There are some people who are good at certain things. There are basketball players who play in the league for years and years and they finish their careers rich and happy. They wanted to play the game they loved and they wanted to make a career doing it. They did it and they’re good. Then there are others, like Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan was more than good. He was great – many argue, the greatest. Michael Jordan was not content with just playing the game and making a career. Mike wanted to be better than everybody. He wasn’t content with making it, he wanted to be the best. So he stayed in the gym later than everyone and he worked harder than everyone. And all of this because he was deeply driven by that desire to beat you. You saw this at his hall of fame speech. He was still challenging folks and his competitive nature came out like never before. He was driven.
You could also talk about artists like Lil Wayne. There are some rappers who just want to be famous and make money. Not Lil Wayne. He wants to be the greatest of all time. He eats, sleeps, and breathes his music. He listens to himself. He lives in the studio. He’s probably forgotten more rhymes than most rappers have written. In his mind, he won’t be able to settle for anything less than the greatest of all time. Why? Because he’s deeply driven by a desire to be the best.
Normally when people talk about being driven, they mean something like this. They’re referring to people who are career-oriented, or determined to succeed in their fields. But is there more to being driven for the Christian? What are we to be driven to and driven by? What should be driving the Christian and where should it be driving us? Well I think we can find the answer to this question in Romans 12.
After comprehensively laying out the doctrines of the Gospel in Romans 1-11, Paul turns to tell us how we should now live. The first eleven chapters have been about what we should believe, how we’re saved, what God has done in Christ, what God will do in Christ, etc. Now in chapter 12, Paul makes a total shift to tell us what we should do. Paul does this in Ephesians and Colossians too.
So I want us to look at this passage, and look at three things we should do in light of what God has revealed here.
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. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
I. Be Driven By Mercy
So when Paul makes this shift, he appeals to us. He earnestly pleads, he authoritatively urges us to live in a certain way. But before we look at what he is urges us to do, I want to look at the way he appeals to us.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God… (Romans 12:1a)
To tell us how we should live Paul doesn’t say we should live a certain way because “We want to be the greatest or holiest,” or because “this is how upstanding members of society should live,” or, “our mothers taught us better than that,” or even, “so that God will like you.” No, he gives us a different kind of motivation.
There is a huge difference between what the world is driven by, and what we should be driven by. Recently I talked to a woman who was part owner of business that she and her partner started several years ago. She told me about the business and how hard she worked. Then she told me about all the kids she had and how much she loved them. And she said that her life was all about the business she started and her children. And she pointed to those as her primary loves, and her motivation for doing everything that she does.
Now that seems like a fine thing to say. She loves her kids and her job. But I want you to know that the Christian is to be motivated by something deeper. For the Christian our motivation never stops with anything in this world. So we should love and provide for our kids and we should work hard and we should even seek to delight in the work we do. But none of those should be our final motivation. None of those should be the main thing that drives us.
Here Paul points to something outside of ourselves and our earthly lives for motivation. He appeals to us, not by what we can do for others, but by what God has already done for us. He appeals to us by the mercies of God.
So when Paul says the mercies of God, what might he have in mind?
Paul might be thinking of the glorious Gospel God has given us. Because in 1:16, Paul says this Gospel is, “the power of God for salvation, first to the Jew and then to the Greek.”
Or he might be thinking of chapter four, where he says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Or maybe he’s thinking about chapter five where he says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Or he could be thinking of chapter eight where he tells us that, “God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending his own son…”
Or I guess he could be thinking of chapter nine, where he tells us “that salvation does not depend on human exertion, but on God who has mercy”
I think that Paul has all of these beautiful truths concerning God’s mercy in mind here.
God has given us mercy, he is giving us mercy, and He will give us mercy. We should be motivated not only by the mercy we’ve already received, but by the mercy we WILL receive.
And Paul is saying in light of that mercy, here is how you live. We are to be motivated, driven by that mercy.
So we are driven by hunger to eat, and some are driven by a desire to be great to work harder than anyone else. So if the Christian is to be driven by the mercies of God, what should these mercies be driving them to?
II. Be Driven to Worship
Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1b-d)
Now when Paul tells the Romans to present their bodies as sacrifices, the language he uses is meant to point them back to the Old Testament worship and the sacrificial system. So let’s talk about that briefly
a. Old Testament Background
God is holy. Man is not. Man doesn’t deserve to be in God’s presence or to approach him in any way, but God was gracious enough to pursue a group of sinners, Israel, and to allow them to have relationship with Him. But because He’s holy and they’re sinners, they couldn’t be allowed to just approach Him any old way. They couldn’t worship Him like they would the idols and false gods they were worshipping. If they were going to worship God it had to be on His terms. They could only approach Him the way He laid out and allowed.
So after delivering these people, God gave them commands and gave them strict guidelines for worship. God told them to build a tabernacle and he gave them the sacrificial system. He gave them strict orders for how they could worship Him and minister to Him. The slaughter and sacrifice of animals was a huge part of Old Testament worship. All of God’s people were commanded to carry out these sacrifices in order to approach God.
