Your Spiritual Act of Worship
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1-21
Confession: Lord’s Day 32
Text: Romans 12:1,2; Lord’s Day 32
Sermon by Rev. Martin Overgaauw
Orthodox Christian Reformed Church of Bowmanville, Ontario
© Burlington United Reformed Church; The Preacher, Vol. 20, No. 4
This sermon may be used in worship services for free; please state the author and church above.
Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,
I want to begin by asking a question of the boys and girls. When dad and mom give you something, what should be the first words out of your mouth? Anytime that you receive anything — whether it be a gift, or a compliment, or a word of encouragement, what are the first two words that dad and mom want you to say? They want you to say, “Thank you!” In fact, isn’t it true that “please” and “thank you” are some of the first words that you learn when you are young? Yes, they are. These are important words for us to learn and say. Saying these words is not only being polite, but it is also a show of respect. It is a show of humility to say “please” when you ask for something, or when you are offered something, and it is an expression of gratitude to say “thank you” after you have received something. It is a sign of being grateful for what you have been given.
The question we have before us is one that makes a transition for us. You see, we have spent quite a few months being shown our deliverance from sin, and the basis on which that deliverance rests — the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who is offered to us as Savior, Redeemer, and the one for whom we, in effect, say “Yes, please” when He is offered to us by way of the gospel. Now we come to the point where we now must express our gratitude for the gift given. It is time now to say “thank you” to God.
But how do we say “thank you” to God? Do we simply say the words “thank you” and then be done with it? Is that the only way that you say “thank you” to mom and dad? Or is there another way of saying thank you? Is there some other way of expressing gratefulness? Yes, there is! You can show your gratefulness by doing nice things for your parents or for one another — things that aren’t necessarily demanded of you. Oh sure, you do show your thankfulness by being obedient and doing what your parents say, (that is expected of you), but you can also do it by doing something for them that you don’t normally do, or give them something that they weren’t expecting — something that says “thank you!” You know what? It also says “I love you!”
The same principle applies when we say “thank you” to God. We can say it with our mouths when we pray, as we will see later on when we talk about the Lord’s Prayer, or we can say “thank you” by way of our actions. We will see that, too, in greater depth as we consider the ten commandments. But now we want to consider the basis of our thankfulness, and what that thankfulness will look like, at least, as it does on the surface. We will look at the need to be thankful.
Having been given such a great and precious gift, one that is beyond measure in terms of greatness and worth, and without any strings attached, now comes the time to reflect on that gift. So let the expressions of our hearts sing with thankfulness, for that is how it is to be. Yes, the gift of salvation is free, and we enter that realm of thanksgiving with that gift held up as a banner in our hand, as it were, and with a great song upon our lips. This is a form of thankfulness, but there must be more. Not only do the tongue and the mouth speak words of thanksgiving and so serve the Lord, but also the way our lives are lived. They must manifest and express thanksgiving. We must also use our hands and our feet. We first confess, “Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul,” but now we sing “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices.”
All this finds expression in worship, the worship that we are engaged in as we speak in this sanctuary with God’s people, but also as we live our day-to-day lives. These too are to be acts of worship. Worship, we must note, is our service to God. All too often it ends up being what we can get out of the Christian life and very little about what we put in.
But we must realize that the key to spiritual satisfaction comes to us not by trying to extract all we can from God, but by giving all that we are and have to Him. We must ask ourselves, “Are we giving all that we are, and have, to Him here in our worship of Him and here in our everyday lives?”
Jesus said “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (John 4:23). Are we worshiping in spirit and in truth? Through our worship we are to give glory to God. But how? Through the reading of the law, the preaching of the Word, the giving of our offerings, the singing? Yes, through all these things, but you also glorify God through your own spiritual act of worship. That is, through the way you conduct yourself, through the way you respond during worship, through the way you come to worship, and through the way you live every minute of every day from the time you leave this place until the time you return again. It is not a one-day affair or two hours out of that one day that we worship God. The apostle Paul, in these two verses of Romans 12 points all this out so clearly.
Beloved, I speak to you under the theme “Your spiritual act of worship,” desiring to bring to your attention the importance of living for Jesus. All things point to the glory of God, therefore you must respond to that glory by glorifying Him with your reasonable service, or, as the English Standard Version and the Revised Standard Version translate it, your spiritual worship. We will look at the first two verses of Romans 12 and see first, that your spiritual act of worship must properly respect the focus of worship; second, it must perfectly reflect an attitude of worship; and third, it must pointedly reject any hindrance to worship.
