Total Commitment in a Low Commitment Culture | Romans 12:1-2

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I’d like to welcome you to Raintree Community Church.  For those of you here for the first time or if you have been here for only a short time, my name is Jeff Fitzgerald and I’m one of the Elders here at Raintree.  For those of you who do know me, I know what you’re thinking….Please… let the 3rd time be a charm.  I have to agree…at some point I have to get one of these right, don’t I?  While I was coming up with what to speak on today, I was thinking about something we discuss just about every time in our Raintree 101 class.  That is, we live in a very low commitment society.

And with that thought in mind, it reminds me of a story:
There was a young man who won tickets to the latest Super Bowl, and he was understandably excited.  However, his excitement lessened when he arrived at the game and realized his seat was in the back of the stadium and all the way up at the top.  As the game started, this young man looked through his binoculars and saw an open seat right next to the field, so he raced down the stairs and approached the man sitting next to the empty seat and asked if it was taken.  The man replied, “No.”

The young man, was so surprised, he asked the other man, “How could someone pass up a seat like this?”  The older gentleman responded, “That’s my wife’s seat.  We’ve been to every Super Bowl together since the day we were married but she has passed away.”  The young man looked at the older gentleman and said, “Oh, man, I’m sorry to hear that.  But, couldn’t you find a friend or a relative to come with you and at least use the seat?”

“No,” the older gentleman sadly said, “I wish, but they’re all at the funeral.”

I know, it kinda brings a tear to your eye, hearing about such commitment.

I’ve heard there are somewhere between 150 and 160 million people in America claiming to be Christians.  Some of you I have talked to about this, and maybe the rest of you have wondered as I have, if it’s true that there are that many Christians, why isn’t the Church making society better or at least with better morals?

In a lot of churches, on most Sundays, only 50% of its members attend regularly, why?  I believe it’s because we do live in a low commitment society, or there’s just a general lack of commitment altogether.

Today, we’re going to be discussing Romans chapter 12, specifically verses 1 & 2.While you’re turning in your bibles to Romans Chapter 12, I’ll give you a little bit about the book of Romans.  For those of you without a Bible, you can look in front of you or around you for one of the blue Bibles and turn it to page 82.

Packer said this about Romans, he said, “All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen most clearly from Romans, and when the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart there is no telling what may happen.”

Now Romans was written by the Apostle Paul while he was in Corinth somewhere between 57 and 60A.D.  The letter was written to the believers in Rome, hence the name “Romans.”  His purpose was to give them a concrete theological foundation for their faith and how to follow through and serve God effectively.
To break down the book of Romans, you would find this:

  • In chapters 1-8, Paul’s explaining the fundamentals and foundations of the Christian faith.  Paul teaches us about the sinful nature of all people in the eyes of God, justification by faith in Jesus Christ, freedom from sin, and victory in Christ.
  • Chapters 9-11, Paul explains God’s sovereignty over salvation.  In short, Place your faith and trust in what Jesus has already done on the cross, make Him the Master of your life and trust that He raised Himself from the grave conquering death.  And His promise to you is… “You will be saved.”
  • And finally, in Chapters 12-16, Paul is giving instructions for all Christians about how to live a holy lifestyle. This is the area we’ll be focusing on this morning.

 

So, reading from the NIV, Romans chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 says:

 1Therefore, 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.

 

So, Paul gets right to the point in verse one, where he is urging or you could say he’s challenging the Roman church, which is in fact challenging all of us, to move toward total commitment in our walk with Christ.

If you think about it, how often do we, you know, Christians as a whole, how often do we believe, that sure: Pastors and Missionaries, They should be 100% committed.  But for you and me, you know, the ordinary church members or attenders, something less is not only OK, but it’s somehow acceptable. The problem with a lot of Christians… is that they’re, at best, barely taking part or at worse they’re just sitting on the sidelines watching.

We can’t act like we do at a football game and just sit here and watch. I’ve heard a football game described one time, as twenty-two men on the field badly in need of rest… being watched by seventy-two thousand people in the stands badly in need of exercise. Now, it’s ok to treat football as a spectator sport, but, Christianity shouldn’t be treated that way.

When I’m doing studies or preparing a message, I like to use multiple translations of the Bible. It helps me to see the differences in word usage.  And here in The New King James Version, it begins our verses by saying: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

If what I found is right, there’s somewhere around 20 times Paul says “I beseech you”, or more accurately “I plead with you”, or, I’m “Begging” you.  And if you really think about it, that’s all that Pastor Ryan or any Pastor of any church, or the elders, or in this case, Paul can do, and that’s to beseech or beg each of us.  Primarily because they can’t force us.

