Category Archives: Sanctification

Living sacrifice: Presenting your mind

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.

There are many of you reading this who have tasted and seen what a transformed life in Jesus is all about. You know just how good it is. But there are some of you, maybe even some who have sat in church services for years, who remain the same as always. Untransformed. You’ve never been changed and maybe you’re wondering why. That was me too for a long time. I knew the truth and I believed it, but I was unchanged. When I finally surrendered my will for God’s I was truly transformed. That was my fresh start.

So let’s talk about presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice as an act of spiritual worship. God doesn’t want all we have. He wants all we are. We display what we value with our bodies. If we’re followers of Jesus, we use our bodies to make Christ known. That’s why we sacrifice what we are.

Presenting your whole body, your whole self, is comprised of 5 things, maybe more, but I’m going to talk about 5. Your Mind, your Mouth, your Ministry, your Moves, and your Motives.

Mind: So much begins with a single thought. Attitudes, feelings, actions – they can all go wrong if our thinking is wrong. That’s why Paul urges us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. It’s the beginning of it all.

Sometimes we, I think men especially, try to compartmentalize things. We think, “Sure, I’ll work for God, I’ll give to God’s work, and I’ll try to talk in a way that’s pleasing to God. But I’m not willing to give up my sinful thoughts. I’m gonna hold on to those.” We can’t separate all of these things from each other, though. We’re being told to present our whole selves, not just some aspects. If we’re unwilling to let God have lordship over our thoughts, we can’t be transformed. This means I need to not just have positive thoughts, but submit my thoughts to the authority of Christ.

If you’re thinking right now, “I could never do this. My thoughts are outside of my control!” That’s exactly my point. It’s not about you controlling your thoughts, it’s about saying, “God, I want to think with a renewed mind and I want my thoughts to please you.” And letting Him be the Lord of your thoughts.

When we submit our minds, God gives us discernment. He doesn’t control our thoughts like we’re robots, He helps us to think with a healthy mind to please Him.

Living sacrifices

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.

Let’s look at the key word “living” in the phrase “living sacrifice.” It’s easy to just move right past that, but we have to think like the Romans here as we read this. The Jews back in the Old Testament had a sacrificial system where they killed an animal in order to meet the requirements God had put on them for forgiveness of their sins. Even the Pagans had a sacrificial system that involved death. The concept of a living sacrifice is new. It’s foreign. I can seem them going “What does he mean “living sacrifice?” It sounds like 2 words that contradict each other. How can something living be a sacrifice?

Paul says we have only 2 choices. Sacrifice ourselves for righteousness, that is life, or for sin, which is death. There are no other options.

A living sacrifice is two things, it’s spiritual because only one who has been made alive by Christ can BE a living anything, and it’s ongoing. It’s not a one shot deal. We’re living out our sacrifice.

Romans 6:13 says, Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.

The sacrifice we’re called to doesn’t bring us salvation or forgiveness. That’s finished. Jesus already did that. God found a way to be merciful to sinners in Jesus Christ. He sent Him on a mission to earth to redeem mankind through His sacrifice. But our sacrifice is in response to His and that’s what makes it, as Romans 12:1 says, “acceptable to God.”

Falling from grace

Galatians 5:1-6 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

What does it mean to “fall from grace”?  We have this impression in our minds that when someone commits a serious sin or gets found out for some secret sin, that all of a sudden grace is gone and the person is left to the wolves, unable to be saved.  But when that person is already saved, when that person has already been forgiven for every sin they’ll ever commit…how can they “fall from grace?”  This is contradictory to the gospel.

I was reading a book earlier today called Jesus + Nothing = Everything (I highly recommend reading it), and one part in particular struck me.  It struck me because I had never thought of things in the terms of the author, but they were no less true.  He pointed out the passage I’ve quoted up above and caused the reader to look at the part where Paul tells the Galatians that some have fallen from grace.  Notice he doesn’t say that they fell from grace because of some heinous sin.  He says they fell from grace because they accepted legalism as a way to salvation.  Legalism is the enemy of grace.  It is literally the WORST enemy of grace.

For those of us who have been redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, those of us who have saved by grace through faith, we have been set free.  That freedom means we’re not under legalism anymore.  We’re not under the yolk of slavery that legalism brings.  We’re free to obey the law, not oppressed by it.  So when we fail and miss a step, either intentionally or unintentionally, it doesn’t mean that Jesus’ grace doesn’t still cover us.  His grace is sufficient for all our sins, for all time.  No sin can separate us from Him once we’ve already been justified and found not guilty.  He already paid the price for our sin, so we can’t just fall away from His grace because we did something wrong.  No, we can only fall from grace in one way.  If we don’t trust in Him alone for that justification.

