Your Spiritual Worship

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about worship. We defined worship as acknowledging the true worth of God. Bob Kauflin put it this way — “Worship is acknowledging that [God] is above us and worthy of our affection, attention and adoration.”

And that’s something that we strive to do when we come together on Sunday mornings. But, it’s also something that we try to do every day throughout the week. As Paul said, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31).

We’ve talked about the fact that, more than anything else, God wants our worship to be not just an act that we engage in, but something that flows from our hearts. As Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me.” (Matthew 15:8–9).

Last week, we focused on our corporate worship and we said that our time together needs to be a time to praise God, a time to listen to God speak to us from His Word, a time to confess our shortcomings, and a time to re-commit ourselves to living for Christ.

This morning, I want us to turn our focus to the fact that all of our lives should be worship, because worship is not just a church activity; it’s a life activity. Worship is not just a once-a-week event; it’s an every-day occurrence. A. W. Tozer once said, “If you will not worship God seven days a week you do not worship him on one day a week.”

But, I want to be careful that we don’t go to the extreme of saying that everything we do in our lives every day is worship. Remember, that worship is acknowledging the true worth of God and giving honor to God. And, let’s be honest, a lot of what we do throughout the week doesn’t give any glory or honor to God.

I love what James Pike once said. When someone says, “Oh, I can worship God anywhere,” his response is, “Do you?” So, maybe that’s the more important question to consider. The question is not, “Can we worship God throughout the week?” The answer to that is obviously “yes”. The more important question is, “Do we worship God throughout the week?”

So, let’s talk a bit about what that worship should look like. Turn with me to Romans chapter 12. Paul begins this chapter with these words:

“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)

Paul uses the word “therefore” to indicate that this is a shift in his discussion. For 11 chapters in Romans, Paul has been talking about God’s plan for the redemption of mankind and what marvelous love and grace God has shown in reaching out to us. And now, Paul says, “In view of everything God that has done for us, here’s what our response ought to be.”

And you may have noticed that that’s Paul’s pattern in many of his letters. He does it in Galatians, in Ephesians, in Colossians, and several of his other letters. Paul spends the first half of the letter teaching what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. And then he goes on to tell us what we should do in response to what God has done.

So, Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God…” The NIV says, “in view of God’s mercy…”. God’s Word translation says, “in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion…” Paul is saying, “Brothers and sisters, I appeal to you on the basis of everything I’ve said to this point”, and then he summarizes what he has said as “the mercies of God.”

God has been so merciful to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of Christ, those who put their trust in him are justified by their faith, and reconciled with God, and have the hope of everlasting joy. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Romans 8:34)

In view of God’s mercy, here’s how you ought to live your life. And Romans chapter 12 is just filled with mercy — “Show mercy with cheerfulness. . . . Let love be genuine. . . . Give to the saints. . . . Bless those who persecute you. . . . Weep with those who weep. . . . Associate with the lowly. . . . Repay no one evil for evil. . . . Never avenge yourselves. . . . If your enemy is hungry feed him.” Build your lives on God’s mercy and, as a result, you will become a merciful people.

But before Paul goes into his description about how our life in Christ should be merciful, he describes it as being worshipful. “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.” Before we can give ourselves away as a merciful people to others, we must first give ourselves away in worship to God.

And I think this is important. Because we need to be careful that we don’t let the Christian life drift into a mere social agenda. Or, to put it another way, the Christian life is not just about doing nice things for people. And I think we sometimes make that mistake. We feel as long as we are being nice to people, we have accomplished our goal. I mean, that’s what God wants us to do – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And we feel proud of ourselves because it’s not always easy to be nice to people, especially to those people who aren’t nice to us. But, the problem is, and I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but there are a lot of people who aren’t Christians who are nice people. In fact, there are some atheists who treat people nicely.

The Christian life is not just about being nice to people. And if we leave God out of the picture, our mercy will be a mere social agenda. But we don’t do anyone any real good if we are not worshiping God and leading others to worship God through the acts of mercy that we do. If our good deeds are not expressing the glory of God, then what we are doing is not worship.

And if God is not at the center of everything we do, and if what we do doesn’t draw people to God, then all we’ve done in the long run is to make people feel good while they are on their way to everlasting punishment. And, when you look at it that way, that’s not very merciful at all.

And so it’s very important to Paul that we put worship before mercy and Paul wants to define the Christian life as being worshipful before he defines it as being merciful. Or, perhaps more accurately, Paul defines the Christian life as worship so that it can be merciful.

So let’s take a closer look at what Paul means by a lifestyle of worship.