The first thing that your spiritual act of worship must do in order to express true gratefulness is properly respect the focus of worship. You see, the danger that virtually every church in North America and around the world faces is the danger of not having a proper focus in our lives of worship. It can be said of our own circles, and even of this very congregation, that there are those of us who do not have a proper focus on the worship service, or on our own acts of worship, which our text says is the offering up of our bodies as living sacrifices. It is the sacrifice of our lives, all to the service of God. It is our expression of gratitude, but we must have a proper focus.
We are to give thanks to God for His grace. For it is by His grace that we have been pulled out of that miry pit we call sin. It is by His grace that He has cleaned off the mud and dirt and filth from that pit, and has, since then, clothed us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. His grace is sufficient. We benefit from His grace because of His mercy. Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” It is in the realm of God’s mercy that we are to properly respect the focus of worship, which is our glorious God, our faithful Savior, the blessed Holy Spirit.
The catechism has brought us to the threshold of this understanding by pointing out to us that “since we have been delivered from our misery by grace alone, through Christ, without any merit of ours we must yet do good works because Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Spirit after His own image that with our whole life we may show ourselves thankful to God for His benefits.” Paul’s letter to the Romans points out our sin and our salvation, and now, let the truth be known. We must serve knowing what we now know. We must live our lives as living sacrifices, giving our life in service to our God based on the knowledge and the taste we have of the work of Christ.
There is good reason. Without knowing our sin and misery, and without knowing the salvation with which we are so richly blessed, there will never be any gratitude given. Our spiritual act of worship, that offering up of our bodies as living sacrifices, would not properly respect the focus of worship, which is the Triune God, and we would in no way respect the mercy He has shown us, if we don’t rightly know Him and are not rightly focused on Him.
Think of it in this way. The concept of welfare and unemployment insurance were commendable in the sense that the government was seeking to assist those having difficulty making ends meet, at least until they could get back on their feet. At first it was a blessing to many who were going through difficult times. Many families were grateful to the government for this act of kindness. Even though it should have been the church’s responsibility in the first place, nonetheless people were grateful, because the country was going through hard times. Nowadays, the checks are expected, and not a second glance is ever given to the source of these checks. Gratitude is non-existent. In fact, the demands are for more. The government should be doing more. There is no thought given to how we are in the shape we are in, or how to get out of it. Nothing is said of the gift given, and so no thanks is bestowed upon the giver. The focus is no longer correct!
So it is with God, who is the great “I am.” Without knowing and acknowledging your sin and misery, and without being able to testify to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there will never be a proper respect to God, who is the focus of your worship. But you do know and have acknowledged that, and so you are to do all to the glory of God. Every time you set foot in this place to worship, it is to be to the glory of God, never to the glory of self. If you have professed faith in Christ, you must worship with your eyes fixed upon Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. You must plead for His mercy, and you must honor that mercy by giving proper respect. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God.” As you hold that mercy ever in your sights, have great respect for that mercy. Reveal your gratitude. Give honor and glory to the One who gives mercy.
Three young people professed their faith this past summer. Many over the age of 18 have professed their faith. Let me ask all of you, is this still the testimony of your life, that God has passed over all your sins, and that you wholeheartedly believe that He is both just and the justifier? Have you given Him the proper respect, making Him your primary focus in your daily worship of Him? Are your reflections forever focused on His grace and mercy, or is your profession of faith something that was done as second nature; was it a mere ritual, a stepping stone?
Beloved, there is grace, and there is forgiveness. These have all been freely given to us by God according to His mercy. In His covenant promises, He has repeatedly said that He will be a God to His people. That was the focus of Christ’s ministry — to seek and save the lost, those sheep who would hear His voice, but He also knew those whom the Father had given Him. We have heard His voice. We have been shown mercy. Let us properly respect God as the primary focus of our worship and our lives, because of the great things He has done. How many times hasn’t God Himself said, “Remember what you once were. Remember where you once were. Remember that you once lived in bondage to sin, but now, by My mercy, you have been made free.” Yes, we are still sinners, saved by grace, but let’s not abuse that grace; rather let’s use it to the glory of God.
