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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Pilgrim Canadian Reformed Church
 London, Ontario
Title:Living Sacrifices
Text:Romans 12:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 66:1,6                                                                                
Ps 1:1,2,3
Reading – Romans 11:33 - 12:21
Ps 50:3,7,11
Sermon – Romans 12:1-2
Ps 118:1,7,8
Hy 77:1,2,3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


            Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, in times of great need the question quickly rings out, “What can you offer? What can you contribute?” For example, after a terrible natural disaster, the call is broadcast far and wide: “What can you offer to the relief effort? What can you give to help?” And often times, individuals and communities and nations generously answer the call by giving money, and sending food and water. In times of need, much is asked, and much is offered.

            Yet when all is well and prosperous, people would rather not give or offer, but keep and hoard. For this is our nature. We keep our money, our time, our rights, we keep ourselves in the centre. This is the truth – we cannot deny it. But even though it’s very natural for us to keep rather than to give, we’re actually called to make a great offering. This is an offering Christians must make not only when we have the time or the resources, and certainly not only when the situation is bleak. This is an offering God requires for our life long; from beginning to end; when we are in Grade 7, and when we are in the twilight of our years.

In Romans 12 the Lord doesn’t knock on our door, or put out a general request; and He doesn’t ask us, “What do you have to offer?” No, God commands us that we must offer, and offer it all. Like the authorities might commandeer the homes or vehicles of regular citizens when times are desperate, God graciously comes to us and orders, “Offer everything that you have; everything that you are; everything that you will be!”
These verses touch ALL of life, whether you’re a student or a labourer, a stay-at-home mom or a business owner, a junior or a senior. Being a “living sacrifice” must be the theme of our entire lives! Hear God’s Word from Rom 12:

“Offer your bodies as living sacrifices!”

1)     the reason for our sacrifice

2)     the character of our sacrifice

3)     the pattern of our sacrifice

4)     the practice of our sacrifice

            1) the reason for our sacrifice: As we just said, God doesn’t ask us “What do you have to offer?” and then waits to see what our voluntary response will be. Yet neither does God make this demand “out of the blue” or without reason. Our God is not a God of mystery, but one who tells his people what He requires, and also why. Indeed, our calling as Christians doesn’t come out of nowhere, but is rooted only in what God has first done for us. Two things in our text point us to the reason we must offer ourselves to God as sacrifices.

The first indication is the first word of the chapter, “therefore.” As you might’ve been taught, a good rule of studying Scripture is to always pause at the this important word “therefore,” and to ask the question, “What is the therefore there for?” The “therefore” looks backward to what has already been said; it is a logical connector of one idea or section to the next statement. Because chapter 12 has this vital word right at the head of it, everything that Paul says here is connected to, and flows out of, what he has said thus far in his letter.

            A second pointer to the reason for our sacrifice is a little phrase a few words later, “in view of.” This phrase too, recalls what has been said and draws a consequence from it. What’s in view, what’s not far off in the distance, the whole time we look at this text? Paul tells us: “in view of… God’s mercy.”

For Paul is here looking back on the things he’s written so far. You might know Romans is acclaimed more than any other Bible book for being a thorough explanation of the Christian faith. Because he is writing to a church he’d never (yet) visited, Paul now carefully teaches them in a letter many of the fundamental things God has revealed to his people.

            Paul is writing to a diverse group of believers at Rome. Some were of Gentile background, some of Jewish, but they all needed a Saviour, someone to reconcile them to God. At the beginning of his letter, Paul begins the “case for Christ” with describing (at length) the wickedness of all mankind – not just the Gentiles but also the Jews – ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Though each and every person deserves only condemnation and death as the wages for their sin, Paul explains that God has opened a way of salvation, by faith, through his Son. This righteousness gives life, and out of it comes the transformation of every believer. Through the Holy Spirit is granted freedom from the tyranny of sin, and through the Spirit is life lived as more than conquerors. However, not all believe and are saved, Paul must say, but only those whom God has chosen in Christ.

Still, what riches God has given to a people who once were complete beggars! That He’d choose us sinners, that He’d redeem us by the blood of his Son, that He’d make us holy and free and victorious by his Spirit – that He’d do any of this, and all this, Paul can only cry out, just before our text, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (11:33).

            You might know that our dear Catechism is structured in the same way as Romans. The Catechism explains the three-fold knowledge necessary to salvation: first, my sins and misery; second, my deliverance; third, my thankfulness to God for deliverance. And we can see this mirrors what Paul does in Romans: first, he explains the sin and guilt of mankind (chs 1-2); second, he shows the way of redemption by faith through Christ (chs 3-11); and third, beginning in chapter 12, he exhorts us to lives of gratitude for mercy bestowed! The “therefore” of 12:1 looks back to the first eleven chapters: First sin, then salvation, now service!

