As we come now to a time in which we listen to God speak through His Word, may I invite you to open your Bible to the 12th chapter of Romans, Romans chapter 12. As we look back on the ministry of 35 years at Grace Community Church and as we look forward to whatever years yet remain before the Lord returns or takes us to be with Himself, we need to put in focus a very vital and central theme that Paul deals with in this great chapter and that is an understanding of the mutual ministry of the body of Christ. Let me read for you, if I might, starting in verse 3 of Romans 12.
"For through the grace given to me, I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment as God has allotted to each a measure of faith; for just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly. If prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness."
A very familiar analogy of the church as a body with many members, yet functioning as a whole is certainly rich. In fact, the divine genius of the inspiring Holy Spirit could not have selected a more apt or more descriptive picture to express the inter-dependent and loyal service among believers. The amazing complex function of a human body is analogous to the interchange of life among those who believe in Jesus Christ.
This church, Grace Community Church, has uniquely through the years understood this principle. More than merely understanding it, we have operated on this principle. I can remember just about two years after I had become the pastor, a reporter and a writer were sent out to look at our church and write an article to try to define the causes of its rapid growth. At that time we had about 900 people in the church. It had doubled in about a year and a half or two years. And people were curious because that was not the way it was with churches in the ‘60s, in the early ‘70s. And so for several days the writer looked around and asked a lot of questions and then wrote an article and the title of it was, "The Church with 900 Ministers." And the whole thesis of the article was that what makes this church unique is everybody is involved. And he went on to say that he had not seen or experienced a church that had the degree of involvement of its people in mutual ministry that he saw here.
This particular spiritual interchange is essential to the life of the church. Whatever Grace Community Church is now, it is not because of the pulpit, it is not because of dynamic leadership, it is not because of our theology, it is not even because we exposit Scripture. We are what we are now because we have had a fully functioning body, because that which has been preached, exposited, taught, and modeled through leadership has been lived out in the lives of people. You are the reason Grace Church is what it is, for you are Grace Church.
Paul reminds us here that all of us are gifted. All of us are uniquely gifted. In fact, we could go far enough to say that none of us equally gifted with any other, like fingerprints. We each have our own gift to bring to the body of Christ. That has been the heart and soul of this church, in mutually ministering people. The spiritual gifts, says the apostle Paul, are to function like the body. That marvelous picture can be looked at a little more deeply. Dr. Paul Brand writes, "Chemically, cells are almost alike, but visually and functionally they are as different as the animals in a zoo. Red blood cells, discs resembling Life-Saver candies, voyage through my blood loaded with oxygen to feed the other cells. Muscle cells, which absorb so much of that nourishment, are sleek and supple, full of coiled energy. Cartilage cells, with shiny black nuclei, look like bunches of black-eyed peas glued tightly together for strength. Fat cells seem lazy and leaden like bulging white plastic garbage bags jammed together. Bone cells live in rigid structures that exude strength. Cut in cross section, bones resemble tree rings, overlapping strength with strength, offering impliability and sturdiness. In contrast, skin cells form undulating patterns of softness and texture that rise and dip, giving shape and beauty to our bodies. They curve and jut at unpredictable angles so that every person's fingerprint, not to mention his or her face, is unique. I never tire,” writes Dr. Brand, “of viewing these varied specimens or thumbing through books which render cells. Individually they seem puny and oddly designed, but I know these invisible parts cooperate to lavish me with the phenomenon of life. Every second my smooth muscle cells modulate the width of my blood vessels, gently push matter through my intestines, open and close the plumbing in my kidneys. And when things are going well, my heart contracting rhythmically, my brain humming with knowledge, my lymph laving tired cells, I rarely give these cells a passing thought." End quote.
A fully functioning body is a marvelous thing. And that is what Paul says the body of Christ should be, functioning in the same way; every believer, every cell performing that unique duty given to him. And I say again, if there has been a key to this church as we look back, we can say it has been that it has functioned as a body.
John Owen wrote long ago these words, "Spiritual gifts are those effectual operations of the power of Christ whereby His kingdom was erected and is preserved." What a remarkable statement. It is the power of the Spirit of God moving through the giftedness of His people that erected and preserves His kingdom. The body of Christ needs us all just like your body needs all your cells to fully function. Christ needs all the spiritual cells to be loyal and inter-dependent and faithful in service.