Congregation, we are also able to see how God’s act of mercy must be the focus of our attention as we look on Him and serve Him. As we do, we are now better able to see that our spiritual act of worship, which is the offering up of our bodies as living sacrifices, must perfectly reflect an attitude of worship. Verse 1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
Your spiritual act of worship (your reasonable service) is your service to God, and you can best serve God when, first of all, you have a proper respect for what He has done, and secondly, when you perfectly reflect an attitude of worship. The text says your attitude must be “holy and acceptable to God.” The point is that this is the qualifier to your spiritual act of worship. This qualifies the offering of your bodies as a living sacrifice. It must be holy and acceptable, and not just acceptable, but pleasing.
In the Old Testament, the offerings made were the firstborn of the animals without blemish, but there the animals were killed before they were laid on the altar. They were dead offerings. Now, because of the richness of God’s mercy revealed in Christ Jesus, you are living and are to offer your service to God with an attitude that is holy and pleasing to God. The Lord has redeemed your soul from hell unto eternal life and now it belongs to Him. But He also desires the outer man, which is the body in which the soul resides.
This is all just the beginning of a life of good works. Before this we could not do good works, and so we must understand that because we are anointed and thereby belong to the Lord, we no longer live for ourselves. We devote all of our thoughts and actions to Him. This is part and parcel to perfectly reflecting an attitude of worship.
What then, is holy and acceptable to God? What is a proper attitude of worship? It is the offering up of our bodies as living sacrifices, no longer relying on the empty sacrifice of animals. We know full well that these animal sacrifices are of no use, therefore, we rejoice in that perfect sacrifice of Christ and realize that nothing less than our thorough self-surrender out of gratitude for what He has done is required. He is our chief High Priest. In Hebrews we read that, “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the most holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb.9:11-12).
God declared to the Israelites, “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 19:2). He gave them the blood of bulls and goats to use for sanctification. However, the blood of animals no longer atones, and yet God still desires holiness. Peter exhorts all believers to “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (I Peter 1:15-16).
How then can we enter into worship with anything but our best? Like the worshiper of Psalm 24 who has come to God with “clean hands and a pure heart,” the believer today should also desire the same. But just as the Israelites took liberties in terms of the specific qualifications of an acceptable animal sacrifice, so we take liberties when it comes to our attitude in our worship of God.
Malachi, through the guidance of God, rebuked those who sacrificed blind animals, animals that were not holy and acceptable to God. “And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Those people were willing to give God their second best, yet they would never think of giving the same offering to the governor. They feared man more than they feared God.
I am afraid that this is our response as well. We all must look at how we approach our worship of God. Are we reverent in the house of God? Are we diligent in our daily devotions with God? I have been in churches where the chatter before the service was so loud that you could hardly hear yourself think. Do we come into the sanctuary quietly and reverently, ready to come face to face with our holy God? Do we give our full attention to every detail of worship even though these details are the same things done faithfully each week? Do we let our minds wander away from the message, forgetting it by the end of our first post-sermon coffee? I see some people take notes. That is a good thing because it keeps your mind focused on the Word of God. Is He praised by us and are we assured of our faith by the fruits of our faith?
You know, these are only a few of the things that we need to examine to see if in fact we are offering God a second rate offering, while at the same time, we give the world our best. How do we, both young and old, approach extra-curricular activities that involve entertainment and enjoyment? Are we right there when it comes to things of that nature? To be sure, we make sacrifices to be there! Wouldn’t miss that for the world! But what about mid-week Bible Study? That too is an expression of your thankfulness to God by coming and contributing and learning — offering up yourself. What about Young Peoples Society? How many see your contributions at the meetings as being an outworking of faith and commitment to God, offering up that which is holy and acceptable — which is the redeemed presence of your life through Christ?
Thankfulness to God can only be that which is holy and acceptable to God — not what is right in our own eyes. All this plays out in many aspects of our lives of faith and much of what we say and do is reflected outward for the world to see. How do we present ourselves to the world? Do we blend in with the world or do we stand out as being different?
Your spiritual act of worship must pointedly reject any hindrance to worship. Verse 2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world.” Well, what is the pattern of this world? Beloved, this overlaps somewhat with our attitude. The word that is translated “conformed” refers to an outward expression that does not reflect what is in the heart. It is used of “masquerading” or “putting on an act,” specifically by following a prescribed pattern or scheme.
This command given to us is gentle but firm, and it tells us that we are not to allow ourselves to be conformed to this world. For example, we are not to masquerade as a worldly person. As one person stated, “Do not let the world squeeze you into its own mold.” We must not allow ourselves to pattern our lives after the pattern of the world. We are to stop allowing ourselves to be fashioned after this present evil age in which we live.
