Text: Romans 12:1-2 — I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
In 1984, Vyacheslav Borisovwas a General serving the Russian army in Afghanistan. Borisov and his men were sent on a mission to find and destroy an Afghani leader. On that mission, the helicopter that he and his fellow soldiers were on crashed in the Panjshir Mountains. Borisov was the only person on board who cried out for God’s mercy as the helicopter went down, and as it turned out, he was the only person to survive the crash. Borisov recalled that in his first moment of consciousness after the crash, he saw the bodies of his fellow soldiers and heard the sound of gunfire nearby. In spite of the threat, however, he felt an unshakable peace. Through a translator, Borisov later said, “When I saw the fire from the helicopter, there was a great change that happened in me. I realized I was alive and at that moment, I realized that God truly existed because he saved my life.” He adds, “I was the only one who cried out to God because I remembered — he who calls upon God’s name will truly be saved.” Borisov is grateful to the United States because his first Bible came from an American. The chaplain who gave it to him encouraged Borisov to grow in his faith and be more involved in God’s work. Not long after, the General retired from the Russian military. Today he is the first Russian General to be ordained as a minister of the gospel in Moscow. What is his passion? He raises money that is used to purchase Bibles to be distributed to Russian soldiers. I love that story! It encourages me and I’m sure many of you as well, though I suspect for a few of us his testimony may have the opposite effect. Some might be wondering, “Why is it that God radically transforms people like Vyacheslav Borisov and then uses them for His glory, while I continue to experience a life of spiritual mediocrity, battling the same struggles year in and year out?” If you’re feeling this way this morning, then I think this message is for you. It is the fourth in our preaching series called Vital Signs– A study of 1 John.
So far, we’ve talked about the gospel message, including the incarnation of Christ (i.e. what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes and have touched with our hands) and His atonement (He is the propitiation for our sin), as the foundation for the Christian life. Then we mentioned the first Vital Sign– given by the Apostle John to measure the vitality of a person’s spiritual life. It’s found in 1 John 2:3– By this, we know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments. We discovered that this involves obeying and loving the Lord and following His example. Last week, we talked about the second Vital Sign that deserves our attention – Loving Your Christian Brothers– Whoever loves his brother lives in the light … whoever hates his brother is in the darkness(1 John 2:10-11). Love is self-sacrifice for the good of another, and, according to our Lord, it has a much broader and deeper application than most people would be willing to consider. As Christians, we love our enemies, we love our neighbors as ourselves and we understand that love may exact a severe price as God calls us to lay down our lives for others. Now this week, I want to address a stern warning that John issues regarding what we are not to love. Listen to what he says in 1 John 2:15-17 — Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. What does it mean to love the world? It is to be in love with this world system driven by the sinful cravings of the flesh and the eyes as well as the pride of life– all of which is under the control of the evil one – the devil who is called the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4). Do you remember that in Matthew 4:18-19, the devil tempted Jesus by promising Him all the kingdoms of the world if the Lord would but bow down and worship Satan? Of course, Jesus refused, quoting an Old Testament scripture that said, “Worship the Lord and serve Him only” – Deuteronomy 6:13). But the point is that this world system organized against Christ was the Devil’s to offer to Jesus as the Bible calls him the prince of this world.
Today, I want to talk about the command given by John … Do not love the world nor the things in the world. But because only a few months ago, I preached on 1 John 2:15-17, this morning I thought I would go to a different text, Romans 12:1-2, that I read for you only a few moments ago and see what it says to believers about how to overcome sinful cravings for the world and its offerings. So, let’s start with verse one and discover together how we can overcome the world.
