Your Reasonable Service

2nd of 5 messages preached at EPC Youth Camp, on Maria Island, Tasmania,
29 Dec 2005- 3 Jan 2006

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:1-2).

We have seen how the Christian life should be founded upon proper theology. Proper Christian behaviour must be founded upon a proper understanding of who God is and what He has done for us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

The apostle Paul therefore appeals to us to live the Christian life by the mercies of God. That is, we must do what we do or not do as Christians, on the basis of our knowledge and experience of God’s love towards us in Christ. We must not do anything as Christians simply because our parents say so, or because the church says so, or even because the law says so. We must live on the basis of the constraining love of Christ so that we do what we do out of love for Christ who loves us.

Bearing this in mind, let us consider how we ought to live. We must remember that though we should live out of love for Christ, yet it does not mean we can or should live anyhow. There is still a right and acceptable way to live.

Paul says:

…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

Now, this is a very rich statement. Let us take it apart and study it phrase by phrase.

1. Present Your Bodies

In the first place, we must understand that the apostle is not merely requiring us to be present at worship services! The word ‘service’ in this verse may indeed be translated as ‘worship,’ but it is quite clear from the context that Paul is not speaking only about formal acts of worship. He is concerned about our life or our Christian walk, not just our attendance at worship services!

In the second place, in speaking about presenting our bodies, Paul is literally speaking about presenting all parts of our bodies for the Lord’s use. He says in Romans 6:13—

"Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."

Now, note that the 2 words rendered ‘yield’ in this verse are the same as the word ‘present’ in our text. In fact, the two verses essentially convey the same idea. So presenting our bodies is to yield all the members of our body unto God.

Paul is teaching us that the members of our body can be used as instruments of good or of evil. We can bring glory to God, or we can promote Satan with our members.

Knowing that, we must consciously choose to use our hands and feet and eyes and ears and brain and tongue, etc, etc for the glory of God.

"Present your bodies" says Paul. It may not be clear in the English language, but is an imperative. It is a command. But it is a command that is backed by a strong appeal to consider how reasonable this instruction is on account of the mercies of God toward us. It is a command that is to be obeyed not out of fear and compulsion, but out of love.

But why does Paul speak about presenting our bodies to God, rather than presenting our souls? Isn’t our soul more precious than our body? After all, our body will not only grow old and weak but is the source of many temptations?

Well, we must understand that by speaking about presenting our bodies, the apostle is not excluding our souls.

Calvin puts it well when he asserts that, Paul uses the word ‘bodies’…

"…that he might more fully designate all that we are, for the members of the body are the instruments by which we carry out our purposes."

That is to say: Paul speaks about presenting our bodies because we cannot serve God except with the members of our bodies. Paul is therefore calling us to active service for the Lord.

It is as if he is saying: "I am not interested in mere contemplation and meditation. Yes, you should praise God in your minds; but that is not sufficient. Neither am I interested only in your monetary gifts, for God owns the cattle upon a thousand hills. All that you have belong to Him. What I am asking you to do is to present your whole body unto the Lord. Your whole life must be presented to the Lord. All your members: your hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongues must be presented unto the Lord as instruments of praise!"

Will you be obedient to the apostle’s call, beloved young people? Obedience may require a change in the way of your life. It will require a consistent and active use of your time and energy to serve the Lord, to glorify him in all that you do.

Can you say that you are already living for the Lord? If not; and still after hearing this message, there is no change in your life, you would be simply disobedient to the word of God.

"Present your bodies!" Paul does not leave us with an uncertain command so that we are not sure whether we are obeying or not obeying. His instruction is clear.

Obedience involves physical energy and actual use of time. Merely thinking about it or merely using your tongues to praise the Lord is not what the apostle has in mind.

Indeed, we must present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God …

So, secondly, let us consider what is "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God"

2. A living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God

Paul is no doubt alluding to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. During Old Testament days, the saints of God worship Him by offering bloody animal sacrifices.

Those were the days before Christ came, and the animal sacrifices pointed to the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 10:12). Believing saints in the Old Dispensation knew that one day the Messiah would come and He would shed his blood and die for their sin.

This is why the animals which were sacrificed had to be killed before they are offered up to God— whether a whole burnt offerings or as peace offerings in which only the kidneys and fat were burnt.