By these sacrifices they acknowledged their sin and need for forgiveness and the sacrifices reminded them of God’s holiness. These animals were meant to show the people that when they sin, death is the punishment. The animals died instead of them. The sacrifices were meant to be part of a life lived in obedience to God.
So the place that they could meet with God was the tabernacle (a little tent where God dwelled) and later the temple. Of course God is everywhere, but this is what He instituted. He told them you may worship me, in this way, in this place. So when Paul says we are to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, it should recall this sacrificial system.
Well the NT makes clear, that these sacrifices were never meant to be permanent. They were meant to point to the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus. Similar to the animals, that must be clean, Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Hebrews tells us that this ultimate sacrifice was once-for-all. It never has to be repeated. He stood in our place, and He died instead of us. But unlike the sacrificed animals, Jesus rose from the grace three days later, defeating our enemies. So with the coming of Jesus, this old sacrificial system is gone.
The coming of Jesus changes the worship of God forever. One of my favorite examples of this is in John chapter four with the woman at the well.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:19-24)
This woman assumed that because Jesus was a Jew, he wanted her to worship in Jerusalem at the temple. The temple was, at this time, the place where God allowed His people to approach Him. Well Jesus makes clear that with his death, a new time is coming.
We no longer have to meet with God in a particular place with a particular animal to sacrifice. We can meet with God anywhere! With the death of Jesus, those sacrifices are done away with. Jesus is not only the sacrifice, but He is the new temple where the sacrifice happens. The place where we must be to worship God is in Christ. In addition to being the sacrifice, and the temple, Jesus is our high priest. He is our way to God.
So you don’t need a priest, or an animal, or a building to worship God. All you need is Jesus! If you are here today and you don’t know Jesus, I want to encourage you to repent and believe.
-Our bodies The verse says we are to present our bodies. Now I don’t think that means we only worship God with our physical bodies. I think Paul basically means, we are not to offer part of ourselves, but our whole selves up to God. Our whole self is the sacrifice that we can offer. We’re to present our life, our being, our all to God.
There are different kinds of gifts. Some of y’all maybe graduated recently and got graduation gifts. They are some gifts that are given as ends in themselves, like toys. The whole point of giving somebody a toy is so that they can play with the toy.
Then there is a second kind of gift. These gifts are given as a means to something else. So there are some of you in here that just graduated and got a lot of money as gifts. Now, what if you treated those monetary gifts as an end in themselves? What if you used the checks and the cash as wallpaper? That would be a waste and the giver would be angry.
Your life is that second kind of gift. It is meant to be a means to the end of the worship of God.
As a Christian, you will never be given the first kind of gift. Every single gift you get, is meant to be used as a means to another end. That end is that you would worship God with your life.
b. Holy and Acceptable to God
Paul says that these living sacrifices are to be holy and acceptable to God. What does that mean? With the Old Testament sacrifices, God had specific guidelines. For the sacrifice it had to be a clean animal, the person had to be repentant and willing to obey God, etc.
So for us, we’re offering ourselves as living sacrifices. So how are we to give ourselves? God has given guidelines for how the Christian is now to live. He’s told us the kind of lifestyle that will be pleasing to Him. If we look at the rest of this very chapter, we see Paul begins to lay out what that looks like.
In verses 3-8 he talks about using spiritual gifts for the good of the whole body. And in verses 9-21 he encourages the Romans to love one another, and instructs them in how they are to interact with each other overall.
We also see this in Ephesians 4 when Paul gives this same kind of charge. He lays out doctrine in Ephesians 1-3, and then in chapter 4 he does the same thing. He starts telling them how they are to live.
He tells them to strive for unity and he encourages them that God has given them various gifts for the sake of the building up of the body. And he talks about the body working together to build one another up.
Community. I can’t help but notice that in both Romans and Ephesians, Paul begins by speaking to body life. You cannot offer your life as a sacrifice as you should, while living in isolation. To ignore God’s church is to ignore God’s will for your life.
He goes on in verses 17-29 to encourage them to live in a way that is in accord with what they’ve been taught and to forgive as they’ve been forgiven. And he goes on and on in chapter 5.
God has called us to be like him, which means holiness. He’s told us “be holy as I am holy.” But so often our lives look the opposite of holy. But I have some encouragement for you…
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
What would you do if you saw a baby telling their parent what to do? Crawling around a house ordering their parents around? You would think they were crazy! Why? Because they are the parent, but they are acting like the child. It’s sad when people have certain power, privileges but refuse to walk in them. It is even crazier for a Christian to live in sin. When God saved us, we were reborn. God made us brand new creatures. We have to embrace this. Many of us still think of ourselves as just sinners. We are sinners, but we are more than sinners. Way more than you’ll see the Bible call us sinners, you’ll see the Bible call us saints and children of God and a royal priesthood and justified.
When you sin, you are not being who you are now. You are going back to who you used to be. If you read the New Testament letters, you’ll notice that the Apostles are always telling the Christians to stop going back to their old way. They are reminding them that that is not who they are anymore.
So there may be somebody in this room who really refuses to obey their parents. God is calling you to obey them and to submit to them. There may be somebody who has a lot of lustful thoughts. God is calling you to turn from that and be pure in mind. There may be someone who really is an angry person. God is calling you to be loving and gracious and forgiving. It’s not enough to just come to church. God is calling you to be like Christ.
