This is an edited version of a sermon preached in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge.
What is worship? What are we doing when we worship? Is worship what we do when we come to church? Is our worship the church service? Or is worship a part of the church service – the singing? Worship is what we do when we sing, led from the front in many churches today by a ‘worship group’, so if we take worship to mean the singing we can narrow it down even further than the service. What is worship?
Romans 12v1 provides a very clear and important answer to that question: ‘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’ (NIV).
Let’s take this verse bit by bit. ‘Therefore’ – what is the therefore there for? ‘Therefore’ draws a conclusion from what the Apostle Paul has been teaching in the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Christians in first century Rome.
Paul has been teaching the gospel message, God’s wonderful good news of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Those who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins are put right with God and can be absolutely confident that they will be saved on the Day of Judgement from the righteous anger God is going to pour out finally on a sinful, rebellious world. Paul has been teaching the gospel of eternal salvation for all who believe and trust in Christ. We can have peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus.
‘Therefore,’ Paul wrote, ‘I urge you.’ Paul was an apostle, a chosen messenger of the one true God. He was a witness of the risen Jesus. Paul had the apostolic authority to instruct the Christian family in first century Rome, his brothers and sisters in Christ, those men and women who, like him, had put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
Therefore, in the light of the gospel message, I, your authoritative apostle, urge you as fellow members of the Christian family ‘in view of God’s mercy’.
‘In view of God’s mercy’ underlines the fact that in Jesus Christ God has shown mercy to us, the Christian family. We deserved his judgement but instead he has lavished his love and generosity upon us. He has forgiven our sins and made us his special, dearly loved people who are indwelt by his Holy Spirit and who will by God’s grace be the people who will inhabit the new creation God is going to bring about when his Son returns. ‘In view of God’s mercy.’ People who deserved nothing are being given everything in Christ.
And now these people who have received God’s mercy in Christ are being urged to do something. They are being urged to worship – to offer their bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God: ‘this is your spiritual act of worship.’
These Christian people are being urged to worship the one true Lord and God by offering their bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God. What’s that talking about – bodies offered as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God?
In the Old Testament God’s people brought animal sacrifices to the Jerusalem Temple. The sacrifices were central to the worship of the Temple. The animals were killed and their blood was poured out and those sacrifices were what paid for the sins of God’s people. The blood of the sacrifices substituted for the blood of God’s sinful people. God’s people could live because these animals died.
The sacrificial animals were therefore special. They were set apart as sacrificial sin-offerings. They were holy in the sense that they were devoted to God. They had to be animals with nothing wrong with them – no ingrowing toe-nails or a missing ear or any trace of foot and mouth. These animals were holy, set apart for God and as such God was pleased to forgive his people on the basis of the sacrifice of these animals. Dead animals sacrificed to God as sin-offerings were thus central to the worship of the Jerusalem Temple.
But here in Romans 12 Paul describes the bodies of Christian believers offered in worship as living sacrifices. Not dead but living sacrifices because human sin has been paid for through the once and for all death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, so there is now no longer any need for another sacrifice for sin. We have received mercy, so what we do now?
We worship – we live for God in and out of church. We live to his praise and glory, offering our bodies as living sacrifices, not as dead sin-offerings but as living Christians devoted to God, devoted to pleasing him, devoted to love and good deeds across the whole of life, lives devoted to Christ and the cause of his gospel of eternal salvation.