1. Living Sacrifices

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12 : 1:  Living Sacrifices

Rom 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.

As we concluded the series on chapter 9 to 11, we noted, ‘This brings us to the end of Paul’s specific thoughts about his own people, and chapter 12 onwards reverts back to instructions to the church though, as we see if we continue these studies, we are to note these things in the light of what we have just been considering.’  We have again and again throughout these meditations called the reader to note the context, how the particular present verses ‘fits in’ with that has gone before. It will be significant in terms of what the verse will lead into, but to understand it properly we will always need to see what it flows on from and the key word that reminds us of that in this first verse is, “Therefore”.

“Therefore” says ‘because of what has just been said, move on in this way’. Back in chapter 11 Paul had written, “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” (11:25) He is speaking to his readers as Gentiles, because that is what most of them were in Rome, and what most believers are today. In chapters 9 to 11 he had several times warned us Gentile believers to hold a good and right attitude towards the Jews and in respect of our own salvation.

It is that latter element that he returns to now, how we will live out our Christian lives in right and proper ways. At the end of chapter 11, before he moved into the doxology of verses 33 to 36, he had stated, “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all,” (v.32) which was his way of saying that we are all sinners and we all need the grace and mercy of God to be able to enter into a meaningful relationship with the Lord. Appreciate and make the most of God’s mercy is what he is saying behind this first verse.

When he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers,” he is showing the sense of urgency and importance that he is giving to what he is saying.   We’re all sinners but God’s mercy is there to be received, so don’t be casual about it, take hold of it, respond to it, let it do its work in you; this is critically important.  What he is going on to plead with us is “in view of God’s mercy.”  Because we have received God’s mercy, don’t be casual about it but realise the wonder of it and respond fully to it. I think I need to repeat this: don’t be casual with God’s mercy. Realise it for what it is.

We deserve death and we have done nothing to deserve God’s life, His cleansing and His forgiveness, let alone being adopted as His children and being given His own Holy Spirit. Nothing about us deserved any of that. We were 100% sinners. Left to ourselves we would be utterly self-centred and godless. We are what we are ONLY because God has reached out to us by His Holy Spirit, and ONLY because He convicted us of our need. The only thing WE did was surrender and confess what we were and what we needed. When we asked Him to forgive us and come into our lives and let the work of Jesus on the Cross be applied to us, we had nothing with which to persuade God that we were worthy of His salvation – because we weren’t!   Mercy is something that is simply given because the giver decides to have mercy, and that on no grounds of merit by the receiver, but just because He decides that is what He will do.

That is how incredible it is that we have been offered salvation. Now I have put it in that tentative way – we have been offered salvation – because although it is sure and certain when we surrendered to Him and received it, and although we are truly saved at the moment of our conversion, how we work that out in our lives on this earth until we go to be with Him, is more variable and tentative. Some people just totter into the kingdom and hardly change and go through life as nice people but with little of the life and reality of God’s purposes being worked out in them, failing to enter into the fullness of what He has for them.

That is why Paul is ‘urging’ them. He’s not just saying, ‘it would be a nice idea if you did this’. No, he is saying that it is vital that you do this if (implied) you are to enter into and receive all that God has got for you as Gentile believers now fully receiving everything that His mercy can bring you. So what is he ‘urging’ them to do – and note it is something to DO, not just think about – thinking comes next but for the moment this is all about an act of the will to DO something. What does he say to do? It is “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.”  A sacrifice is something to be offered up to God and destroyed. This is a call to utterly give yourself over to God and to His purposes for you, to die to the old way of life and let God do whatever He will with you now.

Note three things here. First, he speaks about offering your ‘body’ so this is not some mere mental acceptance, this means giving over every aspect of what you do in your life. As an exercise you could think what you do with your head – that’s the mind, and Paul is about to speak about that and we’ll consider that in the next meditation. But then you have ears. What do you allow your ears to hear?  Your mouth? What words do you allow to come out of your mouth? Your hands? What do you allow your hands to do? Your feet? Where do you allow your feet to take you? There is a whole fruitful field for meditation here.