1. Sacrifice

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1)

Paul is using here the language of worship from the Old Testament. When a Jew came to God, he brought a sheep or a bull or a pigeon and he sacrificed it on the altar as an offering to God. And there were different kinds of sacrifices, but at the heart of it all was this idea that sin required a punishment, and the animal which was sacrificed represented God’s willingness to accept a substitute so that the worshiper might be forgiven.

But we know from Hebrews 10:4 that the blood of bulls and goats cannot actually take away sin. Those sacrifices pointed to Jesus, who was the true sacrifice for sin. Hebrews 10:12 says, “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” So, at the crucifixion, Jesus brought to an end all of the Old Testament sacrifices for sin. He completed God’s great work of atonement.

So when Paul says that our worship is to present our bodies as a sacrifice, he doesn’t mean by that that we have to die and atone for our sins. But he is saying that we have to give up something.

Jay Guin wrote in a blog several years ago, “One of the most common errors in contemporary ‘how to’ Christianity is the omission of sacrifice from our theology.” What he meant by that is that we think that if we do a few nice things, we have fulfilled our Christian responsibilities. Let’s just come together and have some pot luck dinners and be polite to people who walk in the door, and hopefully people can see what a nice bunch of folks we are and want to join us. We really don’t talk much about the need to sacrifice. But Christianity means that we are willing to lay ourselves on the altar just like Isaac did and say, “Let the knife fall where it may. I’m willing to give it all up.”

Now, I don’t disagree with Jay at all, but I want to come at this idea of sacrifice from a little different angle. Because when we use the word “sacrifice” today, we almost always think of something that it hurts us to give up, something that’s painful for us to do.

For example, if you ask me for some help, I may reach into my pocket and give you a few bucks – we would say that’s not much of a sacrifice. Or I may give you a huge gift of thousands of dollars that really makes life difficult on me as a result. We tend to think of sacrificing to God in this way. We need to give until it hurts. If it doesn’t hurt, then we haven’t really sacrificed.

But that’s not at all how the Jews used that word when they referred to their sacrifices. When a Jew brought a lamb or a calf as a sacrifice, he wasn’t giving God something that was difficult to part with — he was simply bringing to God what was already his. The farthest thing from his mind was the thought that he had any right to that animal. He had set it apart from the very beginning as God’s. It belonged to God. And it doesn’t hurt you to give up something that’s not yours to begin with.

You see, when you genuinely surrender your life to God, and when you really make Jesus Christ Lord of your life, then you acknowledge that he has access to every part of your life, and that he has the right to direct any part of your life. And it doesn’t hurt you to give it up, because it wasn’t yours to begin with.

That was Paul’s point in I Corinthians 6:20, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Your life belongs to God, so “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…”

2. Bodies

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:1)

Why does Paul specify our bodies? Why doesn’t he say to give your spirit as a sacrifice? That’s the innermost part of our being. Or, why not give your mind? Or why doesn’t Paul ask for what we usually ask — present your money? Or your time?” But, no, Paul says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” And I think the reason he does that is because when we make our bodies available to something, we end up giving our whole being to that cause.

I sometimes hear people say, “Sorry I can’t make it to the meeting tonight, but I’ll be with you in spirit.” And I understand what they mean by that, but let’s be honest — I find it hard to do much with a room full of spirits. I would much rather people bring their bodies. Because, if you move your body into action, you’ve really given yourself. You can have all sorts of good intentions, but it’s when you finally put your body on the line that you’ve really given yourself. Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice says to God, “Lord, I am available whenever you want me, wherever you want me.”

And it doesn’t matter what our body looks like. It may be overweight, wrinkled, diseased, unattractive, disabled, near-sighted, hard-of-hearing, stiff, and achy. It may not seem like much of an offering, especially when you consider that in the Old Testament, the Jews had to offer the best-looking of their flock.

But the offering of our bodies is not the offering of our bodily appearance but rather our bodily behavior. Our body is not significant because of the way it looks, but because of the way it acts. God doesn’t wants models for GQ, he wants models of love and mercy. God wants visible, lived-out, bodily evidence that our lives are built on his mercy.

3. Living

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” (Romans 12:2)

We hold in high regard, and rightfully so, those Christians who have given their lives for their faith in Jesus. And we are aware that there are some places in the world even today where living out your faith in Jesus Christ may result in death. But when Paul talks here about being a sacrifice, he is not primarily talking about being a martyr.

When Paul calls for a living sacrifice, it simply means that it’s an ongoing sacrifice, every minute of every day. And that can sometimes be tougher than actually being a martyr for Christ. Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you were put to the test like some of the early Christians, a test that some Christians in the world still face to this day? Either renounce Jesus Christ or die. And we’d like to think that given that choice, we would maintain our faith in Christ and suffer the consequences.