Paul’s words are timeless. They do not speak only to his day and age. It is a call for believers all through the ages past and the age to come, as well as this present age, to turn aside from worldly pleasures and attractions. Slip away from the influence of Satan. Believers, do not don the masks of this world.
The saying goes, “Bad company corrupts good character.” It is so true. We saw it when the sons of God fell in with the daughters of men. We are all taught to imitate, and we so easily imitate bad behavior. Paul is warning the church of Jesus Christ against giving in to all the different manifestations of worldly behavior that constantly surrounds her. We are surrounded with coarse and blasphemous language; we are surrounded with the worldly dance to the lyrics of the world; we are surrounded with filthy books and magazines; we have the internet; we are surrounded with the provocative fashions of the world, and all of these things and then some find their way into the church of Christ.
Beloved, we must reject any hindrance to our worship of God, so we must reject any and all of these worldly influences. Ephesians 5:1-4 tells us to “be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” There it is, plain and simple! And the reason why we are to obey God and turn from the world comes to us in the next verse, Ephesians 5:5, “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Romans 12:2 goes on to tell us what must happen. The text says you must “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” What do you think that means? To conform gives the idea of falling into a pattern, but to be transformed gives the idea that the pattern is cast aside, and what once was is now something entirely different. It is a metamorphosis. It involves an inward change, and the seat of that change is the renewing of the mind, how we think.
Now, this renewing is not a once-for-all renewing. Grammatically the structure of the word is such that it lends itself to the translation “continue to let yourselves be renewed.” This is not an on-again off-again thing — this is ongoing and continuous. This transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is part and parcel of our sanctification. We must realize that Paul is saying that “You who are believers — wake up!” Do not reflect worldly practices and attitudes in your lives. Don’t allow them to be carried over into your worship of God. Don’t allow the gutter of the world to flow into God’s temple which is your heart. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Change the direction in which you are going. Live as you have been called to live. Have nothing to do with all that is darkness, “that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Beloved, we cannot simply depend on our conscience to be our guide. Our conscience is seared with sin. Our conscience is never going to tell us the “acceptable and perfect will of God.” Our conscience is weak, and it must always be sifted through the pages of scripture where the Holy Spirit is able to properly instruct us. Our proper respect for the focus of worship does not come from our daily, worldly experiences; it comes from the testimony of God’s Word as it has affected our lives. To perfectly reflect an attitude of worship we must turn to God’s Word, and not to the practices of the world. To pointedly reject any hindrance to worship we must allow the Spirit to work in our hearts through the pages of Scripture, rather than take our direction from the ways of the world.
Have you in any way conformed to the patterns of the world? Does the world’s language come out of your mouth? Do you, as the youth of the church, participate in worldly practices such as dances and rock concerts? Does anyone here participate in these things?
What do you make of the revealing clothes worn by many women in the world today? Men don’t know where to look any more because the clothes worn are too tight and revealing. Is this the way that you present your bodies as living sacrifices to God? Is it a holy and pleasing sacrifice? Is it an expression of your thankfulness to God? Is it winning your neighbors for Christ? Are we as parents to these covenant children, monitoring the dress of our children? Do we ourselves do anything that contradicts our faith in God and thus our worship of Him?
If so, then may we turn from these practices, and may we instead glorify God in all that we say and do. May we never be conformed to the world’s pattern but may we always be transforming. This is our spiritual act of worship. You know, it is amazing what that transformation will bring. It will bring blessings. It will bring joy. It will bring an understanding.
You will have that God-given ability of discernment. Giving in to the world and to the things that the world’s practices only muddies the waters. Nothing is clear and it only gets worse, because you have lost that inner guide that leads you back to the Word of God where you are made to acknowledge your sin; where the glory of your salvation is proclaimed. That glory is there on every page of Scripture, and that glory transforms lives — even lives that have professed a faith in Christ. Being transformed by the renewing of your mind, as you are engaged with the mighty Word of God, will make you able to test and approve what God’s will is — His good, pleasing and perfect will. Isn’t that a better way to go than to always be changing with the times? Find your rest in the Word of God, that Word that speaks of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May that not only be the desire of your hearts, but may it also be the reality of your lives as you continue on in His service, for it is an expression of your thankfulness as you live before the world. The Scripture declares that no unchaste person, idolater, adulterer, thief, covetous man, drunkard, slanderer, or any such as these shall inherit the kingdom of heaven. Amen.