But the apostle Paul is not talking about these dead sacrifices. He tells us rather to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord.

We are to offer ourselves—not by killing ourselves on the altar, but by living for the Lord!

We must live for the Lord in such a way as may be described as sacrificial; or in other words costly. Remember the event recorded in 2 Samuel 24 when King David sinned against the Lord by counting his fighting men. God plagued the people with a great plague. And when David repented of his sin, the prophet Gad instructed him to build an altar in the threshing floor of a man by the name of Araunah (or Ornan) a Jebusite, for it was there the plague stopped.

When David came to Araunah, and tried to buy the threshing floor from him, he refused to sell him. Instead, he offered to give it to him for free together with the wood and oxen needed for the sacrifice. But David refused the gift. Why? Turn to 2 Sam 24:24. He says:

"Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing" (2 Sam 24:24).

Here then is a lesson we must learn: Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord must cost us something, or it is not a sacrifice.

Are you presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord? If you are, it will cost you something. It may be your time, your energy, your convenience and comfort, your dignity and self-respect, your wealth and status, your friends, your hobbies, and sometimes even your loved ones, for the Lord Jesus says:

"He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Mt 10:37).

Living for the Lord, dearly beloved brethren, is costly. But as the famous missionary Jim Elliot has put it so well: "he is no fool to lose what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Jim Elliot was eaten by cannibals for preaching the Gospel. He lost only what he could not keep. He gained what he could not loose.

Like Old Testament sacrifice, our sacrifice of ourselves must cost us something.

And moreover, like the Old Testament sacrifices, our sacrifice of ourselves must be ‘holy’ and ‘acceptable.’

But how can our sacrifice be holy and acceptable when we fall short of the glory of God in all that we do think or say?

It can be holy and acceptable only because the blood of the perfect sacrifice of God, the Lord Jesus Christ has been sprinkled upon us. Indeed, had he not done so, we would still be dead in sin and trespasses, and our sacrifice can hardly be called living!

But in teaching us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto the Lord, the apostle is no doubt also teaching us that we have a responsibility to ensure that what we present to the Lord must be holy and acceptable or well-pleasing (eujavresto") to God.

What does it mean for our sacrifice to be holy? Well, it means that we must be totally consecrated to God! Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were to be free from defects, so our consecration of ourselves to God must be total, not half-hearted.

The prophet Malachi rebuked the Jews for offering to God blind, lame and sick animals (Mal 1:8). He charged them for being deceitful and called a curse upon them:

"Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing…" (Mal 1:14a).

Only a living and holy sacrifice will be "acceptable" or "well-pleasing" to God.

What does this mean for you, beloved youths?

In the first place, it means that you must not think that so long as you are going to church every Sabbath then you have done sufficiently.

The Lord wants your heart, mind and soul, not just your physical presence.

In the second place, it means that you must not think that it is enough that you keep the Lord’s Day holy. The Lord’s Day is a day belonging to the Lord. If you use the Lord’s Day for your own pleasure or for your work, you are robbing God and sinning against Him. But you must not think that all you need to do is to keep the Sabbath holy and you have fulfilled your duty.

No, no; the Lord requires your whole body to be presented as a holy sacrifice. The Lord’s Day already belongs to God! Paul is speaking about your life on all days—whether you are in church, at home, at work, at school, at camp, etc.

So it means in the third place, that what is required of you is to take up your cross daily to follow Christ! Christ took up His cross as a sacrifice for us, therefore we are to take up our cross if we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice for him.

"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Lk 9:23) says our Lord.

What is it to take up your cross to follow the Lord? Well God has carved out a different cross for each of us.

Therefore, presenting your bodies a living sacrifice does not necessarily mean giving up a career to serve the Lord full time. Well, for some of you it may mean that. If the Lord will give you a gift for the Gospel ministry, he will by His providence lead you to believe that He is calling you to the ministry. If that is so for you, then presenting your body a living sacrifice would at least include presenting yourself to your Church Session that you may be considered for the Gospel ministry. Otherwise you would be like Jonah running away from God.

But for most of us, taking up our cross or presenting our bodies as living sacrifice is to serve the Lord with what talent He has given us. This means we are to serve him in the context of the various callings that He has given us.

