Transformed Church - r12 2. God's Altar Call

May 20, 2012


 
After doctrine comes duty; after revelation, responsibility; after principles, practice, after belief comes behaviour; after creed comes conduct. Right thinking leads ultimately to right living. If good theology is the foundation of the Christian life, then godly Christian living rises naturally from that solid foundation. It is never enough simply to know the truth; at some point we must begin to live the truth. We must not simply embrace the truth; the truth we believe must at some point embrace us. Let us pray that we might have renewed minds and open hearts so that by putting the truth into practice, we might become both wise and good.
Romans 12: 1 - God's altar call. It builds upon all that has gone before in chapters 1-11. It calls Christians to a new commitment. It comes as a tender personal appeal. It flows out of the abundant mercy of God. It leads to a total personal transformation. It results in knowing and doing the will of God. 
We can see the heart of the call in the middle of v. 1—"to present your bodies as a living sacrifice." God's call is intimate, personal and inescapable. If we are Christians, we come to this call again and again. "The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar."

1. The Background of the Call

The picture of a living sacrifice comes from the worship of the OT where the priests daily killed bulls and goats and offered them before the Lord. Though you had the river of animal blood before you, not one sin could it forgive. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10: 4).
We discover the difference between OT religion and NT Christianity. The entire OT was meant to prepare the Jews for the day when John the Baptist saw Jesus and exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1: 29). What an amazing statement that is. A. He is God’s lamb sent from heaven to earth. When God offers a “lamb - His own Son. He is the perfect sacrifice. All those animals the priests put to death were meant to point directly to him.
B. He is God’s lamb offered for our sins. When our Lord died on the cross, he “rolled away” our sins once and for all. They are gone, removed, blotted out, covered, and rolled away forever.
C. He is God’s lamb who rolls away the sins of the world. The blood of Jesus is so powerful that it is sufficient payment for the sins of the whole world. Anyone, anywhere, at any time can be forgiven through Christ. Jesus paid it all.
We have learned a new term—suicide bomber. We wonder what would make an apparently normal man in his 20s strap explosives around his waist, walk into a crowded restaurant or take a seat on a bus or drive a car to a checkpoint or walk down a busy street and suddenly and deliberately blow himself up. Why would a man do such a thing? We know that in a dangerous world, any of us may die at any time. But suicide bombers not only voluntarily blow themselves up, they look forward to it, and some of them even train their children to do it. We see a crucial difference between Christianity and Islam. “In radical Islam God tells you to send your son to die for him. In Christianity God sends his Son to die for you.” Jesus said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10: 10). He also said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14: 6). Out of his death comes our life. Christianity is supremely a religion of life.

No Bull In Church Today

Did anyone bring a goat to church? Did anyone park a bull outside? Now that Jesus died and rose from the dead, we don't have to do that any more. The one sacrifice of Christ has paid the full price for our salvation. He did what a river of animal blood could never do.
There is no other religion in the world like Christianity. We preach free grace. Every other religion says, “Do this and live.” Our God says, “It has been done for you.” Whole gospel in 3 words: Do vs. Done - Every other religion is based on works. Christianity is based on grace. If it’s not free, it’s not grace. If you have to do something, anything at all, to earn it or merit it or deserve it, it’s not grace. Grace is no longer grace if you have to do something to earn it. “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.” (Micah 7: 18).
Where else will we find a God like this? He is a God who delights to show mercy to sinners like you and me. He loves to forgive sin. He sends his Son to die on the cross and then says to the whole world, “Whosoever will may come.”

