Please do hear the talk here or read it below
‘He’s got a terrible reputation’ I overheard someone saying in Dubai, about 40 years ago. About me…
It’s always shocking when you hear something about yourself…which you are not meant to hear. And all the more shocking, that it wasn’t about my skills as a lawyer, everyone seemed reasonably happy with those, but more about who I was as a person, what I did when I wasn’t working. Of course, from my point of view, I was having a whale of a time, with all the resources of a young professional and the maturity of a teenager….
But why would I want to live any differently to the way that I could live if I chose to do so?Why not just pursue pleasure and fun? No ties or obligations, plenty of cash, lots of sunshine…..It did not even occur to me to do something different, I just could not see it!
In John’s gospel, Jesus says to Nicodemus ‘Very truly I tell you no-one can see the kingdom unless they are born again’ that was me then – I couldn’t see it.
Re-birth is, according to Jesus needed if we are to become followers of Christ.
And Paul in Romans is speaking to followers of Christ in this passage that we have read to day, people who have been re-born.
Now that rebirth need not have happened with a flash from the sky and a rumble of thunder. It may have been an altogether quieter matter, a penny dropping, a final realisation, a getting of the point…It may have happened at one moment you can later clearly identify…in a Damascus road type conversion, as for Paul, or like the passenger travelling on the sleeper train from Paris to Berlin, when you don’t know exactly when It happened, you crossed the border at some stage during the night, but now, as you eat your croissant and drink your coffee, you look out of the window and you know you are in a new country.
Its important to start this talk on these two important verses of Romans 12 with words about being re-born because Paul’s language on how we should live, on how we should behave
I s addressed to people who have been reborn. As Martin Lloyd Jones writes in the book he wrote on this chapter in Romans, Christians in power have often made the mistake of imposing what is expected of followers of Christ, on people who are reborn, on the whole of society. The Puritans made that gross error. The result is that Paul’s gracious words, become to those who are not re-born legalistic morality, a curse, a burden, a bore, rather than a blessing, which either seems incredibly onerous for those who are not followers of Christ or worse is perceived by some as a way of getting to heaven….‘If I steel myself and do this thing I hate to do, then God must reward me’
So what is Paul saying to those who are followers of Christ? To those who have been re-born?
He is saying ‘Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship’. A sign of being a follower of Christ is that in your heart you will want to do this. It’s not an option
If you don’t want to then this may not be the talk for you….
But you may also feel that you cannot…do what Paul is sugggesting or you constantly fail, and here I hope to help this morning.
So how do we unpack these two verses?
First, of all I want to explain how we can make our bodies a living sacrifice and then secondly I want to examine why we might want to do this?
Firstly, How can we make our bodies a living sacrifice?
I think we would all understand that Christianity is not something that we just do on Sundays. Martin Lloyd Jones writes ‘Christianity is not merely a teaching but a life, not merely a way of thinking but a way of living’. And the whole person is involved, all of the time, not just our understanding, but our hearts and feelings, our will, conduct and behaviour.
This also includes what what we consume both in our body and our mind
My friend Kimberly Inskeep has a great expression. She speaks about the ‘ear gate’ and the ‘eye gate’. And one might add the ‘mouth gate’.
We are all responsible to Father God for what do with our bodies, including what we put into us. We are responsible for what we watch on television or on our computers, or what we read
Scientists and doctors speak of the plasticity of the brain: neuro-plasticity. Apparently, it used to be thought that, as we aged, the brain became fixed. But now research has shown that the brain never stops changing through learning. This is called plasticity: The capability of the brain to change with learning.
It stands to reason, for example that if we give ourselves a visual diet of violence or horror or pornography on the television or in video games, we will change…
We are responsible to Father God for how we change from what we consume in the mind through the eye gate and the ear gate as much as we are responsible to him for what we eat and drink through the mouth gate.
We are all changed by the choices we make, but for some its really difficult to recover from those choices. To turn back the clock.
As many of you will know my mother was an alcoholic. I remember so well, after being encouraged as a teenager, to keep an eye on her by my stepfather, I remember taking a bottle of gin off her when she was meant to be sober. ‘You just don’t understand’ she said. And later she told me that for years she had thought her drinking was just the same as her friends…. in their forties, fifties and sixties but then she realised that she could no longer stop….It had been a choice what she let through the mouth gate but then it took her over her brain had changed.
The same can apply to the ear gate and the eye gate.…We can easily lose control and its a long and hard journey back…
This is not just a question of what we let in to our bodies but also what we do with our bodies.
And in particular with our tongues, expressed either verbally or on line. We can get used to punctuating a story with four lettered words to show that we really mean it or to provide a funny punch line. We can get used to saying something unkind about someone else or something which is not true, or necessary. Or we can otherwise act with our bodies selfishly using them only to satisfy our own needs…as for example we chuck the dog poo over the fence or leave it hanging in a bag on a twig.
