In our last post we focused on how Romans 12:1,2 is vital instruction for closing the “Gospel Gap.” This term describes the disparity in a believer’s life between their biblical/gospel knowledge (what we know) and how he or she lives. Paul’s point in Romans 12 is that life on the altar is presenting ourselves to God which necessarily means a changed life with continual spiritual growth.
Paul commanded believers not to “be conformed to this world (v.2).” To know Jesus Christ in a saving relationship is a call to deliberately resist being pressed into the agenda of this world’s system with its values, goals, philosophies, and judgments. This world system is passing away (I John 2:15-17), and it is in conflict with our rightful pursuit of Christ’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Living for this world’s approval is to crawl off the altar and to live off mission.
In contrast, Paul calls believers to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This command fascinates me for a number of reasons. I would like to break this phrase down over the next post or two. The transformation Paul is speaking of refers to the full-orbed miracle of salvation which begins with conversion and includes the ongoing process of being conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). For the next few moments, let’s take a brief journey and get a reminder of God’s power to save.
Timothy Lane and Paul Trippin their very helpful book, How People Change, introduce their readers to a man and his wife, “Phil” and “Ellie.” Phil was not only familiar with Scripture and systematic theology, but also boasted of an extensive library of biblical commentaries by the “who’s who” of theological writers. Yet, even with this impressive spiritual resume, there was something wrong with Phil’s life. Lane and Tripp wrote, “If you were to turn from Phil’s library and watch the video of his life, you would see a very different man.” (Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, How People Change. New Growth Press: Greensboro 2008, p. 1)
What did Lane and Tripp mean? Well, Phil gave the appearance that all was in order. “He had the theological dexterity of a gymnast, but he lived like a relational paraplegic.” (Ibid, p. 1)His marriage, while outwardly portraying health, was really on a lifeline because of his harsh and impatient responses to his wife. His relationship with his children was distant at best. He was not satisfied with his job, and one could assume that he was in a constant scrimmage with his boss(es). What was unstable in these areas was also true of church life where he was working on his fourth church in three decades. Despite his outward persona of being a mature believer, his problems siphoned off time and power for meaningful ministry. Love, grace, and joy were not the fruit of Phil’s life.
From the outside, no one would have guessed this disparity in Phil’s life. This seemed to add to Ellie’s frustration with the church. Because no one understood what Phil was really like, Ellie had to fight bitterness when he was asked to lead a Bible Study or take a leadership role. When things began to unravel and they final pursued counseling, “They had given extensive history of their situation, yet there was little or no reference to God. Here was a theological man and his believing wife, yet their life story was utterly godless.” (Ibid, p. 2)
Lane and Tripp called this discrepancy the “Gospel Gap,” which they defined as “a vast gap in our grasp of the gospel. It subverts our identity as Christians and our understanding of the present work of God. This gap undermines every relationship in our lives, every decision we make, and every attempt to minister to others. Yet we live blindly, as if the hole were not there.”(Ibid, p. 2)
I believe Romans 12 provides insight into how the gap is closed between what we know and how we live. The opening verses in this monumental chapter give to us an explanation of the Christian life from different perspectives. In v. 1, we have a graphic picture of our lives given to God as living sacrifices. This offering of ourselves to God captures all of life and is indeed defined as true spiritual worship. In v. 2, we read of a transformation by the mercies of God found in Christ and nurtured by the renewing of our mind. The fruit of such surrender is living and doing the will of God.
How do we truly change? How do we close the Gospel Gap in our lives?
At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he defined his ministry as one centered on the proclamation of the gospel. Paul’s life could be summarized as a man who preached one message, Jesus Christ, and him crucified and risen. His preaching was aimed to bring “the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all nations (1:5).” While Paul had never met them, he commended the church at Rome for their faith in Christ which was, “proclaimed in all the world (1:8).”
That is a tremendous testimony! Some churches are known for their pastor, or their music, or the architecture of their buildings. But to be known for your faith communicates their obedience and witness beyond the walls of the church gathering.
Biblical faith, true saving faith, is always evident through an obedient life. Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you (Luke 6:46)?”“Faith without works is useless (James 2:20),” wrote the apostle James. To this point, we return Romans 12:1,2 which is one of the great challenges found in the New Testament for the follower of Christ, namely, to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice and that such a life captures true spiritual worship.
In our last post, we looked at this sacrifice of ourselves, which Paul described as living, holy, and acceptable to God (12:1). This is an encouraging word that through the grace of God found in his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, we are able to live lives that are acceptable and well-pleasing to him. With this sacrifice in mind, Paul closes verse 1 with this phrase, “which is your spiritual worship.”
The phrase requires some work in translation. The two words in the Greek text, logikos and latreia, are translated in various ways: The King James Version reads, “your reasonable service;” The NIV, as well as the ESV, renders it as, “your spiritual worship;” And the NASB captures the original as, “your spiritual service of worship.”
Logikos is the source for the English word “logical,” and it can mean either spiritual or rational. Paul’s message seems to be that presenting ourselves to God as sacrifices really is a reasonable, logical response that makes perfect sense. Indeed, in light of his magnanimous grace, God is worthy of such an offering, and it is the privilege of every believer to present themselves in this way.
