I had the privilege last night of teaching Romans 12:1-8 to our Journey kids at AWANA. These are high school students who are looking to the future. They are making decisions at this time in life that will impact the rest of their lives. Many are thinking about their future; what superior studies they would like to attain, what kind of job they would like to have, where they want to live in the future etc. These are tough decisions for teenagers to contemplate. The most important decision that anyone could ever make is dedicating his or her present and future to serving the Lord. What does that look like practically? The apostle Paul gives us the answer in Romans 12.
I have heard many people teach on Romans 12:1-2 and it is a powerful teaching. Few, however, teach Romans 12:1-2 in the context of faith, worship, serving the Lord, and spiritual gifts. These are the key words to the overall context of Romans 12:1-2. These two verse are in the context of verse 1-8. Let’s take a look at what the apostle is trying to communicate in the overall context of Romans 12.
The first 11 chapters of Romans deals with doctrine. It is a theological treatise of the state of mankind and the actions of the Lord to rescue mankind from his bondage to his own sin nature. Chapters 12-16 deal with the practical aspects of doctrine. In other words, how do we live out, in a practical way, chapters 1-11?
I. Worship: the will of God for your life
In verses 1 and 2, the apostle sets the tone for the next 6 verses.
1 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.
2 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. (Romans 12)
The apostle Paul is writing to followers of Jesus Christ. They have already surrendered their will in order to live out the will of God. Since you have already presented your lives as a living and holy sacrifice to God the moment that you accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you are to live a life of worship by using your time to serve the Lord. The apostle simply reminds the audience of what they have already done. The rest of the teaching flows out of that decision, a decision that they have already made. If there are those who attend the church but have not presented their lives as a living and holy sacrifice to the Lord, they need to do that first in order to be able to accomplish the rest. Have you submitted your will to the will of God? This is what happens when we ‘get saved”. It is more than just getting saved from the fires of hell. Getting saved means bowing your will to the will of the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ. You can attend church and not be saved. So, we must understand this before we can apply the rest of the teaching in these 8 powerful verses.
II. Specific Actions that demonstrate worship
Now that we have surrendered our will to the will of God and we want to live to worship and serve Him, the rest of the actions are possible.
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. (Romans 12:2)
The first action that we need to take in order to worship and serve the Lord as a living sacrifice is to make a conscious effort not to be conformed to the pattern of this world. Our natural inclination is to think and act like the world acts because of our sin nature. If you wake up in the morning and do not make a conscious effort not to be conformed to the ways of this world, you will live the day conformed to the ways of this world. How do you keep from being conformed to the ways of this world? You must have your mind renewed by the Word of God. When you spend time reading the Word, studying the Word, and praying, it recalibrates your mind to focus on the things of God. This is how worship begins. This is how serving the Lord this day begins. This is a choice that you must make. The next action is found in verse 3.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12)
Your focus will shift from YOU to the Lord and that will manifest in a desire to serve others. This is a sign of genuine faith in the Lord. We naturally want to be served by others. The world tells us to climb the ladder of success so that we will have people under us who serve us. Jesus teaches us to become servants of all. He did not come to be served, even though, as the Creator of everything, He had the right to be served. Instead, Jesus came to serve His own creation. This is the model set for us as followers of Christ. It is not natural to us. Our minds have to be renewed constantly in order to recalibrate us to serve others. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ is manifested in the desire and actions of service. We serve the Lord by serving the people around us. How do we do this practically? The apostle Paul does not leave it to us to guess and try to figure it out.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; (Romans 12:6)
When we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, in other words, when we offered our lives as a living and holy sacrifice to the Lord to be used by Him to accomplish His will, we were given spiritual gifts. It is a gift so we do not choose the gifts that we receive. We simply receive them. Our job is to exercise those gifts in serving others, not ourselves. We naturally want to use our gifts for our own good. God teaches us to use those gifts in serving others. This is where the “do not be conformed” comes in to play. If I am being conformed to the ways of this world, I will try to use my gifts for my own purposes. If my mind is being renewed then that will manifest in the desire to use my gifts to serve others. Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? Are you using them for your own betterment or, in the service of others? What are those gifts? The apostle does not leave us in the dark on this subject either.
6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;
7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching;
8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12)
They are clearly outlined in verse 6-8.
- Prophecy – preaching the Word of God
- Service – usually a nonspeaking, behind the scenes gift
- Teaching – helping others learn to understand the Word of God and apply It to their daily lives in practical ways
- Exhortation – coming along side others and helping them live out their faith by correcting and encouraging them
- Giving – investing personal resources in advancing the kingdom of God
- Leadership – casting a vision for others to follow and coming along side them to help them accomplish the God given vision.
- Mercy – having compassion for people, meeting them where they are, and helping them with a hand-up
These verbs are all in the present tense which means that it is a habitual way of life. If you have the gift of teaching, you should be using it daily to serve others. If you have the gift of preaching, you should be using it daily to serve others. Are you using your spiritual gifts to serve others daily? Did you notice that we do not all have the same gift? Did you notice that these gifts must work together in accomplishing the goal of advancing the kingdom of God? What would happen if one person decided not to use his gift for the day? The apostle Paul explains this with a very vivid comparison that everyone can easily understand.
III. Practical Example
The Bible is very practical. When we over spiritualize things, the Bible seems to be complicated. But, when we understand the message being presented, things become very simple. The apostle Paul uses a very simple comparison to explain what happens when one person decided not to exercise his or her gift on a daily basis.
4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,
5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12)
Paul compares the church body, the body of Christ to the human body. This is something that we can all relate to very quickly. We all have a human body that is one entity made up of individual parts all working together. What would happen to the human body is one day, the liver decided that it would not do its job? Would the liver simply suffer the consequences or, would the entire body suffer? Think back to the last time that you had a terrible tooth-ache. Did that tooth suffer alone or, did the entire body suffer? You know the answer to that. The same is true for the church body. We are one body made up of individual parts that must work together. If one decides not to exercise his or her spiritual gift on any given day, the entire body suffers. It all begins with recalibrating every day. What happens when one member decided to be conformed to the pattern of this world instead of having his or her mind renewed? Will that one member suffer alone? No, the entire body suffers. Each one of us has the responsibility to renew our minds, daily, so that we serve others with the spiritual gift that we have been given. How are you planning on using your spiritual gift today? Have you even thought about using your spiritual gift today? Do you have using your spiritual gift to serve others today written down in your planner/agenda? If not, why do you not have it written down? Make a simple list of how you can use your spiritual gift to serve others each day. Then, pray about it and watch God open up the opportunities. If you are not using your spiritual gift to serve others, then, you are being conformed to the pattern of this world. It’s tough to hear but, it is the truth.
May the Lord help us by reminding us daily that we need to have our minds renewed so that we can exercise our spiritual gifts in the service of others!