Live in View of God's Mercy
A sermon based on Romans 12:1-8
Sunday, September 25, 2011 – Pentecost 15A
Martin Luther once said that we are all constantly living with a perfect picture of Christian service and love… your body. Your hand gladly serves your mouth, taking it food, when the mouth gives nothing directly to the hand for it. Your mouth then takes the food that it's worked so hard to chew up and gives it away to the stomach wanting nothing in return. The eye tells the foot where to go to keep the whole body from falling. The foot does the difficult work of being pounded into the ground over and over again all day long to take the body where it needs to go to get the food, sleep and exercise it needs.
Each part of your body does whatever it's asked to do without worrying about whether it's being treated fairly or not, without worrying about what it will get in return for its hard labor. Each part works together for the common good.
The apostle Paul pointed out on more than one occasion that that's exactly how Christians operate. They each do their part, not concerned about what's fair or what they'll get in return for their service, but striving to thank God that they don't get what's fair, but instead get his mercy. Each Christian lives to serve his Savior in thanksgiving. Each Christian lives to serve others as if serving Christ. Listen to Romans 12:1-8 where God, through the apostle Paul, encourages us to Live in View of God's Mercy. Offer Your Bodies to Him and Be One With His Body—the Church…
12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer 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.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
I. Offer Your Bodies to Him (1-2)
Look at verse one again because it is the most important verse of this chapter. It sets the tone for the rest of the book of Romans. It says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Remember our rule with the word "therefore"? Whenever you see "therefore" find out what it's there for. Look back at the context right before the therefore and we find last week's epistle lesson. Remember what it was? It was Paul's doxology praising God for the great mercy he's shown all people in his plan of salvation—the great mercy Paul spelled out in the first eleven chapters.
In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul pointed out what all humankind deserves—hell. Though in our arrogance and pride we think we deserve blessings from God, we deserve nothing but his wrath. "You are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God 'will give to each person according to what he has done.'" (2:5-6) What have we done? "It is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (3:10-12) Paul writes, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…" (3:23) Plain and simple, we're not righteous and we deserve God's wrath in hell.
But in chapters three through eleven Paul speaks of God's great mercy. With a ton of wonderful verses Paul describes that though we deserve hell, we don't get what we deserve. "…righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…for all… are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (3:21-24) "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (5:8) "…the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (6:23) "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…" (8:1) "…in all things God works for the good of those who love him." (8:28)
I could keep going, but you get the point. Everything the Romans had—forgiveness, salvation, eternal life—everything the Romans were—God's own sons and daughters though faith—was by the grace of God. It was a gift. "Therefore," Paul urged them, "respond to his great grace he's given to you. In view of that great mercy, which I've just spent eleven chapters describing, give him your unending thanks."
How could they do that? How could they respond to such great mercy that gave them heaven itself? Paul says, "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." God didn't want them to just burn some of their grain on an altar waving the smoke in the air. He didn't want them to just slaughter a goat and present it to him. He didn't want just a few denariis of their hard earned income. He didn't want just 10%, but 100%. Paul urged them to give life for life. Jesus died for them, now they could live for him. They could thank him for their eternal life, by offering their bodies in service to God in this temporal life.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you, in view of God's mercy, in view of those passages you know so well, offer your bodies as living sacrifices to God. Make your spiritual worship more than just a once a week trip to the pew. Make your offering more than just a few dollars on Sunday morning. Give him your life—the very life he gave you, the life he saved from hell by his Son's death. But do it all in view of God's mercy, thanking him for what he's given you by grace.
How do you thank him? How do you offer your body to God? Paul tells us the general principle in verse 2, make God's will your will: "Do not conform any longer 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."
Don't be like jello that takes the shape of whatever surrounds it. Don't be molded to fit this world's pattern—the pattern to rebel against God and live only for yourself, "You gotta' take care of number one!" Don't live like that, but be transformed. Literally, undergo a metamorphosis, a complete change, by renewing your mind—your thoughts, your feelings, your attitudes. Let those attitudes be changed from selfishness to selflessness. And how do you do that? "In view of God's mercy…" Only God's Word, revealing his great mercy, has the power to change your mind. God's Word reminds you that you do deserve hell. And it reminds you of the grace God gives you instead. That gospel message alone can motivate us to change our minds, and no longer live for ourselves, but to offer our bodies to God in thanksgiving.
And when we do, then we learn that it's not a drag to live according to God's will. It's not boring to do things his way, but rather good, pleasing and perfect for us in every way. Then we will desire God's will over our own because we'll see that his way is best. Then we will enjoy God's will.
