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. 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. 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 12:1-3)
Paul, as one of the natural Jewish branches, is writing to the unnatural Gentile branches who, by a mysterious and extravagant gesture of kindness and grace, God has grafted into Jesus, the deep and rich root of the olive tree. This was a big deal to Paul:
Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! …For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. (Romans 11:33&36)
Anyone who goes from chief detractor to chief advocate, with suffering as his or her anticipated reward, wins my attention. It is doubtful to me his words are mere hyperbole; I believe he stretches language to its limits in an effort to describe even the shallower reaches of Jesus Christ, who has become his all-consuming passion. He is urging us to listen as he explains how this can happen for us as well. Paul carries the burden of a man consumed; by the strength of Christ in him, he proclaims Jesus with all deliberation and all zeal.
When people in Paul’s era heard the word sacrifice, their minds recalled images of sacrificed animals whose blood was offered to appease some god. Paul throws the Romans a major league curve ball when he tells them they are now the sacrifice. He tells them in their living they would become sacrifices, fulfilling their calling as worshipers. No longer was the primary act of worship going to be limited to the attending of ceremonies or observance of rituals. Worship’s primary expression from this point forward was going to be the living of life.
Take your everyday ordinary life, your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around life, and place it before God as an offering. (Romans 12:1 The Message)
Paul goes on to reveal a major roadblock to this transformation God desires. Our hindrance is the false ideas we hold about Him, the world, and ourselves. This collection of beliefs represents our reality. That is why change is so difficult. Our “reality” is our foundation. It is what has become familiar and therefore sacred. From here we have learned to make life work out to some acceptable degree. Threaten these core ideas with new ones and we tremble and retreat, lest our whole superstructure be shaken and topple.
This is another reason Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended with Me.” Jesus’ words and the words of His apostles run counter to the philosophies of this world, which have infected us without our even knowing it. This is the strategy of this world’s prince who oversees a vast network of well-coordinated lies. This is the kingdom of darkness out of which God is calling the children of Light.
But how am I going to abandon the foundational values I have come to terms with and operate by? It is by the renewal of the mind (i.e. repentance) and by that measure of faith which God has allotted to each man. In God’s unsearchable wisdom, in His unfathomable ways, He has given us faith to embrace the values of His kingdom that may first appear to us as unnatural and even threatening.
Father, may we not forget there is still an original place in Your heart for the natural branches, that we gentiles have a season of grace to respond to You. As the beneficiaries and heirs of such extravagant grace, may our daily, walk-around lives bring about your good and acceptable will. May our new lives in You radiate so brightly as to be an attraction to the Jews and a validation of Jesus’ rightful status as Messiah. And may we not so quickly run from the ideas that may both threaten and save us. Amen.