Preaching Date: May 16, 2004
Key Sentence: Worship is consciously offering yourself to God through the renewing of your mind.
I. Consciously offering yourself to God.
II. The renewing of your mind.
Selecting an introduction to this message has turned out to be a lot like what happens when my wife and I drive places. Well be traveling in some distant spot in the state or the country and Ill see a house perched over there on a hill or a ridge. Ill say to Gail, Hey thats a nice house, which actually in husband/wife shorthand is nice and shell say Its too close to the highway. Now I realize that in Gails value system being close to a highway or major road is a killer for a house. But all the houses I see are too close to the highway because if they werent I couldnt see them. Im sure there are many nice houses that also have the advantage of being far from any major road, but I cant see those to comment on them.
In the same way, there are many heros of the Christian faith I dont know anything about because theyve received no notice even from their fellow Christians. And that may make them greater heros because in addition to their other virtues, they are humble and not self seeking. But for the most part I cant see them from here. The stories of great Christians I can tell are always about those who have received some kind of recognition, which may reflect badly on their humility. Nonetheless, I want to open with a story about a man who seems to have given himself fully to God as he allowed his mind to be transformed, though he also shared that transformation quite publicly. His name was Henri Nouwen. Philip Yancey eulogized him in Christianity Today shortly after his death in 1996, and Ill let Yanceys words tell the story.
Trained in Holland as a psychologist and Catholic theologian, Nouwen spent his early years achieving. He taught at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, averaged more than a book a year, and traveled widely as a conference speaker. He had a résumé to die for, which was the problem, exactly. The pressing schedule and relentless competition were suffocating his own spiritual life. Nouwen went to South America for six months, scouting a new role for himself as a missionary in the Third World. A hectic speaking schedule on his return to the United States only made things worse. Finally, Nouwen fell into the arms of the L'Arche community in France, a home for the seriously disabled. He felt so nourished by them that he agreed to become priest in residence at a similar home in Toronto called Daybreak. There, Nouwen spent his last ten years, still writing and traveling to speak from time to time, but always returning to the haven of Daybreak.
Yancey says I once visited Nouwen, sharing lunch with him in his small room. It had a single bed, one bookshelf, and a few pieces of Shaker_style furniture. The walls were unadorned except for a print of a Van Gogh painting and a few religious symbols. No fax machine, no computer, no Daytimer calendar posted on the wall In this room, at least, Nouwen had found serenity.
After lunch we celebrated a special Eucharist for Adam, the young man Nouwen looked after. With solemnity, but also a twinkle in his eye, Nouwen led the liturgy in honor of Adam's twenty_sixth birthday. Unable to talk, walk, or dress himself, profoundly retarded, Adam gave no sign of comprehension. He seemed to recognize, at least, that his family had come. He drooled throughout the ceremony and grunted loudly a few times. Later Nouwen told me it took him nearly two hours to prepare Adam each day. Bathing and shaving him, brushing his teeth, combing his hair, guiding his hand as he tried to eat breakfast _ these simple, repetitive acts had become for him almost like hours of meditation.
"I am not giving up anything," he insisted. "It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship." It had been difficult for him at first, he said. Physical touch, affection, and the messiness of caring for an uncoordinated person did not come easily. But he had learned to love Adam, truly to love him. In the process he had learned what it must be like for God to love us - spiritually uncoordinated, retarded, able to respond with what must seem to God like inarticulate grunts and groans.
In his book about Adam he wrote And while I, the so_called "normal" person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no ability or need to make any comparisons. He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness but given for my transformation. While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that "being is more important than doing." Indeed, Yancey says, working with Adam had taught him the humility and "emptiness" achieved by desert monks only after much discipline. Nouwen has said that all his life two voices competed inside him. One encouraged him to succeed and achieve, while the other called him simply to rest in the comfort that he was "the beloved" of God.
