| Table of
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 they are not in the original text, and sometimes lead us to make artificial divisions in our consideration of the text.
In everything in this chapter, I am speaking 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.
I encourage you to read this remarkable passage several times as a whole, and then 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.
God Is Far Greater Than Our Human
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 have 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. We need to take it at face value and not water it down. 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 NIV), of the love of Christ “which passes knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19), of God’s ability to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), and of the peace of God “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). He tells us that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). He speaks of the relationship between Christ and his church as “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). He says, “Behold, 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. (See Chapter 5.)
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 not taught the gospel by men; “it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). He insisted that the man without the Holy Spirit cannot understand spiritual things, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). (Also see 1 Corinthians 1:20-25.) Thus he prayed that God would grant believers “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,” and that “the eyes of your understanding” may be “enlightened” (Ephesians 1:17-18). He prayed “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Colossians 1:9).
Paul wrote that here on earth “we see in a mirror, dimly” 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 unknowable. 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 NIV), but he does not answer all the questions we may have.
We get this same sense of mystery throughout Scripture. I have room for only 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, “I have uttered things that I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3). The Psalmist spoke of God’s knowledge as “too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).
Scripture gives us extraordinary visions of God, but they are incomplete and fragmentary. Ezekiel did his best to describe what he saw, and then confessed his inadequacy to describe it by saying, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD” (Ezekiel 1:28). Scripture tells us that God knew Moses face to face (Deuteronomy 34:10). Yet it also tells us that “no one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18), and that God lives “in unapproachable light, whom no man 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 NIV). “His greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3). 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.
Those in Heaven, who are with God continuously, have a clearer understanding of his greatness than we do. Heavenly creatures never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). (Also see Isaiah 6:3.)
This sense of God’s greatness is also expressed in the following heavenly praises, among others:
All Things Belong to God (verses 35-36)
These two verses tell us that God is the source of all things, and all things belong to him. In heaven the praise 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 NIV). “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 9:6 NIV). “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 NIV). “Know that the LORD He is God. It is he who made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). “We are the clay, and You our potter, and all we are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). (Also see Isaiah 29:16.) “I am the LORD, who makes all things” (Isaiah 44:24). (Also see Isaiah 42:5.) God “…gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25 NIV).
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 NIV). 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 NIV). “…the world is mine, and all that is in it” (Psalm 50:12 NIV). Indeed, “…from him and through him and to him are all things…” (Romans 11:36 NIV). Whatever we may think we give to him, it is simply a matter of returning to him what is already his.
It follows also that nothing we do can put God in our debt. “Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:35 NIV). (Also see Ephesians 2:8.) 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 the LORD for all his goodness to me?” (Psalm 116:12 NIV). God does not owe us anything. He gives to us, generously, abundantly, but he does not owe us anything.
I think there is a broader implication to all this, which I can only briefly sketch 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 NIV). 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 NIV). (Also see Psalm 57:2.) Not only does everything belong to God, but he controls everything.
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. (There may also be a broader causal relationship to everything else in the letter to the Romans, but I want to focus on the relationship to the immediately preceding verses.)
God wants us to live a life that is totally surrendered to him. Note that I am here, and in the rest of this chapter, deliberately broadening Paul’s language. Where Paul speaks of offering our body, soma, I believe 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 make this clear. (See, for example, Romans 6:13 NIV, “…offer yourselves to God…”, and Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, you will not despise.”)
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 chapter. But I want to continue with the context in which this verse appears. There is a sequence to Romans 12:1-2 that I think is quite important to understand.
Do Not Be Conformed to the Pattern
I have discussed this passage in chapter 13. I there point out that it comes down to something very basic. Whom will we serve? Will we serve the world and its principles? Or will we serve Almighty God and his son Jesus Christ? In this sense, it is very closely related to Romans 12:1.
Be Transformed (verse 2)
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 have discussed this in chapter 14.)
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.