As most of you know, I’ve been a State Trooper for going on 22 years.  Now I have at MY disposal, handcuffs and the law behind me to get people to do what must be done, or at least to stop behavior in certain instances.  But all that Pastor Ryan can do to get people to have a true commitment for the Lord, is to give you the Word of God and to beg, or plead, or in this case, “beseech” people to obey it.

Our verse begins with the word “therefore” – and if what I found is correct, it is, you know, depending on your translation, it’s either the 3rd or 4th, but either way, it’s the final “therefore” in the book of Romans.

The others are: 3:20 which is the therefore of condemnation, 5:1 is the therefore of justification and 8:1 is the therefore of assurance.  But here at 12:1, this therefore is one of dedication or commitment.

The first message I ever gave was here a couple of years ago, and it was also on Romans.  And in that message, I explained what it meant when certain words are used to begin a passage.  Romans 8:28 begins with the word “AND”.  When a passage starts with the word “AND”, what it means is, that it’s a connection.  It’s a connection between what he has been saying and what he’s about to say.  However, “AND” was not used here.

Neither was the word “BUT”, which is intended to be used as a contrast to what had just been written. But what we CAN assume is, when the word “THEREFORE” is used, is that it’s a conclusion.

Whenever a verse begins with “therefore” we know that it’s connected to what was said earlier, or in this case written and, as I’ve heard countless times from other Pastors and speakers, we need to see what it’s “there for.”

Now even though “Therefore” refers to what preceded it, it seems to point to the next part of our verse, which is “by the mercies of God”.  And here, it seems in this case, Paul is giving us the motivation that we should use for his challenge to us in verses one and two. “Therefore” we should probably take a look back at chapter 11, and verses 33-35 to see what he was saying prior to these verses.

But first, one of the commentaries I found, I think it was Warren Wiersby’s, and it said that “Mercy” is mentioned by Paul 9 times in chapters 1-11, 4 times in chapter 11 alone (verses 30, 31, 32). Now, he ends chapter 11, and he’s basically amazed by God’s mercy, as we all should be.  And now, he’s using God’s mercy as his basis for the commitment to Christ that he is again, in essence, begging us for.

 

  1. The mercy of God is the basis for the challenge of total commitment. 

So, looking back; Chapter 11, verse 33-35 says:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

To put it even more simply, What is our motivation here for our total commitment to Christ?   Paul is saying it’s in everything Christ has already done for us.

And what else is Paul saying?  Well according to John Macarthur, Paul is saying, “Look, you who have received all of these marvelous things, you to whom God has given them, and they are mercies.”  And what does mercy mean?  That we don’t what?  We don’t deserve any of them.

To take a line from Ryan, I love this next part from Macarthur He says:

But we have been given: love and grace and the Holy Spirit and peace and faith and comfort and power and hope and patience and kindness and glory and honor and righteousness and forgiveness and reconciliation and justification and security and eternal life and freedom and resurrection and sonship and intercession, and more.”

If we go back, listen again to how Paul begins verse one, by saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

So, after reading or hearing this several times now, has anyone else noticed that Paul is not issuing an order here? Paul’s not saying, “You WILL do this, or I order you to do this.” Instead, he’s saying “I beseech you or I’m begging you.” Oh, he could have said, “You better give everything to God, or else!”  Paul could have used judgment as our motivation to be totally committed to our Lord… or even guilt, but he didn’t.  He used gratitude as our motivation.

Again, I found that John Macarthur says this, “It is almost simply consequential for a believer who has received the infinite, unending, and eternal mercies of God to, as an act of instant response, almost a reflex, give himself as a living sacrifice to the God who gave him so much.  To hold back…To hold back at all is an incredible act of injustice and ingratitude, demonstrating a woeful lack of thanks to a gracious, merciful God.”

Look at it this way, we don’t serve Christ “for the possibility to be saved” but because we are saved. So Paul gave us our motivation, then he goes on to speak about the substance of what our service to God should be, or what it should look like.

 

2. Becoming a living sacrifice means a one-time, total surrender of your life to God. 

Our service should be an Act of Commitment.  Where it says for you to present your bodies. This means you’re presenting yourself as a permanent offering to God. When Paul says we should offer or present our bodies as a living sacrifice, it’s for us to picture in our mind what this commitment should look like, and it’s easier to picture when Paul uses the word sacrifice. When he says we should “present” or “offer” ourselves, I think he used it for us to visualize or to picture, you know, I guess for lack of a better word, a ritual or to picture an animal sacrifice.