Yancey concludes I will miss Henri Nouwen. For some, his legacy consists of his many books, for others his role as a bridge between Catholics and Protestants, for others his distinguished career at Ivy League universities. For me, though, a single image captures him best: the energetic priest, hair in disarray, using his restless hands as if to fashion a homily out of thin air, celebrating an eloquent birthday Eucharist for an unresponsive child_man so damaged that many parents would have had him aborted. A better symbol of the Incarnation, I can hardly imagine.
So what does all this have to do with worship, or with its candidacy as the most important ministry in the church? It has everything to do with it. You see if worship was just a Sunday morning activity, there wouldnt be any way it could compete for most important ministry. Worship would be, and often is, just a sideshow to the other activities of persons life. But Henri Nouwen, and many others, and especially Paul the Apostle have shown us another, other, more significant way to view worship, as the conscious offering of yourself to God through the renewing of your mind.
This morning were looking at two very familiar verses in Romans 12, and in them well see that worship is consciously offering yourself to God through the renewing of your mind. Only as we begin to worship daily and hourly and minute-by-minute through giving ourselves up to God, and serving him, do we begin to realize the true meaning of worship. And this selflessness will only come as we allow our minds to be renewed and transformed from worldly to godly desires and priorities.
I. Consciously offering yourself to God.
Let me read the text, and well focus on verse one where we consciously offer ourselves to God as an act of worship. Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer 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.
Romans 12 is the turning point in Romans from teaching to application. Paul spent the first 11 chapters giving a thorough explanation of the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. He taught how the death of Jesus Christ paid the price of our sins, and how we receive forgiveness and new life by grace. He went on to explain how this marvelous grace trumps our failure at law-keeping, and showed that God still has a plan for those of Jewish origin, though the Gospel invitation was now being given to the Gentiles. Having taught all this, however, Paul isnt content. He wants these truths to make a huge difference in the lives of his readers - in our lives. So in verse one he does one of his greatest therefores. Therefore, brothers, in view of Gods mercy. Notice first that he calls us brothers - the word could easily be translated brothers and sisters. Hes writing to those who have heard the Good News of Gods grace and responded in faith.
But even more important is the fact that he grounds all his calls for changed behavior over the next five chapters, in Gods mercies. By using a plural word he reminds us that Gods care for us is not a one time thing or a single faceted thing, but is a compound of his grace, his compassion, his help, his forgiveness, his provision, his presence, and so much more. If you put your eye up to that word mercies, and peer through it like a keyhole, you will see everything that Paul has already said in this letter. The gospel is Gods mercy to inexcusable and undeserving sinners. It is mercy that sent the Son to die, mercy that offers to justify freely by faith, mercy that gives the Holy Spirit, mercy that makes us his children. As Paul says in chapter 9 It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. The gospel is the Good News of our rescue by grace alone.
It is then, in view of this mercy that Paul will begin telling his readers how to live as Christians. He knows, not least from his own experience, that there is no greater incentive to holy living than a contemplation of the mercies of God.
Thomas Erskine, an 18th century theologian, said very concisely In the New Testament religion is grace and ethics is gratitude What we receive we receive by grace and what we do we do out of gratitude. These two are so closely related that one Greek word, charis, encompasses both of them. You can only tell grace from gratitude in the New Testament by the context. The point is every offering we make, from the checks in the basket on Sunday morning to our very selves, should be motivated not by works, not by trying to satisfy God, not even by duty, but by gratitude for what He has done. And the most natural expression of gratitude is worship, in the small sense of the praises we offer, and in the larger sense of the selves that we offer.
In view of these mercies, then, you are tooffer or present your bodies as living sacrifices,. This is the heart of the thing, the heart of sold-out Christianity. I see myself, I understand myself as having been offered to God. Paul is explicitly using sacrificial language as he calls for this self sacrifice. The first word, offer, is a Greek word that is usually used of offering a sacrifice. The New International translates it offer six or seven times, the New American Standard uses present but both reflect the idea of bringing something to God and giving it to him. And what are we to offer? Our bodies. Paul wants us to offer our whole selves, but he chooses the word body rather than heart or soul or spirit because it fits the image of a sacrifice, and because it is offering ourselves at the most basic level of physical existence. Im not just making a mental or spiritual agreement to call Christ Lord; Im offering him my body to do with what he wants, so that I will treat myself, and my body as his, and as dead. When Jesus said that we should deny ourselves and take up the cross daily and follow him, he was saying the same thing, because a cross means death, and a sacrifice means death.
