A message on Romans 12:1 by Richard Keith on Sunday 15 January 2023
Worship, it seems, is as poorly understood as it is poorly practiced. Worship, for example, is more than music. Of course, we do worship God, we proclaim his worth, with all kinds of music: with slow hymns and fast hymns, with old hymns and new hymns. But worship is more than music.
We also worship God by praying to him and by hearing his word. I mean, we are worshiping God right now, as we focus our mind not on the clock, but on God’s will for our lives. But worship is also more than something we do in a sacred place or at a special time. Worship is a way of life, when what we do and say and think matters to God and pleases him. And worship is more than offering just a part of our life. With a daily reading from the Bible and a quick prayer. But it means offering the whole of our life as a living sacrifice, a spiritual act, the only sane and rational response to what God has done for us in Jesus. This is what is holy and pleasing to him.
The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 12 verse 1,
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.
Worship, we learn firstly, is a response to God’s mercy. In the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul has described the great mercy of God. Though God had made us for his glory, we have fallen far short. But God put us right with himself. He set us free from our sin through faith in the blood of Christ. Since he put us right, we have peace with God. We dare to hope in sharing in the glory of God, and his Spirit fills our hearts with his love. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we are dead to sin, but alive to God. Sin is no longer our master, but Jesus Christ is Lord. Though our deeds deserve death, God’s gift to us is life. God did for us what the law couldn’t do. The law couldn’t save us, because it’s effectiveness was weakened by our own sinful nature. In fact, without God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and to power our lives, we cannot please God. But what the law couldn’t do, God did. He sent his Son in our likeness, as one of us, and he suffered the fate that should have been ours, so that we might live not according to our sinful nature, but according to the Spirit.
This is God’s mercy, his grace, his forgiving love. God did this so that we might not just be able to please him, but also so that we would want to.
And so we worship God as a response to his mercy. We live a life to please him, not because we have to, not out of fear or guilt, but from love responding to love. Like a smile is infectious. Like a friend returns a hug. Like an act of kindness is never wasted, but begins a chain reaction of generosity from one person to the next in an ever widening circle. So God’s love for us in Christ makes us not only able to please him, but to want to as well. Worship is a response to God’s love.
Worship, we learn secondly, is an offering to God. Not just of prayer and of praise. Not just of kind thoughts and good intentions. Nor is it an offering of dead animals or even deader rituals and mumbo jumbo. But an offering of our very selves.
I urge you, said Paul, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.
We offer our bodies to God, because what we do shows people what we truly believe. The man who prays the Lord’s Prayer but won’t forgive those who trespass against him, is just talking to the ceiling. The woman who gives her offering every Sunday, but won’t talk to her neighbour, is just wasting her money. The person who sings “Consider Christ” in church, but gossips or tell lies at work is not offering to God a living sacrifice. Nor is the minister who does not practice what he preaches.
That’s what the book of James means when it says that faith without works is dead. Good works cannot save us, because they are neither good enough, nor can we work hard enough. Only faith saves. Bust as John Calvin said, while it is faith alone that justifies that faith that justifies is never alone. It is instead shown by its works, like a composer is shown by his music and an artist’s talent is shown by her art. Our body does what the mind really believes in. The body serves what our heart truly loves.
And so God commands us to offer at his feet, our bodies. That is all of us, our gifts, our talents, our time, our possessions. Not just a part of them, or most of them. What God expects from his investment in our lives, the gift of the blood of his own precious Son, is nothing short of complete and unconditional surrender.
It was on the 8th May 1945 that Admiral Karl Doenitz authorised the unconditional surrender of German forces to end World War II in Europe. To the proud men who began the war, to Hitler and his many henchmen, surrender was a fate worse than death. They began it, but they couldn’t finish it. So in the face of overwhelming odds, they took their own lives, their last act of defiance to the men who had stolen their dream of world empire.
But just over a week after their death, the war was over and the surrender signed. But that simple stroke of the pen in General Eisenhowser’s office in France, not only saved the lives of millions of German people, but has also made Germany what it is today, the political and economic power of Europe. What those proud men feared as worse than death, the end of their dream of empire, proved to be the life and salvation of their country.
In the same way, God has made peace with us. Though we fought against him and rebelled against his will, God paid the price of peace to make us his friends. But his terms for accepting that peace is nothing less than complete and unconditional surrender. And to many it seems a fate worse than death. To submit themselves to God. To place themselves at his disposal. To surrender the right to be the captain of their own soul. To pursue God’s will rather than their own is a price that is too high to pay. With their minds they know that God’s way is right and true or at least they are afraid that it might be. But their will is unwilling to surrender to his claim upon their life.
It is said of Satan that he would rather be a prince in hell, than a servant in heaven, and those who follow him ultimately make the same decision. It may seem a fate worse than death, the end of the dream of self- sufficiency, the loss of control over our own destiny, but really it is the beginning of authentic human life. God made us for himself, to love him, to enjoy him, to serve him. To rebel against him, to resist him, to dream of building heaven on earth without him, is ultimately inhuman, unnatural, and leads to all kinds of inhumanity against others. But true life is found in living according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
God has made us the special person you are. He designed the way you look, the way you feel, the way you think, like a craftsman creates his own special tool that he can’t buy in a shop. True life begins when we place ourselves in the hand of the craftsman to do his will.
This is the life of worship and at the heart of worship isn’t a clerical collar or a theological degree or the ordination from the church, but a heart surrendered to the Lord. Worship is more than preaching the word and praying in public and singing at the top of your voice. Worship is being the best teacher you can be, the most honest accountant, the most reliable tradesperson, the most loving mother and father, the most obedient child, the most conscientious student. Worship is being your best for God whether at home or work or church. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 says
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
Any deed, any act, any thought, any word can become worship when it is done out of love and service to God.
We learn thirdly in Romans chapter 12, that this kind of offering is a living sacrifice. A dead sacrifice is easy. An animal burning on an altar. A gift of thousands to charity written on a cheque big enough so everyone can read who is giving it. In fact, any offering that can be given by going through the motions, without really meaning it, is a dead sacrifice.
These offerings are dead because all those things already belong to God. God owns all the land, all their plants and animals and resources. If God wanted money he would build his own mint and start printing his own. The prophet Micah said,
With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with year old calves? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? No, he has shown you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
God wants what many refuse to give him. God wants what makes you you. God wants all of you. As Mark 12 says
To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
God wants you. He wants all of you. This is a living sacrifice. The life of worship. It begins with a moment of surrender, but it continues with days full of moments of surrender. To surrender doesn’t mean giving up and pretending you don’t matter. It doesn’t mean squashing up your personality so small that you are invisible. If you always give in to others, if you let them walk all over you, if you can’t say no even to things you don’t have time for or make you feel uncomfortable, if you make yourself a nobody, a nothing, then you have nothing to offer the Lord.
To surrender means to trust the Lord and his plan for your life. To surrender means to obey the Lord and to do what is right. To surrender means to place yourself at his disposal. It doesn’t mean that you don’t matter. It only means that God matters more. It is a sacrifice because it costs. But it is a living sacrifice, not just because it is a way of life, but because it is the way to life.
The last thing we learn from Romans chapter 12 is that this life pleases God. That’s all we really need to say. God has made us for a reason. He God has made us to worship him, to show his worth, his value in a life lived for him. And at the heart of true worship, is a heart of love, surrendered to the will of God. God doesn’t need your money. He doesn’t need your time. God wants you. What you are holding back from him may be all he really wants.