In our sermon series for the past three Sundays, we have been looking at three spiritual disciplines – worship, service and holy living – which are able to nurture our faith if we persevere in them. I would like to use this perspective to give a summary of what I have shared and to remind all of us of the motivation behind pursuing these disciplines.
‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Romans 12.1-2
I would like to focus on the word ‘sacrifice’. When I think of the word ‘sacrifice’, I think of OT worship which involved the sacrifice of unblemished animals. There were many kinds of offerings but a very prominent one would be the sin offering where the animals were sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. Only then would Israel be able to approach and worship God who is holy. However, the sacrificial system was inadequate. The sacrifice had to be carried out again and again, but it pointed forward to something better or, should I say, to someone better. Christ became the sin offering for us, a once and for all sin offering so that we no longer come under the terrifying wrath and judgment of God, which we so rightly deserve. Without His mercies, we will be utterly condemned; without His mercies, Christ would not have come to pave the way for us to be reconciled with God; without His mercies, we can never enter into the very holy of holies to worship Him. Our time of corporate worship on Sundays, our time of worship when we gather in small groups, our time of worship during our daily devotion, all these should be approached with much gratitude in our hearts knowing that worship would not be possible if not for the mercies of God. Sacrifice – worship, out of our gratitude for God’s manifold mercy.
When I think of ‘sacrifice’, I think of service. When the priests carried out the sacrifice, they were carrying out an act of service unto the Lord. ‘And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.’ (Hebrews 10.11) Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice is also seen an act of service. ‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10.45) As Christ’s disciples, we are not above our Master. If He has come to serve us, we too should follow in His footsteps – we should serve one another. Christ is the great high Priest but Christ is also the sacrifice. We are called to be priests but we too are the sacrifices. This is part of what it means to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, remembering that these bodies of ours all make up the Body of Christ. As we serve God and one another, we build up His Body, the Church. Once again, what move us to serve must surely be the mercies of God! We will face discouragements and frustrations in our areas of service. We are not perfect and we will disappoint each other. Sometimes, the disappointment is great precisely because we are Christians and we have a higher expectation of each other. Yes, we do need to work out our differences but ultimately, if we want to keep going in our service, we have to set our minds and our hearts on the mercies of God which have enabled us to see salvation. Sacrifice – service, out of our gratitude for God’s manifold mercy.
When I think of ‘sacrifice’, I think of denying self, taking up my cross and following Jesus. When I think of ‘sacrifice’, I think of holy living that is characterised by genuine love which sets us apart from the self-centred world that we live in. Sacrifices in the OT were never alive. The animals were mutilated and usually burnt so they were confirmed dead. But we are to be living sacrifices because though we were dead, we have been raised to life with Jesus. Paul says: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’. (Galatians 2.20) When people see us, do they see Christ? The most powerful testimony for the Gospel that we preach must be our lives of love patterned after Christ’s love for us – the concrete, sacrificial and unconditional love so vividly displayed on the cross. Otherwise, we are hypocrites and our hypocrisy will turn people away from the Gospel. Are we therefore surrendering our lives to God, bit by bit, as the Holy Spirit reveals to us those unloving areas that we need to work on? Thank God that we do not need to change the ugly things in our lives all at one go. As long as we are on this side of heaven, we will not be perfect. We also thank God that our salvation is by faith and never by works but we do need to work out our salvation which includes pursuing holiness. And what should move us to pursue holiness? It’s our gratitude for the mercies of God again!
Let us never lose focus of the whole motivation behind our worship, service and holy living. Let us also understand that as we engage in these spiritual disciplines, they are used by the Holy Spirit to nurture our faith and transform us to be more and more like Christ. And if the Holy Spirit is the One who is doing the transforming work in us, we can be assured of His strength and encouragement, His enablement and empowerment along the way. Christ has paid the most painful price to secure our salvation but man’s salvation is not the end goal, the end goal is God’s glory, and we can glorify Him if we, as living sacrifices, live every moment of our lives as an act of worship to Him.
Pastor Kien Seng
January 26, 2014