The telephone rang in the minister's office of the Washington church which President Roosevelt attended. An eager voice inquired, "Do you expect the President to be in church on Sunday?".
"That", the minister answered, "I cannot promise. But we do expect God to be there and we trust that should be incentive enough for a reasonably large attendance".
While this opening illustration may be considered humourous, it is also sad--sad that someone would go to church for a reason other than to worship God. The reality, however, is that every Sunday, in likely every church, there are people who go to church for the wrong reasons. What often is the case is that people go to church for sociological reasons--such as, for friendship--or people go for phsychological reasons--such as, "to feel good about themselves".
Yet, the primary reason why we should be at church is simply, TO WORSHIP GOD. While I say that, I don't want any of you to think that church is the only place where we can worship God. Church is the place where we CORPORATELY worship God. The apostle Paul admonishes us to worship God more comprehensively. He admonishes us to make worship a way of life.
Worshiping God is stated as the fundamental goal of this church and so it is important that we understand precisely what worship is. For that, we turn our attention to Romans, chapter 12, verses 1 and 2.
With the short phrase, "I urge you therefore, brethren", the apostle says a great deal. The word translated "urge" is not some advice that the Romans can take or leave. Short of commanding them, Paul's "urging" of the Romans is intended to communicate that his instruction is not optional.
With the word "therefore" we know that Paul is pointing to what comes before. Yet, while some commentators try to tie these verses to chapter 11, most commentators agree that Paul is referring to what he has told the Romans about the plan of redemption in all the previous chapters(Sproul, Romans, 193). Paul is basically saying, "In light of God's great love for us, in light of His rich mercy towards us, we must respond appropriately".
In fact, that is what the very next phrase in verse 1 is saying. Our version reads, "by the mercies of God", but a better translation would be, "in view of the mercies of God".
In view of everything that God has done for us, Paul says we are "to present (our) bodies (as) a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is (our) spiritual service of worship".
It is good that Paul reminds us of our motivation for worship. It is good that Paul reminds us to contemplate the mercy of God, because as John Calvin has said, "(we) will never worship God with a sincere heart, or be roused to fear and obey Him with sufficient zeal, until (we) understand how much (we) are indebted to His mercy"(Boice, Mind Renewal, 51). We need to be reminded of God's mercy if we are to be motivated to live a life of worship.
How are we to live this life of worship? What does Paul mean when he says we are "to present our bodies (as) a living and holy sacrifice"?
The reference to a "sacrifice" is, of course, a reference to the Old Testament practice of sacrificing animals on the altar to atone for sin. But now, in the age of the New Testament, we know that atonement has been accomplished once and for all by Christ Jesus. We no longer sacrifice animals in order to obtain atonement. Instead, we give ourselves as "a living sacrifice" BECAUSE we have received atonement. Living a life of sacrifice is the appropriate way to demonstrate our gratitude for what Christ has done.
Some people think that all it takes to be a Christian is to scribble a cheque or to give a few hours of service here and there on special projects for the church. That is not what it means to be a Christian. Remember, Paul says that God wants a "LIVING sacrifice". God wants every part of our life to be dedicated to His service. That means that your marriage, your job--all of these things are to be seen as contexts for worshiping God.
That's right--you can worship God by the way you treat your spouse. You can worship God by the way you raise your children. You can worship God depending on how you spend your free time. And you can worship God by the way you conduct yourself at work.
Worshiping God is NOT merely singing hymns and listening to a sermon. Worshiping God means living for God. Worshiping God is a way of life.
Keep in mind how specific Paul is, "present your bodies", he says. The use of your mind, the use of your eyes, the use of your ears, the use of your mouth, the use of your hands, and the use of your feet should all be used to worship God.
You will only begin to understand the Christian life when you realize that God does not want your money or your time without yourself. YOU are the one for whom Jesus died. YOU are the one He loves. YOU are what God wants. It is when you give of yourself that you are worshiping God in a way that is "acceptable" to Him.
After telling us HOW we should worship, Paul, in verse 2, tells us what worship does not look like when he says, "do not be conformed to this world". The meaning of this statement should be clear: Christians are not to uncritically align themselves to the structures and forms of this world.
Yet, as I say that, I recognize that there is a danger with nonconformity. There are some Christians who distort what it means to not conform. These Christians conclude that if the world wears lipstick, the Christian shouldn't wear lipstick. If the world drinks beer, the Christian shouldn't drink beer. If the world goes to the movies, Christians shouldn't go to the movies. And by not conforming, these Christians think they are more pious.
Jesus Christ, however, calls us to a different kind of nonconformity--He calls us, and Paul calls us, to refuse to conform to the sinful patterns of the world.
It is possible to wear lipstick without placing too much emphasis on outward appearance. It is possible to have a beer without doing any harm to one's health or to one's faculties. And it is possible to go to the movies without seeing a film with violent or sexual content.
You could safely say that "motivation is everything", and that our motivation for doing things must not be selfish, but God-honouring.
Notice that Paul does not simply leave us with this negative prohibition, but that he gives us a positive admonition: "be transformed by the renewing of your mind".
Have you ever considered that what you do with your mind will greatly determine what you will be like as a Christian? This is common sense. We all know the principle: "Garbage in, garbage out". If we fill our minds with trashy "pop" novels, we will begin to think and act like the characters we read about. If we do little else but watch television, we will begin to think and act like those on the screen.
Sociologists tell us that by the age of 21 the average young person has been bombarded by 300, 000 commercial messages, all arguing from the assumption that personal gratification is the dominant goal in life(Bellah, Why We Think, 27).
Any Christian who desires to "transform (their) mind" surely has their work cut out for them. Towards this end, let me offer this simple goal: Try to spend as many hours studying your Bible, praying, and going to church as you do watching television.
Perhaps you are sitting there wondering, "Why is it so important to have a new mind?". The answer is this: so that you can know the will of God. Paul says just that in verse 2, "be transformed by the renewing of your mind, THAT you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect".
Wouldn't it be nice to know God's will for your life? Christians often get hung up on the idea of discovering what God's specific will is for their lives. The difficulty is that God does not usually reveal those specifics to us.
God does, however, reveal His general will to us. In Romans 8:29 Paul tells us that it is God's will that we "become conformed to the image of His Son". Along with the fact that God's will is "good and acceptable and perfect", that is all we need to know.
Do you want to know what the will of God is? You will have to have a new mind. You will have to think like God. And this means studying the Word of God more rigourously than you have ever studied anything in your life. There is no magical way to know the will of God, apart from knowing the Bible.
This, of course, is not natural for us. We want God to tell us what His will is, and when He does, then we will decide if and when we will do it. Paul, however, tells us to start living in a way acceptable to God and it is only then we will know and enjoy God's will. As one theologian has said, "The will of God can be known only by trial"(Boice, Mind Renewal, 128).
I must ask you now a very important question: Why did you come to church today? Some of you will answer that you are here to worship God. The apostle Paul has now made it clear what worshiping God entails. Worshiping God is not merely what we do for an hour on Sunday. Worshiping God is what we are to do every hour of every day.
Worshiping God means not conforming to this world. Worshiping God means renewing your mind through the Scriptures. Worshiping God means offering everything you have and are to God. Worshiping God is a way of life. I challenge you now--make it your way of life. Amen.