II. Be One with His Body (3-8)
But what exactly does conforming to God's will look like? Paul gives some specific directions in verses three through eight: 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Conforming to God's will and serving him in view of his mercy begins with humility. Paul warns the Romans to avoid that spiritually deadly sin of pride. And how can a Christian even think of being proud? When one recognizes that on his own, he is spiritual rot, that nothing good lives in him, that all, including himself, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If I really understand the gospel; that all that I have comes by God's grace alone and not because I have earned or deserved it, how can I be arrogant or full of pride?
A wise man once said, "They that know God will be humble; they that know themselves cannot be proud." For when I understand that all I've accomplished on my own is to rebel against God, when I see that what I have earned on my own is hell, it leads me to view things, no longer drunk with pride, but with "sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given [me]." I fall on my knees in thanksgiving to God and abandon such foolish pride. God has given me faith in Christ, and through it salvation and heaven itself. God has given me the gifts and abilities that I possess. He continues to preserve my strength, my intelligence, and everything that I have. I'm no more deserving of such blessings than anyone else. And I want to thank him for such gifts by using them all to serve him.
And in such humility, Christians marvel at the grace of God who gave them the gifts that they have. And they guard against pride, and jealousy. And they strive to serve God together in perfect unity, just as Paul writes, "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. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us."
Who would want four arms at the expense of no legs? Who would want three eyes, but no nose? No one would! We need all of our body parts, even if they seem useless to us. How often do you think about your liver? But if yours doesn't function properly, if you didn't have one, I'm certain you'd miss it. How often do you think about your big toe? Only when you stub it? But if it were gone and you struggled for balance with each step, you'd miss it too.
In the same way that each part of our bodies serves a different, but necessary function, so too each Christian has different gifts. And no person has them all, so we need each other. And what a beautiful arrangement that makes! While Christians come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, while they all have different backgrounds, jobs, interests and opinions, though we all vary in our talents and abilities, they're all given by God. And this arrangement of variety that God gives is not a source of contention, but of joy! Each Christian, serving God in his own way, compliments the others. Just as Luther pointed out: When everyone serves selflessly, looking for no reward or compensation in return, everyone benefits. So Paul encourages us, "Rejoice in the variety of gifts you have. And whatever gifts you have, use them as well as you can to serve God."
If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
If your gift is prophesying, that is, speaking God's Word, Paul tells you to speak literally in proportion to "the" faith. That is speak only what is in agreement with God's truths already revealed.
If your gift is serving, be it pulling weeds on a workday, mowing lawns, serving at a potluck, babysitting at a church function, being on the altar guild, coming to meetings, serving on a committee, the list goes on and on… use that gift to serve God with all your heart!
If your gift is teaching, not just in a school, but perhaps in a Bible class (some of you have that gift), or maybe in a personal one-on-one conversation with a friend or neighbor, finding a way to explain a difficult concept… teach to God's glory.
If your gift is encouraging others, giving the right word of warning or comfort at the right moment, remembering to send a card on a birthday or anniversary, giving a phone call when you've missed a friend in church, putting an arm around someone's shoulder and asking "how are things?"… If this is your gift, keep encouraging.
If your gift is contributing to the needs of others, giving freely of your wealth without worrying if you're shortchanging yourself or about keeping enough for a rainy day, continue to give with generosity in thanksgiving to God.
If your gift is leadership, giving direction to others when they turn to you for help, don't be lazy or half-hearted, but lead with diligence and zeal, quick to serve others in need.
If your gift is showing mercy, forgiving others without worrying if you should have remained righteously indignant, caring for the needs of others before you worry about your own, do so cheerfully, not with a grudge wishing you didn't have to forgive or help, but cheerfully, in view of God's mercy toward you.
And certainly Paul's list here is not a comprehensive one. We could include countless other gifts, such as abilities in music or art, being good at planning ahead and keeping a schedule, hard work without tiring easily, or countless others. If you don't know what gifts God has given you, get involved. Try various forms of service until you gradually discover what your God-given gifts are. And whatever gifts you have, recognize that they come from God. Cultivate these gifts. And use them. Someone once pointed out that a $50,000 violin hanging silently and dusty on the wall is not worth as much as a kitchen spoon that is used regularly. Use your gifts faithfully and put them into service for God. And do it all in thanksgiving to him in view of his mercy to you.
In thanksgiving for the countless gifts he's given you, offer your bodies as living sacrifices to God. Gladly serve each other in thanksgiving and be at one with God's body, the church. May God give us all the heart and the strength to make such willing sacrifices in view of his mercy. In Jesus name, Amen.