This is what Paul means when he goes on to say that we should offer our body as a living sacrifice. Yea, its still alive, but it has been offered to him and it is now his to use, and we are to treat ourselves as dead to our own desires and needs. Commentators have pointed out that this sacrifice is not like the sin offering of the Old Testament, but more like the Old Testament free-will offering or thank offering. Its something we do freely out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. This is at the heart of so much of what Paul teaches: 1 Cor. 6:19_20 You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. Colossians 3:3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Romans 6:6_7 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin__ 7because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. And of course Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
We must understand that the death we experience when we come to Christ is a very real one. It is a death to self. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." If we are not willing to give God our all, were not willing to truly follow Him. And when we give Him our all, we make ourselves a sacrifice. That radical, sold out attitude that continually says not me, but Christ is what Paul is calling for from each one of us. Its a radical self-forgetfulness. Its a radical self sacrifice. Though as David Emerson often says, the problem with living sacrifices is they keep crawling off the altar. There is a story told about a pig and a chicken walking down the road together. As they walked along they read a sign advertising a breakfast to benefit the poor. The chicken said to the pig, "You and I should donate a ham and egg breakfast." The pig replied, "Not so fast, for you it would just be a contribution but for me it would be a total commitment."
Its this total commitment, according to our text that is holy and pleasing to God. The offering of our selves is holy, because Jesus has made us holy in the sight of God. He has justified us, redeemed us and cleansed us so that in the sight of God we are set apart from sin, and like the sacrificial lambs that had to be unblemished and pure, so are we when we offer ourselves to God having believed in Jesus. Not only are we holy, but we are pleasing. Just as the aroma of the Old Testament burnt offerings was pleasing to God, so our offering of ourselves brings him pleasure. If youve watched the Lord of the Rings you may recall that even crazy old Denethor was pleased when Pippin offered himself in service, though the service of a hobbit in war time was bound to be small. With much greater compassion, God our Father is pleased when we offer ourselves, though by his standards our service is small.
Such an offering, Paul says, is our spiritual, or reasonable, act of worship. The word for spiritual or reasonable is logikos, from which we get our word logical. This kind of worship, Paul is saying, the offering of ourselves, is the only logical thing to do in view of what God has done for us. Its a rational choice not just to give him our praise and to declare his glory, but to give him ourselves and display his glory. Youre probably all familiar with the story of Jim Elliot, one of five missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador in 1956. Some said that their death was a tragic waste, but Elliot himself had shown the logic that goes along with offering your life to Gods service. In his journal he had written He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot earn. He made his life a sacrifice, but it wasnt an emotional decision: it was a rational weighing of the alternatives and finding that risk for Jesus was the safer route.
But what does this look like in mundane daily life? I think it means preferring activities that satisfy Gods desires rather than activities that satisfy me. Even more it means having attitudes that imitate Jesus instead of satisfying me: peace and compassion instead of anger and frustration, joy instead of fear, hope instead of despair. It means asking not so much What would Jesus do? as What would Jesus feel?
II. The renewing of your mind.
So this worship is consciously offering yourself to God. But verse 2 is as important as verse 1 because it shows how a transformed life depends on transformed thinking. Paul starts this verse with a contrast. He says Dont be conformed to this world, which is in contrast to offering ourselves, and in contrast to being transformed. J.B. Philips says dont let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold The world has a mold and conformity to it is so subtle, so unconscious, that we sometimes don't even realize that we are conforming. Does our culture find divorce or homosexual marriage acceptable? Then Christians increasingly find these things acceptable. Does our culture make an idol of self _ esteem? Then Christians increasingly seek self_esteem. Does our culture prefer entertainment to intellect? Then Christians increasingly pursue entertainment.
