The Sermon for Sunday, September 3rd, 2023, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:21-27
The Text: Romans 12:1-2
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans sets out clearly the way of salvation through the Gospel he expounds in the first eight chapters. From his exposition of the Gospel, it is evident that it is by God’s mercy and grace that Christians have come to put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They have received so great a salvation through the merits of Christ and the mercies of God in whom they have believed and by whom they have been adopted as His beloved children.
THE MEANING OF A LIVING SACRIFICE
Since Christians have received this great salvation by the mercy of God, St. Paul appeals to them by the mercies of God to present themselves to God as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to him (Romans 12:1). What is meant by this?
First of all, we must understand that the animal sacrifices offered for sins in ancient Israel necessitated the death of the animals concerned. We also know that when the Lord Jesus Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for sin on the cross, his sacrifice was offered once for all time, effecting the forgiveness of all sins that anyone ever would commit, except sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30). When St. Paul used the phrase “living sacrifice,” would it not have referred to the redemption of mankind through Christ’s death (see Hebrews 9:23-28) alone?
St. Paul was referring to the Christian way of life that we should live in thanksgiving for God’s mercies, in thanksgiving for the great salvation that we have received in Christ! In a fundamental sense, this sacrifice entails a kind of death since we must take up our cross and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24) and yield control of our life to Him (Matthew 16:25). This Christian way of life is a living sacrifice in the sense that it continues as long as we live on this earth. All our life we must continue to give control of every part of our life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the Lord in obedience to God gave his life for ours on the cross, Christians in answer to such great divine love, are called by the mercies of God to offer themselves to God continually.
Just as the laws of ancient Israel demanded that an animal without blemish or deformity had to be offered to God (Leviticus 22:19-25; Deuteronomy 15:21; 17:1; Malachi 1:7-8), so Christians must offer themselves to God as a holy sacrifice, dedicated and devoted to God, with no intentional, habitual sin in their lives. St. Peter describes all Christians as “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) quoting from God’s description of Israel in Exodus 19:6. It means that we are to live pure lives, set apart for God and pleasing to him. This continual offering of our bodies to God is called by St. Paul “your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1c, KJV), a term which could also be rendered “your spiritual worship.” In other words, this is the worship “in spirit and in truth” that Jesus told us the Father is looking for in those who worship him (John 4:23).
TRANSFORMATION INSTEAD OF CONFORMITY TO THE CULTURE
Now this continual sacrifice goes hand in hand with another requirement that St. Paul now names: “And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2, KJV). Though the passive imperative (translated “be not conformed”) is used here, the sense is more “Do not conform yourselves.” We must be determined not to conform ourselves to the world. The “world” means the present age, and its culture. The age to come is the Messianic age, or eternity, as ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ. The call not to conform ourselves to the present age is an especially important call, since there is much that is ungodly and sinful in our surrounding culture, which we must not only recognize as sinful and ungodly, but also refuse to participate in. Therefore, every Christian has a responsibility not to be indoctrinated or influenced by today’s culture in any way that conflicts with the revealed will of God in the Bible.
One of the ways people are easily influenced by the present age is through what they allow into their home through television. Here is a story that illustrates the magnitude of this problem:
In the late 1980s, a Hong Kong man was walking near a military firing range when he found a 66-mm anti-tank rocket. He was a gun enthusiast, so he brought it home. He polished the live rocket, which contained twelve ounces of high explosives, and placed it on top of his television.
One day, during a probe of attempted robbery charges, the police searched the twenty-two-year-old man’s apartment and confiscated the rocket. Had the rocket ever fired, it would have demolished the apartment.
Why would someone willfully bring such a deadly force into his living room? Few people have explosives on top of their televisions, but many have deadly spiritual weapons in their televisions, which bring spiritual danger to themselves and their family when they turn on the tube, because they watch programs that can destroy their values.
What must we do instead of letting ourselves be influenced for the worse by this world? We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we find out by discernment what is the genuine will of God, what is good, acceptable to Him, and perfect (Romans 12:2). The same Greek verb used for “transformed” here is used for the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ in all the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:2). Now I believe that at the Transfiguration, the dazzling glory of the Lord Jesus Christ reflected his sinlessness and his divinity. When God calls us not to conform ourselves to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, he is calling us to enter into the glory and the sinlessness of his Son. In fact, the same Greek verb translated by “be ye transformed” is used by St. Paul in this passage:
But we all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
(2 Corinthians 3:18, KJV)
The Holy Spirit’s goal is to transform our character, our nature, into the character or nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is with this sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit at work in us that we must cooperate.
The key to a life that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit to match the virtues of the Lord Jesus Christ is the daily renewal of the mind by reading, studying and meditating on passages from the Bible, by constant prayer, by weekly corporate worship, by involvement in ministry to others using the gifts God has given us, and by persevering in the mission God has sent us to carry out on this earth.
Do you have a rule of life, a set of spiritual habits and disciplines, which will help you renew your mind, so that the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit may fully direct your life?
 pp. 138-139, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers, from Craig Larson and Leadership Journal. Baker Books, 2002, 2nd Printing, 2008.