You can die a martyr's death in one heroic act of faith. I have read some of Fox's Book of Martyrs at different times in my life and I'm always stirred, you know?
Have you ever read any of that? Always moved by the heroic acts of these faithful ones who would not back up, they would not retreat, they would not recant. And I think, wouldn't that be great? To die a martyr's death, God probably isn't going to call me or most of you in this auditorium to die a martyr's death, but he is calling us all to live a martyr's life. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul tells you to consider yourself a living sacrifice. Do you remember that passage?
Well, what does that mean? What would it look like in your life if you lived that way? How can you live as if you're dead to yourself and alive to Christ? Today, Stephen Davey begins a four-part series from Romans 12 verses 1 and 2 entitled, Becoming a Nonconformist. He's going to unpack the rich truth of this famous passage for you. This is Wisdom for the Heart. Stay with us for a message called, More Than Skin and Bones. Turn for the first time officially to Romans chapter 12.
I've been looking forward to this for a long time, about five years actually. There's so much here. I read in the news recently about a man who was receiving a lot of attention from the media and seemed rightly so. He made an unusual sacrifice. He was called a hero. He was interviewed and gained quite a bit of notoriety because he willingly donated one of his kidneys to an absolute stranger.
Absolute stranger. He found out about the need and in this very risky sacrifice, he offered to this person one of his kidneys. According to news reports, Rob said his motivation for doing something like this was that it would make his children proud. The trouble was his 10-year-old daughter wasn't impressed by his sacrifice. Amber said when she was interviewed that her father never came to see her or her mother, his former wife. He never called, never came by, never cared and didn't even attempt to reach her on her birthday. Amber said these words, I don't think my father's a hero.
The case took an interesting turn as public documents were viewed and they revealed Rob had not paid any child support to Amber's mother for nearly a year. And so all the attention that this man got sort of backfired on him. Can you imagine giving one of your kidneys to a perfect stranger in need and at the same time failing to meet the needs of your own child?
It's really not all that remarkable. In fact, it's classic human nature. We like to define where we will act right and how we will come across as a sacrificing giver and what we will look like to whom and at what time while at the same time we can be avoiding the true realities of life.
Making a good impression can be accomplished from a distance, but authenticity is proven up close. As we prepare to dive into the first part of Romans chapter 12, it will be absolutely impossible to make a good impression as we apply ourselves to these divine expressions of Christian conduct to ourselves, to others, and most importantly, to God. This is one of those chapters that just kind of takes the mask off. What Paul is after is the reality of Christianity, the reality of Christian conduct. It's possible after studying the first 11 chapters of Romans to say, yeah, I believe all that stuff. You want to talk about justification by faith and condemnation and original sin and eternal hell and heaven and forgiveness by grace and God's wrath and election, evangelism and all that. I'm all over that, Stephen. I'm right there with you.
I can sign my name to all of it. Paul isn't really going to talk so much anymore about what we believe. He's going to talk about how we behave. He is going to move from doctrinal education to doctrinal application, from principle to practice. In chapter 12, Paul will do nothing less than define authentic Christian conduct.
It's one of those chapters that will look at our character not through a telescope, but through a microscope, and it is not for the faint of heart. This is for those who want to see genuine Christianity defined in its conduct and we discover and will discover perhaps to our discomfort that it is more than words it is more than a creed. It is more than baptism. It is more than a sinner's prayer.
It is more than membership in a church. It's more than one act of sacrifice to a perfect stranger that may make a good impression from a distance. I find it interesting that the only vocabulary Paul could find as the Spirit inspired him to capture the essence of Christian conduct was the language of total sacrifice and total transformation. And there is no 75% for God and 25% for me in his thinking. It is all for God or nothing for God. And he begins with his characteristic passion in verse one. I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, present your bodies, a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, which is your spiritual, your rational, logical service of worship.
It's one of those times where he throws in that word, therefore, and he means on the basis, therefore, of everything you have learned about God here now is how to live for God. Therefore, I urge you. The word urge can be translated beg or appeal to or plead with. This is a very passionate lamenting word. And I frankly agree with William Arnold and his commentary where he said, this is an astonishing word from God, that God would beg of us, that God would plead of us.
This is startling. I urge you. I plead with you. I want you to do something.
Would you notice Paul does not say, now, listen, in light of everything that you've learned, I think it would be terrific if you tried to live for Christ. Why don't you give it your best shot? Pick a day. Do your best.
