Understanding Your Shape

Romans 12:1-8

April 21, 2002 | Brian Bill

During experiments aboard the space shuttle “Columbia,” scientists discovered that there are twenty-six lakes underneath the Sahara desert.  It’s heartrending to think of the people who are starving and dying of thirst because these hidden resources have not yet been tapped. 

In a similar way, there are a number of spiritual resources that lie untapped in our church and in our individual lives because we’ve simply not gone deep enough.  My fear is that we’re missing out on what the Christian life is all about.  Some of us are settling for something far less than what God intended.

During this series called, “Improving Your Serve,” we’ve been looking at some ways that we can ramp up our servanthood quotient.  Last week we focused on four ways to become a servant:

  • Check our motives
  • Expect difficulty
  • Put others first
  • Follow the example of Christ

This morning we’re going to see that in order to effectively serve we must make sure that we’ve surrendered to Christ and that we have a proper estimation of self.  In other words, we must first go deep before we can go long.  Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 12:1-8.  

Fully Express Your Surrender to God

We see in verses 1-2 that we must fully express our surrender to God.  Before God wants your service He wants a guarantee that He really has you: “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.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Whenever you see the word “therefore” in the Bible you should always ask what it’s there for.  When we come to chapter 12 of Romans, Paul is making a shift from doctrine to practice.  He follows a similar pattern in the books of Ephesians and Colossians when he establishes doctrine in the first part of the letter and then moves to application in the second half.  Theology is never meant to be cold and lifeless.  It must always have a practical application.  It’s as if he’s saying,  “Based on everything that I’ve just said, this is what you now need to put into practice.”  

There are at least four “therefores” in the book of Romans:

Romans 3:20 is the “therefore” of condemnation: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”  Romans 5:1 is the “therefore” of justification: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”   Romans 8:1 is the “therefore” of assurance: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  And Romans 12:1 is the “therefore” of surrender.  Paul is saying that even though we are guilty and deserve to die, we have been declared righteous through faith in Christ and will never face condemnation.  Based upon the entire argument in chapters 1-11, we should fully surrender our lives to Him.  

The immediate context is the wonderfully deep doxology found at the end of chapter 11: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond finding out…for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory!  Amen.”

Based on all that God has done, Paul says, “I urge you, brothers…”  Even though Paul could have used a command here, he instead makes an appeal.  He does a similar thing in Ephesians 4:1: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”  This word means to “call near” or “to invite.”  Notice that he refers to them as “brothers,” indicating his affection for them as members of God’s family.  He’s begging believers, not unbelievers, to do something that has not yet been done.

God has demonstrated so much mercy to us that we can’t help but respond by fully surrendering our lives to Him

He makes this plea “in view of God’s mercy.”  The original word used here for “mercy” is actually plural and refers to God’s multitude of mercies.  He is not merciful just once but again and again.  He is consistently and constantly full of mercy.  John Calvin once said that we will never worship with a sincere heart or serve God with unbridled zeal until we properly understand how much we are indebted to God’s mercy.  God has demonstrated so much mercy to us that we can’t help but respond by fully surrendering our lives to Him.  

It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t say, “In light of God’s grace” but instead focuses on mercy.  Why is that?  God’s grace is demonstrated when we get what we don’t deserve, whereas His mercy is what keeps us from getting what we do deserve.  Micah 7:18: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” 

That reminds me of the man who stormed into a photo studio complaining about the quality of his photographs.  He smashed his fist on the counter and fumed, “Sir, these pictures do not do my looks justice.”  To which the photographer responded, “Sir, with a face like yours, you don’t want justice, you want mercy!”  Friend, even if you look good in pictures, be careful about asking for justice, because you might just get it!  If I received what I deserved I’d end up in Hell, and so would you.  It’s God’s mercies that we want.  Lamentations 3:22: “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (NKJV).

Paul then gives us three ways to fully express our surrender to God:

1. Offer your body.

We are urged, in view of the many mercies of God “to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.”  This word “offer” is a technical term that was used to describe the bringing and presenting of an animal for sacrifice on an altar.  To “offer” means, “to present once and for all.”   In the Old Testament worship included sacrifice.  A live animal was brought to the priest and the owner would lay hands on the beast to symbolically say, “This animal takes my place.”  The animal was then killed and the blood was sprinkled upon the altar

This idea of a “living sacrifice” must have been a novel idea to the Jews of that day.  This was something they had not heard of before, except perhaps in the case of Abraham offering Isaac upon the altar.  They were used to offering dead sacrifices.  Once a sacrifice is offered to God, you can’t take it back.  When we are called to present our “bodies” to the Lord, we are exhorted to offer our total being to Him, not just bits and pieces.  God does not just want to be a “part” of our lives; He wants us to be completely committed to Him.  As someone has said, the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

God isn’t interested in beasts today; He’s looking for bodies of believers who will be sold out to Him.  He wants us to be living sacrifices, not dead offerings.  When an offering is made to God, it was set apart and was completely devoted.  