            And though it’s a good way to remember the structure of Romans by thinking of the three S’s, we shouldn’t separate the different parts too far from each other. For people sometimes dig a big trench between chs 1-11 of Romans, and chs 12-15: “First the hard (and boring) doctrines, then we get into the interesting, practical stuff.” But again, look at the beginning of ch 12, “Thereforein view of God’s mercy” The two sections of Romans are inseparably linked. If we read chapter 12, we must read the first eleven chapters. If we live as sacrifices, we need to know the reason for our sacrifice.    

And the one reason we have life today is because Christ has redeemed us from the grip of death, and has freed us from the stranglehold of Satan. Though we floundered in futile sin, and deserved only the horror of hell, God mercifully chose us before the creation of the world and said, “These will be purchased with the blood of my Son, and brought to perfection by my Spirit.” Grace: This is the one basis for our work. No other reason will do. We don’t do it out of thoughtless habit. nor as some sort of superstition, and not for the praise of men! Why are we serving God? Yes, because He demands it. And because our free and thankful response to his great mercy in Christ can only be to offer our bodies to him as living sacrifices.

            2) the character of our sacrifice: We can’t understand any of what Paul says in our text without knowing its background. The idea of sacrifice is found throughout the Scriptures, and especially in the Old Testament. A sacrifice in the Old Testament was to be pure. The things brought before the LORD (whether animals like goats and sheep or different crops like grain and oil) had to be without blemish and defect. They had to be the best that there was.

A sacrifice was also to be holy. That is, it was separate to God and dedicated to his service. Once something was offered to God, it couldn’t be used for another purpose. Further, a sacrifice was given as an act of worship before God. God required sacrifices not simply for outward form, but as true worship – an act that involved a sincere person and dedicated heart.

            Reading what Paul writes in Romans 12, we can see he’s thinking of our sacrifice in a very similar way as all those sacrifices in the Old Testament. For when we offer ourselves, we must be holy, says Paul. In our lives, we must show we’re separate by all our actions, words and gestures. Holiness isn’t being different for the sake of being different, but holiness means living with one purpose, set apart to God. So then, do your neighbors and co-workers and associates know that you are holy? Do they see holiness in your language, in your leisure activities, in your attitude toward and use of money? Are we set apart, or do we blend in with the crowd?

            As it was in the Old Testament, so it is today: a sacrifice must also be spiritual. We’ve said the Israelites weren’t supposed to go through the rituals of sacrifice without thinking, but rather, they had to do it with their spirit prepared and their heart involved. Likewise from us, God wants the heart, the spirit. Living a spiritual life means taking up the sword of the Spirit, testing the spirits, praying in Spirit on all occasions – being a spiritual offering to God.

             Paul says the character of our sacrifice is also one of worship: “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices… – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Again, this is nothing new. From his people God has always demanded worship. But Paul tells us that our worship of God can’t only be on Sundays in church, singing and praying and listening to the sermon, but worship is every day! All of life is to be worship, for all of life must be carried out to the honour and praise of our God! Let your daily conversations and activities be pleasing to God, as pleasing as songs and prayers uttered here in church! Let us worship as families at home – reading and singing and praying together. And let every day of the work week be a day of preparation for when you can gather with God’s people again!

            The sacrifice we’re called to make is similar, but also different in some important ways from how they were made in the Old Testament.

For Paul says, “Offer your bodies…” In the days of Israel, the people brought various things as offerings, and these were the objects laid on the altar and used by the priests. An Israelite never actually climbed up on the altar of burnt offering! But now Paul instructs us to offer our bodies to God. This isn’t our physical bodies that are to be sacrificed, like suicide bombers might do in their delusion. “Off your bodies as living sacrifices.” Paul means ALL of what we are, our body as the means or the organ of all our activities: the thoughts in this mind, the words in this mouth, the actions done with these hands. Place your working and thinking and speaking body on the altar before God.

            The sacrifices that the Israelites brought were burned or used by the priests in their service. That means the sacrifices brought in the Old Testament only lasted so long, and then were gone, so much ash and smoke. But Paul says, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices…” We are not lain on the altar and killed – that would be “easy,” a one-time event: you can only give your life once.

No, we must give ourselves to God continually, always, a “living” sacrifice. We’re not allowed to take a break or slack off for a while, but are called to keep on offering ourselves, each and every day. So then, stay alive! Don’t let your service of God be suffocated for a while by temptation, or distracted occasionally by sinful habits. May God help us be consistent, living sacrifices, that we may follow the heavenly pattern.
            3) the pattern of our sacrifice: There are two basic blueprints available for our lives. It’s not much to pick from, but one is all we need. There are two patterns: the way of the world, and the way of God. Paul lays it out in an exhortation: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

            The world’s pattern needs no introduction, for we know it well. The world’s pattern is simple in its corruption: Lawlessness. The way the world wants us to live is to live without considering God’s Word and will. The world’s pattern is this: Follow no pattern at all; make your own rules; gratify any and all of your desires; look out for Number One.

