Living on the Altar – Romans 12:1-2

Father, as we now come to look into Your Word, we ask that Your grace would be upon each one of us and that You would work through me to be a mouthpiece for the teaching of Your Word. I pray that You would be meeting with everyone who is watching this right now, that Your omnipresent Holy Spirit would be working both sides of the aisle and be at work in the minds and the hearts and the lives of everyone who is watching. So, may You extraordinarily bless them through this study this morning. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Well, I want you to take your Bible and turn with me to the book of Romans, Romans chapter 12, and we have just crossed the continental divide and we have stepped into the last major section of the book of Romans. Now, there are still five chapters to go. So, it is not as though we have come to the end of Romans. In fact, we have come to everything that the Apostle Paul has been building towards, which is how to live your Christian life. The title of this lesson this morning is, “Living on the Altar,” and that is where each and every one of us needs to be living, is on the altar. And the problem with a living sacrifice is they crawl off of altars. So, we must stay on the altar as our life is presented to God as a living and holy sacrifice.


So I want to read the text, Romans chapter 12 beginning in verse 1. I am going to read verses 1 and 2, and to be honest I don’t know if I can get to verse 2. We will how this plays out, but some verses just beg for us to, as Kent would say, tap the brakes and just slow down a bit and give careful look at it.


So, this is what it says, this is how it reads: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”


What we learn from these verses is that it truly matters to God how you and I live our Christian lives. Just because we are saved by grace does not give us a free pass to live however we want to live. That is fools’ talk. No, because of the grace of God in our conversion and salvation, it is incumbent upon us that we live in a manner that is pleasing to God. It is not enough to God that we are saved. God desires that we be sanctified and that we be conformed into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.


So, as we come to these verses, Kent, this is where faith gets real. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is shoe-leather Christianity. This is getting it out of the ivory tower and into the marketplace and into the home and into the office and into relationships and into the daily flow of life. And so, these two verses, verses 1 and 2, are two of the greatest verses in the entire Bible and it is well worth our careful attention. So, you have tuned in on a Bible study that could really be one of the greatest Bible studies you have ever been a part of. Not because I am teaching. That has nothing to do with it, but because of what the Apostle Paul has written in these verses and how they need to be in our lives. I want to repeat this. This could be the most important Bible study that you will ever be a part of. So, as we walk through this passage, I have several headings upon which I want to hang our teaching as we walk through this passage, and we are literally just going to go through this word by word, phrase by phrase.


And of the headings, number one, “The Connection,” the connection. The very first word in verse 1, “Therefore,” and I just have to pause and see what the “therefore” is there for. This is one of the most important words in the Bible, is the word “therefore.” And the word “therefore” really serves as a bridge that connects Romans 1 through 11 with Romans 12 through 16. This is the tiny bridge that connects two massive continents.


I used to live in Mobile, Alabama, and pastor there. And as you would go from the city of Mobile across the bay, there is just one tiny little tunnel that you go through, and massive traffic jams would stack up just to go through this tiny little tunnel. Well, this word “therefore” is a relatively small word, but the whole of Romans 1 through 11 is having to pass through this narrow passage of the word “therefore” that leads now to the other side of the bay, that leads to the rest of the book of Romans.


And here is what is taking place here. In Romans 1 through 11, we have instruction. In verses 12 through 16, we have application. In the first eleven chapters, we have doctrine. Now, we have duty, and the two have to be married together. In the first half, it is all about the mind, but now in the second half it is about the heart and the hands and the feet and the eyes and putting this into practice. So, our beliefs have to be married to our behavior. And the word “therefore” is the golden pipe that this doctrine must flow through now into our lives and we begin to live it out.


To put it another way, in the first eleven chapters we have the indicatives. Now, we move to the imperatives. We go from knowing to doing. We go from learning to living. And so, this word “therefore,” I am not going to pause for every single word as we go through this, but this word “therefore” just literally leaps off the page and grabs me by the lapels and secures my attention. And I want it to do the same for you. And so, before we move on, I want to say this, there must be a “therefore” in your Christian life. There must be a “therefore” that is a bridge that connects what you know of sound doctrine to how you live in daily Christian living.


And so, as I said in the introduction, we have just crossed over the continental divide and we now have gone over the summit and we are coming down the other side of the mountain now that will lead us down into the valley where Christian life is lived on a daily basis. So, number one, “The Connection.”