That'd be great. No, he talks and uses the vocabulary of total sacrifice. I urge you, brethren, present your bodies a living sacrifice. Before we get too far along in this, let me make a couple of observations about his passionate request. Number one, authentic Christian living is motivated by gratitude, not guilt. Paul writes, I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the what? By the mercies of God, literally in view of God's mercies, in light of God's mercies, it is our gratitude toward the mercies of God that we're about to be asked to lay ourselves on the altar. Paul is saying, in effect, listen, brethren, in view of all that God has given us in light of the grace of God toward us because of everything that God has provided us to the only thing you can do or you should do if you really have a sense of his mercies.
Give them your life. The only fitting response to the gifts of God to us is the gift of ourselves back to God. In fact, it's not only the motivation for Christian living. It is the secret to Christian victory. God has given us everything we need pertaining to life and godliness.
Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1 3. We don't need anything more from God. We don't need to be sitting around saying, well, if God will just give me that one more piece, I'll live for him. In fact, throughout the letter, Paul has already revealed everything we have received so that Peter could actually say, you've received everything you need for a life of godliness. He has told us that we have received the peace of God. Chapter one, we've received the power of the gospel. Chapter one, verse 16.
We've received the kindness of God and his long suffering. Chapter two, verse four. We've received a right standing before God. Chapter three, verse 21.
We've received forgiveness of every sin past, present and future. Chapter four, verses seven and eight. We have received hope in God's glory.
Chapter five. We've received the love of God poured out in our hearts. Chapter five, verse five. We've received the Holy Spirit who indwells us.
We've received justification by the blood of Jesus Christ. Chapter five, verse nine. We've received salvation from the wrath of God and reconciliation with God.
Also, in chapter five, we've received the gift of eternal life. In chapter six, verse 23, we've received freedom to bear fruit for God. Chapter seven, verse four. We've received the mercy of membership in the family of God. Chapter eight, verse 14. We've received security in our salvation. Chapter eight, verse 38 to 39. We have received the mercy of God in its totality. Chapter nine, verse 23. And we've received the good news of the gospel. Chapter 10, verse 17.
As I just went through and tried to find at least something from every chapter, it was obvious there's more that we could even repeat. These mercies from God are abundant and abounding and there's more. Basically, God has given us everything. That's why Paul doesn't begin this chapter on the subject of Christian behavior by saying, now, look, there's one more thing you need to receive before you live for God. He says, therefore, in light of the fact that we've already covered the mercies of God and you know you've received everything now, give to God yourself. Authentic Christian living isn't about receiving from God. It is giving to God.
Now, don't misunderstand here. Being saved means that you receive everything related to salvation from God. Being a sacrifice is when we give everything of ourselves back to God. Salvation is God's gift to us. Being a living sacrifice is our gift back to God.
Therein lies the secret or the key. It isn't God doing or saying or giving anything else to us. He's already said, done and given all that we need. Now, it's our turn to give to him. And Paul makes that point very clear in this chapter that we give to him and in our giving, you discover the motivation, the background, the foundation of that kind of giving is not to get something more from God because we've gotten all we need to get.
But because of our gratitude for these things, we've been given the mercies of God. So the question would be, what motivates your Christian experience? Why do you do what you do for God? He's writing believers here, not unbelievers.
God never asks an unbeliever to sacrifice something of their life to him. What motivates you in what you do and why you do it? Is it obligation? Fear?
Better? Guilt? Is it bribery? Well, if I ever hope to get anything from him, I better do at least this. The primary motive of giving finances in the Christian world that I give and then God will give you something back. How about if we just give it to him?
Anybody for that? Amen? The basis of Christian living, according to Paul's very first words, is not obligation or fear or bribery or guilt. It is sheer gratitude. I urge you therefore, brethren, because of the mercies of God, that is because of everything he has given you, present your bodies a living sacrifice.
Let me make another observation. Number two, authentic Christian living is not partial surrender. It is total surrender. Paul writes, present your bodies, literally your entire being. Maybe you could write that on the margin so that you could understand what he's saying. One translation reads, present all your faculties. Another reads, present your whole self or whole being to God. Paul is thinking of more than skin and bones. He has in mind the fact that we live in our bodies and our bodies encapsulate, they represent everything we have to offer.
Inside our body is our mind, our intellect, our emotions, our plans, our will, our dreams, our thoughts, desires, hopes, frustrations, disappointments, longings, everything. So we sacrifice to God as our praise offering to him whatever it is, our disappointments we offer to him. Our will, our emotions, our intellect, our plans, everything I sacrifice to God.
Nothing is withheld. And by the way, the text implies that you can refuse. Surely God would command us. Surely God would force us if I were God. The only people who would be my followers are people like this.
