Friday, January 23, 2015

A Closer Look at Holiness

The Bible says in Romans 12:1-2 “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.”

Notice that the apostle starts out verse 1 with the word “therefore”. We were always taught in Bible College to ask ourselves when we come across this particular word to ask ourselves, “What is it there for?” It is there because the apostle is saying essentially that in lieu of everything that he has covered in the previous chapters with them: the fact of God’s righteous judgment, God’s wrath that will be poured out on the unrighteous, the fact that works cannot save anyone, the fact that the wages of sin is death, the fact that the gift of God is eternal life to those who will accept it, that justification comes only by faith, and that no one needs to be a slave of sin and self any longer, etc. In other words, he is saying that because of all of these things, this is what they should do.

Notice also that he says that he “urges” them. That to me is the language of the New Testament. The KJV translates it “beseech”. It is the equivalent of begging or pleading. It is what I call the language of the New Testament as that it speaks of grace and not law. The verse that comes to mind when Paul compares Old Testament law and New Testament grace is Hebrews 12:18-24 when the writer compares them to the mountain upon which Moses went to the receive the law in Exodus 19. In it he says, “For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, "IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED." And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I AM FULL OF FEAR and trembling." But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” His point is that in the New Testament under the system of grace, we as believers do not stand before the condemnation of the law any longer, but before grace that has been presented in the new covenant.

It also reminds me of the fact that when Moses came down off that mountain with the Law of God in his hands, three thousand people were killed when they were found to be participating in an idolatrous orgy around the golden calf that Aaron had made in Exodus 32. That event is in juxtaposition to the first sermon preached in the New Testament after the ascension of our Lord on the day of Pentecost when the gospel was presented and three thousand souls were added the church. The point is that with the giving of the Law three thousand perished, but with the giving of the message of grace as presented in the gospel, three thousand souls were saved. The Law kills and grace saves.

Notice also that the next word that Paul uses in addressing his audience is “brethren”. The intended receivers of these words are those who have accepted the gospel message that brings life instead of those who have not. Sometimes we forget that the Bible was written for the children of God. When others who have not come to Christ and are not filled with the Holy Spirit attempt to read it, it is like they reading a letter to and from someone else. They get lost in it because they do not know who the author is, the back ground, etc. Again, it’s like reading someone else’s mail to them.

Also, Paul presents his plea “by the mercies of God.” The point is that if it had not been for the mercy of God being extended, grace would not have been possible. Of course, that mercy from God came in the form of His own Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. I learned an acronym many years ago: G.R.A.C.E. which means God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense. It reminds me of the verse in Lamentations 3:22-23 that says, “The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” The KJV translates it, “through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”

Notice also what Paul is asking them to do in lieu of this mercy that has been extended. He wants them to “present their bodies as a living and holy sacrifice”. The word “present” literally means to yield. In other words, it’s not mandatory, but expected. It’s kind of like when we are driving down a frontage road then decide to merge onto the highway. Normally, traffic coming onto the highway is expected to yield to the faster moving traffic already on the highway. However, there is nothing that says that they have to, but it is wise if one does not want to cause an accident. A yield sign is far more gracious than a stop sign. One leaves discretion to the reader while the other does not. Paul is asking his readers to yield their bodies in lieu of everything that he had said up to this point in chapters 1 through 11.

The thing that Paul asks that they yield is their bodies to the Lord. We live in a culture today that constantly speaks of how their bodies belong to them and no one else. As a matter of fact, the pro-abortion movement spends a lot of time talking about how the bodies of women belong to them alone and they are the ones who should decide what they do to and with it. While that argument may hold some water with the unbelieving heathen, it certainly does not hold water in regards to a child of God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:20, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. He also said in Philippians 1:19-20, “for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Paul’s greatest desire was that Christ would be exalted in his body whether that was in this life or by his death. How many of us can truly say that? How many of us do things to our bodies that may not bring God glory? We really need to remember that our bodies belong to God and not ourselves.

I really have spent a lot of time with young people discussing things like tattoos, gauges in their ears, and other body piercings. In my opinion, they are limiting what God wants to do with them when they make permanent changes to their bodies. I think it best just to leave a blank canvas so that you can be all things to all men. I believe that is what Paul admonished of us in 1 Corinthians 9:22 when he said, To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” We can’t do that when our dress and appearance is offensive to some. For those who are already whining, read Romans 14 real slowly and pray about it.

Then notice that he asks that they present their bodies that belong to the Lord as “a living and holy sacrifice”. Note that he says living sacrifices and not dead. Sure, the Lord may use our deaths as a means of His own glorification, but he also wants our lives! Too many cry, “I’d die for God!”  That’s great, but for most of us, we will never get that opportunity, for the moment, He merely wants us to live for Him!

Notice the qualification of these sacrifices: “holy”.  Holy means to be consecrated or set apart. God wants us to be holy! Peter said in 1 Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." The Lord wants holiness from us so that we can be “acceptable to God”.  Peter also admonished us in the area of holiness, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (II Peter 3:14).

Paul concludes this passage by reminding us that presenting our lives to the Lord is our “spiritual service of worship”. In other words, it’s the least that we can do considering all that He has done for us.


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