Test and Approve God’s Perfect Will
Here Paul makes the sequence absolutely clear. “Then you will be able to test…” (Romans 12:2 NIV). He is saying that it is only after we have done three things—sacrificed ourselves to Christ, ceased conforming to this world, and been transformed by the renewing of our minds—that we can test and approve God’s perfect will for our lives. Only after we have done these things can we be fully sure that we know what his perfect will is for our lives.
OFFERING OURSELVES AS A SACRIFICE
Let us now explore what it means to offer ourselves as a sacrifice, and how we can do it.
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 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.
There is yet 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, the man sold everything he had to acquire the treasure. Jesus said the first man did this in 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.
Literally Offering Our Bodies
Until the fourth century A.D., the Christian Church was a persecuted church. Many Christians were fed to 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, and Paul, were martyred for their faith. (Judas Iscariot committed suicide, and John is believed to have died a natural death.) The book of Revelation speaks of many who were beheaded or otherwise martyred. Many have been martyred since. These men and women understood what it meant to offer their bodies to God as a sacrifice.
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 20 th century than in all the previous history of the church.
Paul was whipped, beaten with rods, and stoned (2 Corinthians, chapter 11). The early apostles were whipped (Acts 5:40-41). Both Paul and Peter were imprisoned. Many others have been whipped, beaten, tortured, imprisoned and killed for their faith (Hebrews 11:32-38). Many Christians today, especially in Communist or Muslim countries, have been imprisoned, sent to labor camps, whipped, beaten 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 church.”
This suffering can be in material things also. Scripture speaks of those who “joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods” (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 this kind of persecution. However, there is no guarantee that it won’t happen in the future. 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.
Being a Slave of Christ
Many of the epistles begin with the apostles referring to themselves as bondservants. “Paul, a bondservant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1). (Also see Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1.) “James, a bondservant of God” (James 1:1). “Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). “Jude, a bondservant of Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). John calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:1). Paul also calls himself “a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1). The Greek word translated “bondservant” (or “servant” in some translations) is doulos. It has a variety of meanings, but its root meaning is that of a “slave.” It means “one who is in a permanent relationship of servitude to another, his will altogether consumed in the will of the other.” 27
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; 1 Thessalonians 1:9.) Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). (“Mammon” is wealth personified, or avarice deified.) 28
Paul writes that, as the result of Jesus Christ’s atoning act of sacrifice on the Cross, we have now been freed from slavery to sin and have “become slaves [doulos] of God” (Romans 6:22). Peter writes, “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants [doulos] of God” (1 Peter 2:16 NIV). (Also see Galatians 5:13.)
“Do you not know that… you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your Spirit, which are God’s” (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 and repulsive 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). It is by committing ourselves to Jesus that we become free (John 8:31-32).
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 according to His will, He [God] hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Jesus spoke a parable that illustrates the kind of service we are called to. He spoke of a servant who worked all day in the field, and then had to fix his master’s supper and wait on him before he could do anything for himself. Jesus said, “Does he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things that you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:9-10).
This applies to Christian leaders as well as to the rest of us. What someone may call “my ministry” is not his, 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 NIV). When the lame man was healed, Peter said, “Why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?… His [Jesus’] name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know” (Acts 3:12, 16). (Also see Acts 14:8-18.) Paul warns us, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3). And he said he would “boast” about his own infirmities, “that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
When God gives us strength and wisdom, 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.
Paul described his entire ministry in these terms: “Through him [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 NIV). (Also see 1 Peter 1:2.) Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” and thereby “became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). “They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him” (Titus 1:16). “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (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 Chapter 17.)
Giving Up Our Agendas
Part of what it means to be a servant is that we give up our own agendas. According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, it means that our will is totally consumed in the will of the one we serve.
Jesus modeled this for us. He came to do his Father’s work (John 4:34, 6:38). 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, 8:28-29, 12:49, 14:10.) He said, “the Son can do nothing of Himself” (John 5:19). He said, “I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29). And then he said that “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also” (John 14:12). Those who have faith in Jesus should be doing the Father’s work, doing what pleases the Father, just as Jesus did. Jesus had no agenda of his own. His agenda was to do the Father’s will. If we are to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6), our agenda should be to do the Father’s will.