When we begin to think that it’s Jesus plus some other act or ritual that gets us to God, we’re not accepting grace, we’re trying to win God’s favor through our actions.  That’s just not the way things work.  He forgives us in one way and it’s through Jesus.  When Christ died, the holy, sinless Son of God took on the sin of the whole world and bore the punishment for us all.  In exchange, when we believe in Him for our salvation, we gain His righteousness, the perfect standing before God that only someone who has lived a perfect life can every receive.  Because He already won the victory, we don’t have to worry about losing His grace.

God’s grace is powerful.  It’s so powerful that once we’ve received it, we’re set free in a way that nothing else could achieve.  His grace is enough.  We don’t have to add to it.  We’re not only saved by His grace, He continually works on us through His grace (sanctification) and ultimately brings us to Himself through grace.  We can depend on that, we don’t need to depend on ourselves to earn standing with God.

New Law or Gospel Freedom?

Colossians 2:20-23 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

What is Christianity all about?  Have we vowed to follow Christ only to replace the Old Testament law with new law?  Is this new life just about more rule-following?  Observing some of today’s churches, you would think so!  Sermons so often focus on behavior modification or bettering the life of the Christian through specific actions. We trade in the true power of the gospel for the belief that being a good Christian means listening to the right music, wearing the right T-shirts, not swearing or drinking, and being “nice.” Congregants lack the joy of Christ because they fail to keep up with all of the things they are “supposed” to do.  Moralistic, therapeutic deism fails to deliver.

The truth is that no formula for behavior modification will ever work because the root of sin is in our hearts.  No amount of keeping up with strict law or disciplines or rituals will keep us from being what we are: fallen and sinful.  Religion seeks to justify the believer through their actions. True justification comes from Christ (Romans 4:25). Only He can liberate us from sin.

It can make us feel good for a while to try to earn our own merit, but in the end we will always fall short (Romans 3:23). We’ll never be good enough, do enough, deprive ourselves enough to be free from sin. If we fully rely on Jesus it means we trust that His sacrifice was good enough, that we don’t need to be under the law in order to receive forgiveness from God for our transgressions, that He died once, and for all (Hebrews 7:27-28).  Nothing we could ever do could make Him love us more.  And nothing we fail to do could ever make Him love us less.

 

May we grow to maturity

Ephesians 4:13-14 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 

It should be obvious to every Christ follower that we are to aim to grow spiritually. Just as we would notice something was terribly wrong with a person who has not physically matured past infancy, we should see it as a problem when a Christian has not grown past spiritual infancy. The thing is, though, we don’t.

It’s far too common for those of us who profess to follow Jesus to be content with spiritual youth, never even trying to get past the first stages of Christian life. We overlook it in our own lives and we often overlook it in the lives of others. We get stuck in a place where surface level understanding is accepted and we miss out on a whole lot of blessings that only come with maturity.

To return to the physical to spiritual comparison, think about this: If a child never matures past infancy, he or she can never enjoy certain benefits like driving, marriage, living independently, or even just keeping friends. Likewise, in the spiritual life, there are many things that can only be enjoyed by those who move past the elementary things of the faith. Living in communion with other believers, weathering the storms of life with unshakable faith, finding answers to life’s questions within God’s Word on your own, genuinely worshipping, and praying as one who is close to God are really all much deeper if we have grown and matured.

Paul seems to be warning the church in Ephesus that they will believe anything if they don’t mature spiritually. His image of being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine is a good picture of many Christians today. Let us all decide that we’re going to pursue spiritual growth and a better knowledge of God so that we can really experience Him in a greater way. Let’s vow also to help others towards this goal.

Who are you?

Ephesians 1:1-2 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Who were you created to be?  We’ve all been given a unique identity and a unique calling from God; so what is yours all about?  Before you answer, let’s look at the life of the Apostle Paul as an example of walking in the calling for which we’ve been set apart.

Though Paul started out as a persecutor of the saints, he went on to become one of the greatest evangelists for Christ who ever lived or ever will live.  He greets most in his letters by referring to himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, in some cases a servant also.  Consider the fact that none can give themselves the title of apostle.  This is a title that can only be given to someone from God himself.  While you and I are not apostles in the same regard as Paul, we have been given unique ministries of our own, and the characteristics and qualifications to carry them out.  Our identities do not come from ourselves, but from Christ.

Consider next how Paul refers to those who are receiving his letter.  The “saints” are the recipients of his letter and this does not refer only to super-spiritual people.  All who follow Christ are saints.  As John Calvin has put it, “All believers are saints, and every saint is a believer.”  If you think it’s arrogant to refer to yourself as a saint, look at the opinion of Johannes Brenz, “but as names go, ‘saint’ is much less arrogant than ‘Christian.'”  If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are a saint and you have a special purpose that He’s given you.

