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Why is death important to the Christian? – Part 2

“God does not ask us to bring in our livestock and burn it on the altar; he asks us to give ourselves, to put ourselves alive on the altar. To be a Christian means to live a life of sacrifice, a life of presentation, making a gift of ourselves to God. Some people think that all it takes to be a Christian is to scribble a cheque or to give a few hours of service here and there on special projects for the church. But that’s not what believers are called to. My life is to be set apart and consecrated to God. That is what is acceptable to him; that is what delights him; that is what pleases him; that is the appropriate response to him and for him.”

R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 195.

If Sproul is right, and I believe he is, how do we daily die to self?

How Can We Die to Self, Giving Ourselves fully to God?

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul says,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

(Ro 12:1–2)

Not only does Paul argue for why we should die to self in these verses (see my last post), he also tells us how.

(1) We can and should be motivated to die to self and give ourselves fully to God because of the gospel (the mercies of God).

The gospel is supremely about God’s love for us. It is His desire to bring us into the Trinitarian love relationship. In other words, it is the outworking of His desire for us to experience the eternal love, joy, delight, and satisfaction that He and the Son and the Spirit have experienced from eternities past.

Consistently reflecting on God’s love for us, should motivate us to get to know Him, it should cause us to delight in Him, and to love Him, as well as it should create a sense of gratitude in our hearts. Gratitude is important, because as one author puts it,

“All Christian living and ethics are ultimately rooted in a deep gratitude for what God has done for us… [so that our] [e]very decision and every action…[is] a response to His mercy.”

READ MARK LEARN Romans , 222.

In order for us to constantly be reminded of the power and motivation of the gospel, we must preach the gospel to ourselves. Constantly reminding ourselves of God’s love and action for us. The gospel, then, is both the power and motivation for us to die to self daily, not just the ABC’s of the Christian life.

(2) We can die to self and give ourselves fully to God by purposing to no longer be conformed to the world.

In the beginning of verse 2, Paul says,

“Do not be conformed to this world…”

(Rom 12:2a)

Paul’s use of “conformed” is meant to paint a picture for the reader. A picture of a mold. My son has a play-doh set. Not only did it come with several containers of play-doh, but it also came with several molds that allow you to form or mold the play-doh into cool things like alligators, dolphins, monkeys, and dogs.

The molds that come with the play-doh set are easy to use. All you have to do is push the play-doh through the mold and wa-la you have an animal or mammal that looks like one of the molds.

Just like it’s easy to mold Camden’s play-doh into something that resembles one of those shapes, it is easy for the world to mold us into itself. Which is something Christians must fight against because the world’s values and goal are antithetical to God’s.

While conforming to the world is something we have to avoid, it is also something with which we need to approach with caution. Why is that? On the one hand, we are naturally nonconformists who don’t conform for nonconformities sake. But we can’t just be blanket nonconformists so that: If the world wears lipstick, we don’t. Or if the world goes to the movies, we don’t. Or if the world plays sports, we don’t. We can’t reject the world outright. We were created to live in the world, to be a part of the world, and to extend God’s glory into the world (Gen 1-2). But on the other hand, because we are natural conformists, we must be careful not to allow ourselves to conform to the world’s sinful patterns. The point being, we must not run to either extreme. Instead, we must carefully balance between conformity and non-conformity, which we do by (1) purposing to no longer be conformed to the world, and (2) by being transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we know the will of God.

(3) We can die to self and give ourselves fully to God by being transformed by the renewal of minds.

Starting in the middle of verse 2, Paul says,

“but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

(Rom 12:2b-c)

Paul tells us that our minds must be renewed so that we can test what is the will of God.

While renewal is necessary, we can’t renew our minds apart from God first working in our lives. We can’t do that – renew our own minds, because we are fallen. In our fallen state, we are totally depraved. Our mind has a spirit all its own — a viewpoint, a mindset, a bent that is different than and opposed to God. Until God works in our lives to change us, we will remain incapable of knowing, understanding, and accepting His will.

By God’s grace, He doesn’t leave us to wallow in our own sin. He exercises grace by giving us what we don’t deserve – renewal.

He works in our lives bringing about renewal through the Holy Spirit, who changes us both from the outside-in and the inside-out.

Outside-In

The Holy Spirit changes us from the outside-in by:

  • Presenting God’s Word to us.
  • Drawing us into prayer, and into relationships with other godly Christians.
  • Leading us to hear the Word preached and to meditate on Christ.