The highest standard would be the rule. But over and over again in the scriptures, the matter of Christian conduct is our gift, our responsibility before God. You see, in the Old Testament, the believer chose to bring an offering of praise or thanksgiving to God. In the New Testament, the believer chooses to be the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. I don't know about you, but I think it would be a lot easier to make a sacrifice than be a sacrifice.
Huh? I like the story of the farmer who went into the barn that one morning. I heard my dad tell this when he was teaching the Bible years and years ago. He asked his animals to contribute something for his breakfast. The hen clucked her approval and produced two fresh eggs. The cow mooed her approval and said, I'll provide fresh milk. Then they looked at the reluctant pig and they said, well, aren't you going to give something for our dear farmer to eat?
And the pig responded, that's easy for you to say. For you, it's a minor contribution. For me, it's total commitment. We don't mind minor contributions that can be replaced, but it's a lot different to present to God something that he may not give back, to yield something to him he may never again let us control, to offer something to him he may never replace.
That's entirely different. We give to God things that we assume he'll probably give back. In fact, we like the promise that he will, you know, beaten, shaken together and all that, pressed down. Yeah, okay. All right, you can wedge it out of my hand. But to give him something that he will never return to us, he will never replace, and he asks us to forfeit control entirely forever, that's different.
We can be the chicken, but not the pig. Frances Havergill, who wrote what she called her hymn of consecration, came to what she called a crossroads in her life. She had been a believer for decades, but reserved parts of her heart and life for herself.
She talks about how one day, as if it were a shock of electricity going through her mind, she knew. She came to what she called the crisis of consecration. She knew that there were things she needed to surrender to the Lord. She wrote these words, and I quote, I realize there must be full surrender before there can be satisfaction. We've been singing her hymn now for about 150 years.
She wrote in honor of that crisis in her life. It's really Romans chapter 12, verse 1, put into poetry. We've sort of sung our way around similar lyrics this morning already. Hers go like these, take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of thy love. Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for thee. Take my voice and let me sing always only for my King. Take my lips and let them be filled with messages for thee. Take my silver and my gold, not a might would I withhold. Take my love, my God, I pour at thy feet its treasures store. Take myself and I will be ever only all for thee, ever only all for thee. Now if you're willing to become a sacrifice for God in the terminology of Paul, Paul describes this sacrifice with two words.
Look at your text. He says there are two things about this presentation of your body. First of all, it's living. Offerings on altars are typically not breathing, right? But Paul says God doesn't want a lifeless offering, but a live offering and therein lies the trouble. One of my teachers, Howard Hendricks used to say in class, you know, the trouble with being a live offering is that we often want to crawl down off the altar.
That's where it becomes difficult. A living sacrifice is a reference to the perpetual nature, this act with ongoing effects of sacrifice. This is the offering then of every day to God. This goes beyond the Sabbath, as it were. This kind of offering moves us beyond salvation. The reason the church would rather just deal with conversions is that's something that can happen in a moment. Discipleship growing in Christ takes a lifetime. It moves us beyond salvation.
It goes way beyond Sunday. Give God your life. He says, as you give it, know that it embodies everything about you, but it is required to be holy.
Look at that. Present your body as a living and holy sacrifice. Holy is the word hagion.
It means set apart. We're here holy just as the Old Testament believer would bring a praise or thank offering that was the best that he or she had. So we give God the best.
We are urged to live a pure life. The word holy here appears in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the holy place or the holy of holies. The analogy is now made that the believer is in effect the holy of holies. And we are asked to offer the holiest things to God.
Paul has already written earlier, do not go on presenting same word used as in chapter 12 verse one here in chapter six, verse 12 of Romans. Do not go on presenting the parts of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Don't give your body to sin and then say, Oh Lord, by the way, I'd like to offer the same thing to you.
The tainted solely members. Don't run your mind through the gutter and then say, Oh, by the way, God, I want to offer my mind to you. Don't dream and plan of rebellious things and then say, by the way, I want to offer that to you too. Give him the set apart things. Give him the sanctified, the holy life.
That's what he's asking for. It also gives us our word saint, Hagion. Over and over again, we find the word saint, which is the usage of the same root word. And the apostles referred to the believers as saints, right? It isn't something you acquire by some vote. A sainthood is not something for the deceased.
It is something that is for the living. Paul wrote to the saints in Christ who are in Colossae. They're one of Colossians one, verse two to all the saints in Christ, Jesus, who are in Philippi, Philippians one, one to those who are saints by calling first Corinthians one, two. We are saints already. That is, we are already set apart into God as his redeemed people.
