by Mike Ratliff
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.
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 12:1-3 (NASB)
All of the things that true Christians should be doing for the glory of God, drinking from the cup of Christ’s suffering, wrestling the correct opponent, loving your enemies, and behaving like a Christian are possible only for the believer who is in the process of taking on Christ’s character. No one can do these things naturally. No one is able to attain this level of spirituality by trying to do those things. Instead, these behaviors flow from a Christlike heart. No believer will ever become Christlike in their character unless they also become Spirit-led. If a believer is controlled by their emotions then they are not Spirit-led. Neither are they who have not learned to walk in the Spirit. If sin runs rampant through a believer’s life then they are not Spirit-led. In addition, if a believer is constantly consumed by anger, bitterness, envy, and self-protection then they are not Spirit-led.
The spiritual walk of Spirit-led believers will be one of repentance. They will continually seek the face of God by praying continually. They will draw near to God as a way of walking through each day because they know that when they do that God draws near to them.
7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. James 4:7-10 (NASB)
The entire process of maturing unto Christlikeness is actually enumerable points of surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as God takes us through the spiritual growth regimen He has designed specifically for each of us. We do not simply surrender one time overall and that is it. Instead, God will take us through a continual process of “surrenders” as we become more mature. We have blind spots about our spiritual darkness in certain areas. God, on the other hand, knows all about them. He takes us through whatever tests and trials it will take in order to prune away whatever hinders our growth unto Christlikeness. (John 15)
We must put ourselves in position to cooperate with God in our sanctification. Of course, God is drawing each of us to do what I am about to share, but we must deny ourselves so we can move forward with God. The best example of what happens in our sanctification is found in the passage I placed at the beginning of this post. Here is the first verse.
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. Romans 12:1 (NASB)
The first part of this passage is an appeal from the Apostle Paul. This is not a command. Instead, the Apostle tells us that because of God’s grace (presented in chapters 1-11) in our miracle of salvation, we should, in the power of God’s grace, present our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. What does this mean? This is telling us that our sanctification is a cooperative effort between God and us. God initiates it and we must surrender to His will in it. We do this by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. This means we present our bodies to the Lord as instruments of righteousness instead of retaining control of them for our self-gratification. How do we do this? Let us look at in the negative. What does our old sin nature want us to do with our bodies? It wants us to pursue any activities that will bring fleshly pleasure. Why? Its sole desire is to drive us to do all sorts of things in order to produce fulfillment from fleshly glory. All of this is sin for the believer. That’s right. For the believer it is sin to seek fulfillment from any activity outside of God’s glory. That means the regenerate Christian must change his or her focus from self-gratification in a vain attempt for fulfillment to the presence of God for His glory. What does that mean? It means the drive each of us was born with to pursue self-gratification must be denied and replaced with a God-focused walk.
The believers who do this are submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They have taken on His Yoke. (Matthew 11:28-30) Because of this surrender, God has granted them repentance. (2 Timothy 2:25) That means God has changed their character by circumcising their hearts as they surrendered to Christ’s Lordship in a test or trial situation. Believers become reborn at salvation when God regenerates their hearts. This makes them new creations. (2 Corinthians 5:17) They now have the ability to commune with God because their Spirits have been regenerated. However, the flesh is still present and is under the domination of a wicked heart.
9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB)
Why is this true? Our sin nature is still very much alive. It resides in the heart. The heart contains the conscience, mind, the will, and the emotions of man and the flesh. It is the conscience which determines our value system. It was designed by God to promote the highest possible standards it can grasp. The unregenerate are cut off from God so their consciences will use whatever value system is available. In many cases, people’s consciences become corrupt, evil, and defiled because sin has run rampant in their hearts. However, at salvation, the heart is regenerated. The part of the heart that is not regenerated at that time is the flesh. However, the conscience is radically changed. It has an open path to God after regeneration. This elevates the value system it grasps to the highest there is. However, it is not all apparent to the believer at first because sin still exists in the heart. The constant pursuit of self-gratification builds a barrier of callousness between God’s value system in the conscience and the mind, will, and emotions.
Sanctification after salvation is geared to change the believer’s character to match Christ’s. This requires the heart to change. Further circumcision of the heart accompanies each act of surrender or submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. What happens to the heart’s ability to sense God’s value system when this happens? With each cut, it opens up more and more. What else happens as the believer matures? The believer spends more and more time in the Word of God and sitting under godly teaching and preaching. This renews the mind. God’s value system begins to cleanse the mind by this exposure. It then matches these values up with those in the conscience. As this process continues, God’s gracious work of heart circumcision produces a radical transformation of character in the believer.
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 12:2 (NASB)
As believers presents their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord as their spiritual worship they enter into the heart transformation process we described in the last several paragraphs. The mind renewal is the result of fasting from self-gratification while feasting on God and godly activities such as prayer, Bible study, and worship. Never forget that this entire process is empowered by God’s grace.
The Greek grammar structure of Romans 12:1-2 tell us that this is describing a process, which cycles repeatedly. In other words, we are being “asked” by the Apostle to enter a never-ending process of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to God so He can grant us repentance as we surrender to Him all areas of our lives while He prunes us. (John 15)
The distempers of the heart are our sin nature’s hold on part’s of it. God uses suffering to cure them. The sorrows of this life make up the ingredients of the perfect crucible in which to refine the hearts of the believers God sanctifies unto Christlikeness. What is our part? We must draw near to God as He draws near to us. When we do that, we must surrender to His will in all things. We must seek His glory in all things. We must not run from the pain, but submit to it as the sweet pain of purification that will refine each of us unto Christlikeness.
What happens to hypocritical judging in the hearts of those who become living sacrifices? Occasionally the ugly, sinfulness in our deceitful hearts will break out when we lose focus. As long as we remain in Spirit-led, God-focused mode it is denied. However, when we revert to self-focus mode because of distractions our old nature will reassert itself. This, of course, is just another test. It is allowed by God to show us our internal wickedness that remains. In most cases, the sin will be some sort of hypocritical judging. If the sin results in brokenness and confession before the Lord then we are on the right track. However, if it bothers us not at all or we attempt to justify ourselves in it then we are not nearly as mature in Christ as we thought we were. God has squeezed our hearts to reveal “to us” what remains inside. It should break our hearts. If it does not then a besetting sin problem is causing spiritual blindness in that area. This is why we must pray each day for God to examine our hearts and show us the truth about ourselves. Why? We must seek to repent of these things as we seek for God to grant us repentance. We should use the following prayer as part of our daily devotion to the Lord.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. Psalms 139:23-24 (NASB)
Being a living sacrifice is the walk of the mature Christian. The maturing Christians get there by learning to be a living sacrifice. Let us pray that God will take each of us into the process that will place us in position for Him to grant us repentance so that we can become the Christlike believers He wills for us to be.
Soli Deo Gloria!