Inside-Out

But the Holy Spirit also changes us from the inside-out by changing our heart. The heart is what the Bible refers to as the seat of the person. It is our will, wants, and desires. The Holy Spirit works in us to change these desires so that we will want God and His will for our lives. Without the Holy Spirit working heart change in us first, we won’t accept the truth of the gospel no matter how much preaching and teaching we receive.

Have you ever wondered why someone can grow up in a Christian home, attend church every week, meet with godly mentors, and even read the Bible cover to cover, but reject God as soon as they move off to college? It’s because an external change occurred without heart change. Unless our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit to accept the things of God, we can hear all the preaching in the world, meet with the godliest people, and read God’s Word cover to cover, but we won’t accept God’s truth, nor will we apply it to our lives.

That is why it is so crucial we experience change both from the outside-in and inside-out.

Our Part in the Renewal Process

While I have argued thus far that the Holy Spirit is the primary changer, we can’t forget that we play a part in the renewal process. We must work alongside the Holy Spirit, which we do by.

  • Reading God’s Word.
  • Attending weekly worship services.
  • Going to the Lord in prayer.
  • Meeting with godly Christians.
  • Memorizing Scripture.
  • Reading Christian books and commentaries that help us understand and apply God’s Word.

While these things won’t bring about an initial change in a person, they are the means the Spirit uses to expose us to God’s will, as well as they are the means God has given for us to continue to change and renew our minds once the Holy Spirit has worked in our lives to bring about initial heart change. It is important, then, that we use them so we will see continued renewal in our lives, thus protecting us from accepting the world’s mentality, which will allow us to continue to live as living sacrifices who remain on rather than crawl off the altar.

Questions for Reflection

(1) Have you been renewed by the Spirit?

(2) Are you using the means of grace to daily continue the renewal process?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Why is death important to the Christian?

church steeple

Why is death important to the Christian? – Part 1

I’m sure most of you reading have had a near death experience at some point in your life. Some have wilder stories than others, but I’m sure you have had one.

While I’ve hung from the side of mountains, seen sharks while surfing, and encountered some shady characters in my day, my most harrowing near death experienced occurred when I was 16. A couple of my friends and I were driving to our friend’s house. He’d challenged me earlier to scare him, and up to this point, I hadn’t succeeded, so I took it one step further. I began doing what you shouldn’t do in a car at 70 miles an hour, I was shaking it back and forth.The car couldn’t handle it and it ended up sliding out. When it did, I immediately tried to correct it by turning the wheel the opposite way instead of into the slide. I learned later that is what you are supposed to do — turn it into the slide so that it spins around. I didn’t know that then, so when I tried to correct it, it caught and propelled us head first into a palm tree. After slamming into the tree, the car went airborne for a moment and then landed on my side, shattering my window, and leaving me hanging by my seat belt. By God’s grace, we were all okay, and we were able to climb out the passenger side of the car.

By far that was my most harrowing near death experience. I literally could have, and probably should have, died in that accident.

Thinking about my experience and you thinking about your experience brings death to mind, but most of us don’t think about death on a regular basis. We push it to the back of our mind and only let the thought come to the forefront every now and again. As Christians, however, we must think about death, and we must do so often. I know that probably sounds weird and morbid, so let me explain.

For Christians, death is not only how we gain a relationship with the Father, but it is also how we are able to worship God on a daily basis. If you have been in church any length of time, that last phrase might bring to mind Romans 12:1-2. Paul, the late apostle and missionary, writing to the Romans says starting in verse 1,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro 12:1–2)

As you look at these verses more carefully you notice Paul begins verse 1 with an appeal to action. We will get to what he wants us to do in a moment, but first I want you to notice the basis of Paul’s appeal and that is the “mercies of God.” “The mercies of God” is what he uses to motivate the Romans and us to give our bodies as a living sacrifice.

The Mercies of God

The mercies of God” is an interesting phrase. One we need to consider because it quite literally is the bridge that allows us to move from sinner to saint; it is what allows us to go from those who live in rebellion to God, to those who are able to live for God.

To what do the mercies of God refer?

The phrase is shorthand for and representative of Paul’s argument up to this point in the letter to the Romans. Essentially it tells us that:

The Death of One Man Leads to the Life of Another (vs. Ro. 3:23-25a; 5:1)

More specifically, Jesus’ death allows us to experience life and a restored relationship with the Father.

Hearing that some of you might be thinking: Why was that necessary?

Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?

Jesus’ death is explained by the mercies of God. Up to this point in the letter, Paul has not only proven we are sinners, but he has also proven our sin has damaged our relationship with the Father. Essentially making it impossible for us to desire Him and His ways. As a result, we have rejected the Father’s way for our own way. That is what it means for us to be a sinner. It means we completely reject God and His way of doing things.

