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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Discipleship: A Living Sacrifice


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Rom 12:1-2

The smell that must have hung over Jerusalem must have been amazing. It’s estimated that at Passover at the time of Jesus, at least 256 000 lambs were sacrificed. But every day, pilgrims, sinners like you and me, brought other animal sacrifices as well … bulls, sheep, birds … to be sacrificed on the Temple altar. Over and above personal offerings, the priests made general offerings every day as well. And depending on what the offering was for, various spices and oils were added as well. Can you imagine the smell? … mouth-watering ... unless you’re a vegetarian. Depending on what the wind was doing, you would certainly see the smoke from far off, but the closer you got, the more would have smelt and tasted sacrifice to the one true God. 


As a Jew, you would have been reminded of the 16 different occasions in Leviticus where offerings are described and where the following words recur

“The priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” 

These pictures are all in Paul’s mind when he writes:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.  Rom 12:1 

Now first some grammar: The sentence starts with a therefore, this means that Paul has been giving some form of argument/presentation before this. Remember this is a letter and for many commentators on Romans, these verses mark the climax of the letter. I quote

“The word “therefore” signifies that Paul has completed the main structure of the letter and does not need to repeat himself. We have reached the summit of the mountain range, the place from which you can see around in all directions; but the journey must now continue, down the other side, without the strenuous work of climbing, but still with a sense of continuity in our aim and goal. From time to time Paul will refer to the height he has now reached, and perhaps to the path up which he has climbed; but what follows now, with the characteristic “therefore” of 12:1, is about results, not process.” New Interpreters Bible Commentary.



Up to this point Paul has been clearly presenting the message of salvation by faith alone … exactly what it means for Gentiles and what it means for Jews. That’s the summit of the mountain and now he goes on to talk about how that should affect us … and if you read the beginning of each chapter that follows you see Paul describing Christian lifestyle. Chapter 13 … Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established… Chapter 14 … Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarrelling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, ….. , eats only vegetables… Chapter 15 … We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, … Chapter 16 … He says his farewells. 

So, the text before us this morning contains a key element of the Christian life of discipleship.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Rom 12:1-2



Sometimes we are taught that belief and behaviour are of their very nature completely separate human activities, whereas for Paul (and the whole of Scripture) they are inextricably interwoven. They are the breath and blood of Christian living, the twin signs of life ... belief and behaviour. Paul saw Jesus not simply as the crucified and risen Messiah and Lord but also as the one whose teaching articulated the way of life belonging to the new age he came to inaugurate. That way of life, the life Jesus called people to when He said “Follow me” … is the life of discipleship. Disciples are people who want to become like the one they follow … we want to become like Jesus. And as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, this requires sacrifice, and Paul envisages the sacrifices in question as being physical, indeed “animal”; but the “animals” are human, and they are not to be ritually slaughtered but “offered” to God, still alive … offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. 

What does this mean? Well, verse 1 & 2 need to be read together, they explain each other. So Paul goes on to say: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Friends … we have to learn to think differently. Earlier in Romans, in 1:18-32, Paul reminds us that the human mind and heart are, in their natural state, dark and rebellious, full of wickedness and evil. That’s the mind we are born with and that’s why we must be born again, says Jesus, of the Spirit. Then, as Paul puts it when he writes to the Corinthians,

But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16

While in the flesh, of course, we still have the other mind as well. Which one do you use? We are new creations in Christ. We are meant to be putting off the old one and putting on the new … but the sinful self clings to the old and doesn’t let go easily, does it. Which mind determines your way of thinking? When we talk of evangelism, does your mind say: “This is so difficult … and I don’t really know how to do it … I don’t think my friends will enjoy an Alpha course, or will enjoy our service here at MWC” or do you think: “I have incredibly good news to share with whoever will listen … I trust God’s word to achieve what it sets out to achieve when I share it with them … I don’t trust myself I trust God … I don’t trust MW or the preacher … I trust God”. God always blesses trust/faith … but we must think properly and by that I mean … think like Jesus, because we have the mind of Jesus.

If you come to a brick wall in your life … or a sea, like the Red Sea … do you think “Oh dear, I’m trapped” or do you think “I wonder what God’s going to do in this hopeless situation.”? Which mind determines what the reality is in any situation … the mind of Christ in you … or the mind which actually belongs in the grave. Whenever you say “I think we should …” are you thinking with your old mind, or with the mind of Christ? You can see why this is the summit of Paul’s letter, because everything flows from this point …. Everything in the Christian walk flows from how you think.

So Paul says: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

Can you see that the personal transformation which the Holy Spirit can work in us, can you see that that transformation seems dependant on a renewing of your mind? We need renewed minds. Renewed minds … so that what proceeds from the transformed mind does indeed reflect the image and the will of God as we live in the world around us. He taught us to pray: Thy will be done … but how do I know His will in each and every situation. There lots of hungry people, which one must I feed … who in particular must I go to and invite to church next week … who should I reach out to after this service this morning? Which uni should I go to? What career should I follow? How do we know God’s will in these things?

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

This renewed mind enables us to test and approve what God’s will is … his good, pleasing and perfect will in every situation. The Christian is not meant to rely simply on lists of ethical commands, but to be able to discern, to test and approve, what God’s will is—God’s will, for general ethical conduct but also, for specific decisions and occasions. In the context of last week, can you see how we become people who not only say: “Not my will but Thy will be done” … we become people who can know what God’s will is right now, in any situation, and then do it. Believe you have the mind of Christ … and I assure you, you’ll instinctively know when you’re not using it.

 And when we are people who are doing God’s will … that is a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord.

 But for a sacrifice there must be fire … are you on fire for the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom? Does your passion for Jesus and His way, His truth and His life … does that passion burn in you like a fire in your soul? And let me make it quite clear, I’m not talking about how much you jump up and down … or how many alleluias you shout out … or how long your prayers are. I’m asking if there’s a fire in your soul … because it’s the fire in your soul that lights and burns, motivates and sustains your life as a living sacrifice.

If your fire is raging … alleluia! … ask God to pour more fuel on it.

But we’re not all raging … some of us are burning out.

Some of us are burnt out.

Some of us have had the fire in us quenched … it’s as if circumstances are pouring water on us.

Maybe the fire has never been lit … you’ve never looked by faith to the Cross of Christ and said “Forgive me my sin” and come and live in me.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

 Whatever the state of the flame of the Holy Spirit within us, let’s ask and trust God to send His fire.

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