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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?

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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?

Prophet, Priest, and King

You may have heard that all believers function as a Prophet, Priest, and King, but you may not know how you function in those ways. I have often wondered myself. Yesterday, I came across an article, entitled Movement Dynamics, by Timothy Keller that helped me to understand the biblical reasoning behind these categories, as well as the ways in which we act as a Prophet, Priest, and King. Today, I want to share with you what I learned from that article.

Prophet

A prophet is one who interprets Scripture, judges by Scripture, and witnesses to the truth of their faith. He is also one who admonishes, counsels, nourishes, and encourages other believers from the Scripture.

Joel 2:28-29 predicts those in the New Covenant will act as prophets, and we do. In Matthew 11:9-11, we are told that we are in a greater position and calling than the prophets of old, specifically, John the Baptist who is said to be the greatest prophet.

Then in Colossians 3:16 and Hebrews 3:13 and 10:24-25 our prophetic duties are spelled out, telling us that we are teach and admonish others, exhort others, so that they will not be hardened by sin, and we are to stir one another up to love and good deeds. We are also called by Jesus to take His message to our neighbors and the nations (Matt. 28:18-21).

Priest

A priest is one who has access to God. He is able to enter into His presence and intercede for others.

The veil to the temple was torn in two at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:51), resulting in all of us having access as priests in the name of Christ, the great High Priest, to the presence of God (Heb. 4:14-16).

We all are given priestly work (Rev. 5:10). We are to pray for others (James 5:16). We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2). As well as we are to offer sacrifices of deeds and mercy (Heb. 13:16), along with offerings of worship: praising God and acknowledging His name (Heb. 13:15).

King

A king is one who sits on his throne ruling and reigning over those He has been given authority over. He has the power to make decisions and fight off attackers that would threaten his kingdom.

Every believer has these same abilities, having been made a kingdom through the blood of Christ (Rev. 5:9-10) and seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6) we reign now over the powers of Satan. We are able to fight and defeat the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12). One day, we will reign on this earth alongside our One True King, Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:5-6; 5:9-10). As well as those who are apart of the New Covenant church have the power to make decisions regarding church governance even now.

Jesus is the Ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King

While every believer is a Prophet, Priest, and King, the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King is Jesus Christ. He is the One that brings us God’s Word (Prophet). Stands as our advocate before the Father (Priest), and orders the life of His people through His Law (King). Without Him and His sacrifice, we would not be able to exercise our offices as Prophet, Priest, and King. So may we not forget that Jesus is the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King, who makes it possible for us to function in these offices, as well as stands as our perfect example.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How are you doing at exercising your role as Prophet, Priest, and King?
  • Do you exercise your role as a Prophet by speaking the truth in love to others, calling them to repent and believe the gospel, as well as calling those who are Christians to live as Christ?
  • Do you exercise your Priestly role by interceding for others, and offering yourself as a living Sacrifice?
  • Do you fight against evil, the flesh, and the world in your life as a King?

Resources

Post adapted from Timothy Keller, Movement Dynamics, 3-4.

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