Paul says that we are to offer all of our bodies as a living sacrifice. This means being highly selective about what we consume, how we use our bodies, not starving ourselves, or gorging ourselves, but getting the balance right. To look after our bodies which as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19 are temples of the Holy Spirit, places where the Holy Spirit dwells…
Getting to grips with this, after we have been reborn, is a process called ‘sanctification’ becoming more and more like Jesus, it is a process which continues for the rest of our lives.
So we are responsible to God for what we do with our bodies. But how can the body possibly become a sacrifice? John Chrysostom a church leader in the early centuries AD said ‘Let the eye look on no evil and it is a sacrifice’
We get accustomed to what we let through our eye gates, ear gates, and mouth gates or what we say to get a laugh or what we do with our bodies and we enjoy it, so that when we don’t do this anymore it is a sacrifice. Not a dead sacrifice like the animals offered at the temple which were dead when the Jewish priests offered them once and for all for that particular sin, but a living sacrifice.
Every time we choose to be highly selective about the box sets that we watch, its a sacrifice
Every time we choose not to open yet another bottle of wine, or eat that piece of cake after everyone has gone to bed, its a sacrifice
Every time we decide we are not going to say or write or email anything offensive without asking ourselves ‘Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary’, it’s a sacrifice….
Equally, acting in a positive good manner, choosing to give help with our hands to those who need it,
Choosing to ring up that lonely person,
Choosing to use our tongues to bless people who curse us
And choosing to use our ears to listen to God’s word
again is a sacrifice….a living sacrifice
Look we all know what we should be sacrificing, and if you really feel that you don’t know just ask God….as we will do at the end of this talk and he will, I am sure, draw it to your attention
So that, firstly, is how we make our bodies a living sacrifice
But Secondly, why would we want to do so?
Some people will say that they live good lives because it makes sense to do so. It makes sense not to drink to excess, not to gorge on food, not to act selfishly. This is utilitarianism, the creed of John Stuart Mill.
Others say ‘I must live like this because I am afraid of God and if I don’t live this way I will be punished’. This is a way of building up credit with God, so that we feel that he has to save us. This was how Paul used to live before his conversion on the Damascus Road.
But neither of these two approaches, neither common sense nor fear is a Christian approach to this issue.
You see the key thing is not so much what we do, as followers of Christ, but why we do it
Why do followers of Christ seek to live a good life?
Why are we willing to give up our bodies as a living sacrifice?
We do so because we have been re-born…
We have been re-born as children of God and we have the hope of glory
I will say that again:
We have been re-born as children of God and we have the hope of glory
We are princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God
We were born for a purpose and our bodies are not our own. They were bought at a price that Jesus paid on the Cross
So, verse 2, we must not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
We are now living in a relationship with Father God through Jesus Christ and because of this we really want to live this sanctified life, this life of a living sacrifice, and we feel that we are letting him down when we do not…
But even when we fall back into the ways we used to do things in the past, we do not feel, as a utilitarian might do, that we are failures by our own standards, or (more likely) we do not change the goal posts, as a utilitarian might do to justify our own behaviour and seek to show others (and ourselves) that we are still one of the good guys.
Nor do we feel that we are condemned, as someone might feel who is frightened of God
No, we make a swift repentance, a brief washing of the feet in Jesus splendid analogy at the Last Supper in John 13:10. We keep short accounts and Father God sends us back into the world again..restored not failed…loved and forgiven
In short, we live a good life because we are children of God. We are in relationship with the Father, through the Son and we have the confident hope of glory.
So, if I had met St. Paul in Dubai in the 1980s and he had seen how I lived, I don’t think he would have berated me for my behaviour, like some schoolmaster, but he might, I think, have asked as I believe he is asking us all today
‘Do you know who you are?’
‘Do you know who you can be?’
‘Do you know that Father God, the Creator of the Universe loves you and wants you to be his son?
So two brief prayers:
Firstly, for anyone who may feel that they have never crossed that boundary that Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus…who feels that they have never been re-born, who doesn’t have a personal relationship in Jesus Christ: Lets pray – just say this prayer in your hearts after me
“Lord Jesus Christ, I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life (take a few moments to ask his forgiveness for anything particular that is on your conscience).
Please forgive me.
I now turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank you that you died on the cross for me, so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank you that you offer me forgiveness and the gift of your Spirit.
I now receive that gift.
Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank you Lord Jesus, Amen.”
If this is the first time you have prayed this please do let me know so that I can pray for you specifically.
And for those who have prayed that prayer before:
Let us pray, Father God, I know that I am your child and that you are calling me to make my whole body a living sacrifice, please show me now things in my life which I should sacrifice for you…
How I can be transformed, and give me the strength
To carry this out
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 12:1–2). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.