A young boy came to church one cold winter day to get out of the blowing snow.  He had been trying to sell newspapers but not a single customer had passed by because of the weather.  He slipped into the back of the church, just hoping to get warm and catch up on his sleep.  Though the Sunday crowd was slim, the boy really paid attention to the sermon and was greatly moved by it.  When the pastor was done, he called for the offering.  The ushers went from row to row, and when the offering plate came to the boy, he stared at it for a while and then put it on the floor.

He then did something very strange and very beautiful.  He stood up and stepped right into the offering plate.  By then, all the people had turned around and were staring at the boy.  When he looked up, he had big tears running down his face as he said, “Pastor, I don’t have any money because I haven’t sold any newspapers today.  But, if Jesus gave His life for me, then I will gladly give my life to Him.”  The person who has nothing to give but himself is able to give the greatest gift of all.

Paul continues by saying that our life offering is to be “holy and pleasing to God.”  Sacrifices were to be without blemish or defect.  In like manner, we are to offer to God our best.  When we give our best to Him, it will be pleasing, or agreeable to Him.  This is then our “spiritual act of worship.”  Worship is not just what we do here on Sunday mornings.  True worship is the presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices to Him and living holy and pleasing lives, every day of the week.

2. Offer your mind. 

Verse 1 calls for a decisive commitment to fully surrender. Verse 2 tells us how we can maintain that commitment by renewing our mind and not following the fashion and pattern of the world.  As we discovered last week, the world’s way of doing things is built on selfishness, not selflessness.  The tense of this verse indicates that we must stop conforming, implying that this is something that we are doing.  If we’re serious about surrendering fully to Christ, we must focus on being transformed, not being conformed to those things the world values.  He who controls the mind, owns the person. 

The word “conformed” is the word that we get our English word “scheme” from.  It’s sometimes translated “fashioned.”  Paul is urging us to stop being pushed into the fashion of the world.  Sometimes we are so conformed to the world that there is little noticeable difference between Christians and non-Christians.  A conformist is afraid to be different and feels a need to be like everyone else.  A Christian is not supposed to be a chameleon!

Some of you are facing some incredible temptations right now.  You feel yourself being pulled to conform, to go along with the way your friends are leading you.  Don’t give in!  Unfortunately, some of us have internalized the world’s values and fashions so much that we don’t even recognize it anymore.  It’s like walking into a dark theater in the middle of the day.  When you first go in, everything is really dark.  But after a while, you can see normally, that is, until you walk back outside.  Some of you are in a similar situation today.  If you spend enough time conforming to the world, you become so accustomed to the darkness that you think it’s now normal.

The word “transformed” refers to an inner change.  We get the word “metamorphosis” from this Greek word.  A metamorphosis is not something we can do on our own.  If we present ourselves as living sacrifices and reflect upon the mercies of God as evidenced in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will transform our minds.

There is a story told of a very ugly man with a hideous face.  He was good and kind, but people were terrified of him and would not stay in his presence. As you can imagine, he was very lonely.  The thing he wanted most was to marry the mayor’s pretty daughter and to be loved by her.  So he decided to wear a mask of a handsome face so that he could win her love.  He kept this mask on 24/7.  Soon he was married to the mayor’s daughter and living the happy life he had always wanted.

After a number of years his wife began to notice that his handsome face was indeed a mask and asked him to show her his true face.  And because he loved her, and could not bear to refuse her, he slowly took off the mask, bracing himself for the gasp of horror he knew would soon be coming.  But instead of screaming, his wife just smiled.  The man ran to a mirror and realized that the years of wearing the disguise had transformed his face into the handsome features of the mask.  When we put on Christ and wear his face, we find our lives transformed into his likeness.  2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

It is by the renewing of our minds – trading the old pattern of selfishness for the new pattern of Christ’s kingdom values that we are transformed.  I like how the Living Bible translates Romans 12:2: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a newness in all you do and think.”

3. Offer your will. 

Notice the last part of verse 2: “Then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”  Isn’t it great that God allows us to test and approve his will for us?  God will not force us into anything.  He does not dominate our wills, but allows us to choose His will.

But it’s no use sitting around waiting to have the will of God revealed to us.  This is an active verb.  We learn His will by doing.  When you wonder what God’s will is for your life, the first place to start is by living out Romans 12:1-2.  Until you offer Him your body, your mind, and your will, you won’t understand His good, pleasing, and perfect will.  We tend to focus God’s will on the what – our occupation, or the where – our location, but God is more interested in our transformation.  Have you presented yourself to Him in complete surrender?  The answer to this question will determine your ability to tap into God’s limitless resources.

Have a Proper Estimate of Self

The way to knowing God’s will also involves having a proper estimate of ourselves.  Look at verses 3-5: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”

1. Discern who you are (3). 

Thinking more highly of ourselves than we should is one of the greatest problems in serving God.  The Roman church may have struggled with the problem of self-importance because they were located at the heart of the Roman Empire.  That reminds me of the man who was driving down the expressway in rush hour traffic when he received a call from his wife on his cell phone, “Honey, you need to be careful driving home because I just heard on the news that there’s a dork driving in the wrong direction on the same road you’re on.”  To which the husband responded, “It’s not just one; there are hundreds of them!”