Surrender yourself(Romans 12:1 –I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship). Here in this verse, Paul informs us that the first step in life transformation is to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices. The word used for “body” refers to more than just our physical self, but to the totality of our lives. Christians are not expected to offer bloody sacrifices on an altar(as the Jews were directed in the Old Testament), but we are commanded to offer God a ‘spiritual’ sacrifice by presenting our very lives to Him. Why is this necessary? When we were brought into this world we presented ourselves to it as instruments of unrighteousness. That’s why Paul tells us in Romans 6:13ato stop it! Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness). The reason he gives is that we have been saved from sin and now are called to present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness(See Romans 6:13b). Here in Romans 12:1, Paul uses three words to provide more details regarding the sacrifice of our lives to God: (1)Living (sacrifice)– The idea is that we are not a sacrifice that dies the moment we present ourselves (though we have died with Christ to sin—See Romans 6:8), but that we determine to live for Him until we die; (2)Holy(sacrifice)– This implies that we are to offer ourselves to God as those set apart from the corruption of this world in dedication to His service; (3)Pleasing(sacrifice)– This is a good translation of the word. It means that this kind of sacrifice (a complete giving of ourselves) is always acceptable to God. And what is the outcome of presenting ourselves to God as a living, holy and pleasing sacrifice? It is a life consumed with the true worship of God that is not confined to one place(the temple) or time. We are free to worship the Lord everywhere and always! And this lifestyle marked not by the values of this world, but by holiness begins with surrendering ourselves to Him.
Renew your mind(Romans 12:2a — Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,). Only those who have offered themselves as living sacrifices to God have available to them the power and resources for change.
· Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world. Those who live according to the pattern of this world have a belief system that has been corrupted by sin with the result that they are darkened in their understanding (Ephesians 4:17-18 –Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart). The word for “futility” means morally empty. The reason unbelievers can’t see the light of God is that the world keeps getting in the way!
· But be transformed by the renewing of your mind. It is my conviction that people cannot act contrary to their belief system for very long. They can try and perhaps succeed for a period of time, but eventually, they will default back to what they really believe about the world (See Romans 1:21-23). For example: If you believe that people cannot be trusted because they are only out to hurt you, then you will keep your distance from others no matter how much they desire a relationship with you. The implication of this reality, of course, is that the life you are living may not be what you want but it is the product of your beliefs. If you are not satisfied with it, the only way for you to experience real transformation is to renew your mind, i.e. to change your belief system (Ephesians 4:23— “be made new in the attitude of your minds”). This requires that you feast on God’s Word(which is the truth); abide in God’s Spirit(who leads us into all truth) and fellowship with God’s people(who instruct us in the truth). Then as God brings our thinking into conformity with His Word we begin to see life very differently. Illustration: According to a story from the Reuters News Agency dated March 29, 1994a Chinese woman began to suffer mysterious symptoms when she turned twenty. She was losing the ability to nimbly use her legs and arms. Doctors could not find the cause and so the symptoms continued. Many years later, the woman also began to suffer from severe migraine headaches. Again, she sought help from doctors. This time a CAT scan found the source of her problem: a rusty pin was lodged in her head. The head of the pin was actually outside her skull while the rest of it penetrated into her brain. A short time later, doctors performed surgery and successfully removed it. Later the surgical team expressed amazement that she had “lived for so long a time with a rusty pin stuck in her brain.” After further study, they determined that the pin had entered her brain when she was very young before her skull had hardened. Of course, the woman had no memory of ever being pierced by a pin in the head. Why share that story? Because, just like the rusty pin in that woman’s brain, beliefs born of an unbiblical worldview lodge in our minds often at an early age and do untold damage to us until they are exposed and removed. It is only when we renew our minds and our beliefs change that the healing process starts to take place.
Change your life(Romans 12:2b — …that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect). The Apostle Paul tells us that the result of a life surrendered to God and a mind that is renewed is a changed life. When we position ourselves so that God begins to transform our belief system we are able to discern and align ourselves with His will. Obviously, this is a lifelong process whereby we come to understand and agree with what God wants of us and then put it into practice. And we know it is what God wants because it is good(See Ephesians 2:10), acceptable(it is the kind of living that God approves) and perfect(everything that it should be) according to Paul.