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 all and followed 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 the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:5-9).
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.
Then Paul reached another point of submission. After he had founded many churches, and was very busy, keeping track of how they were doing, and correcting them when they started to go wrong, God seemingly put an end to that ministry. God told him to go to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit repeatedly warned him that he would face imprisonment and hardship, but he insisted on obeying the call of God. Here are his words, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:22-24 NIV).
Paul did go to Jerusalem; he almost lost his life there; and then he was imprisoned for two years in Palestine and for several years in Rome. We are not sure what happened after that, but many scholars think he was released from prison for a time, went back to Ephesus, and then was reimprisoned and executed.
At what seemed the height of his ministry, Paul was suddenly called by God to interrupt it all and spend a good many years in jail. It did not seem to make sense, but Paul was obedient. And he wrote some of his finest letters from a Roman jail. God may interrupt our ministry.
I want to make one thing very clear. In saying that we should give up our agendas, I am not saying that every Christian should give up what he or she is doing and become a full-time pastor, evangelist, or missionary. God uses us in different ways. He has different callings on our lives. Those who are called to the professional ministry should answer the call. But we should not attempt to perform a function to which we are not called. Increasingly, today, we are hearing about the importance of serving God in the “marketplace.” Many of us are called to live committed Christian lives as businesspeople, professionals, politicians, workers, teachers, parents, etc. In whatever capacity we function, we can serve God. Whatever we are doing, we can “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” (Ephesians 6:7 NIV). We can be “an epistle of Christ… written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3). Whatever our occupation may be, we can so live that those who see us will have caught at least a glimpse of Jesus Christ.
Whatever our calling, whatever the occupation in which we find ourselves, we need to live lives of commitment to God. Too many Christians, today, live lives that are compartmentalized. While in church on Sunday, and during our times of devotion, Scripture reading or prayer during the week (if we have any such times), we pay attention to the things of God. But for the rest of our lives, we ignore him. This is not the kind of commitment that God wants. It is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), not just for a few hours a week, but all day every day.
Do Not Be Conformed to the Pattern
This principle is absolutely basic to our Christian life. I discuss it in chapter 13, and refer you to that discussion. What it comes down to, I think, is the question of whom we will serve. Will we serve the world? Or will we serve Almighty God? Thus it relates directly to the issue of commitment, which I am dealing with in this chapter.
Be Transformed by the Renewing
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. (See Chapter 14.)
To make this transformation 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. It tells us to put to death our old nature (Colossians 3:5), to crucify it (Galatians 5:24). (Also see Romans 6:6-8, 11; Galatians 2:20.) It tells us to die to sin (1 Peter 2:24). “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who 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 NIV). I suggest that this is part of what Paul means when he tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.
Paul tells us to crucify “the sinful nature, its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24 NIV). He says that “our old man was crucified with Him [Christ], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him… Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:6-8, 11). “If Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10).
Acknowledge Him in All Our Ways
“In all your ways acknowledge Him [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 Him [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
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). Hence we need to get rid of everything that conflicts with God’s way and his purposes.
I suggest that all this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who 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.
Our Spiritual Act of Worship
Paul tells us that to sacrifice our body to God is “…our spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1 NIV). (KJV has “reasonable 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, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things” (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. It is by a totally committed life that we best declare God’s worthiness.
Be United With Christ
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 their [the disciples’] word, that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in Me and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that you have sent Me, and have loved them as you have loved Me” (John 17:20-23). This is not an easy passage to understand in detail. We need to chew on it. But the basic prayer for unity is clear.
If we are truly committed to Jesus Christ, then Christ is in us. (See Chapter 11.) But also we are in Christ. “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11). “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We can “live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:12). “Peace to you all who are in Christ Jesus” (1 Peter 5:14). Many other Scriptures speak of us as being “in Christ.” Perhaps it is in this sense that we can “be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).
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. If we are all truly serving God and seeking his will, we will be united.
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 exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
God wants a life that is totally yielded to him. 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 attached.