            But Paul says elsewhere, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness” (Rom 6:13). A life offered on the altar of sin ends in nothing but fire and waste. So then, don’t offer the parts of your body to sin. Don’t let your hands serve idleness or rude gestures. Don’t offer your eyes to lust or jealousy or pride. Don’t sacrifice your feet to walk in places of iniquity, those places where drink flows freely, those places where God’s Name and God’s law are mocked. Don’t offer your mouth to gossip or bitterness, to serve slander, to labour for lies, to spend time making crass jokes.

            “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God… and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (Rom 6:13). Here’s a better pattern: Sacrifice your body in the service of God!

Use your hands to help fellow saints and neighbors. Use your eyes to take in the beauty of God’s creation. Offer your ears to listen to the sorrows of someone who needs, to enjoy music that resounds to the praise of God! Sacrifice your mouth to speak uplifting words to others, to sing praises to God with your heart and soul in church and at home!

            The pattern of the world needed no introduction, and we need no help in conforming to it. But the pattern of godliness, of holy sacrifice and spiritual worship, is harder to know and to follow. Paul says, “[Test] and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.” How to find God’s will? How to know that one true pattern? Beloved, we have a blueprint in the Holy Scriptures!

So have the blueprint open! A house can’t be built when the contractor has left the blueprint at home. A Christian cannot offer his body as a living sacrifice when he forgets what the right pattern is. Test and approve God’s will for your life – that takes work! So then, grow in your knowledge of godliness! Test his will by living it out every day. Approve his will by knowing his Word, inside and out, Old and New. Getting to know a pattern takes time – but this pattern is the only one worth following.

            Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It seems odd to tell a sinful weak human to be transformed – we have no control of this, do we? It’s like telling a rock to become a tree: “Be transformed!” The renewal of our minds is God’s work alone, yet we’re also called to feed our minds with good things. Our transformation is God’s work from start to finish, yet we’re called to work along in prayer and devotion. The Spirit works powerfully within, yet with the Spirit we must keep in step! Then we will be transformed, transformed for a life of sacrifice.

4) the practice of our sacrifice: We’re commanded to follow the proper pattern of sacrifice. We must be pleasing to God – but how to do any of this? We’ve mentioned some ways of sacrifice already, but Paul gives us more, many more. He first writes that not all of us will have the same task, for we’ve received different gifts. Indeed, what talents has God given to me? With what may I serve him best?

            For we must not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, looking for recognition or praise, but rather think of ourselves with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given. And what we have – who we are – is not only for ourselves. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 

Beloved, we have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying (that is, preaching), let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let that woman serve with love; if it is teaching, let that brother teach in wisdom; if it is encouraging, let her encourage with Scripture; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

There are these ways of sacrifice, and there are more. Not all our ways of “sacrifice” will be public or recognized. They don’t need to be! But as different members: as children, as mothers, as elders, as students, as framers, as helpers, as computer specialists, as deacons, as fathers, as caretakers – as different members, we have different functions in the body, yet we are all summoned to sacrifice.

            The pattern is love. Love is never something unreal and impractical. Love acts! Love is shown! In the rest of chapter 12 Paul explains the way of sacrifice, and is not short on application. As we live by love, let us remember this and do this:

            Our love must be sincere. We must hate all that is evil, and find, and then cling to what is good. Let us be devoted to one another in brotherly and sisterly love. Hard as it might be, let us honour one another above yourselves. May we never be lacking in zeal, but may we keep our spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need, God’s people here, out there and everywhere. Practice hospitality – excluding no one.

Bless those who persecute or mock or ridicule you; bless and do not curse. Let us rejoice with those who rejoice over new life, over a repentant brother, over God’s gifts. Let us mourn with those who mourn for disappointment, for sin, and for loss. Let us all together live in harmony with one another. May none of us be proud, but all be willing to associate with people of low position. May none be conceited, for what do we have that we did not receive?

Don’t repay anyone evil for evil – no matter what was done to you. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody, putting them ahead of you. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by the evil that surrounds us, but overcome evil with the good that God gives us.

Beloved, such is to be the theme for our lives. It’s not “What do you have to offer?”, but “Offer it all!” Offer your life in thanksgiving to our Redeemer, who first offered himself for us on the cross, and who took away our guilt and our sentence of death.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the 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. Amen. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2009, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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