Applications: As we close, let me address three questions that might have entered your mind during this message.
· Why should you change? Paul answers this question for us in verse one of chapter twelve. He says, “in view of God’s mercy.” What is he referring to? In the first eleven chapters of Romans, the apostle has been calling attention to the many grace blessings that God gives to His children (the gospel message—Romans 1:16; a righteousness that becomes ours by faith—Romans 1:17; eternal life—Romans 2:7and justification by faith—Romans 5:1etc.). These blessings, according to Paul, serve as the motivation to be conformed to the image of Christ. In light of all that God has done for us, we must commit to doing our part to become the people He wants us to be.
· How can you change? As a believer in Jesus Christ, you have all the resources necessary for life and godliness (See 2 Peter 1:3). This does not imply that you can do this alone. It simply means that God has made available to you all that you need (i.e. His Word, His Spirit, and His People) to grow. So, the choice is really up to you. Do you want to change? And are you willing to do the hard work that is required to change (that’s what the Bible means what it tells us to work out our salvation)?
· What should you change? I would like to suggest that you examine yourself and look for sinful patterns of behavior. (1)Are you an angry person or perhaps a habitual liar? (2)Do you treat people in an unloving manner? (3)Are you consumed with lust? (4)Are you a fearful person? (5)Do you feel the need to be in control all the time? (6)Do you battle some form of addiction? (7)Are you obsessive-compulsive? All of these behaviors and many others are driven by beliefs that come from an unbiblical worldview. Each one needs to be exposed, repented of and replaced with the truth of God’s Word. If you have trouble identifying any sinful patterns, ask someone who knows you well. They will very likely be able to help.
Conclusion: For a long time in my life, I was an angry person. I didn’t realize it at the time. It was only as I got older, met the Lord and began to grow in my faith, I began noticing a pattern in my life that I didn’t like. Whenever I was with a group of people I didn’t know well, I felt the need to draw attention to myself in ways that would hopefully gain their approval. I know this sounds dumb, but I found myself talking about the things I had accomplished in my life like playing college and semi=pro baseball, being a well-rounded athlete who won trophies in five different sports. As if this wasn’t weird enough, I often found myself introducing these athletic achievements into conversations that were not at all about me. Eventually, I started asking the Lord to reveal to me why I did this. And over time, and with the help of a more mature believer, I came to see that I had placed all of my value as a human being, on my athletic accomplishments. Somehow they made me feel like I had some value in the world. But in staking so much of my personal worth on my prowess as a baseball, tennis, golf (believe it or not), volleyball and (junior high) football player, I noticed another pattern that I didn’t like as well. I was the most competitive person I knew. My teams often won because there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do to come out on top. After all, this is what the world wants for people who are considered a success and I certainly wanted to be that. Sadly, along the way, I embarrassed myself numerous times (getting thrown out of games etc.) because of my desire to ‘win at all costs’ and hurt a lot of people in the process. As I grew in my faith, I came to realize this behavior wasn’t “good, acceptable and perfect” in God’s eyes, so I surrender to Him, asked the Lord to renew my mind and watched as over a period of several years He gradually changed my life. I remember praying something like this: “I give up. I surrender. Lord, You know that I cannot change my life. I have tried to get control of this but it has only produced greater frustration in me as I’ve continued to fail so that I agree with Paul when he says, in Romans 7:15 — I do not understand what I do; for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. I offer myself to you as a living, holy and pleasing sacrifice. Please renew my mind and change my behaviors so that I will find my security in you and learn to be a better person, especially when it comes to competition. I’ve made some significant strides since then, though I still am not very fond of losing! But today, I understand that my identity as a person is no longer tied to my performance at all, but to my relationship with God and all that He says about me which will never change. I want the same thing for you this morning. Have you bought into this world system that focuses on the cravings of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life? As one who has been there and done that, I know that it will not satisfy the deep longing of your soul to feel loved and valued. That can only come from one source – the Lord to whom we are called to surrender ourselves.