And since he used such a strong word like sacrifice, I’m pretty sure it was for a reason.  Since you could only offer the animal sacrifice once, I think that it’s meant for us to do this once as well, and it should be for all time. When an animal was sacrificed, its sacrifice wasn’t temporary, was it?  However, Paul uses the term “living sacrifice” here.  So there had to be a reason.  So how is this “Living” Sacrifice different?  Well, I guess, taking it literally, a living sacrifice would be a sacrifice… which lives, or it continues to live.  The animal sacrifice would have been killed and burned up completely, basically leaving nothing, but maybe ash.  It was a one-time deal.

We need to remember who Paul was speaking to when he wrote this letter.  The people of the first century, when this was written, (The Jews, gentiles, pagans), they all knew first-hand about sacrifices.  So, when Paul begged them to make themselves a living sacrifice, it was probably a very powerful statement to them.  And it probably should be to us as well.

But why a “living” sacrifice?  I guess the sacrifice could be considered living because it’s brought to the altar alive, and it’s also living because it remains alive and it’s ongoing. Paul seems to be saying, your living sacrifice is better in some ways, because it’s something that never dies and is never burned up, and it’s always offered.

Our “living” sacrifice is basically… us humbly surrendering ourselves to God.  And it’s not just us accepting His will, but we should probably also seek out His will.  And if we’re doing that, we’ll obviously have to give up our own will, because, we all know…When we’re all about us, we can’t be all about Him.  Of course, if you still need an example to follow, we always have our Lord Jesus Christ as the perfect example of a living sacrifice. So, think of it this way:  We must give ourselves to Christ, in order for Him to continue God’s work in and through us.

When I was thinking about this commitment being a onetime total surrender of our lives, I got to thinking, what about people who re-dedicate their life to the Lord. It happens, and we should celebrate it.  But, what about a person who feels like they have to do it over and over and over again?  Someone who keeps falling away from the Lord?  Now don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with re-dedicating our lives and we absolutely should celebrate when we acknowledge that we want God to resume control of our lives after we’ve lost our way.  But we should look to see if something is wrong if someone feels the need to continually rededicate their lives to the Lord, because, once again, according to this verse, it seems like it’s intended to be a one-time, total surrender of your life to God.

Remember, there are no partial sacrifices.  It either is…or it isn’t. Which reminds me of a story.  There was a chicken and a pig walking past a church one day, and they noticed posted on the outside bulletin board, “Helping the Poor.”  This is a true story by the way. So they walked away when the chicken suddenly suggested, “Brother pig, why don’t we give all those poor people a nice breakfast of ham and eggs?” The pig thought a moment and said, “Hey, that’s all right for you to say because for you it is only a contribution, but for me, it’s total commitment!”

Again, in verse 1, where it says to “… present your bodies” or some versions say “…you offer your bodies.” If we just look at the words Paul is saying, what can we take away from it? I think there’s 2 things: I think the first thing that stands out to me is, taking it literally, He’s saying that it’s up to you to offer yourselves as a sacrifice to God.  No one’s going to do it for you, and since you are presenting or offering yourself, it must be voluntary, it’s not going to be forced on you.

The 2nd thing to take away from this is: Even though he’s saying you or your, he’s not speaking to a specific person in his letter.  What he means is, all of you, present yourselves to God.” The “YOU” here that Paul is using, even though it looks singular, it’s actually plural. Meaning that he’s speaking to all of us. So, according to Paul, what exactly does God want from me? Well…What God wants from me… is apparently ME!

Yeah, but what about people who give God their money.  I tithe regularly, isn’t that good enough?  Problem is, He isn’t asking for that. Well, what about my time? I volunteer an awful lot.  I teach the kids, I help on work days, I’m even up here stumbling through a sermon.  God doesn’t want your time. God doesn’t even want your talents. He wants you.With that being said, don’t think you’re off the hook, we need to remember, and don’t miss this part… If you give yourself totally to Him, all of those things, your time, your money, your talents, they all come along with it to give to God as well.

Last summer, Kim and I were on vacation at Myrtle Beach, and we attended a church service on the Sunday we were there.  The church was a recent plant with a relatively small congregation.  The pastor was speaking, and I don’t believe it was necessarily about his own congregation, but the discussion was about a problem in churches in general, where some of the people are coming to church, trying to get something, rather than to give something.

Have you ever heard people saying things like; “Well, I didn’t get anything out of that sermon”, if not, you’ll all probably hear it today.  Or how about, “The music was too much this, or not enough that?” You know, whether we realize it or not, when things like these are said, it just seems like there’s a misunderstanding of the whole point of coming to a worship service.

