Jesus has always demanded one’s all in following him. He never made an exception. If he ever did, it would have been the time a rich young man came to follow Jesus. Outwardly the man had all the trappings that would make for a great follower. Inwardly, however, he was holding back. Jesus recognized that. He will not accept a partial commitment. He didn’t then; he doesn’t now. The apostle Paul provides a theological framework for what it means to follow Christ totally and the consequential changes it makes in a person’s life.
This sermon will remind the hearers that God expects unconditional surrender. But once made, a metamorphosis takes place that changes a person into the real life they seek.
Have you ever done the hokey pokey? It’s that little song and dance that tells us to put our left arm or right leg or some other body part of our body into the circle, shake it, and then “turn yourself about.” It’s an active and sometimes tiring little exercise that ends with the command, “Put your whole self in ...”
When I think of that song and dance, I’m reminded of another instruction. This one is from the apostle Paul, he writes: “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). “To present your bodies” is Paul’s way of saying, “Put your whole self in.” The song and dance routine we call worship involves offering our whole person to God. That’s more difficult than the dance routine.
Most of us understand the idea of giving an offering of money at church. There are plates and envelopes, and we put our money or our check in an envelope and drop it in the plate. It represents an acknowledgement of God’s blessings in our lives; it represents our commitment to the ministry of the congregation; it is a part of our worship; it’s a way in which we open up the windows of heaven so God can bless us even further; it represents for many an antidote to materialism. While a few could use some encouragement, most of us understand what it means to make an offering to the church. But all of us without exception need some help with the idea of offering ourselves to God, to put our whole self in.
We can’t put ourselves in an envelope. We can’t climb into the plate when the usher comes by and say; “My offering to God today is myself.”
Most people do not come into a worship service prepared to give our whole selves over to God. We brought sins that need to be confessed and cleansed before we leave. We brought questions that need answers and problems that need solutions. We brought burdens that need lifted and anxieties that need to be dispelled—and frustrations and depression and boredom and preoccupations, all kinds of distractions. May I say that for most of us it would be easier to take out our checkbook and double our offering and put it in the plate than it would be to turn ourselves over to God.
But dare I say that we have not worshiped until we have given ourselves to God. Worship is the total commitment of the total person for the total life. Anything less is not genuine worship.
Real worship is not merely the offering of elaborate prayers to God. Neither is it inspiring liturgy or splendid ritual. Nor is it making large donations. Nor is it singing majestic songs of praise, or listening to a sermon. Real worship happens when we confess sin, turn from that sin, and then offer ourselves completely and wholeheartedly to God.
Would one dare not give themselves wholeheartedly when they encountered the presence of God? Would one not fall at his feet giving him their all, if they were caught up in his splendor and holiness? Would one not put their whole self in, if they felt the love and power of God Almighty?
I. We offer ourselves to God because of His mercy (v. 1)
Paul presents God’s mercies as his strongest argument for giving ourselves to God. “I urge you,” Paul said, “by the mercies of God . . . to present your bodies” (Rom. 12:1). When we recognize what God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ, the only response is to give ourselves completely to him. Jesus is the grace-giver. The dead-raiser. The one who saves us.
We are sinners. That sin has deathly consequences. But while we were still sinners Christ died for us. He took our place taking upon himself the consequences and punishment of our sin so that now there is no condemnation for us. We are saved from the fires of hell to the eternal presence of God. That is an act of grace and mercy. It is the ultimate gift. Never forget it.
That should be motivation enough for us to give our whole lives to God. If reflecting on God’s mercies doesn’t move us, then we are in trouble? Where would we be without God’s love and forgiveness? Where would we be without God’s presence in our lives? What kind of hope would we have without him? Let’s think for a moment about our situations. Consider our family, our friends, our job, and our church. Do we deserve those on merit alone? If we are honest with ourselves suddenly we begin to realize the wonder of God’s mercies.
The movie Tender Mercies is about a country-western composer and performer who was an alcoholic. He had finally gotten to the place where he couldn’t function. His band members left him drunk in a motel in east Texas. He sobered up and got a job in the service station motel where they had dropped him. He came to know the love of a godly woman who introduced him to the God who revealed himself through Jesus Christ. The movie shows him being baptized in this little east Texas Baptist church. Then you see the wholeness that comes to his life, the recovery of trust in himself and others, and the reclamation of his gifts. They named the movie right, Tender Mercies. The tender mercy of God had rescued him and rebirthed him. He was a new creation.
While you and I may not write songs, and while our band has not gone off and left us drunk in some motel, the truth is that each of us could have a biography written about ourselves that could be called Tender Mercies. And based on the mercy of God, in view of his grace, we give ourselves to God. That is reason enough.
II. We offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (v. 1)
Paul said “... to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1). The expression “living sacrifice” is set against the backdrop of the Old Testament sacrifices. While the Old Testament worshiper offered an animal, the New Testament worshiper is to offer himself or herself. Just as the people of Israel presented their animal sacrifices to the priests we are to hand over our bodies to God. Out of celebration for what God has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ, we give ourselves to him. When Paul uses the term body he is implying the whole person, or the physical means whereby the whole person is expressed. This presentation can be seen in much the same way that a defeated general of an army would hand over his sword, thereby demonstrating the surrender of his whole being.
In this act of consecration we give not our dead bodies, but rather we make a living sacrifice. A “living sacrifice” sounds like an oxymoron. A living sacrifice is more difficult to give than a dead sacrifice. A living sacrifice means something to us. It has intrinsic value. Dead sacrifices have no value. They don’t mean anything to us. Living sacrifices cost us something. Dead sacrifices cost nothing.