Lastly, Paul’s greeting to his audience is something we need to take as though it were meant for us.  He refers to God our Father, and He certainly is if we’ve put our trust in Him. He’s adopted us into His own family as His children (Romans 8:16).  So saint, you are a child of God, given a purpose and a unique set of personal traits.  What will you do now?

Romans: Sharing with Christ

Romans 8:17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

We, the adopted children of God, are now officially sons and daughters of the King of Kings.  And what does this mean beyond the fact that we are forgiven of our sins and brought into fellowship with God as part of His family?  It means we get everything.

Everything?  Yes, if we are children of God then we are heirs, just as Jesus Christ is the Heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2).  What’s His is ours.  That’s…the glory and the suffering.

We’re called to more than just living a good life here and now on this earth when we enter into God’s family.  We are given incredible gifts from the Father, but there is more to this life than what we receive.  We have the privilege now of sharing with Christ in His sufferings.

Because we’re children of God, those who aren’t may take offense to our disposition and seek to harm us, whether physically or just emotionally and spiritually.  We may not always be happy all the time because in this world there is evil and injustice that will not be eradicated until Christ returns.  Oh, but when He does, we get to share in His glory.  When that time comes, everything in this life will have been worth it.

Romans: Flesh is Death

Romans 8:6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

To be caught up in worldly things is to be ineffective as a follower of Jesus Christ.  We can’t serve two masters, though many have tried.  The simple truth is that our allegiances can’t be split between the flesh and the Spirit.  To live life as a Christian, we have to walk with the Spirit.

If anyone knew about worldly pleasures, it was Paul’s audience in Rome.  A church of relatively new believers (Christianity hadn’t been around long!), they were essentially in the capitol of the world.  Rome had so many things to offer to distract the Christians from their calling as disciples.  They had to choose whether they wanted to live like the Romans (When in Rome…) or life the lives God had in mind for them.

We all have that choice to make.  Just because we have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t mean we live effective lives.  We have to choose each day to listen to God’s voice as He directs us.  We have to choose to read His Word so we know more about His nature and His will.  We have to take the time to pray so that we can hear from Him and speak to Him.  We have to have intentional relationships with others and we have to put aside some of our own desires for the sake of reaching people.  All of these choices require us to deny the other things calling out to us.

Romans: Live According to the Spirit

Romans 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Is your mind set on things of the Spirit?  It’s pretty easy in today’s culture so saturated with entertainment and technology to fail to think about the right things.  Without even realizing it, we sometimes ignore God’s voice.

We live in a time when there is literally no excuse to ever be bored.  If you don’t like what you’re watching on TV, you likely have 500 other channels to choose from.  If that isn’t working for you, there are thousands of websites, many that claim to be “social” to keep you  occupied.  Magazines, smart phone apps and games, online gaming, the list is endless.  If we’re not careful we can be consumed by the things of the world.

But as Christians we’re not called to be consumed by this world.  We’re called to be set apart from it.  In the world but not of it, if you will.  The only way to truly be effective for God’s purposes is to set aside the many pleasures this world has to offer for the sake of doing what we’re called to do.  That doesn’t mean we never have fun or never set aside time for pure entertainment.  It just means we have a different worldview from which we operate.  We set our mind on the things of God and when we do that, the other stuff out there pales in comparison.

Romans: Power Over Sin

Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh

 We misunderstand the Law handed down by God if we think it’s our job to keep it fully in order to be on the Lord’s good side.  I’m not talking about earning salvation, most Christians would agree that we are saved by grace through faith alone and that our good works don’t get us there.  But what happens after that?  Something seems to change inside of us that makes us think we can now earn God’s favor by obedience to His Law even after we’ve been saved.

Just as we couldn’t keep the whole Law before we were in Christ, we still can’t keep the whole Law after we’ve been saved.  We’ve been freed from sin and empowered to obey, but we’ll still never make it to the perfection the Law requires.  We’re still human.

So, if we can’t keep the Law, what purpose does it serve Christians?  If it doesn’t earn us salvation and it doesn’t perfect us in sanctification, what is it good for?

The Law does serve a purpose in showing us our sin.  It shows us our need for Jesus.  This is true on both sides of salvation as it shows us our need for a Savior before when we are lost and then shows us our continual need for the power of the Holy Spirit working in us as we walk in our faith.  God knew we would never live up to the Law.  It’s why He sent His Son to fulfill the Law that we might be freed from it’s bondage.  Now it serves as a reminder that we need Him every single day.