God uses us simply because He wants to

Have you ever been around an individual who always thinks they’re right?  How does it feel to be around someone who boasts and brags about his or her abilities?  It’s not a good feeling, is it?  Never forget this truth: God uses us simply because He wants to.  We’re to avoid thinking too highly of ourselves and we’re to avoid thinking too low of ourselves.  We do that by focusing on God’s grace.  Everything we are and everything we have is by grace.  Let’s skewer our superior attitudes.

2. Celebrate diversity (4). 

We must also remember that just as the different parts of our bodies have different functions, so too, in the body of Christ, each of us have been given different gifts and roles.  We can’t do it alone.  If God’s purposes are to be accomplished and His church is to grow, everyone of us is important.  Nobody is a nobody in the Body of Christ.  While no one can do everything, everyone can do something.

There are so many ways that we are different from each other.  That’s how God designed us.  A fully devoted follower of Christ understands and celebrates this variety in the Body of Christ.  Let me use the acrostic S-H-A-P-E in order to demonstrate this diversity.

Spiritual Gifts (what you do)

Heart (where you do it)

Abilities (talents)

Personality (how you do it)

Experiences (our spiritual resume)

I’m shaped differently than you, and you’re put together differently than I am.  And that’s a good thing.

3. Recognize our dependency (5). 

While we’re uniquely designed, we’ve been made to function in community with one another.  Each of us belongs to one another.  I might be strong in the area of my gift, but I am weak in the areas where others have been gifted.  Thus, I must minister to others out of my strength, and be dependent upon the ministry of the rest of the body in my areas of weakness.

In order to understand our shape for ministry, we must stop thinking individualistically and begin to think corporately.  We cannot look at ourselves as an island, independent of all others.  We must see ourselves as fully functioning members of the body of Christ, with certain gifts that are necessary to the equipping and ministry of the entire church.  There is individuality within the body, because there are many members, all with a different role to play.  But there is no room for individualism, for we are inter-dependent.  We must rely on other members of the body just as they must rely on us.

Experts tell us that 85% of the success of people in the workplace is directly related to their interpersonal relationships.  Bad attitudes hinder good relationships.  Some of the most gifted people in the world struggle to get along with others.  Let’s determine to follow the example of Christ by serving people and by considering others better than we are.

Did you know that you belong to the person sitting next to you?  We’re on the same team with each of us playing different roles.  Don’t get puffed up by your own importance and don’t take yourself out of the game by thinking you don’t matter.  We need each other because we belong to each other.

Completely Engage in Service

We need to fully express our surrender to God.  Then we must cultivate a proper estimate of ourselves.  Finally, we’re to completely engage in service.  We see this in verses 6-8: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

This list of seven gifts is only a partial list.  There are many others that are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Peter 4, and Ephesians 4.  We’ll talk more about these specific gifts next week.  Suffice it to say this morning that a spiritual gift is an ability given by the Holy Spirit to express our faith effectively for the strengthening of someone else’s faith.  

Paul is making two points:

1. God has given gifts to us.  

Paul calls them graces, and we have different gifts, according to the specific gift of grace that is given to us.  I like that term for gifts because it indicates something about them.  Gifts are graceful.  Something graceful is a delight to watch in action.

2. These gifts must be used. 

If you have first given yourself to God, and you are seeking to obey Him in the strength He supplies, you will know what He has given you to do, and you will have the faith and the grace necessary to do it.

There are at least three benefits to being mobilized for ministry.

  1. You will be FRUITFUL.  John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” As you discover, develop and deploy your spiritual gifts, you will see fruit.  It’s a guarantee.
  2. You will be FULFILLED.  Psalm 138:7: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.”

There is nothing more satisfying than to be used by God.  God wants to do some amazing things in and through us — when He does, you will be fulfilled beyond your wildest dreams.  

  1. The Church will be FORTIFIED.  Ephesians 4:12 teaches that spiritual gifts are given so that the body of Christ my be built up.” One reason Pontiac Bible Church is a strong church is because so many of you are using your spiritual gifts – and it will be even stronger when even more of us put our gifts into action.  A church that does not value gift-based ministry will not grow to maturity.

When Mother Teresa visited Australia several years ago, a young man was assigned to be her guide during her stay.  He was thrilled at the prospect of being so close to such a godly woman but he became frustrated over time because even though he was constantly near her, he never had the opportunity to talk with her because there were always other people around.

When her tour was over she was scheduled to fly to New Guinea.  In desperation, this young man came up with a plan and said to Mother Teresa, “If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk and learn from you?”  Mother Teresa looked at him and asked, “You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?”  “Oh, yes,” he replied eagerly.  “Then give that money to the poor,” she said.  “You’ll learn more from that than I anything I can tell you.”

Many of us would rather experience something than do something.  We always learn more by doing because our gifts are given to be given.

  • Commit to personal growth through fully expressing your surrender to God.  
  • Commit to this local body through a proper estimate of yourself.  
  • Commit to ministry by completely engaging in service.  

When we do, we’ll tap into the rich reservoir of God’s blessings.

Invitation.  I want to give you the opportunity right now to make whatever commitment God is prompting you to make.  Are you ready to step into the offering plate?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?