Today some of you are students. To take up the cross for you is to do well in your studies for Christ’s sake. To take up the cross is also to witness for the Lord to your classmates and teachers by your words and an exemplary behaviour. But for those of you who have begun a career, to take up the cross would be to be Christian—not just excellent,—in all that you do whether as nurses, doctors, teachers, engineers, tradesmen or parents.

Yes, beloved young people, you who are called of God must by your life worship Him, glorify Him in all aspects of your life.

God does not require all of us to give up our jobs to serve Him fulltime in the ministry, but He requires that each one be fulltime Christians! He is pleased when we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and well-pleasing to Him in whatever station of life he has called us to. We must live with God’s glory constantly in mind. We must be able to say with the Psalmist "[Let] all that is within me, bless [Thy] holy name" (Ps 103:1).

But why must we do so? Why must we present our bodies a living sacrifice? We must do so because it is our reasonable service…

What does that mean? This is what we must consider thirdly,

3. Your Reasonable Service

Some modern translation render ‘reasonable’ as ‘spiritual’, but I do not see how that translation can fit into the context. No, I agree with Wilhelmus à Brakel that Paul is here telling us what the Christian’s Reasonable Service should be. That is Paul is telling us what is expected of us if we are truly grateful to the Lord. Indeed, the Greek word translated ‘reasonable’ (logikov") is the word from which we get the English word ‘logical’.

Paul is saying "Now that you know how God has called you and has saved you, because of his compassion towards you, your only reasonable or logical response is to serve Him or worship Him by presenting your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God."

Gratitude demands that when someone has shown kindness to us, that we return in kind. We may never be able to repay our benefactor, but we must do something in return.

Our reasonable response is one that is commensurate with the act of kindness shown. So if someone helps you to do your homework, you may buy him coke and chips to show your gratitude; but if someone risks his life to save your life, then a reasonable response would be much greater.

Even the heathen understand these things. So the King of Sodom offered Abraham to keep all the good he recovered after he rescued them from Chedorlaomer and the other kings.

So the Centurion, out of gratitude to Paul for saving their lives, risked court-marshal to prevent the soldiers from carrying out their standing order to kill all the prisoners in case of a shipwreck.

One of the most subtle sins condemned in the Scripture is that of ingratitude. Indeed, earlier in Romans 1, Paul had charged the Reprobate for their ingratitude to God (Rom 1:21).

Sometime ago, I was told about how a Christian man decided to bequeath his house to his son before he died. His son was overseas and he thought that his son would certainly be grateful to him for that tremendous gift. Well, instead of being grateful, the son immediately sent him a lawyer’s letter demanding that his father pay rent to him or be evicted. This act is so disgusting that even the most immoral person will spit on it. Yet this, apparently, happened in a Christian family.

We cringe when we hear such a story, and we wonder if it can be true. But do you realize, beloved young people, that we too can be guilty of the same kind of ingratitude to God—only that our crime would be far more severe.

For what can be more unreasonable and shocking than ingratitude to an infinite God who loves us and pities us, who provides all our needs and who sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die on our behalf!

What, oh what then, would be a reasonable and grateful response on our part? Paul says, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."

In other words, presenting our bodies as living sacrifice is the minimum we can do to demonstrate our gratitude unto God for what he has done for us. It always saddens me when professing Christians try to do the very bare minimum for Christ. There is no bare minimum! The minimum is total consecration of ourselves!

Some of us may think that it is too much. Surely, God would not require such high standards from us, you may ask.

But let us ask ourselves rather: What is too costly when Christ laid down His life for me?

Paul reminds us elsewhere—

"And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour" (Eph 5:2).

Have you walked in love?

The apostle John likewise says:

"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1Jn 3:16).

Have you laid down your life one for another? Are you prepared to sit on the grass if you come into the marquee and find someone sitting on your chair? Or do you demand to have it back?

The apostle Peter joins in the chorus too. For having spoken about how we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet 1:18-19), he reminds us:

"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1Pt 2:5).

Do you praise and worship the Lord wholeheartedly? Do you worship him with your life?

The point is: If Christ our Lord offered himself as a sacrifice unto God in order to redeem us, then what is our only reasonable response, but to offer our bodies wholly as living sacrifices for His sake?

Oh may the Lord grant us that we may respond to His mercies in a reasonable or logical way. Amen.

—JJ Lim