Paul is basically saying in chapter 12, verse one, now live like it. You are a saint now act like a saint. You choose to act like a saint and you choose to not act like a saint. You choose on the basketball court. You choose in the boardroom. You choose in the shop.
You choose in the classroom, in the dorm room. You choose to act that way with a client. You choose to act that way on a date. You choose to act that way on a golf course. Now There's a challenge. Act like who you are.
Not from a distance where we can look really good, but up close. That's the way to present your body to Christ. These are your feet, hands, ears, eyes, emotions, will, mind, all of it. Paul goes on in verse one of chapter 12, when you make that kind of sacrifice to God, Paul says that it is well pleasing to God. That God accepts the offering of your day and everything about you with pleasure. That is an astounding thought, to think that we could do anything that would please God.
It's astounding, but that's what it says. So the question would be, is God well pleased? The people that know that the best are the people sitting in our chair, right? How extravagant is your offering to God in light of his love for you? What are we offering him? A little bit, a tip, a portion, a leg, an arm, it really speaks to our value of God, doesn't it?
You see, that's the motive, that's the objective, that's the foundation that encircles everything. We offer to him really the statement of his value to us. We give him leftovers, we're really saying who we think he is. We offer him the best, the most, total sacrifice, the best, purest presentation. We are, in effect, saying you are so great and so wonderful because of your love and your mercies for me.
I can do nothing less than that. Let me make two statements of further application very clear here. Number one, Jesus Christ is inviting the believer to sacrifice everything without negotiating the terms of surrender. You notice the funny thing about sacrifices, they automatically give up the right to negotiate altars.
We don't determine where they're located, the conditions that surround them. Presenting your life to God means your life then is out of your hands, that's what it means. An extravagant offering comes with no strings attached, none. That's why it's so hard, why it's challenging and difficult.
We offer and then we reach to control it. Lord, I'll give you this, but let me have a little bit of management here, like Jacob. You know, he was wanting to dedicate himself to God. He was in a fix. You remember, he's on the run from Esau. Esau, a big burly guy is after him and he knows he's in trouble. And so he sends all these animals ahead of him and he sends all his servants ahead of him, hoping to soften Esau up.
So by the time he gets there, Esau will think he was a nice guy after all. And he's out there at night under the stars, you remember? And he offers himself to God.
But this is what he says, this is how he says it. You will be my God if, whenever you have the word if, you're headed in the wrong direction. But he said, if you bring me back to my father's house, if you give me food, if you provide clothing, then you will be my God.
Isn't that great? Wow, God must have thought I've never seen such commitment. Especially if you go back in the text and realize that God had already promised Jacob, he'd do all those things.
And then Jacob went even further. And this is where, you know, if I were God, I would have just kind of smacked him a little bit. He said, this stone here, Lord, I'm gonna set that up as a pillar. That'll be my dedication to you.
This is gonna be yours. This rock, I dedicate to you. And God must have thought, wow, I can have that rock. We go to God in similar ways, I fear, and we offer him so little, and then we wanna control him as we give it. Jesus Christ is offering us here the privilege of surrendering to him without any negotiation. There's a second statement I wanna make, and that's this. Jesus Christ is not asking the believer, who will die for me? He is asking, who will live for me?
Which is a much harder question to answer. You can die a martyr's death in one heroic act of faith. I have read some of Fox's book of martyrs at different times in my life, and I'm always stirred.
You know, have you ever read any of that? Always moved by the heroic acts of these faithful ones who would not back up, they would not retreat, they would not recant. And I think, wouldn't that be great to die a martyr's death? God probably isn't gonna call me or most of you in this auditorium to die a martyr's death, but he is calling us all to live a martyr's life. Every one of us. Frankly, there are many Christians in here who would probably be willing to win the martyr's crown, willing and eager to die for Jesus Christ.
How many of us are willing and eager to live for Christ? That can be mundane. That can be ordinary. That can be routine.
That can be difficult. I mean, one thing to die and live with him, another thing to die here on earth and live with one another, right? Like that little poem, to live above with the saints we love, that will be grace and glory, but to live below with the saints we know, well, that's another story.
Ladies and gentlemen, God is not calling you to die a martyr's death, he is calling you to live a martyr's life. With those words from John Wesley, we conclude today's message here on Wisdom for the Heart with Stephen Davey. That was part one of a four-part series from Romans 12, verses one and two. The series is called Becoming a Nonconformist. Stephen called this message More Than Skin and Bones. I hope you'll be able to join us for the entire series. Stephen is the pastor of the Shepherd's Church in Cary, North Carolina. You can learn more about our ministry at our website, wisdomonline.org. Join us next time for more Wisdom for the Heart. We'll be right back.
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