What Paul is saying in verse one is, and I think this is important: Paul is telling us, the key to spiritual victory is not getting all that you can get, but giving all that you have. There’s a big difference and we need to recognize it. Paul just wrote 11 chapters to the Romans showing us what God has done for every believer.  And after writing these 11 chapters, does anybody really think that Paul is now saying, “Now here’s what else you get”?  No, he’s saying, “Now here’s what you need to give.”  Again, it’s not about getting something more, but here, it’s about giving or offering all that we have.

So, the first part of our verse talked about what our service should look like.  The next part has to do with the type of service.  Some versions or translations say something like “This is your true and proper service”, or “Which is your spiritual worship” or “… which is your reasonable service.” What I found was, the word we get “reasonable” from, which I am not even going to try and pronounce, but it looks similar to and is the word we get “logic” or “logical” from. So, simply put, Paul is saying Total commitment is only logical, especially once we realize who God is!

In verse two we’re also told, “And do not be conformed to this world…” The word from which we get “conformed”, again I’m not going to embarrass myself and butcher the Greek, but it refers to what something or someone looks like to someone else.  So, Paul is saying that we are to be in the world, but don’t conform to it.  More accurately, don’t allow yourself to look like someone who is of the world, especially since, now, being a believer, you’re not the same person as you used to be.

Some of us might react to this by saying, “Well, I just won’t be a part of the world then.” But, realistically, we have to realize that it’s hard, if not impossible for anyone to actually follow through with that. Paul is warning us, he’s saying that the world is going to be hostile or against God and it’s going to try to change us to be more like it.

I’ve heard it said before that, we, the church, are to be in the world like a ship is in the ocean.  We’re to be in the world, but not necessarily a full-fledged part of it. But the problem is, it appears today the church, as a whole, and sticking to the ship analogy, has a problem the world leaking into it.  And it’s happening so rapidly, it’s in danger of being sunk. The church, which I think we would all agree, should be influencing the world, but now, it seems in a lot of instances that it’s actually being influenced by the world.

There was a boy who wanted his bird to learn to sing beautiful songs, so he put his sparrow in the same cage as a canary. But, when he later came back, he said, “Hey, my sparrow doesn’t sound like a canary at all, but now the canary sounds like a sparrow!” Which one are you?  The sparrow or the canary? So, we need to be careful that while we’re being pounded by the world’s values, that we can keep it from changing us, while at the same time, being an example for the world.

There was a man named George Gallup, you’ve probably heard about the Gallup poll, well that’s who it was named after. So Gallup, who died in 1984, said at a national seminar, that polls have shown an increase in religion along with crime and immorality. Gallop called it a giant paradox that religion is showing clear signs of revival even as the country is experiencing a rising crime rate and other problems. Gallup said, “That there is very little difference in the ethical behavior between churchgoers and those who are not actively religious. It was found that the levels of lying, cheating, and stealing are all remarkably the same in both groups.”

So, we have to ask ourselves what does it say of American Christianity to have religion up and morality down at the same time? The next part of our verses is: from the NASB, “… but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

 

3. Total commitment means being totally transformed. 

The word we get “transformed” from in this verse, is where we get the word metamorphosis. Try and remember science class, and the process of metamorphosis. Picture the process where a caterpillar is turned into a butterfly. The idea here is that you are completely changed, there’s a total transformation inside and out.  If you’ve been totally transformed, it would be the opposite of being conformed to the world.  You can either conform to the world, or you can be transformed.  According to these verses, this transformation happens in the mind of the believer.  Meaning, we must think differently. I believe there’s three important things to think about when Paul says to “be transformed.”

1st, this means that it’s something that’s always going on.  Earlier I said the act of “Presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice”, well, we are supposed to do that once, for all time.  But here, this “being transformed” is not overnight.  What Paul is describing here is a gradual process.  It wasn’t a caterpillar one day and a butterfly the next.

2ndly. Paul’s not saying that you’re on your own to do it either.  And since we’re not transforming ourselves, it appears we should be allowing the Holy Spirit to help transform us. We should allow ourselves to be changed, gradually. It’s the process we call sanctification. We know whether or not it’s happening, because, as time goes by, our life should, more and more resemble Christ and less of the world.

3rd. The way it’s written here when Paul says to BE transformed, Paul’s giving a command here.  He’s not begging or pleading with us this time.

The next part of the verse is:  “By the renewing of the mind.” We all know that when our minds are not with God, it’s nearly impossible to serve Him. I have no idea who said it, but I like the saying, “Let the mind of the Master be the Master of your mind.”  We just have to make a choice, who that’s going to be. We need to remember, we don’t have the answers for everything.  As a matter of fact, most of the time I don’t have very much of the information that’s even available.  Remember, we all have a sinful mind.