When the apostle Paul says you're to be a fully functioning body, however, he knows there is a step that comes before that. I suppose I could have come before you this morning and said, "Now look, we've had 35 years of this and I want to exhort you that we...we need to have 35 more should Jesus tarry. Would you please stay involved? Would you keep being and doing whatever it is that you are and do?" But there would be something missing in that. I could speak to you about the need to dedicate yourself to service and to be faithful and to make sure your cell's doing its part and if you have the gift of prophecy, that you're speaking and teaching, and if you have the gift of mercy, that you're showing that mercy with cheerfulness, and if yours is giving, that you're doing it with liberality, and if yours is serving, that you're serving as you ought to serve. And if yours is exhortation, consolation and comfort, instruction and counsel, that you're doing that. And I could exhort perhaps until I was blue in the face for you to do that.
But something would still be missing because there is something preliminary to this kind of service, something not only preliminary but something absolutely essential. Would you go back with me to the first two verses of this chapter? Before we come to verse 3, we have to go through verses 1 and 2.
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
The apostle Paul says, look, before I say anything about service, let me say something about worship. That's the issue. Before you go out to do anything, would you please come near? And would you offer to Me a living sacrifice? Before you do the prophet's work, would you be the priest? Before you go to men, would you come to God?
You see, service is always the byproduct of worship. You cannot exhort people to service in a vacuum. Before my service will be rendered, my life must be given. You remember, don't you, the noble Macedonians who, it says in the second letter to the Corinthians, gave liberally out of their deep poverty and were literally remarkable, exemplary in the level of service that they rendered. But Paul says, before describing their service, they first gave themselves. All spiritual service is the byproduct of self-giving.
A distraught young lady came to me and she said, "I can't seem to live the Christian life the way I want to, the way I should. I am without victory in my Christian experience, or a sense of accomplishment. I struggle with the very most simple forms of obedience in my Christian walk. Can you help me?" Before I could answer that question, she went on to say, "I've tried everything. I've been going to a church where they speak in tongues and where they have healings. I have spoken in tongues, I have prophesied. I have healings. I have been slain in the Spirit." And she said, "Even though I've tried to get all I can get out of God, I'm still not pleased with my life."
And I said to her, "That's your problem. The key to spiritual victory is not getting. The key to spiritual victory is...is giving and there's a big difference."
There are people today who think that the key to effective service is to get more of something when the key to spiritual service is to give more of yourself. The issue is not what you need to receive from God to be effective. The issue is what you need to give to God to be effective.
Here Paul doesn't say, "Now here's what you need to receive before you can do this kind of service." He says, "Now here's what you need to give." The key to powerful living is not to get more from God, but to give all we are to God. You see, we are a holy priesthood and we are called to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. We are a kingdom of priests offering spiritual sacrifices, the first of which is ourselves, ourselves. God is no longer interested in dead sacrifices. He is no longer interested in animals being offered to Him. He wants living men and women.
And so, Paul is saying, "Look, I want the service done. I want the fully functioning body with every cell thriving and making its contribution through the gift that God has given. I want that but I know there is a preliminary to that. Before service comes worship. And before you go out to do ministry, you come in to Me."
Now what is involved in giving my life as a living sacrifice? There are four elements, four elements. First, you must present your soul to God. You must present your soul to God. Verse 1, "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God." Stop at that point.
You see, he's urging or beseeching or begging them, but you'll notice that that premise on which he begs them is the mercies of God. I urge you therefore on the basis of the mercies of God. And then he identifies them as brethren. What is the significance of this? The significance of this is the fact that he is identifying them as believers. He calls them brethren, he throws in the “therefore.” which means they have in their personal experience lived through the realities of chapters 1 through 11, which he calls the mercies of God. The term "the mercies of God" describes all great redemptive realities which he has been writing about for eleven chapters. So he's really saying to them, "Now, I'm going to take this exhortation for you to be a living sacrifice and place it on you because there's one thing that I already know is true about you, and that is this, you have given your soul to God. You have made that exchange of which Jesus spoke when He said, ‘What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? What is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?' You have come to God and you have given Him your soul and you have received a new soul, as it were a new creation. Therefore, on the basis of the tender, saving mercies of God, my brethren, let's go to the next step. That step one is giving your soul to God."
