Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.
In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.
It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.
It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.
Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)
Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)
Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.
The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!
Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?
Every. Single. Day.
Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?
I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)
This devotional was originally published on May 30, 2019.
There are so many things about God and His Kingdom that I don’t understand. And it seems the longer I walk with Him, the more I know… and the less I know.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about a partial hardening of the hearts of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) I think what this means is that God has hardened their hearts — as He did to Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21 — for a time, and all for His glory. And as soon as the set number (who knows what it is?) of Gentiles are saved, God will remove the veil that covers their eyes to see God’s Kingdom at hand. Until then, God will continue to graft Gentiles into the True Vine.
I’ll repeat what I said a few days ago: we need to approach things from a Biblical, God-centered viewpoint when we ask questions about God’s unconditional election of some people. (I say “unconditional election” because there is no condition that anyone can meet that would earn God’s approval.) If no one deserves salvation in the first place, and if only a miraculous work of God can save someone, then we can only plead for God to save our family members and friends who don’t (yet) know Jesus.
Yes, plead for their salvation. Plead for their sensitivity to God’s voice. Plead for a soft, moldable heart. Plead for God to overwhelm them with a sense of His presence so that they call out to Him. Plead for opportunities for you and others to talk with them. And tell them lovingly about how good God is. For what it’s worth, lovingly telling them what God is doing in your life and how their lives can be changed will probably work out better than continually beating them over the head with a 25lb Bible every time you talk with them.
To be able to answer the question of why God would save one and not save another is above my pay grade. I have to leave that up to God because I know that He is good and His ways are always right. I have to leave it up to God, but I have to be willing to be part of bringing them to Christ. Oftentimes, we are — at least partly — the answer to our own prayers.
You may be heartbroken about a child or grandchild who no longer goes to church. Or maybe it’s a sister or a brother. Maybe it’s a friend. People can become disenfranchised with church for any number of reasons. If you’re part of the reason by being a stumbling block to them, or if you have hurt them in some other way, seek reconciliation today. Live at peace with everyone as far as you have control over the situation. (Romans 12:18)
But also realize that it isn’t about going to church. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dropped out of church, it may have nothing to do with church and everything to do with not having a relationship with Jesus; in other words, they aren’t saved! Perhaps your prayers should be, “God, please bring them back!” Or perhaps your prayers should be, “God please save them!”
This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.
Before we begin with today’s devotional on our Bible reading, we need to start with a basic understanding. It’s crucial that all discussion of justification begins with this basic thought: God is God and I’m not (and neither are you).
So much discussion in churches and Bible studies — and just basic conversation — is very man-centered, and not God-centered. Look at a lot of evangelism training. A lot of it is merely sales training. “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to pray this prayer so you can go to heaven?”
Seriously? Where is the thought of counting the cost of following Jesus? Where is repentance? Is God even in the equation?
It is of utmost importance that when we’re talking about any theological issue, we approach it from a God-centered, Bible-based position. It’s all about God! And it’s all about His initiating a relationship with His fallen creation. If you’ve been around church for a long time, you’ve probably sung, “O, how I love Jesus … Because He first loved me.” Note the order.
In some people’s minds, Romans 9 shouldn’t even be in the Bible because it sounds like God is too harsh and it seems to contradict a lot of what we think the Bible teaches. But God inspired Paul to write this chapter. And we must take it as seriously as God does.
God says some pretty blunt things through Paul’s pen:
Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Romans 9:6b (CSB)
As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. Romans 9:13 (CSB)
What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display my power in you and that my name may be proclaimed in the whole earth. So then, he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9:14–18 (CSB)
A few days ago, I mentioned the doctrine of depravity. That anyone would believe and be saved is a miraculous work of God. For anyone to be saved from eternal punishment demonstrates that God is completely gracious and merciful. That anyone would even be interested in the things of God is a miraculous, sovereign work of God. (John 6:44)
If we are truly depraved to the core of who we are — even to the point of having a depraved will (Romans 9:16) — then it requires a miraculous, sovereign work of God for anyone to be saved.
These are all hard words because we have heard so many times that “God is a God of love”, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, and “God wouldn’t want anyone to go to hell.”
Look, I don’t understand why God would choose to be merciful to some people and to choose to not be merciful to some other people. But I have to let Him handle that one. Remember, I’m not God! And neither are you. There are some things that we just don’t — and won’t — understand. And God never says that He owes us an explanation! But I know that God always works according to His infinite wisdom and will always use everything to bring honor and glory to His name. (Romans 9:17) God is in heaven and does what pleases Him. (Psalm 115:3)
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33–36 (CSB)
I don’t know to whom He will choose to be merciful, so I have be ready to tell everybody about my hope in Christ. (1Peter 3:15) Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19-20). He promised Holy-Spirit-equipping-power for believers to take the gospel around the world. (Acts 1:8)
If you are a believer, you have been chosen by God to be one of His adopted children. That’s fantastic news!