But there is a second thing as well. This all sounds very dramatic to the new believer, but when you came to Christ you surrendered to him and asked him to lead you from now on.  If that ‘surrender’ is to mean anything, it means you want him to lead you in every aspect of your life.

And now the third thing! This reminds us of the picture of Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac. There God provided a substitute. In the same way today, God provides a substitute for your death – Jesus. In one sense God doesn’t want you dead; you being a sacrifice means nothing except it is an indication of your utter willingness to let God change your life.

When you do this, it is “holy and pleasing to God” and, says Paul, “this is your spiritual act of worship.”  If you want to know what real worship is, it is acknowledging God’s greatness and your smallness, acknowledging God’s great wisdom and your absence of it, and giving yourself into His hands because that is the best and safest place to be. May it so be!

31. A Sin Offering

Meditations in the Law : No.31 : What is a Sin Offering?

Lev 4:1-3 The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: `When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD’s commands– `If the anointed priest sins, bringing guilt on the people, he must bring to the LORD a young bull without defect as a sin offering for the sin he has committed.

As we come to the Sin Offering we should note that sin is defined in verse 2 as doing anything forbidden in God’s laws. The sin that is covered is that which was done unintentionally, i.e. the person did not realise it was forbidden at the time but has subsequently realised it and knows they have to do something about it.

The first person considered is the priest himself (v.3). If he sins, as representative of the people to God, he brings a sense of guilt on the whole people. His sin, should it occur, must be the first to be dealt with, because he is the one who stands in the Tabernacle as the mediator between man and God. If that mediator is tainted then the whole system crumbles. The rules for what happens are similar to the Burnt Offering in as far as an animal is presented at the door to the Tent, the Offeror kills it and the priest take some of its blood. Thereafter it differs.

First some of the blood is sprinkled before the curtain where God is said to reside. This recognises that that entrance, having been lost by sin, is first to need to be sanctified by a life given up. Then some is put on the altar of incense, the altar used to daily present incense, as a recognition that this path to God has likewise been violated by the priest’s sin. Finally the rest of the blood is poured out at the base of the main altar. Note that it is the fat and entrails that is actually cut out and offered on the fire, suggesting that it is what goes on inside us that needs sacrificing, not the shell of the body. It is our mind, our soul, and our will, that needs giving over to God, for it is from here that sin comes.

The offerings for the congregation (v.13), the leader (v.22) and the individual (v.27) are similar but for each one the beast gets smaller, as their importance diminishes. The things that need to be cleansed by blood change. For the congregation, as with the priest, the entrance into the Most Holy Place and the golden altar of incense are to be cleansed. This is a sign that God’s design is for the nation to be able to be represented as coming into His Holy Presence, but for the leader and an individual, the blood is only put on the horns of the bronze altar for they do not come into the Most Holy Place, in the same way that at Mount Sinai the people were not to touch the mountain (Ex 19:12). Only Moses and the leading priests and the seventy representative elders were allowed to approach (Ex 24:1). The design of the various different sin offerings is therefore careful to maintain this big distinction. Because those priests and key elders, representing the nation, had gone up on the mountain, nearer to God than the people, thus if they sin it is more serious and the nature and extent of their offering has to be greater.

For the ordinary leader (not an elder) and the ordinary members of the congregation, sin offerings simply recognised that they had broken their right to bring even burnt offerings, and therefore the blood they presented had to cleanse the bronze altar even before their offering could be burnt. It IS sin but they are less significant.

In the New Testament we find the apostle Paul exhorting us, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12;1,2). I am challenged by the question, have I surrendered my heart, my mind and my will to God?

Considering the different categories of this offering, dependent upon the person, perhaps we should recognise that in life different people hold different roles and those roles carry different responsibilities. The bigger the role, representing more people – parents, teachers, leaders, managers, directors, governors etc. – the greater the responsibility and the greater the sin when there is failure, and the greater the accountability to God. Where are we in this?