September 25, 2011: The Christian Paradox of Being a Living Sacrifice

Let us pray: Dear Savior, inspire us today to willingly walk in Your footsteps. Move our hearts so that we embrace Your example of unselfish love which serves others by serving Your kingdom. And then give us the inner fulfillment that such loving labor creates. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SACRIFICE WHO NOW LIVES!

TEXT: Romans 12: 1-8

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

Do you know what a paradox is? It’s something that seems self-contradictory, but isn’t. In New England some people like to couple together the words: “wicked” and “good” to describe things that amaze and excite them. If you call something: “wicked good” it’s actually self-contradictory. Yet, people seem to understand it anyway. Then there are the times when you have a fever, yet your body experiences “chills.” How can you be hot but feel cold at the same moment? And yet, we do.

A couple of years ago on Christmas Eve I preached a sermon about the Christmas paradox. That is, the infinite, boundless, limitless God agreed to be contained in the confines of a baby’s flesh and to lie in a manger. How could that occur? It seems impossible. But, it’s a paradox because with God all things are possible.

Today St. Paul lays before each of us a paradox in which we are the chief subjects. He begins by saying: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” That is an amazing statement! Because it lays before you and me:

THE CHRISTIAN PARADOX OF BEING A LIVING SACRIFICE

I

What’s a sacrifice? Isn’t it something you willingly give to another and then it’s gone? If you sacrifice money to support someone, once you hand it over, it’s gone. If you sacrifice time to help at a youth center, once you give those hours, you can never retrieve them. If you sacrifice emotional energy on another, that reserve gets used. In OT times God’s people were required to sacrifice time, talent, money, and even animals (the currency of the time) to God. In every case, once the animals were killed and burned, they were gone. Such sacrifices were by their very nature dead, unclaimable and irretrievable. So, the paradox here is how St. Paul couples together those two words: living and sacrifice. They seem in total opposition to each other.

So, what does all this mean? Ah, did you catch the phrase: “in view of God’s mercy”? God’s mercy is found and revealed only in Jesus Christ. Jesus, Who gave Himself up on the cross as the complete sacrifice for all human sin. Jesus, Who raised Himself from His grave and now lives.—Jesus is our living sacrifice, isn’t He? He’s the One Who makes us holy, clean, and perfect in God’s sight. He’s the One Who makes true worship, true honoring of God Almighty possible—out of faith and gratitude for Him. So, just as His worship of His Father was to offer Himself as a sacrifice for us, so now our worship should be to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. Such service, born of faith alone, is the essence of being a Christian.

II

So, how does this paradox occur in our everyday lives? Listen and learn. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

In the church we have another word for transformation and renewal. It is: repentance. It is learning about human inner evil and how it pulls us down. It is about learning of God’s forgiveness in Christ and how such love uplifts us. It is about feeding your faith, attending Sunday services, pondering the truths taught, and seeking to follow them because now you know God’s “better way to live.” The world can only guess at what God wants from them and they always guess wrongly. We know what God expects from us because every week He tells us—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

But, the playing out of this living sacrifice paradox doesn’t end with that. No, once begun in your soul it starts to spin around and generate more and more power and more and more avenues to show itself. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” In other words, “don’t get a big head, but stay humble.” “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Folks, this is a wonderful paradox! Your sacrifices offered to God don’t just belong to you, they belong to each other. Everything fellow Christians do for God helps honor other believers, support other believers, uplift other believers, and motivate other believers. Christianity is not a selfish religion. Just as Christ offered Himself up for all, so everything we offer Him benefits the whole body of believers. This is very comforting, too, in that it means we’re never alone in our faith or in our Christian life.

III

And now comes the practical application of how each of you can benefit each other while serving your Savior as a “living sacrifice.” “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift if prophesying (sharing God’s Word of truth) let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, (helping to the needs of families and church), let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

As I look at this congregation I see all those gifts within us. I see some of you using your gifts, some of you sitting upon them, some of you scared to use them, some of you not sure how to use them, and others not aware of how many gifts they have. So what are you and I going to do about it? Well, the best answer to that question is the same one that Christians of every generation have ultimately arrived at. That is, in view of God’s mercy we’re going to live out the Christian paradox of offering our bodies to God as living sacrifices. We’re going to surrender our all to Him because He surrendered His all to us on a cross and lived to tell about it! We’re going to walk by faith, not by sight or by fear. We’re going to accept what comes our way—either bane or blessing—and by faith seek to turn it into a blessing that will further honor God and benefit the body of Christ. And we get to do all this with our lives knowing at each moment the inner peace of true fulfillment that such living sacrifice brings. Amen