Romans 12:1-8 (NIV) 1 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. 2 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. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
My dear friends in Christ,
We have been looking at the Christian Faith, one word at a time. We have looked at a lot of words that focus on what God has done for us. Just think of the last few words: “Chosen.” God chose us before time began. He loved us because of everything Jesus has done for us. Last week we looked at the word “Grafted.” God took us and grafted us into his family of faith. Whether we have Abraham’s blood flowing in our veins or not doesn’t matter. Faith in Jesus marks us as members of his family. God did all of that for us.
When someone does something really nice for us, we often want to do something really nice for them. What can we do for God in response to all the wonderful things he’s done for us? That’s where our word “sacrifice” comes in. Sacrifice? When the Roman believers heard the word “sacrifice,” they thought about a temple with an altar, an innocent lamb or goat, death, blood, and fire. Is that the response we have to all that God has done? No! Paul encouraged, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.” So, no altar, death, and fire are involved. What does a “living sacrifice” look like? It has two main components: 1. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” 2. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.”
For the Romans, that meant no more “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Don’t squish yourself and your lifestyle into the Roman play-dough mold. Don’t go to the temples and sacrifice just because your neighbors are worshiping there. Don’t focus on becoming one of the rich and famous with a villa far outside the city and banquets reserved for the highest of society. Don’t give up your dignity by celebrating bloody gladiator contests. Don’t conform! Don’t conform! Don’t conform!
“Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought” was a call to live in humility. No more, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as those slaves in the market, or those prostitutes outside the temple, or those soldiers with the blood of innocent people on their hands.” Don’t be so proud!
Paul’s words still ring loud and clear today. Don’t conform! Don’t conform! Don’t conform! Be living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. How has that been going for you? I know it doesn’t go so well for me. I often try to squish myself into someone else’s mold. I see what all my friends are up to on Facebook and think, “I need to do that! I want to go there! I want to be like them!” For some it may be fashion—I need those shoes so my friends don’t think I’m a dork. I want to wear an earring or get a tattoo so I fit in with my classmates. It might be friendships and relationships—I’m going to do this with my boyfriend or girlfriend because it’s what everyone talks about in the locker room or because that’s the way it’s portrayed in the movies. Paul encourages, “Don’t conform!” and we do the opposite. We conform! We pound ourselves into the world’s play-dough mold.
How about the humility part of Paul’s encouragement? “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (Romans 12:3 NIV). Who is the most important person in our world? Who cares about yours—mine is the most important! I am going to do what it takes to be the best player on the team—forget about that whole “there’s no I in TEAM” thing. I want to be the best. I want the scholarships. I’ll do what’s best for me. That attitude shows up in the classroom, the place where we work, or as we hang around with our friends. We like to think about ourselves more highly than we ought! There is no one more important in the classroom, in the kitchen, in the workplace, in the gym, in this world than me!
If we really want to conform to the world’s idea of what we should be like, if we really want to put ourselves up on a pedestal, we put ourselves in a dangerous position. Jesus warned, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21,23 NIV). If Jesus looks at us and sees people who squished themselves into the world’s mold and put themselves first, he won’t recognize us anymore. The door to heaven will be closed and it will stay that way!
Do not conform. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. We haven’t done very well, have we? How can that change? We need to look back at what God has already done for us. Paul wrote, “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.” (Romans 12:1 NIV). We offer ourselves as living sacrifices “in view of God’s mercy.” Pull out your Bible binoculars with me for a moment. These things are pretty powerful. They can see back over the centuries-- even thousands of years. Dial them in on a little town in Judea called Bethlehem. Focus them in on year zero. What do you see? Do you see God’s mercy? It’s there. God felt the pain of our sin and sorrow so deeply that he had to do something about it. See the baby? That’s Jesus. He is God’s mercy in action! God sent Jesus to do something about our sin—the ways we conform to the world and put ourselves first.
Keep watching Jesus through those Bible binoculars. See how he didn’t conform to the world’s idea about a Savior? In fact, he broke the world’s mold. He didn’t start a rebellion. He didn’t put himself on an earthly throne. He put on his robe and a pair of sandals. He walked from place to place telling people all about the kingdom of God. Jesus healed the sick and even raised the dead. No one in this world had ever done those things before. He broke the mold!
Slide those binoculars over a bit, around 33 AD. Can you see the skull-shaped hill outside Jerusalem? Jesus is there. He hangs on a cross. Jesus didn’t think of himself more highly than he ought. In fact, he put us first. Everything he did, he did for us. He was even willing to die for us. See him suffer for us? Hear him cry out for us? See him die for us? Has anyone else loved us that much? Loved us enough to die for us and to take away everything we ever did wrong? No one has been that humble—no one except Jesus!
In view of that mercy, we can offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We don’t conform. God does something miraculous in our lives. It’s the word that stands in stark contrast with “conform.” Paul said, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NIV). God transforms us, changes us. It’s not like cramming playdough into a mold. It’s what happens to a butterfly—it’s a metamorphosis, a transformation from one thing to something brand new. A caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly. We can’t see it happen—it’s a miracle! The same thing happened to us. Do you know when our transformation took place? It happened when our minds were renewed “through the washing of renewal and rebirth by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NIV). The day we were baptized, God took these conformed lives, these selfish hearts, and changed them. We are transformed. We can offer ourselves as living sacrifices. We can worship God and follow his Word and his will. We can, because he has changed us!
No matter how good or bad the past week, or month, or year, or life has been, we come before our God this morning to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. What does that look like? Salem staff—our teachers new and not so new—God has given you faith to see your classrooms and yourselves “in view of God’s mercy.” He has endowed you with specific gifts and abilities. “If your gift is ... teaching, then teach” (Romans 12:7 NIV). That is your gift. Offer it as a living sacrifice to your Lord. Use it with your students in the classroom. Use that gift with the parents and help them to see the value of what our students learn every day. Hone and strengthen the gift God has given you. Teach, not because you have to, not because you feel obligated to, but because you want to be a living sacrifice for your living Lord! What if you’re not a teacher? What are you? Student? Mom? Security worker? Waitress? Engineer? DOT worker? Whatever you do, you are a living sacrifice to the God who loves you with an everlasting love. Whatever you do every day is your act of worship and praise to him. So sacrifice. Sacrifice as you wash the dishes or do your homework. Sacrifice when you sit at your desk and type on the computer keyboard. Sacrifice when you step out on the field to compete. Sometimes sacrifice will be fun because we are doing what we love to praise our Savior. Sometimes sacrifice will be painful, because it includes giving up something we really want or love that isn’t part of God’s plan for us. Whether our living sacrifice is easy or difficult, don’t conform to the world’s play-dough mold. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought. Sacrifice, and give every bit of the glory to your Savior! Amen.