2. The Essence of the Call

In the OT God wanted dead sacrifices because those dead animals offered on the altar pointed to the dying Son of God who gave up his life for our sins. But he did not stay dead! On the 3rd day, God's lamb came back to life, raised never to die again.
So now what does God want? Living sacrifices! He wants men and women who, having received his mercy through Christ, will now gladly offer themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord. This is the only reasonable thing to do - our "reasonable act of service" to the God who saved us. CEV - this is "the most sensible way to serve God." Note how specific it is—"present your bodies." Present your body to the Lord as a living sacrifice. "Why would God want my body?" If he's got your body, he's got you. Wherever your body goes, you are sure to follow.
Psalm 139: 13 - 16 - God formed your body, knitting it together while you were still in the womb. 1 Corinthians 6: 19 - your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Glorify God in your body.
Your body matters to God! Your salvation is being worked out, not just in your soul or your spirit, but also in your physical body. Have you ever thought of it this way? God has no lips except your lips yielded to him. He has no eyes except your eyes yielded to him. He has no ears except your ears yielded to him. He has no hands except your hands yielded to him. He has no feet except your feet offered to him. 
What you do with your body matters to God. He wants you to use your body for his glory in every situation and to seek to know him intimately and serve him joyfully in every circumstance, not just in church but every moment of every day: Here in the sanctuary, there in the workplace. Here when we sing, there when we work. Here when we worship, there when we study. Here when we pray, there when we play. Here when we clap, there when we date. Here when we listen, there when we speak. We are to offer our bodies unreservedly to the Lord for his service, to be used for his glory.
Then our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, and perform many mundane tasks as well like cooking and cleaning, typing and mending, our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.
This is the practical side of Christianity. Sometimes we can get very dreamy and sentimental in our faith. But Paul is far from a mystical dreamer. In his mind, everything we have and all that we are, every blessing we receive flows from the mercy of God. In just a few verses he will call us to a lifestyle of mercy to the people around us. We who have received such mercy are now to show mercy in a thousand different ways to people both inside and outside the family of faith.
* We are to teach, to prophesy, to serve, to exhort, to give, to show mercy and to lead (v. 3 - 8).
* We are to love one another, abhor evil, be zealous, fervently serve the Lord, give high honor to each other, pray, rejoice, be patient, give to those in need, all of this demonstrating that our love is genuine (v. 9 - 13).
* We are even to bless those who persecute us, live in peace with troublesome people, quickly forgive, refuse to retaliate, live in harmony, hang out with the lowly, rejoice and weep with those who rejoice and weep, and if our enemy is hungry or thirsty, we are to give him food and water, and by doing this we will overcome evil will good (v. 14 - 21).
That's radical stuff he's talking about. Nothing sentimental about it. Nothing mushy. This is love in the nitty-gritty. No one lives like this naturally. Only those who have been baptised in the ocean of God's mercy will have the desire or the ability to live a mercy-full life toward others. You can't do any of those things without your body.
So this is flow of Paul's argument . . . Since you have received God's mercy through the cross of Christ, Since you are now brothers and sister in the family of God, Since your life has been utterly transformed by Jesus Christ, There is only one sensible thing for you to do . . . Offer your body to God as a living sacrifice, So that he can use you as a vessel of mercy to others. Nothing else makes sense. Nothing else really matters. Nothing else will satisfy you. God doesn't want dead animals burning on an altar. He wants his people to be living sacrifices. This is holy and acceptable in his sight.

3. The Application of the Call

So the only thing that is left is to do what Paul calls us to do. Make it specific and very personal. Stand in front of a mirror and consider your body. It may not be much to look at it, and it's probably not the body you want, but God wants the body you have so that it might be put into his service. We may say, "Lord, why would you want my body? It's overweight, it's out of shape, it's wrinkled, blotchy, achy, diseased, impulsive, nervous, unattractive, lazy, awkward, disabled, near-sighted, hard-of-hearing, stiff, and brittle. It has a bad heart, it has bad joints, it doesn't work so well and it has a dirty mind. My body is always tripping me up. I'm better in the spirit than in my body. Why would you want my body? It doesn't work so well anyway." God says, "I know you better than you know yourself. I intend someday to transform your body into something so glorious that if you knew about it today, it would almost scare you. I know how to take that body that gives you so much trouble and use it for my glory. But I can't do anything with it until you present it to me." 
God never says, "Clean yourself up and then I will use you." He says, "Come to me just as you are, and I will clean you up." He never asks us to change ourselves (which we can't do). He invites us to come to him with all our faults and failures and all the limitations we experience, and in the coming, we are slowly changed into the image of Christ. Bring your body with all of its problems, all of its temptations, all of its weakness, and just give it to God. You'll be surprised what he can do with your body.
Here I am, Lord. All that I have, I now give to you.
Here I am, Lord. All that you gave me, I now give back to you.
Presenting your body as a living sacrifice means taking all that you have and placing it at the disposal of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. If Jesus has your body, he has you because where your body goes, you must soon follow.
Presenting your body to God is an act of spiritual worship. God wants worshipers, he seeks men and women who will seek him, trust him, follow him, believe in him, risk all for him and who will count it joy and not loss to serve him every day. Let this be your response to God's altar call.

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