Number two: “The Motivation,” where Paul continues. “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.” Do you see the motivation? The Apostle Paul doesn’t just tell us. He is going to persuade us. He is going to motivate us. He is going to light a match and strike a fire and put it beneath us to ignite within us a motivation to live for the glory of God. That is what he is saying. “I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God.” This word “urge,” that is a strong word. This word “urge” means, “I implore you,” “I appeal to you.” “I summons you.” “I exhort you.” “I entreat you.” “I beseech you.” “I plead with you.” “I compel you.”


What Paul is saying here is, “I want to move you.” And I have underscored this with all of these synonyms so that we can feel something of the warm passion and zeal that is in the pen of the Apostle Paul as he now leads into this practical section. It is not enough for Paul just to toss it out there as if to say to us, “Hey, you can take this or leave this.” No, Paul is after us, and every preacher and every Spirit-filled Bible teacher is always after the reader or the listener to move you in a particular direction. It is not enough just that you be a didactic instructor with a professorial tossing out of a data dump where you give an encyclopedic lecture and as long as it is in your notebook, that’s all that I care about and that you can answer the exam. That is not where Paul is. No, after eleven chapters of strong doctrine, Kent, condemnation, justification, sanctification, glorification, election, predestination, he has stacked it up. He is now coming after us. And he is saying, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God.”


And I want you to know that if we had a Greek New Testament here and we opened it up, these three words, “I urge you,” are frontloaded at the beginning of the sentence the Apostle Paul writes. We call that the emphatic position, that if you want to stress something in the original language when you write a sentence you lift it up and you move it to the beginning of the sentence. So that it is like taking a yellow highlighter and highlighting it, then getting a pen and underlining it, drawing a circle and then out in the margin you draw an arrow to it and then maybe add an asterisk.


“I urge you” is the emphasis that Paul is making here as he is aggressively seeking to persuade. And I know some Christians, even when I stand up to preach, they have hanging around their neck a “Do Not Disturb” sign. They think if they just show up to church or just show up to the conference or to the Bible study, that that is enough. Paul is ripping the “Do Not Disturb” sign from the neck of the reader, from me, from you, and saying, “I want to move you. I want to win you over to living the truth.” You may say, “Wow! That sounds manipulative.” No, it is not manipulative. It is God working through the teacher and preacher of His Word to move you. It is God seeking to really to urge you and to plead with you.


So, that is the motivation. “I urge you, therefore, brethren,” and really here is the sum of the motivation: he says, “by the mercies of God.” And “the mercies of God” is a condensed summary of Romans 1 through 11. It is the saving sovereign grace of God that Paul has just laid out in the first eleven chapters in what is the greatest presentation of the mercies of God found anywhere in the entire Bible. “Mercies” is in the plural. It represents all of the saving mercies of God, and it includes giving careful thought to where you once were before you came to know the Lord Jesus Christ, the pit in which you lived, a pit of sin and darkness.


These mercies refer to what God did to intervene into the affairs of your perishing life by sending His Son into this world on a mission of redemption to save your soul. It speaks of the sending of the Holy Spirit by God to awaken you out of your spiritual stupor and to bring you to faith in Jesus Christ. That is a part of the mercies of God. It is also the fact that you were crucified with Christ. You have been buried with Christ, Romans 6. You have been raised with Christ. Your life is dramatically and radically changed and transformed by the power of His grace. This is “the mercies of God,” and how now He has put His Holy Spirit in you and me and He is now leading us every moment of every day into a totally new life, and the fact that we can never fall away from this grace, that those whom He foreknew He predestined, whom He predestined He called, He justified, He glorified. We are eternally secure in this grace. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus and that out of this common lump of clay of humanity, God the potter has chosen some to be vessels of mercy who were predestined and foreordained for glory.  All of that is bound up in these in these five words, “by the mercies of God.” There could not be a more compelling motivation that the Apostle Paul could bring to bear upon your heart and my heart than to play that card, to play “by the mercies of God.”


And if you have truly given careful consideration to the mercies of God in your life, it will so motivate you and ignite a passion within your soul to want to live in a radically distinctly different way. So that is the motivation. And I pray that God will pour gasoline on that fire in my heart. I pray He will do the same in your heart that we will not be stoic saints and just sitting around staring at our navel and just glad that we have a notebook full of stuff, but that the Word of Christ will richly dwell within us and that we will wake up every morning putting two feet on the floor in the go position ready to live for the glory of God. That is the motivation.