The starting point of any offering to God begins with the soul. I cannot give God my body, as many religionists would do today. They would think that by genuflecting or by mumbling some repetitious prayers or by going through some ceremony, some outwardly mechanical rite or ritual, or even by doing some good deed externally that they therefore are offering to God their body. There is no body accepted by God where the soul has not already become His own; so that all that religious activity is meaningless in terms of being offered to God. All that is good conduct is meaningless in terms of being offered to God if the soul has not already been given to Him. You start by giving Him your soul. The mercies of God sum up all that has been said in those eleven chapters that relate to that soul being given to God.
What are the mercies of God? Well he talks about them all through those chapters. Love, and grace, the Holy Spirit, peace, faith, comfort, power, hope, patience, kindness, glory, honor, righteousness, forgiveness, reconciliation, justification, security, eternal life, freedom, resurrection, adoption, sonship, intercession, on and on, all of those mercies are granted to the redeemed soul. And so He's saying, "Your soul is Mine, now I want your body." There's a sense in which he is predicating the response on the gratitude that should be in their hearts for the mercies they've already experienced. It's as if he says, "Look, if the mercies of God have meant anything to you, wouldn't you go the next step and give Him your body?" I mean, it would be literally unthinkable to receive such a grand package of mercies, and then withhold our body. Out of gratitude for God's great grace spent on us, as it were, in the mercies which He grants us, we should render Him our body in full total dedication. Remember what the psalmist said in Psalm 116:12? "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward Me?" Really, we should be so consumed with gratitude for the mercies that are ours for time and eternity that it is but an easy thing to yield up our body to Him.
You say, "Yes, it sounds easy but it isn't." You're right. We've been learning in our study of Romans, haven't we, that we have a new inner man, we have a redeemed soul, we have a new nature; that in the inside, in the inner man we have died and risen to walk in newness of life. And the inner man is filled with holy longings and godly aspirations and righteous desires and it loves the Law of God and it seeks to do what is right and it doesn't want to do what is wrong. And all its impulses are good and holy and just, but it is incapacitated by the remaining flesh. We want so often to yield that body up, but the battle is great and thus does Paul say, "Wretched man that I am, I cannot always gain my body to offer it to God."
So that takes us to Paul's exhortation; the second component in a living sacrifice is offering your body to God. First one, the soul; next the body. And so does he say in verse 1, "Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice."
This is not easy. This is not easy. There was a battle when you presented your soul. No doubt about it. First of all, you were convicted by the Holy Spirit, overwrought with your own sense of sinfulness, seeking deliverance, forgiveness, a Savior, but breaking the back of sin was a work that no man could do, not even yourself, no group of men could do, and no preacher could do. Breaking the back of sin, crushing the sinner to the point of his need, making him cry out for salvation, is a work that only God through the Spirit can do. It was not an easy work. Men enter the kingdom, said Jesus, with great difficulty. Neither is it an easy work to give up your body, your unredeemed flesh, the members of your physical body, the components of physical life, including the mind and the desires and the will that goes along with unredeemed humanness. It isn't easy. Paul says in Romans 6, "Let not sin reign in your mortal body, but yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." Well that is not easy and yet that is the essential thing. It is essential for us to give God our bodies. I'll tell you, it's scary to think about how dominating the body can be, isn't it, over the redeemed soul? That center of desire, disease, depression, doubt, that beachhead for temptation that activates into sin, no wonder Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "I beat my body into subjection." He uses a Greek verb which means I punch my body. This is no easy thing, it's a daily thing. He said, "I die daily." What do you mean, Paul? Daily, I put my own flesh to death, I mortify sin in my flesh, I kill it every day. I make the maximum effort. I give it a blow as fatally as I can yield it. You see, I know what he said to the Corinthians to be true, the body is not for fornication, the body is for the Lord. And the very God of peace, said Paul to the Thessalonians, the very God of peace wants our whole spirit, soul and body preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, to the degree that we give our body, what is it? To what degree? Well this living sacrifice is to be holy. It is to be holy.