Because God is holy and loving, He must do something about sin. On the one hand, means He must destroy sin. Since we are sinners, that means we deserve to face God’s wrath. But on the other hand, God’s love and His desire for us to experience His love, drives Him to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. He does that by sending His Son Jesus to die for us. We read about the progression from sin to God’s love in Romans 3. Starting in verse 23 Paul says,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Ro 3:23–25a)

While we are sinners, it is God’s love, it is His mercy and grace that drives Him to give us what we don’t deserve — salvation through Jesus’ death on our behalf.

According to Romans 5:1, those who believe that Jesus is their Savior — that He died in their place, satisfying God’s wrath against them — will experience peace with God.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ro 5:1)

Again, experiencing God’s love and a restored relationship with Him is made possible by God’s grace, and it is what Paul refers to as the mercies of God. Essentially, packed into that little phrase is the gospel message. It is the idea that the death of one man leads to the life of another, and that death occurs because God is gracious and merciful.

Thus, in order to experience that life, we must think about death. The death of Jesus and what that death means for us.

Christians, however, not only need to think about the death of Jesus, we must also think about our own death on a daily basis because:

Dying to Self is the Key to Worshipping God Daily (vs. Ro.12:1)

Look at the second half of verse 1. After Paul presents his appeal, he tells us what he wants us to do and why. He says we are:

“to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.” (Ro 12:1)

While different sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament, they all involved death in some way or another, either the death of an animal or the death of your ability to possess the thing you offered to God.

Think about the sacrifice of a lamb. When it was handed it over to the priest, the one who handed it over didn’t expect to get it back. It was gone, quite literally. The priest not only killed it, but he also burnt it, which killed your ability to use the lamb for your own benefit.

In a similar way, that is what Paul is calling us to do. Except he isn’t calling us to offer a lamb, he’s calling us to offer ourself as a sacrifice. In other words, he’s calling us to die to self each and every day. Hence the idea Christians must think about death daily. Not physical death, but the death of self, the death of our own desire, the death of doing things our own way instead of God’s way. Commenting on dying to self, one author says,

“God does not ask us to bring in our livestock and burn it on the altar; he asks us to give ourselves, to put ourselves alive on the altar. To be a Christian means to live a life of sacrifice, a life of presentation, making a gift of ourselves to God. Some people think that all it takes to be a Christian is to scribble a cheque or to give a few hours of service here and there on special projects for the church. But that’s not what believers are called to. My life is to be set apart and consecrated to God. That is what is acceptable to him; that is what delights him; that is what pleases him; that is the appropriate response to him and for him.”


R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 195.

When we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, we end up worshipping God

In reality that is what it takes and means for us to worship God. It takes us dying to self. Unless we are willing to die to self, there is no way we are going to be able to live for God. That’s because our heart can’t exist in limbo. It’s either going to be devoted to one or the other. It’s either going to be given to God or to self. That’s why we must be a living sacrifice. Why we must kill self in order to worship God. But, as my father-in-law likes to say, there is just one problem with being a living sacrifice

“Living sacrifices have a habit of crawling off the altar.”

After a while, our self has a tendency to take back over. That takes place because we haven’t yet been freed from our sinful nature. As Christians, we do have the ability to follow God and not sin, but our sinful nature is there constantly pulling and tugging at us, making it difficult for us to follow God. The tension we feel as Christians to please self and follow God is not going o end until Jesus returns. Until then, we have to daily die to self so that we consistently remain on the altar as a living sacrifice.

But how? How do we daily die to self? We will discuss that in more detail next time.

Question for Reflection

Do you see the necessity for Jesus to die on your behalf?

Do you see why it is important to die to your own selfish desires?

Resource

Post developed from my sermon: Why is death important to the Christian?

Why is it necessary for the body of Christ to work together to accomplish the church’s mission? – Part 2

Recently, I started watching a new show on Netflix entitled: Manhunt. The show chronicles the last few years that the FBI tracked and ultimately apprehended the UNA Bomber. If you remember, the UNA Bomber alluded the FBI for close to 20 years as he carried out a serial mail bombing campaign. The turning point in the case was when Ted’s brother turned in a tip to the FBI after the UNA Bomber’s Manifesto was published. He believed the language in the Manifesto sounded similar to that of his brother’s. That tip and the letters they provided that Ted wrote them gave the rookie agent Jim “Fitz” Fitzgerald the material needed to link Ted K. to the UNA Bomber. A link he formed through linguistic analysis.