Now, third: “The Presentation,” the next four words. Let me start at the beginning, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God,” now the next four words, “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice,” that is more than four words, “to God.” So, when he says now to present your bodies, this is God’s will for your life, that you be presenting your bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God. This is drawing upon Old Testament priestly sacrificial language. What an Old Testament priest would do is he would take a sacrifice, an animal sacrifice, and he would slay the sacrifice and the sacrifice would be dead, and he would come to the altar and he would lay the sacrifice on the altar as has been prescribed by God. He would bring the very sacrifice that God required and present it in the manner with which God has required, because any other kind of sacrifice would be unacceptable to God and would be displeasing to God and would be rejected by God. And so, the priest could not have a self-made religion and come up with his own kind of sacrifice in the manner in which he wanted to present it. And so, he would come and present it and place it on the altar and then take hands off and it would be totally given to God, totally yielded to God.


And what Paul is saying is that God requires that you and I present not an animal sacrifice on to the altar, but to take your own life and to place it on the altar, and for it to be totally given to God, and for it to be hands-off for God now to use your life however God desires to use you as long as you are on planet earth. He says, “present your bodies.” The word “bodies” here really represents the entirety of your being. It is metaphorical language. It represents every inch and every ounce of who you are and what you are. If you could picture this from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, the entirety of your being, your mind, your emotions, your will, is to be completely yielded to God, that you hold no part back for yourself, that it is 100% placed on the altar before God.


It begins with your mind, that your mind is given to God, what you believe, what you think, how you understand, that you are going to believe what God says in His Word, that you are going to think God’s thoughts, that you are going to understand with divine wisdom, that you are not going to allow the encroachment of the world’s ideologies to shape your mind. Your mind is given to God. Your eyes are given to God, what you look at, what you see, your worldview, what you gaze upon. Your ears are given to God, what you listen to, what you allow to come into your mind. Your mouth is given to God, what you will say and what you will speak, that it will all be governed by that which glorifies God. Your hands will be completely given to God, what you lay your hands to do, what you are engaged in, what your work is. And your feet are given to God, where you go and where you travel. All of that is just breaking out “presenting your bodies to God.”


And as you do this, he then adds, “a living and holy sacrifice.” Now, in the Old Testament it was a dead sacrifice, a slain sacrifice that was presented to God, but here it is a living sacrifice. And that is a greater challenge because this means now twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week that I am to live on the altar. This is my address. This is where I live constantly and continually, I am to be living as a sacrifice for God. And then he also then adds, “and holy,” a living and holy sacrifice.


And the word “holy” here means to be set apart for a very special use, to be set apart from just common, mundane, pedestrian living, to be set apart from living for the cares of this world, to be set apart from living for the temporal, and to be living always for the eternal and for the heavenly, and setting our mind on things above. It means that we are to live a transcendent life that rises above the muck and the mire of this world, to live with God-purpose and to live with God-direction. And the word “holy” here also signifies purity and to be unstained by the contaminations and the pollutions of this world. This is calling for the pursuit of holiness and godliness. This is calling for what Leviticus 11:44 and 45 said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And it is only this sacrifice that is acceptable to God.


Notice the next three words, “acceptable to God.” So, there is a Christian life that is acceptable to God, and there is a Christian life that is unacceptable to God. I am not talking about your eternal standing. You have been justified by faith, but it is possible for someone who has been justified by faith, let us say in a season of their life, to be living in a way that is unacceptable to God. So, this says, “acceptable to God.” Anything less than being a living and holy sacrifice is unacceptable to God.


Now, this word “acceptable” means, literally out of the original language, to be well pleasing, to be well pleasing to God. So, as a believer who has been justified by faith, the manner with which I live my life must be done in a way that is well pleasing to God. And I want to give you some cross-references here, just three cross-references that I think would be very important for you to hear at this point, because I know what some people will be thinking right now. “Steve, that’s legalism. That’s legalistic.” And I want to say to you, if that is your response to this, you wouldn’t know legalism if it walked up and shook hands with you, that this is Bible truth and you are arguing for what we call license, antinomianism, that you can just live your Christian life however you want to live and it doesn’t matter, “God is just pleased with me however I live.” And you have bought into a lie, my friend.