Let me ask you, how often do you not see God as infinitely more worthy of praise than we are, or that God is greater than the things we do, or achieve? When speaking of the renewing of your mind, John Piper had this to say:

“If you long to break loose from conformity to the world,

  • if you long to be transformed and new from the inside out,
  • if you long to be free from mere duty-driven Christianity and do what you love to do because what you love to do is what you ought to do,
  • if you long to offer up your body as a living sacrifice so that your whole life becomes a spiritual act of worship and displays the worth of Christ above the worth of the world,

Then give yourself with all your might to pursuing this—the renewal of your mind. Because the Bible says, this is the key to transformation. ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.'”

The next section is, the Will of God.

 

4. In order to know the will of God, we must submit to that will.

Verse 2 says: “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.” There was an old woman who went around from town to town selling different goods. When she came to an intersection, she would toss a stick in the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed.  One day, however, she kept tossing the stick up in the air several times in a row.  Someone came by and asked, “Why do you keep tossing the stick?” The woman said, “Because, it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to go right.” So she kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way that she wanted to go!

Now let me ask you, how often do we do that?  How many times do we throw our stick, because we know the way that we should be going, or which makes sense to us, or which we desire? You know, I won’t lie, quite often it’s hard to surrender to God’s will.  But, in order for us to even know the will of God we must first give in and surrender to it, no matter what it might be. Again, if you don’t give in to God, how can you expect to be in a place to even know His will?  We can’t give in to it half way or partially.

Think of it this way, let me ask you a question.  If a husband or wife is faithful to their spouse 85% of the time, is that faithful?  I mean, 85% is a solid B.  How about 90%? That’s an A-, surely that’s good enough. There’s no such thing as part time loyalty to Jesus Christ, and if it’s not good enough for our spouse, it’s certainly not good enough for our Savior.

So, now we understand and even believe Paul when he tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord; Meaning, every bit of us should be offered. Now try and follow me here:  What would you do if I were to ask you: “Will you make me a promise?”  Now I’d ask it this way hoping that you would promise me before you even knew what I wanted done, and then I’d hold you to that promise. But I’m pretty sure you would ask me, because you weren’t born yesterday, “What do you want?” In other words, you’d want to know what I was asking first, and rightfully so.  Because, there’s a good chance you may have just promised to paint my house, which it badly needs.

Our problem is, in a lot of cases it’s this way with many Christians. God is asking us, “Will you do My will?” But we’ll continually first ask Him, “You know, I’m not sure, it depends, what is it that you want, specifically?” Meaning, once we know what it is, then maybe, if it’s not too inconvenient, we’ll be ready to promise God to obey His will.

But, that’s the opposite of what Paul’s saying to us.  Paul says first, before the question is even asked of us, our voluntary surrender is required. Even though we don’t want to admit it, this actually makes it a matter of trust for us with God?  Do you really trust that His will is good? Prov 3:5 tells us: Trust in the LORD with what? all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. And does Prov 3:6 follow up and go on to say, In whatever ways you agree with God, submit to Him?  NO.  It says, In all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.

George W. Truett, was a pastor in Dallas, and the Seminary at Baylor University is apparently named after him.  Truett said, “To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge! And to do the will of God is the greatest achievement!” But how many of us are missing God’s guidance and opportunities?  It may be because we don’t pray for them. All too often we go through life just making decisions based on our own wisdom. We need to recognize that, just because we’re Christians, we don’t automatically have the wisdom to make all of the right choices; we need to continually pray for God’s wisdom if we want to receive His guidance.

Let’s try and sum up the aim of Romans 12: 1-2, which is that all of your life – everything you do with your body – should be worship.  It even says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The goal of these two verses is that we need to find the way of life–at work and at home and every place in between–that makes Christ look as valuable as He really is. That’s what worship is. Worship is, What we find ultimately worthy.  What would God say is the goal of all human life? That Christ would be made to look as valuable as he actually is.

Worship, is not just saying the right words.  Worship is expressing and displaying the worth of all that God is for us in Christ. So, if your life–which is everything that you do with your hands, your feet, your arms, your tongue, your eyes, your ears–when all of that becomes worship, it becomes a way of showing how much Christ’s worth is in your life. So that’s the point of these verses.

Remember…the key to spiritual victory is not getting all you can get, but giving all you have.

To conclude, when Paul says “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”.  What he’s saying is, we all know that when you are saved, you are new. You are a new creation. We know the reality of our new identity in Christ, and now, Paul’s telling us, “BECOME what you ARE.”

I thought Isaac Watts classic hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross” fit perfectly for our ending today:  And it goes like this:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Let’s bow our heads and pray.