We need to question our unconscious conformity to the patterns of our culture. We need to ask ourselves: am I taking my values from the world or the Word? Am I living my life to satisfy needs the culture tells me I have, for stuff or for security or for success? Or am I living in radical dependence on God, who has already met my deepest needs in Jesus? Now Im not saying that we abandon the culture entirely, and avoid all interaction with it, as some have tried. But our interaction needs to be thoughtful, even critical. Elizabeth Elliot said it well: What the world agrees on, a Christian should examine very closely.
The alternative to letting the world dictate our thinking is to be transformed by the renewal of your minds. Notice the little word be in that command. Pauls intent here is not that we transform ourselves, it is that we allow the Holy Spirit to do that work, which is his work in us. And the tense of the verb also shows us that is an ongoing process - continue to be transformed in the present moment. The word transformed itself is metamorpheo - metamorphosis _ just like the caterpillar into the butterfly. The word is only used five times in the New Testament. Three of those depict what happened when Jesus went up the mountain. He was transformed, transfigured, metamorphosized, so that he displayed openly the glory that was his. The fifth usage of the word is in 2 Corinthians, where Paul says: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed _ metamorphasized _ into his likeness. We are to be transformed into His image. So what do you want? Conformity to the sick standards of a sinful and dying world. Or transformation into the glorious likeness of the risen Christ. It should be an easy question.
But how do you embark on this process? By the remaking of your mind. Paul is calling for right thinking _ Biblical thinking, about the world, and about God, and about yourself, and about your behavior, and about your attitudes. He wants our minds to be remade by the Spirit and by the Word. so that we no longer give in to the pressure of the world's standards, but we delight in the will of God. He says: be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
This will only happen as we immerse our selves in Scripture, and get to know the God we find there, and increasingly buy in to his standards of right and wrong, good and evil, beautiful and ugly. This transformation is exactly what Paul prayed for in Philippians, in the text I used for Jesse and Leahs wedding yesterday: This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God. That the picture of a renewed and transformed mind that offers itself as a sacrifice so that God might be glorified.
Then, Paul concludes, you will be able to test and approve what God's will is his good, pleasing and perfect will. Paul had previously said, in Romans 8, that the mind of sinful man is hostile to God. It doesnt submit to God's law, nor can it do so. The unregenerate mind disapproves of God's will. But the renewed mind tests or discerns or approves what his will is. The verb is dokimazo, and the root meaning has to do with testing metals. In that age, as in every age, there had to be a way to prove the quality of the gold or silver someone gave you in payment. So you would test it, and approve it _ you would dokimazo it. In the same way, the transformed mind tests _ tries out and finds acceptable the will of God. When we try doing God's will, we find it to be what it claims to be good and pleasing and perfect. This doesnt mean Gods will is always pleasing to us, or that we find every event of our lives to be perfect. What it means is that Gods plan, his will for mankind is designed for our good and for his glory. As our minds are transformed we more and more see the perfection of this plan, and the glory of our redemption and so we can more and more offer ourselves, in gratitude, as an act of worship.
The two verses together describe a wonderful cycle that takes place in a growing Christian. First we allow our minds to be transformed and renewed more and more to Gods way of thinking. We do that through the Word, through reading, studying, hearing, meditating, memorizing. And we do it through the power of the Holy Spirit, who is at work in us, sanctifying us. Then, this renewed mind, now more holy and pleasing to God, moves us to offer ourselves in an even deeper way for his service. And that deeper commitment results in greater worship and further growth in the renewal of our minds. Its a continual thing, not just one time, and it is to characterizes all of us daily, not just on Sunday, not just once in a while, and not just some of us. If you are a believer here today, then today is the day you need to offer yourself in a sold out, radical wholehearted way to Jesus. Because of the depth of your gratitude, this is your only reasonable course, and it is worship. And if you do that, then you need to go out this week, and allow the input to your mind not to be that which conforms you to this world, but that which renews your attitudes in in his image - input from the word and the Spirit and prayer. And that in turn will lead to greater self sacrifice and greater worship in an upward spiral that glorifies the Savior.