Now, I want to give you three cross-references, and these are very important, and I want the weight of these verses to weigh strongly upon us. 2 Corinthians 5 verse 9, the Apostle Paul writes, “We have as our ambition.” Now, you need to have an ambition. I need to have ambition, and it needs to be God’s ambition for our lives. “We have as our ambition, whether at home,” meaning living in this world, “or absent,” meaning going to heaven, “to be pleasing to Him.” That must be our ambition, and the mere fact that he says this implies that it is possible for you to be living in a way that is not pleasing to Him. Ananias and Sapphira were not pleasing to the Lord, and God took them home. There were Corinthians that were coming to the Lord’s table in an unworthy manner and they were not pleasing to the Lord and some of them were dying. When Moses struck the rock, it was unpleasing to God. And God said, “Go up to the mountain and die.” So, we must be living pleasing to the Lord and that necessitates that we be rightly motivated, not by guilt but by grace, by the mercies of God, and that we present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God.


Let me give you another verse, Ephesians 5 verse 10, “trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” You and I must be trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. That is the way husbands are with their wives, is it not? It takes a lifetime for us to learn what is pleasing to our wives and vice versa they towards us. And the same is in our spiritual walk with the Lord. We have to be learning what is pleasing to the Lord.


One more verse, Romans 14 verse 18 says, “He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God.” So, there is a manner with which we serve Christ that is acceptable to God. Therefore, that clearly implies there is also a manner in which we would serve Christ that is not acceptable to God. So, the motivation here is to live our life in a way that is acceptable and pleasing, well-pleasing to God, which is that we present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice to God. I can only pray that this very moment the Holy Spirit of God is at work in your mind and in your heart bringing the truth of this text into the very epicenter of your soul.


Now, this leads to number four, “The Calculation.” He says at the end of verse 1, “which is your spiritual service of worship.” The word “spiritual” here requires some help. It is a Greek word. I am going to pronounce it only because you are going to hear an English word. You are going to hear several English words in it. It is a Greek word, logikos, and you can hear “logic,” “logical,” “logarithms;” that is referring to that which is rational, that which is intelligent. When he says that “which is your spiritual service of worship,” I think it is best translated, and commentaries would bear this up, that which is your reasonable and rational service of worship.


Now, what Paul is saying to the Romans and to us is, “I want you to do the math because it would be totally irrational for you not to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to the Lord. The only reasonable way for you to live your Christian life is to present it on the altar to God.” So, Paul is saying, and we get the mathematical aspect of this logikos when we do this: “Add it up. Add up all of the liabilities that you had to give up and then add up all of the assets that you gained. So, what all liabilities did you give up were just wiped off the books?”


Kent, you are businessman. You know how to look at these T-squares better than I do. So, what was taken off of the books and is no longer a liability in your life? Guilt, sin, condemnation, hell, judgment. That is quite a list of liabilities that has just been taken off of the books, forgiven. So what has been added now to the asset side? What assets did you acquire in your conversion? Forgiveness, righteousness, the indwelling Spirit, a new heart, a new mind, a new path, a new direction, a new destiny, all of this and more is what you have acquired. So, what Paul is saying when he says “which is your spiritual service of worship,” he is really saying, “which is your reasonable, rational, intelligent decision” to make in your life. Think of what you have given up and think of what you have gained. How could you possibly live for yourself? How could you possibly live for this sin-soaked world? How could you do anything other than living for the glory of God? That is where he is driving this.


And then he adds, “of worship,” “which is your spiritual service of worship.” Now, we normally think, Kent, of worship as being Sunday morning from 9:45 to 11.00 or 10:30 to 12.00, whenever your church meets, and when the Bible uses the word “worship” it opens up the lens and gives us the big picture. It has in mind the macro, not the micro. Now, coming to church on the Lord’s Day is vitally important to every believer’s life and I think even a necessity, but coming to church on Sunday morning is only to prepare us to be worshippers the entire rest of the week. I mean, it is like a gas station. We just come to get filled up so that we have got gas in our tank to live the rest of the week. And what this is talking about here is a lifestyle of worship, that your entire life is a worship service. That is what this is saying, “which is your spiritual service of worship,” that your entire existence, to put it this way, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you are never out of the sanctuary. You are always in a posture of on your knees, eyes lifted up to heaven, mouth open, giving praises to God.


And we glorify God in every aspect of our life. It is certainly when we are in the Word and in prayer throughout the week, but it is also as you go to work. It is also as you go to school. It is also as you are walking with friends. It is also as you are in forms of recreation. Wherever you go, you are to be living on the altar, and your life is to be a worship service given to God.