. It also came to mean service to
God in a religious ceremony. But in a broader sense, all worship
can be seen as a declaration of God's worthiness. In heaven the
continuous worship of God declares, "You are worthy, our Lord
and God, to receive glory and honor and power" (Revelation
4:11). God is worthy of all our praise. He is worthy of everything
we can give him. God is worthy.
God welcomes our praise and worship in church. He inhabits the
praises of his people (Psalm 22:3 KJV). But I think what he most
wants is for us to give our whole lives to him, to be totally committed
to him in all our ways. "To obey is better than sacrifice"
(1 Samuel 15:22). It is by a totally committed life that we best
declare God's worthiness.
10. Be united with God.
One of the goals of all this is that we become united with Christ
Jesus prayed, on the night before he was crucified, "I pray
also for those who will believe me through [the disciples'] message,
that all of them may be one, Father,
just as you are in me and I in you.
May they also be in us so that the
world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory
that you gave me, that they may be one as
we are one, I in them and you in me. May they be brought
to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me, and have
loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:20-23).
If we are truly committed to Jesus Christ, then Christ is in us.
"Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).
Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer
live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:19). But also we
are in Christ. "Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God
in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). "If anyone is in Christ, he
is a new creation: (2 Corinthians 5:17). We can "live a godly
life in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:12). "Peace to all
of you who are in Christ" (1 Peter 5:14). Many other Scriptures
speak of us as being "in Christ". Perhaps it is in this
sense that we can "participate in the divine nature" (2
In order to achieve this amazing unity, we must be totally committed
to God. We must acknowledge him in all
our ways, in everything we say and do. We must get rid of everything
in us that is not consistent with his will for us.
What does all this tell us? God wants us to commit ourselves totally
to him, holding nothing back. Give him all our agendas, hopes, plans,
achievements, desires, thoughts, habits, personality traits. Everything.
He wants us to acknowledge that we are created and he is the Creator,
that everything in the universe is his, and that without him we
can do nothing of value. He wants us to acknowledge that whatever
we give him is his already. He wants us to present ourselves totally
to him and allow him to do his work in us. He wants us to give all
of ourselves with no strings attached.
The wonderful thing about this is that when we lose ourselves
in him, then we truly find our life (Matthew 10:39). It is then
that he is able to give us his more abundant life (John 10:10).
He is "able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine"
(Ephesians 3:20). "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind
has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"
(1 Corinthians 2:9).
God wants a life that is totally yielded to him. Then he may,
or may not, give part of it back to us in a transformed version.
But what he does with it is up to him. How he uses us, and how much
he uses us, is up to him. We give all of ourselves with no strings