Pr Samuel Joseph
How is the Christian, saved through the gospel, to live in this world after salvation? This is Paul’s focus in the latter part of his epistle to the Romans. We must recognise that we have been saved for a purpose, and given a mission by our Saviour and Lord. We are not drifting through this life, waiting for the next: but we are actively seeking to serve the Lord and perform His will. Here in Romans 12:1–2 we find a call to comprehensive Christian service: we will consider here the motive of our service, the matter of our service, and the manner of our service to God in this world.
Motive of Our Service
In grounding the call to Christian service, Paul focuses on one particular aspect of the gospel, “the mercies of God.” Note well: our life of service is not to be motivated purely by fear of judgment ‒ this may be part of what drove us first to seek salvation and security in Christ, but it is not the driving force behind our lives after that. Our service is not rendered to Christ as the payment of a kidnapper’s ransom, as though it is something we are compelled to give, out of fear for the consequences! Nor is our life of service motivated by mere obligation that settles into sheer force of habit; the Christian life is not one of dull, reluctant routine. Our service is not rendered to Christ as the payment of a government tax!
Rather, we are exhorted here on the basis of God’s mercies, revealed in the gospel, to offer our willing service to God. We are besought here to serve God whole-heartedly and without reluctance, in response to His mercies ‒ to offer our lives to God in grateful devotion for what He has done for us. This is the powerful motive that lies behind the Christian life, as we ought to live it! If we find the Christian life desultory, devoid of joy and vibrancy: it may be that we have forgotten the mercies of God. Let us go back to the gospel, and remind ourselves what God has done for us in Christ!
Matter of Our Service
But what is our service to God? In what does it consist? What exactly are we called to present to God, when we are called to serve Him? Paul calls this service a presenting of our bodies as a “living sacrifice” unto God ‒ an echo of the Old Testament sacrifices; but whereas those animal bodies were brought and burned on the altar, we are to offer our bodies, not to be consumed by fire and turned to ash, but to be consumed and spent in doing God’s will. We serve God by surrendering all our selfish, self-willed desires, plans, and ambitions. The body that used to perform my will, must now be yielded to perform God’s will.
A “living sacrifice,” then, is simply a description of a life surrendered to do the will of God, because the body that performs all the activities of life has been presented as a sacrifice to God. This, remember, is a deliberate and voluntary act, flowing directly from the gospel. We are called here to offer willingly to God what is already His: our lives, body and soul, purchased by the blood of Christ.
Therefore, just as the animal sacrifices of old had to be without blemish, our bodies that we present to God must be holy and pure, consecrated and set apart from all sin and defilement. After all, the sacrifice that was given for us, was holy and pure! We have been given new life in Christ: but not so we can fill this new life with all the filth of the old. Now, every time my hand reaches to do something, I ought to remember that this hand has been presented to God; every time my eye seeks to linger on some sight, I ought to remember that this eye has been presented to God, and must be kept pure.
Paul calls this our “reasonable service,” meaning that nothing other than this is acceptable: this is what God requires. To try to serve God our own way, with our own inventions, is futile. So many in the past and in the present are trying to serve God in extravagant ways of their own making: starving and whipping themselves; making long pilgrimages; bowing before various relics ‒ this is not “reasonable service”! God has never required those things from us. We are to seek God’s will, and do what He has commanded ‒ not what we have invented.
But just as to offer to God what He does not require is vanity, so also to withhold from God what He does require is sin. When Paul calls this our “reasonable service,” he also means that nothing less than this is acceptable. To offer our lives to God, and yield ourselves to do His will, is our reasonable service: to hold back any part of our lives would be to trample on His grace. How can I keep back for myself what Christ has bought with His own blood? Let us examine ourselves: is there any cherished sin, any wicked habit, any secret ambition, that has not been surrendered?
Manner of Our Service
How then are we to render this service to God? Paul reminds us here of our situation, as Christians in a non-Christian world. It is important for us to remember that this world ‒ this system constructed and operated by fallen man ‒ is not benign or even neutral. It is organised, influenced, controlled by the devil, according to principles completely alien to God’s original purpose and design for humanity (Eph 2:2, 1 John 2:15–16).
This world also seeks to bring all of us into conformity to its principles and ways. There is great temptation and pressure for us to live our lives not in accordance with God’s will, but in accordance with worldly principles: to seek after our own pleasure, rather than God’s; to chase material wealth and carnal ambitions.
We now carry in our pockets a doorway to all that is in the world ‒ the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, just a tap of a finger away. How we need to keep ourselves separate! We cannot run away and isolate ourselves, for we have a mission to bear witness to the world the gospel of Christ. How can we live our lives as living sacrifices, yielded to do God’s will, without succumbing to all these pressures, and without being taken in by all these deceptions?
We must actively seek not to be conformed to the world, but rather to be transformed, as Paul says, by the “renewing” of our minds. Our minds need to be fed, nourished, with spiritual truth. We need to “desire the sincere milk of the word,” as Peter says (1 Pet 2:2). This requires great diligence on our part, but there is also a great reward: because when we seek the will of God, and do it, we will prove for ourselves that it is “good, and acceptable, and perfect.”
THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT
On one occasion Archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) of Ireland, having heard much about Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) who was the minister at Anwoth in Scotland, decided to secretly visit him to see whether the things he had heard were true.
Ussher disguised himself as a poor man and arrived at Mr Rutherford’s home on a Saturday night, begging for food and a place to sleep. Mr Rutherford kindly took him inside, where he was seated with the other members of the family and servants before their evening meal.
Mrs Rutherford began to ask questions from the catechism. As she asked each one a question, she asked the stranger, “How many commandments are there”? He replied “Eleven”. Mrs Rutherford immediately concluded he knew nothing about the Bible (whereas Ussher was a very learned man and wrote many books on the Bible). She spoke very sternly to him, “What a shame it is for you a man with gray hairs and in a Christian country, not to know how many commandments there are! There is not a child six years old in this parish, who could not answer that question properly.”
Mrs Rutherford provided Mr Ussher with an evening meal, then asked a servant to show him his bed in a loft.
Mr Ussher did not say a word which might reveal who he was, but early next morning he arose and went for a walk. He knelt down behind a bush to pray for the Lord’s blessing on His people and on the Word of God to be preached that day. As he prayed aloud, Mr Rutherford heard him and confronting him, demanded to know who he was.
When Mr Ussher told who he really was, Mr Rutherford asked him to preach that morning. Mr Ussher agreed on condition that he did not tell others who he was. A change of clothes was given to Mr Ussher and soon he went to preach.
Mr Ussher announced his text, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). The title for his sermon was “The Eleventh Commandment”. He then preached an excellent sermon on Christians loving one another.
Mrs Rutherford remembered the answer he had given to her question the night before, and now knew what he really meant.
The Lord Jesus was not adding to God’s commandments by saying, “a new commandment”, but He meant a command that should ever be new and fresh to us. It was a command people had forgotten and needed to be told afresh to love one another, even as the Lord Jesus loved us.
Do we love one another?
Source: R Cameron-Smith, Saved in the Icy Waters and Fifty Other Stories (Tasmania: Southern Presbyterian Church of Australia, 1999), 43–44.
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