Some Thoughts on Romans 12
Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
Taking up our cross daily is what Jesus envisioned for his followers. Jesus didn’t say he wanted us to die, only to take up our cross daily. Jesus wants living sacrifices. He is willing to take all kinds of sacrifices. That great devotional classic we know as Leviticus opens with an explanation of different kinds of offerings – burnt offerings, grain offerings and peace offerings. Jesus will take all kinds of offerings as long as they are “living sacrifices.”
“Living sacrifice,” it sounds like a nice Christian cliché or possibly a good band name, but certainly not an ideal lifestyle. Really, Jesus, crucified daily? “If any want to become my followers …”
And so Paul picks up this theme, this way of Christ-centered living and reminds the Christians in Rome to “give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you, letting them be a living and holy sacrifice.” Then the clincher, “This is truly the way to worship God.”
So here I must pause and ask if any wish to leave right now. I’ll understand. When I think about worship I often think what I might get out of it. I am excited about the songs, about communion and about the fellowship. I don’t usually think about being sacrificed. To follow Jesus means becoming living sacrifices, daily crucified. To truly worship God means to be laid on the altar again and again. So if you want to leave now I understand.
For those of us who choose to become these living sacrifices, Paul gives a short list of what this looks like. At the very heart of following Jesus is conversion and transformation. This isn’t the kind of transformation that allows someone to lie down the bottle only to pick up another idol. This is the kind of transformation that renews our rotted minds and restores the image of God that our sin has muddied and marred. Like Deanna’s testimony last week, “When I look in the mirror I can see myself now.”
[Deanna comes to us from the streets and a life of addiction. She is bright, intelligent and wonderful to have around. every January we have a bowl of water that we invite people to come and place their hand in to remember their baptism and the truth that baptism conveys. When Deanna touched the water she experienced God’s love for the first time and began weeping. It is exciting to see God at work in Deanna’s life.]
It is important that we understand this. Jesus is not in the business of leaving us the way we are. This is why Paul tells us not to think we are better than we really are. “Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”
Again, I must pause and now give permission to leave to those who see no reason to be crucified daily for the purpose of being transformed. After all, you think you’re all right, not that in need of renewal. You may now step off the path and go back home.
Perhaps this is why the church seems so powerless, so untransformed. We have thought more highly of ourselves than we ought. Maybe the church has done a good job of removing those poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted. Perhaps we have exchanged these people for the rich in spirit, for those who have never known pain, for the powerful, for the satisfied, for the unjust, for the self-deceived, for those hungry for revenge, and for the protected. Perhaps.
There is good news though. Jesus still invites us to be crucified with him. There is no other way to follow Jesus apart from the cross. Apart from living our lives together as living sacrifices there is no hope for the body of Christ. Jesus needs crucified disciples. If we are willing to live our lives for each other, to become those transformed, renewed, holy and living sacrifices Jesus and Paul spoke of then there is hope, both for us and for the world.
We can’t do it alone though. Last week we talked about how we need one another in order to do the will of God. Brothers and sisters, we need each other in order to take up our crosses daily, in order to be transformed. This is why Paul says, “We are many parts of one body and each part has a special function.” Part of the crucified life, part of transformation, is living in community with each other discerning and using “our special functions.”
We come on Sunday mornings and gather to worship God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I don’t think, though, that this is the place where we practice being living sacrifices. Honestly, how much of a sacrifice is it to listen to a few contemporary songs when you prefer traditional hymns? How much of a sacrifice is it to take communion weekly when you prefer monthly? How much of a sacrifice is it to come in and join our voices together in praise of God, to smile at each other, to hear the word of God read and proclaimed, to receive a benediction and to go home? Not much.
No, I think the real work of becoming a living sacrifice and being transformed takes place in the oikas, in the home. Oikas is the Greek word for household. It was the smallest social unit of the time. In the Acts passage we hear all about these oikas and how God was doing amazing things among them. The oikas was more than dad, mom and their 2.5 children. The oikas was where the life of the family took place – extended family, servants, etc.
The oikas is where we become friends. I think we must become friends before we learn to love each other. The oikas is where we practice the “one another” verses of scripture. The oikas are what we call community groups. And they are important for another reason – community groups are where we can discover and employ our spiritual gifts.
On any given Sunday those who use their gifts are very few in number. How many actually get to teach? How many get to show hospitality? How many get to serve, prophesy, etc?
In our community groups, however, there is space to discover and employ these gifts. As living sacrifices we are called to employ these gifts as we practice the “one another” commands.
So … If you have the gift of prophecy, practice it in your community group and learn how to use the gift for the building up of living sacrifices. If your gift is serving, then serve those being crucified in your group. If your gift is teaching, then teach well. If your gift is encouraging others, then encourage those who are being transformed. If it is giving, then give to those who are in need. If it is leadership, then lead seriously. If it is kindness, then by all means, show kindness.
Being living sacrifices is no game. There is no room for deception. If we are going to love others then let us do it well. We must work hard with each other. We must be patient and keep praying together. We need to begin practicing hospitality. We need to bless those who persecute us. Let’s be happy and sad together. Let’s live in peace, not pieces.
We cannot do this alone. We need each other. We (your pastors) don’t ask you to sign up for a community group (or small group, home group, etc.) because it is a cool fad that some mega churches are doing. We don’t ask you to sign up for community groups because it is a great church growth technique. We don’t ask you to sign up for community groups because we want to take away all of your free time.
We ask you to sign up for a community group because being crucified daily is not an easy thing. We ask you to sign-up for a community group because it is in community that we are transformed. We ask you to sign up for a community group because it allows you the opportunity to be obedient to Jesus by living for one another. We ask you to sign up for a community group because it is in these groups that you can regularly discover and use the gifts the Spirit of God has given to you for the building up of the body of Christ. We ask you to sign up for a community group so that you can make it in Christ Jesus, the Living Sacrifice.