While the show primarily follows “Fitz” and his journey to catch the UNA Bomber, what you discover is that he didn’t do it alone. He wasn’t a one man show. He was just one of hundreds of agents assigned to a task force that worked together to bring Ted to justice.

In a similar way the body of Christ — the church — is made up of many different people. In order for the church to accomplish its mission to make disciples, all its parts must work together, just like all the parts of the FBI task force had to work together to bring the UNA Bomber to justice. Why is that?

Why is it necessary for the body of Christ to work together to accomplish the church’s mission?

(2) The body of Christ must work together to make disciples (vs. 20-21)

You see, we have to remember that the local church isn’t all about us. Yes, we all can receive a number of benefits from the church, especially a church that operates according to God’s plan and purpose. We can experience community and friendship, support and encouragement, as well as education and teaching. Those are all benefits of the local church.

But again, we have to remember that the local church isn’t all about us. Instead it is about us working together to accomplish God’s mission to make disciples.

In another one of Paul’s letters, specifically the letter to the Ephesians, he hits on the same theme of us working together as a body to make disciples. He says in Ephesians 4:11-16,

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:11–16)

Now, there is a lot here, but what I want you to notice is that we need each other in order to make and grow as disciples.

  • We need people to reach out to those in the community.
  • We need people inside the church to teach and train us.
  • We need others who will hold us accountable, encourage us, help us, be there for us in times of need.
  • We also need others who can physically serve the surrounding community, who can organize events, follow up with visitors, manage the finances and operations of the church.
  • We need strategic thinkers, planners, and visionaries.
  • And much, much more.

There is a lot that goes into accomplishing the mission of the local church. A mission that takes place both internally and externally.

Reading that should clue you in to the fact that no one person can do all those things. It takes a team, it takes a church working together to accomplish that mission.

In 1989 the rule that NBA basketball players couldn’t play in the olympics was removed. With that rule removed one of the greatest teams ever to play together was assembled for the 1992 Summer Olympics. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton. All all-star players — most of them are hall of famers or will be — came together to play on what became known as the “Dream Team.”While all of these guys are uniquely gifted, there was some apprehension as to whether they all could play together. But when the games began it was clear that they were able to play as a team. They were able to play as a team because they knew they had to work as one unit in order for the team to function properly.

The church is the same. We are all gifted to play a unique role, but if you take one part away or just let one part do all the work, the body doesn’t function properly and it’s not going to accomplish the church’s mission. In order for that to happen, then,

We have to recognize that we have been brought together for a purpose and that purpose is to accomplish the mission of God.

It’s easy for church’s to get distracted and start focusing on something else. Often times that something else we start focusing on is our own personal preferences. But as one author says,

“The strange thing about church membership is that you actually give up your preferences when you join. Don’t get me wrong; there may be much about your church that you like a lot. But you are there to meet the needs of others. You are there to serve others. You are there to give. You are there to sacrifice.”

 Rainer, I am a church member, 34.

The point, then, is that we need to get past our own personal preferences because they not only lead us to forget about the people around us that we need to reach, but it also takes our focus off what we need to do inside the church, and that’s help each other grow in Christ. The only way that is going to happen is if we get to the point where church isn’t about me but something greater than me. And that something greater than me and you is us coming together to accomplish our God-given mission to make disciples. Unless we recognize that we have been called to a God-given mission to make disciples and begin actively working together that end, we won’t accomplish God’s mission. We might serve to benefit one another, we might create a cool atmosphere for us to come hang out in. We might even make ourselves feel good but even so we won’t be accomplishing the mission God had given us — to make disciples.

Conclusion

So do you recognize that? Do you recognize the church isn’t about you but about something greater than you? Do you recognize that you have been pulled into this church by God to use your gifts to accomplish His mission? Do you recognize that when you don’t use your gifts, when you don’t participate in the life of the church you are hindering its mission? It’s like the church is walking around with a broken or missing limb, and you are that broken or missing limb.

We must not only realize that all Christians are members of the body of Christ, but we must also realize that the local expression of the body of Christ — the church — must work together to accomplish God’s mission to make disciples.on’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t allow what God has given you to go to waste. Use it for the glory of God and the benefit of His church, as you seek to accomplish His mission to make disciples.

Question for Reflection

  • Do you recognize the church isn’t about you but about something greater than you?
  • Do you recognize that you have been pulled into this church by God to use your gifts to accomplish His mission?
  • Do you recognize that when you don’t use your gifts, when you don’t participate in the life of the church you are hindering its mission?

Resources

Post developed from my sermon: Why is it necessary for the body of Christ to work together to accomplish the church’s mission?