There were two “living sacrifices” recorded in the Bible. These two examples give us a clue as to what it means to offer a living sacrifice. Both were acts of worship. The first was Isaac. He willingly put himself on the altar and would have died in obedience to God’s will, but the Lord sent a ram to take his place. Isaac “died” just the same—he died to self and willingly yielded himself to God’s will. When he stepped off the altar, Isaac was a “living sacrifice.” The second was Jesus. He was the perfect “living sacrifice,” because he actually died as a sacrifice, in obedience to God’s will.
The story is told of an aged pastor of a little Scottish church. He was asked to resign because there had been no conversions in the church for an entire year.
“Aye,” said the old preacher, “it has been a lean year, but there was one.”
“One conversion?” asked an elder, “Who was it?”
“Wee Bobbie,” replied the pastor.
They had forgotten a lad who had not only been saved but had given himself in full consecration to God. It was “Wee Bobbie” who, in a missionary meeting when the plate was passed for an offering, asked the usher to put the plate on the floor. He then stepped into it with his bare feet, saying, “I’ll give myself—I have nothing else to give.” Wee Bobbie became the world-renowned Robert Moffatt who, with David Livingstone, gave his life to healing the open sores of the continent of Africa.
“What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?” asked a woman to her pastor.
Holding out a blank sheet of paper, the pastor replied, “It is to sign your name at the bottom of this blank sheet, and let God fill it in as he wills.”
That is what Paul had in mind when he instructed the Roman church “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” That is what Robert Moffatt did. That is what is expected of each worshiper.
III. We offer ourselves to God all the time
Living implies life. Life is an everyday experience. Offering ourselves to God is not something that should be contained within a sixty-minute worship. A living sacrifice is a sacrifice that is alive and continuous in action. This means worship occurs not just in the sanctuary but in our whole world. This means that worship moves away from just this hour to all the hours of our lives, and it moves away from one activity of coming to worship to all of our activities: each relationship, each task, each opportunity, each problem, each success, each failure.
True worship is our personal linking of faith and works, the offering of everyday life to God, and it isn’t something that takes place only in church. Real worship sees the whole world as the temple of the living God and every common deed as an act of worship. Real worship is the offering of everyday life to God. A person may say, “I am going to church to worship God,” but he or she should also be able to say, “I am going to the office, the school, the garage, the garden, the field, to worship God.” To truly know who and how you worship, let me see you in your office, let me hear you speak in your business affairs, let me know how you treat your neighbors, let me know how you earn your money, how you save it, and how you spend it. Worship affects everything we do and everywhere we are.
It never ceases to amaze me that we have developed a kind of selective Christianity that allows us to be deeply and sincerely involved in worship and church activities and yet almost totally pagan in the day in, day out business of our lives. And what is even sadder is that most of us never realize the discrepancy.
Worship is not just a church activity; it is a life activity. Worship is not a sometime thing; it is an all-the-time occurrence. Worship is not a once-a-week event. A. W. Tozer wrote, “If you will not worship God seven days a week you do not worship him on one day a week.” (John Blanchard, comp., More Gathered Gold, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1984, p. 344.)
Sometimes we mistakenly think that we must always withdraw to a church building to worship. Too often we have sought to protect our spirituality by developing a ghetto mentality and a greenhouse environment. But that is not always healthy. Let’s not interpret worship as isolation and separation. True worship is offering God one’s self, and all that one does every day with it, wherever we might be.
I love what James Pike said, “When someone says “Oh, I can worship God anywhere,” the answer is, “Do you?” (James A. Pike, Beyond Anxiety, 1953. Cited in The Treasury of Religious and Spiritual Quotations: Words to Live By, Rebecca Davis and Susan Mesner, Eds., Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1994, p. 638)
IV. We offer ourselves to God through transformation and renewal (v. 2)
We demonstrate our commitment by refusing to conform to this world by being transformed through renewed minds. Paul stated, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). When we give ourselves to God it is reflected in how we live. Believers stay in the secular world without being trapped by it and molded by it. We live as holy people. People who are distinct, separated from the ways and the wiles of this world. We live as nonconformist people. People who are not chameleons, that is, people who do not take its being and likeness from its surroundings. We live as transformed people. People who have been metamorphosed on the inside.
Worshiping people are changed people. It is reflected in their walk, their talk, and their personality. When we give ourselves to God we live, not as self-centered, but a Christ-centered life. The world seeks to pressure our mind from without, but one who has given themselves wholeheartedly to God allows God’s Spirit to release his power from within.
This happens when Christ comes into a person. She becomes a new person; her mind is different, for the mind of Christ is in her. Rather than allow the world to squeeze us into its mold; we allow Christ to shape us into his likeness. Worship is a molding process. We are to be to Christ as an image is to the original. For example, I don’t do the things Jesus would have done; I find myself wanting to do them. I don’t go around trying to do right things; I become the right sort of person.
The primary goal of worship is transformation. The only way transformation can occur is to give ourselves totally to God so the mind and power of Jesus Christ can indwell in us. And when that happens, every moment, every activity of life, we are like Jesus. Like Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The simplest person, who in his integrity worships God, becomes God.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Over-Soul,” Essays, first series, 1841, Cited in The Treasury of Religious and Spiritual Quotations: Words to Live By, p. 635)
Are you ready to put your whole self into the arms of God? Are you ready to commit your all to Jesus? James Martineau said, “Worship is the free offering of ourselves to God; ever renewed, because ever imperfect. It expresses the consciousness that we are his by right, yet we have not duly passed into his hand.” (James Martineau, Hours of Thought, Vol. II, 1879. Cited in The Treasury of Religious and Spiritual Quotations, p. 637) Or as a dear friend of mine always says, “Commitment is the giving of all one knows of himself to all one knows of God.” Anything less than total commitment is unacceptable to God.