God didn’t choose you because you did something that other people didn’t do or because you didn’t do something that other people did. God didn’t choose you because of any good that He saw in you. No, He chose you despite the lack of good in you. (Romans 7:18)
God didn’t choose you because you chose Him. In fact, Jesus said “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” John 15:16a (CSB)
Praise God for His goodness and mercy that He has shown in choosing you.
And pray that He will use you to tell other people about His goodness and mercy.
This devotional was originally published May 25, 2019.
Today’s Bible reading begins Paul’s letter to the Romans, one of my favorite books of the Bible. OK, all of the books of the Bible are my favorites. But Romans holds a special place in my heart because in, Paul lays out the Gospel Message in the most plain and developed way. In Chapter One, he says that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it reveals the righteousness of God.
Any discussion of the gospel must begin with God’s righteousness. Why? Because any other discussion of the gospel would begin with some other subject, mostly mankind. The gospel begins and ends with God. Period. Any other focus distracts from the introduction that our Creator created everything — from nothing — in a perfect condition. Perfection. But the world isn’t perfect now. So what happened?
THAT is the question!
Everything hinges on our understanding of God. If we begin discussing the gospel — either academically or practically — with God’s love, God’s goodness, or any other topic, we miss the importance of Paul’s presentation and the emphasis of the entire book of Romans. If we don’t see God’s righteousness and His sovereignty over everything, we’ll misunderstand things like the doctrine of election. We’ll miss how deeply fallen humanity is. We’ll miss the point that Jesus is the only suitable acceptable atoning sacrifice to give us a right standing with God.
Beginning with the righteousness of God brings us to the pivotal question of,
“How are fallen people to have a right standing with a holy God?”
Spend a few minutes today thinking about — really thinking about — the gospel message Thank God for the centrality of the cross in the process of salvation. Worship God for His plan of reconciling lost people to Himself. Thank God for doing everything necessary to secure your salvation.
And if you don’t know God, or if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, please reach out to me. I’d love to talk with you more about this!
A common concern for many Christians is finding God’s will. They read books. They listen to Bible teachers. They go on retreats. They fast. They pray, “God, I want to know your will. Show me your will.”
Many years ago, I learned an important principle in knowing and doing God’s will. Actually, the principle was the first point in a brand new Bible Study at the time from LifeWay called Experiencing God (affiliate link). The principle is to find out where God is working and join Him in what He’s doing.
In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 21, we see several instances where people missed out on what God was doing. There were lots of people in Jerusalem when Jesus came riding in on a donkey. Although they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9 CSB) many (most?) of them had no clue Who Jesus was; they were just celebrating the beginning of the Passover and welcoming everyone who had made the pilgrimage.
Jesus entered the Temple and overturned tables, driving out everyone who was making a mockery of God’s sacrificial system. The chief priests and scribes saw Him healing people. Instead of rejoicing like the little children, they were jealous that Jesus was attracting so much attention.
The leaders asked where Jesus got His authority to do what He was doing. He turned the tables on them and asked where John the Baptizer got his authority; they refused to answer, knowing that their hearts had been exposed.
Jesus tells a story of two sons whose father asked them to work in a vineyard. One said no, but did anyway; the other said he would, but didn’t.
Jesus tells another story of a vineyard. The owner sent out his people to collect the fruit that had been harvested. Instead of giving them the harvest, the workers beat the men who went to collect the fruit. This happened several times until the owner sent his own son to collect the harvested fruit. This time, the workers killed the owner’s son so they could keep the fruit and the vineyard.
So many people missed out in so many ways because they were unaware of God at work in the world around them. Many expected God’s blessings on what they were doing apart from His will. Many didn’t care about God’s will or His blessings.
Too often, we get caught up trying to discover God’s will,
when God is already at work, inviting us to join Him.
It’s easy to miss God’s will when you’re spending so much time and effort looking for it. Instead of investing so much looking for God’s will, try looking for God. When you find Him, join Him in what He’s already doing. You’ll find God’s will there.
Do you want to find God’s will? Wherever you find God working, you’ll find God. And wherever you find God, don’t miss being a part of the greatest adventure you could ever dream of.
Where you find God, you’ll find God’s will.
This devotional was originally published May 3, 2019.