B. Walking reasonable worship:
“Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rm 12:1).
No greater call to discipleship could have been made. We commit ourselves to the One who became a heavenly disciple on our behalf in reference to our spiritual disconnection from God through our sins (See Is 59:2; Ph 2:5-11).
Since the behavior of the Israelites of the Old Testament is to be an example for our discipleship (Rm 15:4; 1 Co 10:6,11), what happened to some of the Israelites immediately after they came out of Egyptian bondage should be heeded. They were “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Co 10:2). They too “drank of the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the Spiritual Rock that followed them. And that Rock was Christ” (1 Co 10:4).
“But God was not pleased with many of them …” (1 Co 10:5). God was not pleased with many of them because they did not give themselves totally into His care. They did not walk straight to the land of promise and conquer it through faith in the power of God to work through them. Because of their lack of faith, therefore, those who did not walk by faith were cut off. And when there is no total commitment today on the part of some who have been baptized into Christ, then there is the danger of being cut off for lack of faith. A faith that will not drive us to the promise land through obedience, is a dead faith that will maroon us in the wilderness of sin.
Paul used the word “sacrifice” as a metaphor in reference to our commitment. An Old Testament sacrifice was totally given for the purpose for which it was intended. No partial sacrifices were allowed under the Sinai law. Paul explained in Romans 6:13:
“Neither present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God, as those who are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
- Living: The sacrifice of our lives must be living (total) and active (recognizable). Disciples cannot be monks who hide away in a monastery, and at the same time, profess a total commitment to discipleship. The totally committed life is relational. And to be relational, disciples must be totally committed to relate with one another. Disciples, therefore, must not be “lagging behind in diligence,” but “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rm 12:11). And “serving the Lord” means totally committed to serving others on behalf of the Lord. The totally committed disciple serves the Lord by serving others.
- Holy: Purity (holiness) must be characteristic of those who have wholly committed themselves as a living sacrifice (See 1 Pt 1:15). It is a contradiction to claim that one is totally committed, but at the same time has not wholly given himself to function as a part of the body. The total sacrifice is the definition of holiness. The purity of one’s discipleship is identified in the fact that his sacrifice involves the whole of his or her life to relationally function with all members of the body.
- Acceptable: Unless the sacrifice is living and total, then it cannot be acceptable to God. One could not drag a dead animal to the altar of sacrifice and expect it to be accepted by God. One could not offer only the hind quarters of the sacrificed animal. No sacrifice of the Sinai law was to be blemished. The prophet Habakkuk judged the people unrighteous because they sought to offer blemished sacrifices to the Lord, as well as robbing God by holding back all that was to be given in a tithe to the Lord (See Hk). Their sacrifices were not acceptable because they were partial or blemished.
In the case of Habakkuk’s generation, the people were “keeping back” the best sacrifices for themselves. In the same way, those who pose themselves to be totally committed Christians, often hold back the best for themselves. And those dead Christians (inactive) who drag themselves to the assembly on Sunday are fooling themselves. If the leadership judges their assembly to be dead, then it is composed of dead sacrifices sitting on pews.
Disciples to Divinity are “as living stones” who “are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5). It is not difficult to understand what the preceding statement means. Jesus explained:
“And you will love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30).
And again: “If anyone will come after Me,” Jesus continued to explain, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23).
We live in a departmentalized world, the thinking of which is totally contrary to Paul’s definition of the total sacrifice. Our usual day begins in the morning with a departmentalized time for breakfast. We then move into the department of secular work. Once our work day is signed off with the sound of a bell, we close out the Work Department and move on to a variety of departments: Sports Department, Family Department, Date Department, Television Department, Hobby Department.
On Sunday there is the Religion Department. Unfortunately, we have confined God to the Religion Department, opening up this department with an “opening prayer” and closing it off with a “closing prayer.” As long as God remains in His department, we are content to believe that we are His totally committed people between the “closing prayer” on Sunday morning and the “opening prayer” the following Sunday.
We forget that the totally committed life has no departments from which God is excluded. Totally sacrificed disciples establish all their “departments” on the basis that they are totally sacrificed disciples every minute of their lives to the God of heaven. The only closing bell one will hear in reference to his discipleship is the sound of his last breath on earth.
4.Reasonable service: Translators have a difficult time translating a word that is here used in the Greek text. The Greek word is latreia. The New International Version reads “spiritual act of worship.” The American Standard Version reads, “spiritual service,” with “worship” in the footnote. But in reflecting to the word “therefore,” with which the text of Romans 12 was introduced, and the context of Paul’s argument in concluding the preceding chapters, the International King James Version might have a better reading: “Reasonable service.” In view of all that God has done for us, as explained by Paul to the end of chapter 11, it is only reasonable that we present our lives in active service (worship) to the Lord. There can be no limits to the totality of our service to God. For this reason, the totality of our lives is a worshipful response (service) to the grace of God.
The Greek word latreia has a meaningful definition in the context of its use in Romans 12:1. Of the 21 times it is used in the New Testament, the word is used to refer to worshipful behavior. It is for this reason that translators have a difficult time concerning whether to translate the word either “worship” or “service” in Romans 12:1. But as previously explained, the disciple’s walk in gratitude to the grace of God is a walk of worshipful service.
The “living sacrifice” of the context helps us to define how latreia is used in Romans 12:1. We are living sacrifices, and thus our worship is living. It is behavioral. And since the living sacrifice cannot be departmentalized, then the latreia of this context cannot be departmentalized. Therefore, the latreia of Romans 12:1 is a life-style of worship service. It is a vertical relationship with God in order to have a horizontal relationship with the fellow members of the body of Christ.
This is often difficult for some to understand, especially if they come from a background of departmentalized religiosity. It is difficult because so many have confined their worship to a ritualistic performance of ceremonies that are claimed to be worship, which ceremonies are often used to identity whether one is “church.” Once the ceremonies (“acts”) of the Church Department are completed, and signed off with a “closing prayer,” then it is assumed that one is no longer in worship. “Brother, John, would you lead the ‘closing prayer’ to conclude our worship?” Ever hear that request?
A ceremonial “hour of worship” does not fit into the context of Romans 12:1. It is certain that one worships during the “hour of worship.” But it is also certain that the one who is a living sacrifice worships outside the confines of an “opening and closing prayer” and the ceremonial “hour of worship.”
The living sacrifice does not confine worship to either locations or ceremonies. The totality of his life is a response to the One to whom he has given his life as a sacrifice. His eating a fine lunch is not an “act of worship,” but he worshipfully eats in gratitude to the One who gave the food to be eaten. He drives his bicycle or vehicle, not as an act of worship, but in worshipful thanksgiving of the One who gives all things. All that the living sacrifice either owns or enjoys is appreciated because he recognizes the Great Giver and Provider of all things. His life, therefore, is a worshipful response to the One he recognizes to be the God of all things. His life, therefore, is a natural (reasonable) response (worship) of the one true and living God. His life can be nothing other than “reasonable worship” in view of all that he has and does.
All that the living sacrifice has and does is not a demand on his life. In view of the cross of Christ, it is only natural to present oneself totally to the One who gave Himself totally for all of us. And in looking into the future to what will eventually be given, the living sacrifice gives the totality of his life in worshipful service of the One who will eventually give eternal life.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to us” (Rm 8:18).
[Part 3 of lecture continues March 18.]