First it is a living sacrifice. Not a dead one. If you want to know the difference, go back to Genesis 22 in your mind and remember Abraham and Isaac. They went to a mountain. There was a sacrifice to be offered. God said, "I want you to offer your son." Isaac was to be a dead sacrifice. Isaac would be put on the altar, killed; he's a dead sacrifice. That's one kind of sacrifice. But Abraham, if he had killed his son, would have made a living sacrifice.
What do you mean by that? He would have continued to live, but he would have just slain his hopes, his dreams, the promises of God, the covenant, everything he planted his future on would have gone with that son. And yet he was willing to do it. That man was willing to make a living sacrifice. All his own ambitions, all his own hopes, all his own dreams, all his own plans, everything that he hoped for, longed for, loved and desired he was willing to execute on the altar if God told him to do it. That's a living sacrifice. When God says I want you to present yourself a living sacrifice, He's not saying I want you to die for Me, He's saying I want you to live for Me without intruding on the plan with your own will. That's the idea.
And then he says it is to be a holy sacrifice, blameless, spotless, like those lambs of old. Sacrifice that is yielded to God is holy. That makes it, notice, acceptable to God. He will not accept an unholy. You remember when Malachi, the people came and they thought it was well with them because they offered God sacrifice and He says, "Why are you defiling My altar?" Malachi 1, "Why are you presenting the blind and the lame and the halt animals to Me? Why do you do that? I don't want the blemished." Instead of bringing the best of their flocks, they were bringing the discards that they didn't want. God does not want a half-hearted, weak, cheap offering. He wants us holy, pure, totally devoted to Him and His purposes.
Only this, he says, is acceptable. And only this is, notice this, your spiritual service of worship. And there we are, folks, worship always comes before service. First you make the service of worship, and then the service of ministry or duty. The worship God accepts involves the reasoning processes of the inner man, rather than the automatic response void of a conscious choice. God wants reasonable, spiritual, thought-out, responsible worship, intelligent, heartfelt, consecrated devotion, not mechanical religious activity. True worship, beloved, doesn't consist of elaborate prayers, liturgy, ritual, candles, robes, stained glass, organ music, feeling spiritual, or any of that. It is to give yourself to God, having set aside your sin and your purposes to live for His.
There's a third component here and I don't want to split these too cleanly or too finely because they overlap and interface. But not only must we present our soul to God and our body to God, but our mind as well. In verse 2 he says, "And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Now these are not sequential. Once you've given your soul to God, then the rest is a package; body, mind and will, which would be our fourth one. It all comes in a package. You can't give your body without your mind because your body responds to your mind. It is the mind that chooses whether you'll express your new life through your body or whether you'll express the flesh and act unrighteously. The mind is key. And so he says I want your mind and I do not want you conformed to this world.
What do you mean world here? Well, the world... The best way to understand it, when he says world he means the floating mass of thoughts and ideas and philosophies and opinions and maxims and speculations and hopes and impulses and aims and aspirations that are current in any given time in the unregenerate system, the whole value system of a Christless world. Don't allow yourself to be shaped around that. The word "conformed" means to take on the outward appearance, to take on. Don't take on the outward appearance of that, obviously you're different inwardly. Why would you conform your outside to that? Don't masquerade as if you belonged to the world.
How do you avoid that? By being transformed by the renewing of your mind. I don't have to say much about this here in our fellowship because we've spent all these years endeavoring to renew your mind in the things of God. The word "renew" is metamorphosis, to transform you, to totally transform you, to make you something other than you used to be, to teach you how to think completely different, totally transforming your mind. He's saying, start allowing yourself to be transformed by the metamorphosis that's going on in your mind as you push out the old and the new comes to life. And what is the new? It is the Word of God. Joshua 1 says that if you meditate on the things of God, the book of the Law, you'll make your way prosperous and you'll have good success. In Psalm 119:11 David said, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against You." He knew he had to plant in his mind the truth of God in order that it would control his body. And he couldn't offer his body to God if his mind didn't go with it because his body was responding to his mind. In Colossians 1:28 he said, "We teach every man in all wisdom." Why do you do that? "That we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." You can't be perfect in Christ unless you've been taught. And Paul says in Colossians 3:10, "Put on the new man that is renewed in knowledge and let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." That's how you transform your mind. The renewed mind is saturated and controlled by the Word of God.