And God has empowered us to live these kinds of lives.
c. Reasonable Service
And according to Paul, this kind of worship is our reasonable service. Have you ever seen those movies where someone saves another person’s life and after that they just follow them all day every day? Like Matrix 2. Well our response to God’s mercies should be radical and extreme as well.
If you give me a dollar I might smile, if you give me a new shirt I’ll probably shake your hand, if you get me a new book I may scream hallelujah. But if you redeem me from my sins and promise me unearned eternal life, the only rational response is offering you my whole life. That is my reasonable service.
d. All of Life
So this is what we should be driven to. Our whole lives should be this living sacrifice offered up to God.
Some of us are driven in the traditional sense of the word. We want to succeed; we want to climb the ladder. And that’s a good thing. But you should make sure you’re grinding properly. Are you concerned with your success and status? Or are you concerned with worshipping God?
And whom are you grinding for? Some of us work extremely hard, and we’re driven by a need for our parents’ approval. Or some of us grind so we look good for our friends. And some of us work so hard just to please ourselves. But look we should not be grinding and offering up our grind to our family, or our church, or ourselves. We grind for God. We are offering up our service to Him. If you are offering up your service primarily to any one other than God, you are guilty of idolatry. Worship God, not man or anything he can give.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23)
And of course the motivation for this offering is the mercies of God. The third thing we see in this passage is that we should be transformed.
III. Be Transformed
a. Do Not Be Conformed
Brothers and sisters we have been called out of this world. When Paul talks about “the world” here, he is referring to the earthly and evil way of the world we live in. He’s talking about the sinful mode of operation that we’re used to seeing all around us. Other translations say the “present age.”
The present age we live is in rebellion towards God. Many of us still think of this world as our friend who just needs some help. Absolutely not. We should consider the ways of this age to be our enemy. And we should consider that as the people of God we are to be a light to this world and its ways, and we are to be proclaimers of the Good News that saves.
We don’t have to try in order to be influenced by the world. It just happens. They influence our thinking without us trying. A good example of this is hot issues like homosexuality. Every day we look up another state is allowing gay marriage. And the media, and the intellectuals, and the thought leaders are all pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality. They are all pressuring us to agree with them and to compromise our moral stance. And they will talk about us, ridicule us, and treat us like bigots until we agree. The world’s push is strong. It is a very strong current. But we don’t have to float with the current. God has called us to go against the current.
Homosexuality is an easy one. What about selfishness, or greed, or pride? Those are the ways of the world, not of God. And we can’t be conformed to the world.
Let’s take a look at Colossians 3. This is another book where Paul lays out Gospel doctrine, then shifts and tells us how we should live in light of that. So for the first two chapters Paul explains deep stuff, and then he tells us how it should influence us.
b. But Be Transformed By The Renewing of Your Mind
Instead of being conformed to what the world is doing, we should be transformed. And the way that we are transformed is by the renewing of our mind.
He argues for them to live differently, based on what God has done…
God wants us to be transformed. And this is what that transformation looks like. It looks like putting to death what is earthly in us, and putting on God’s characteristics.
c. Renewing Your Mind
But how can we be transformed and put on Godly characteristics. Paul says clearly, “by the renewing of your mind.”
We don’t like to hear stuff like this. But our minds do need to be renewed. Our thinking drives our doing, and our thinking needs to change. I don’t mean like when you say, “I know I’m supposed to do right, but…” No that is sinful thinking that needs to be changed. Our flesh leans towards going with the current and it looks for opportunities to sin. And your flesh is only fueled by the world and the devil.
Our minds need to be renewed every single day. How do we do this? We renew our minds by constantly keeping God’s way of thinking in front of us. Everyday we hear lie after lie after lie from our heart, and the world, and the devil. We desperately need God’s truth to combat those lies.
d. Discerning the Will of God
The goal of this transformation is being able to discerning the will of God. The will of God and the will of God alone can lead you to living a life that is pleasing to Him. You see that he describes the will of God as good and acceptable and perfect. As you renew your mind, and experience transformed life, you will be able to see the goodness of God’s Word. And you will be able to see that it leads you to life and to a life that pleases Him.
I remember the first time the Word hit me. I’ve never been the same since.
So there are some of us who are bitter and unforgiving. That is worldly. You are conforming to the ways of the world. There are some of us who are full of lust and are engaging in sexual immorality. That is worldly. You are conforming to the ways of the world. There are still some of us who are isolated. We are not part of a church, so we are keeping our gifts to ourselves and not building up the body. Instead we only build ourselves up. That is worldly.
We must turn from those worldly ways, and be transformed by the renewing of our mind. And if we would be transformed, we will see the goodness of God’s will.
Christians we can aspire to be great basketball players, or great politicians, or great rappers. But those things in themselves cannot be what drive us, and they are not ultimately what we should be driven to. If you are aiming for earthly things and earthly success, you are aiming to low.
We are to be driven by God’s mercy, driven to worship God, and we are to be transformed by His Word. Let’s pray.