June 25, 2017

Present Your Bodies

Don Johnson

A continuing meditation on Romans 12.1-2:

On the notion of how we ought to live our lives, I’ve emphasized the word body in our text (Rm 12.1). My thesis is that God is concerned about external behaviour – you can’t be a spiritual man if all there is to your spiritual life is correct theology and your say-so that you’re devoted to God in your inner man. The outer man must reflect a godly inner man or else your alleged spiritual life is a mere sham. Usually the only one you are fooling by such claims is yourself.

The apostle gives us four qualifying words that comprehensively demolish any idea that we can allow defects in our observable walk and still be satisfactory to God. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God…” our text says. The words are these, in the original word order: ‘a sacrifice, living, holy, acceptable…’

Let’s consider the implications of each word in the order it is given in the Greek New Testament:

A Sacrifice

In the Old Testament, sacrifice was the point at which fellowship between man and God could occur. When sin marred the relationship, sacrifice was required to cleanse (atonement), to satisfy justice (expiation), and to restore fellowship (peace). Without the sacrifice, the barrier between man and God remained (or the wide gulf fixed deepened), and man was estranged from God.

But sacrifice was no mere ‘ticket of entry to the heavenly banquet,’ rather it was the pious representation of self, offered as one’s substitute to receive the just recompense of wrath for the breach of covenant between man and God.

Because of the work of Christ, the believer is perpetually in fellowship with God, and himself is purchased by the sacrifice offered. The believer has no authority over his body any longer, but is called on the basis of the salvation he has received (Rm 1-11), as a sacrifice himself – offered over to God for God’s disposition.

Is your body a sacrifice to God? What expression does faith take? Do you pour out your body so that you might bring a soul to Christ (Phil 2.16-17)? Do you expend your time, talent, and treasure in the work of the ministry (2 Tim 4.6)? Do you open your purse to the needs of the mission (Phil 4.18)?

Someone once said to me, “I come to all the services on Sunday, I’m faithful Wednesday night, I witness regularly, what more does God want?” To which I reply, “God wants it all. Present your body a sacrifice.”

Living

The New Testament sacrifice is distinct from the OT sacrifice in that it is not the means to but the expression of fellowship with God. It is also distinct because it is not temporary, but permanent. It is not a momentary immolation, but a lifetime of immersion in life with God.

The word ‘living’ is used in the New Testament to describe our Lord: “I am the living bread” (Jn 6.51) – a source of energy and life that never loses its power. It is also used to describe the ministry of the Holy Spirit: “living water” (Jn 4.10), which constantly satisfies the thirst of the barren soul. The believer is called to a “living hope” (1 Pt 1.3) which never passes away, and to a “living way” of perpetual access to God (Heb 10.19-20).

We don’t achieve the living sacrifice by going forward to an altar in a moment of public display but by a life perpetually lived at the disposal of God, serving him from day to day. Present your body a living sacrifice.

Holy

Probably you are familiar with the notion that holiness means “separated unto God, set apart, holy.” Everything that is given to God is holy – he belongs to him, it bears his name, it is his possession, not to be confused as the possession of another.

The Old Testament Law gives many examples where the holy people could profane themselves, make themselves common or unclean. The priests, for example, were not to handle dead bodies except for those of their closest relatives (Lev 21.1-4). Any Israelite that allowed his children to be sacrificed to the gods of the pagans would profane the name of God – they were God’s people, they were set apart from those who did such things (Lev 18.21, 20.3).

If your body is offered to God, it is by default holy – set apart to him. When you turn your body to profane uses, you profane the name of God. There is a whole gamut of activities that profane the name: I don’t want to be Holy Spirit for you, so you think about it. Do the things you look at with your eyes profane the eyes you gave to God? Do the things you listen to profane the ears you gave to God? Do the places you go profane the feet you gave to God? What about your hands? What about your lips?

Sometimes Fundamentalists make an error either in the way they teach or the way they understand the teaching – they think holiness is achieved by living by a set of rules. The reality is that a life given to God is holy. What happens is that when we sin, our bodies, already given to God, are profaned. When we do that, we become an acted out curse – you might not curse God with your lips, but do you curse him with your body?

Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy!

Acceptable

Acceptable… the word means “well-pleasing.” The reality is that your life can please God. Paul said that to be pleasing to God was his personal ambition (2 Cor 5.9). He called us to walk in such a way that we would learn what was pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5.8, 10). And our good works to one another, says the author of Hebrews, are such as please God (Heb 13.16).

If your life is lived by presenting your body to God for service, it is a sacrifice — a living, perpetual sacrifice — one that is holy to God. That is what pleases him.

And this, Paul concludes, “is your reasonable service…” The last word of the verse refers to the liturgy of worship. Do you want to get worship right? Get your life right. Get the externals right. It’s only logical! It’s only reasonable. It’s the godly way to live.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


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