But none of us will likely ever be called to make that choice. Instead we’re called to be living sacrifices. Which means that every day we are faced with situations that force us to choose. Choose to follow the difficult course that Jesus would have us follow. Or choose to follow the easier course of living the way the world does.

Paul is talking here about a lifestyle. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Because it is your living that is the very act of worship. Let every act of your living body be an act of worship. That is, let every act of your living body be a demonstration that God is at the center of your life Let every act of your living body show that Jesus Christ is more precious to you than anything else. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…”

4. Holy and Acceptable to God

“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

Probably the best explanation of what Paul means by a holy body comes from Romans 6:13, where Paul said almost the very same thing he says here, using the same language of “presenting” our bodies to God. But he talks there not about presenting our bodies, but rather presenting the members of our body.

“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)

Presenting your body to God means giving to him the members of your body — your eyes, your tongue, your hands and feet — giving your body to God to do righteousness, and not sin. That’s what makes a body holy. A body is not holy because of what it looks like, or what shape it’s in, but because of what it does. And so, as our bodies demonstrate the mercy of God and the love of God through our love of others, we are giving our bodies as a holy sacrifice that is acceptable or pleasing to God.

Let me give you a few examples of this in the New Testament.

In Philippians 4:18, Paul said, “I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Paul says, “Your gift that you collected and sent to me is a sacrifice of worship to God, because it shows how much love you have for God, and it shows your desire to be a people just like him.

In Hebrews 13:15, the writer says, “Through [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” When our lips join with our hearts in praise to God, our body becomes a holy, living sacrifice.

In the very next verse, we read, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16). When you do good in the name of Jesus Christ, whether it’s with your mouth or with your hands or just by your presence, your body becomes a sacrifice of worship that is holy and acceptable to God. Our body becomes a holy sacrifice of worship when it is devoted to living out God’s righteousness and mercy.

5. Our Lives are Transformed

“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 12:2)

Let me talk for a moment about transformers. You older folks may think that transformers have something to do with electricity, but our kids know all about what transformers are. They are these robots that transform from robots into cars, planes and all sorts of other things. And if I were to give one of the children here this morning a transformer, one of the first questions he’s going to ask is, “What does it change into?” And if I were to say, “It doesn’t change into anything”, he would tell me, “Then it’s not a transformer!”

When people look at Christians, they need to be looking at Transformers, people who have been changed from one thing to another, people who have put off the old nature and put on the new nature. God wants you to be changed into His image, but if there’s no change, then we’re not transformed.

And notice what Paul is concerned about when he says we need to be transformed, not conformed. Because whenever we talk about not conforming to the world, we tend to think about things like drinking and smoking and gambling and dancing. We’ve all heard parents tell their kids, “Don’t be like the world. Don’t do those things!” And if that’s our guideline, then most of us feel pretty good about being separated from the world because I don’t do any of that stuff!

But I want you to notice that Paul is more concerned about what we do than what we don’t do. He says, “You need to be different from the world, and here’s how I want you to be different.” Starting in verse 9, he mentions things like:

Love one another sincerely.
Put other people first.
Maintain your hope no matter how dark things get.
Be patient when things get difficult.
Be faithful in your prayer life.
Share with God’s people who are in need.
Be hospitable to everyone.
Make friends with the people who are nobodies.

How are you doing on that list? You see, we need to be careful when we make our list of things that define the world and say we’re not going to do those things, and so we’ve succeeded at not conforming. But not conforming and being transformed means that that day by day we become more and more like God. We get rid of feelings like anger and bitterness and resentment and grow in things like love and patience and forgiveness and mercy.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” And so I need to ask, “What’s different about you?” What do people around you see in you that they don’t see in anyone else? When people look at you, do they see somebody who’s been transformed? A person whose life is given over to God, to live out his mercy, and in the process to bring honor and glory to God.

Because when that happens, worship isn’t just something you do on Sunday morning. It’s something that’s lived out in your life every day.

As I close, I want to go back to my quote from James Pike at the beginning of the lesson. When someone says, “I can worship God anywhere,” his response is, “Do you?” Because, as I said, the question is not, “Can we worship God throughout the week?” The more important question is, “Do we worship God throughout the week?”

“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)

So it’s fitting that we end this lesson where we began, and stress that before we answer God’s call to live a merciful life, we need to answer his call to live a worshipful life. Or to put it another way, in calling us to live a merciful life (that is, a life that is built on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ), God is first calling us to live a worshipful life. Our purpose in showing mercy is to bring honor and glory to God. The reason we have bodies is to make the glory of God more visible so that through our merciful behavior, people are drawn to God.

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