Latreia can be translated worship or service, and it is used in describing religious service to God. So, whether we translate this phrase as “reasonable service,” or “spiritual worship,” it seems to capture both ideas: our spiritual worship is also logical and reasonable service.
I think this is helpful in our understanding of Christian worship. True spiritual worship involves our full faculties: our mind, our reason, our bodies, our intellect. The greatest and first commandment, according to Jesus, is to love the Lord your God with all of our being. Jesus affirmed that we were to love God with all of our mind, as well as with our heart, soul, and strength. (Luke 10:27; Deuteronomy 6:5)
This is life on the altar before God, and it encompasses everything. Paul’s statement to the Corinthians captures this obedience of faith, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).” V.D. Verbrugge offers these helpful comments, “To do something for the glory of God means to reflect God’s glory in the way we live. When others look at us and how we live our lives, they should be able to see that the standards we live by are different from those of the pagan world around us. They should be able to see Jesus living in us.”
This truth of living for the glory of God was recovered by the Reformers who saw from Scripture that all of life was to be lived Coram Deo, a Latin phrase that speaks of the presence of God, under the authority of God, and to the glory of God.
Why are we hesitant to live before God in this way? Why do we hold back? Why are we prone to give the scraps of our lives to him who has bestowed to us every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)? Perhaps we think we will be ripped off or miss out on something better? Perhaps we are in doubt of God’s promises and so we hedge our losses with blemished offerings? How foolish! For those who walk with God will lack no good thing (Psalm 84:11). We need to recover the heart of David when he said, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).” David spoke these words after his prideful display in ordering the census of Israel which brought with it the Lord’s chastening hand. David was a man whose transgressions are well documented (2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51), nevertheless he lived in gratitude for the Lord’s mercies and was determined not to offer God the “leftovers” of his life.
Around Thanksgiving some years ago, radio commentator Paul Harvey shared a true story of a woman and her frozen Thanksgiving turkey. The Butterball Turkey Company set up a telephone hotline to answer consumer questions about preparing holiday turkeys. One woman called to inquire about cooking a turkey that had been in the bottom of her freezer for 23 years. That’s right—23 years. The Butterball representative told her the turkey would probably be safe to eat if the freezer had been kept below zero for the entire 23 years. But the Butterball representative warned her that even if the turkey was safe to eat, the flavor would probably have deteriorated to such a degree that she would not recommend eating it. The caller replied, “That’s what I thought. We’ll give the turkey to our church.”
We give to God what we would never give to others. This text of Romans 12 brings us once again to what God wants most. He wants us, all of us, and it is his prerogative to ask for it. With his usual precision James M. Boice writes, “You will begin to understand the Christian life when you understand that God does not want your money or your time without yourself. You are the one for whom Jesus died. You are the one he loves. So when the Bible speaks of reasonable service, as it does here, it means that you are the one God wants. It is sad if you try to substitute things for that, the greatest gift.”
Christianity is not a religion of meaningless routine and ritual. To follow Jesus Christ is a faith relationship in which we give ourselves to him who has redeemed our lives from destruction and crowned us with lovingkindness and tender mercy (Psalm 103:4). This is true, logical, reasonable worship, and it makes perfect sense!
I will resume our series, Life on the Altar, next week. I have the opportunity to teach a Family Life Conference in the Pensacola area and would appreciate your prayers as I travel today and for my time with the Midway congregation this weekend.
I offer this short post that came from my reading of Joshua this week. In Joshua 21, a powerful summary statement is given as Israel finished the land allotments by tribes: “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (21:45).” This summary is a faith building encouragement, and I am convinced will be the prevailing testimony of God on the last day. Not one promise from the Lord has failed, all has come to pass, just as He said, and just as He promised.
Taking a step back to the first chapter, the book of Joshua begins with a blunt announcement, “Moses my servant is dead!” (Joshua 1:2) There you have it. Israel’s leader for forty years now belongs to the ages.
Moses who escaped genocide as an infant and was rescued from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter.
Moses who was reared in Pharaoh’s court and received the best of educations.
Moses who was called at a burning bush to lead Israel out of Egypt.
Moses who confronted Pharaoh with God’s demand to let Israel go which unleashed a series of ten plagues.
Moses who led Israel out-of-slavery, through a parted Red Sea, and onward to border of the Promised Land.
Moses whose communion with God was so intimate that the text said that the Lord would “speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)
Moses, of whom it was said, “(he) was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3)
Moses’ life divided neatly into three forty-year segments. The first forty years he lived as the son of Pharaoh. The second forty he lived in the Midian outback tending sheep as a result of his misplaced anger. And the last forty years were spent shepherding Israel to the border of the Promised Land.
Now in Joshua 1 we find his death announcement, and Joshua was charged with leading Israel into the land of Canaan. While Moses had died, God was still on the throne. When a man of God dies, none of God dies. How comforting that is for those of us living in a dying world! (more…)