And so says Paul, "Look, I want your service. I want you to do what you should do as a cell in the body of Christ, but you don't start there, you start with worship and the supreme act of worship is to present yourself soul, body, mind and fourthly, you must present your will to God." The end of verse 2 says, "Having a renewed mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." In other words, you want to get to that last point in spiritual commitment where you've presented your soul, you've presented your body, you've presented your mind and therefore you acknowledge God's will as that which is good and acceptable and perfect. It's the only thing you'll settle for, the only thing you'll settle for. You now are willing to abandon your own imperfect plans and seek God's will as your top priority. A renewed mind goes along with a submissive will housed in a body yielded over as a living sacrifice. and that package results in a willingness, an eagerness to do the will of God because to you it is good and acceptable and prefect.
That's quite a fourfold character for this act of spiritual worship. The renewed mind, the submissive will, the consecrated body, the redeemed soul, that's the sum of that dedication. And when you've done that, beloved, when you've yielded everything to God, verse 3 will be true in your life. You will not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. You will have sound judgment. You will rightly assess how God has measured out faith to you. You will understand your function in the body. And you will eagerly perform it whatever it is because you've made the first step. You've come to the altar and you've put your life on it, soul, body, mind, and will. This and this alone yields an effective church, an effective body in ministry.
The sad thing is there are always some members of the church that do not function as they should. And if we go back to Dr. Paul Brand's analogy of the body, we hear him say this, "The most traumatizing condition in the body occurs when disloyal cells defy inhibition. They multiply without any checks on growth, spreading rapidly throughout the body, choking out normal cells. White cells armed against foreign invaders will not attack the body's own mutinous cells. Physicians fear no other malfunction more deeply; it is called cancer. For still mysterious reasons these cells, and they may be cells from the brain, liver, kidney, bone, blood, skin or other tissues, grow wild out of control. Each is a healthy functioning cell but disloyal, no longer acting in regard for the rest of the body. Even the white cells, the dependable palace guard, can destroy the body through rebellion. Sometimes they recklessly reproduce, clogging the bloodstream, overloading the lymph system, strangling the body's normal functions. Such is leukemia."
Cancer, leukemia, the very words frighten us. And yet in the body of Christ, spiritual cancer, the defection, wild, out of control, selfish, self-centered, indulgent behavior of certain Christians cripples the body. How much more tragic is that? For how much more important and significant is the body of Christ than any human body?
Beloved, it is crucial that if this church is to accept the responsibility to maintain its ministry in the great heritage that God has given us, that the future be set in the same course as the past has been set and that is that we be a fully functioning body, that there be no cancerous or leukemia cells darting and bolting and plunging and plowing their way chaotically through the body, but that all of us in humility seek to serve each other, asking no prominence for ourselves.
That's not going to happen just because we say we wish it would. That will only happen when the Spirit of God has pushed us through the realities of the first two verses and when we have come to the altar and when we have offered ourselves as a living sacrifice. Until you come to that point, your service rendered is not service appreciated. The Lord wants those who have first worshiped and given themselves and then who serve. May God grant us such even as He has in the past as we look at the future. Let's bow in prayer.
Father, we thank You again for all that You've done in this wonderful church. We thank You for the immeasurable grace lavished on us. We thank You for the people, fully functioning cells, inter-dependent, loyal, dutiful, because they were so dedicated who have made this church by Your grace and power what it is today. Father, we give You all the praise. It's not by might nor by our power but by Your power working in us as we work. Father, I thank You again for the reminder this morning that we can't live out the proper use of our spiritual gifts, we can't function the way You want us to if we're not on the altar soul, body, mind, and will.
And I would pray even now for some here who have attempted to give You their body and tried to render some service in some way, but never have given You their soul. May they be overwhelmed with the reality of the mercies of God and may they be broken by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and come to that soul salvation without which their bodily service is useless.
And then we pray for those whose souls are Yours but whose bodies have become instruments of unrighteousness. Oh God, may that conviction come upon them that will cause them to bring that body to the altar. And then, Lord, our minds, we offer again that they may be filled with Your truth and that our will then may serve You, and in such service may we find our greatest pleasure. To these ends we pray for Christ's sake. Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.