Romans 12:1-8.
Life as Worship

Copyright © 2011, John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.


Many years ago, a custom in a small Eskimo society applied when a person becomes too old to function productively in a hostile and threatening environment.  When older people's teeth would become worn to the gums so they could no longer chew and soften walrus hides, they were put on an ice floe (or a raft) to drift outward into the Arctic Sea to die. Their society stoically accepted their fate.  The younger Eskimos in their community knew that one day they also would ride an ice floe to their death.  How many members would be left in our churches if we cast out all who were non-productive? Only a small percentage of church members carry the ministry load in the name of Christ.  Tragically, the problem is not an inability to "chew the walrus hides." The problem is simply one of choosing not to.

The attitude of servanthood has been all but lost in the average Christian congregation.  We might see this illustrated in our own Christian fellowships in what may is referred to as the "80-20" rule:  eighty percent of the work and support of the church is done by twenty percent of its membership.[1]  Some members are willing to pay money for someone else to do the work.  Few are actually willing to shoulder the load, particularly when that load requires any measure of sacrifice.  Many do almost nothing: these do not give, and they do not serve.  A mountain of resources is buried in the life of most churches.  Congregations often support their pastors at or below the poverty level when the consistent giving of even a fraction of a tithe would sufficiently support their staff.

For some reason, many believers refuse to identify and use their gifts in Christ's service for the building up of God's kingdom, choosing instead to expend the full measure of their resources on their own interests and pursuits.  Selfish concerns either blind the average believers to the church's and the community's needs, or they harden the believer's heart against any identification with those needs.  Personally, during my tenure of teaching adult Bible study, this problem has been the common thread which has always been woven in the fabric of my experience. Almost every time I have invited members to help in an area of need, the request has fallen on deaf ears.  Many times needs are obvious and don't require asking and yet, they go unmet.  Why is it that believers often feel that simply attending services in church on Sunday morning is such a sacrifice; that it is the only sacrifice they are called to bear for the LORD?  Why are so many people satisfied in their failure to be engaged in Kingdom work?

The church has been lulled to sleep, satisfied to be average, and settled on mediocrity.  Individually we are also satisfied to be average, accomplishing few, if any great things, things that are larger than ourselves, things that require dependency upon God.  It is not God’s plan that His people would sit dormant and silent while there are so many kingdom needs surrounding us.  The Old Testament prophet of Habakkuk, recognizing this need for the faithful to arise and fulfill their calling, voices a prayerful song of praise at the end of his writing, a song that closes with these words:

Habakkuk 3:19.  The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. 

God’s purpose for the faithful is that

All of us started this journey immersed in our sin.  Without the power of the LORD in us that He gives in response to our faith in Him, we lacked any ability to rise to the heights that Habakkuk speaks of.  However, upon turning to the LORD in faith, everything changes.

·        Our relationship with God changes.

·        Our relationship with our family changes.

·        Our relationship with those around us changes.

·        Our self-image changes.

However, God’s plan is not simply that our faith in Him results in a change of relationships.  It also involves our being lifted up to a higher level of living.  Jesus referred to salvation resulting in abundant life, or living life to the full.[2]  God raises the bar of His expectation for us as we use the gifts He has given us for the edification of the kingdom of God on earth.

·        Do you have deer feet?  Do you want deer feet?

·        Is your life continually rising to new spiritual heights as you champion tasks and causes that touch people with God’s love?

·        or, are you satisfied to just be “average”?

Much of the reason why we do not often experience the life that Habakkuk describes is that we fail to do what Habakkuk is doing:  worship God through our lives.  Somewhere we may have picked up an erroneous assumption that worship is something we do once each week while sharing the experience with other Christians within the sanctuary of the church.  This may be simply because we refer to our meeting as a “worship service,” a pre-programmed sequence of activities that has a timed beginning and end. 

This model could not be further from the true intent of worship.  Worship is the spontaneous adoration and praise of the God of the Universe who loves you, saved you, and seeks a relationship with you.  True worship is intensely personal and comes from deep in the heart.  God calls upon the faithful to worship Him continually in all that they do.  It is not until we raise the bar in our own lives will we experience what Habakkuk describes as deer feet. 

Paul addresses this same issue in the 12th chapter of Romans. It contains instruction and encouragement for us as we seeking our place in Christian service.

Rom 12:1.  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.

As the result of the wonder and majesty of God, and his demonstrated love for us in saving us and lifting us to a point of access to Him, Paul strongly urges us to do something here. The word for urge/beseech, parakaleo, parakaleo, refers to a strong and forceful request from one who is working next to you, carrying the same responsibility and burden, much like one ox who shares the yoke with another, pulling the same load. Paul reinforces this position by referring to the believers who read this as brothers, adelfos, adelphos.  What is it that Paul urges us to do?

1. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.

What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?  What is a sacrifice?  First of all, a sacrifice is something turned totally over to the control of another.  We see the Old Testament sacrifice as selecting the best and giving it totally to God, either through burning, or turning it over to the temple authorities. If any part of the sacrifice is retained by its owner, it is not a sacrifice.  To sacrifice is to give it all.  How does this relate to our presenting ourselves as sacrifices? Paul calls upon believers to treat their very lives as a sacrifice, the giving of ourselves totally over to the LORD.  If we understand the concept of the Lordship of God, such surrender is not an option.  A LORD is one who has complete authority over His dominion, and if Jesus is our LORD, He has that same total authority over us.  When we keep a part of ourselves for ourselves, we are failing to surrender to His Lordship.  We may speak "Lord, Lord" with our lips, but we deny our testimony with the actions of our lives.

Paul's statement is not a suggestion.  It is an imperative.  The giving of one's body as a living sacrifice is not an option for a Christian: it is the model of normative, appropriate, and right Christian behavior.  Have you turned yourself completely over to God?  What are some of those areas of your life that you have kept for yourself?  A true introspection of how you utilize your resources and how you treat others can reveal your level of sacrifice.  Your checkbook or credit-card statements serve as a good indicator of this.  After spending for your needs for basic food, basic clothing, and basic shelter, where does the rest of the money go? 

Is your faith in God the center of your life, or do you hold that position within yourself?  Do you consider yourself someone important in the set of your relationships with others as those relationships build your pride, or do you consider yourself a servant of others as those relationships draw out your love for them.  There is no true sacrifice in a self-centered, pride-filled life.  Sacrifice is found when one dedicates their lives to the LORD and to others.

The expenditure of your time is also a good indicator of your true priorities. God has given you every moment and heartbeat in this life.  If it is totally turned over to Him, how much of it do you spend on your relationship with Him and in service to His kingdom? How much time do you spend in meditation, prayer and Bible study?  How much time do you spend in ministry to others?  Many of us probably throw away more time by staring blankly at a television screen than we do in any endeavors of the faith.  Of course, there may be some amount of "preaching to the choir" here, since those who read these words are investing time in Bible study. However, an honest heart will most likely reveal to each of us that we have not turned ourselves totally over to God, and are keeping the far greater portion of our resources for ourselves.

Living our lives as a sacrifice to God is a tough task when we are so immersed in a world that promotes self-will.  One can understand why Habakkuk prayed to the LORD for deer feet.  It is reasonable that we would pray that the LORD lead us to give our lives to Him in complete sacrifice.

2. Holy and pleasing to God

What does it mean to be Holy? When something is proclaimed to be holy, it has been set aside to be used fully by God, a state that is related to the sacrifice of the previous words.  Christians are to be separated out for God's use; totally surrendered to His authority as the giver of all things, and the giver of eternal life. If an individual is not separated our for God's purpose, that individual is not holy.  It is the individual who has surrendered to the Lordship of God, living a life of faith in Him, who God finds pleasing.

Like a sacrifice, holiness involves a complete and uncompromised commitment.  God is Holy because there is absolutely no evil in Him.  If God had even the tiniest bit of evil in His character, He would no longer be Holy.  This is an important point to consider.  Holiness is found in complete separation from the evil of this world.  The characterization of holiness involves one being lifted to an entirely new level of living.  Habakkuk prayed that he would be given the feet of a deer so that he could walk among the mountains, so that he could experience true and complete holiness in his life.

3. This is your spiritual act of worship.

Since the Word of God is true, and Paul refers to a lifestyle of submission as an act of worship, we may be missing out on the most substantive form of worship of God. What is worship?  Worship is fully recognizing who God is, His relationship with us, and responding accordingly in praise, prayer, and service.  We may have reduced the idea of worship to a corporate activity that we engage in one or more times each week when we gather to sing songs of praise, pray together, and listen to a presentation by a pastor or priest.  We may refer to this as a "worship service," though true inspection will usually reveal that there is often little real worship going on.  Worship is a state of the heart, not an act of works.  When we approach worship when our life is not consistent with the spiritual act of worship that Paul herein describes, our act of worship is simply a powerless pantomime as we "go through the motions" but fail to experience the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit in the act.

Paul has implied quite an indictment against the state of the service of believers by defining the minimum of God's desire for us as far above that which most of us are willing to give. However, as usual Paul does not leave us hanging. He provides instruction for us.

Rom 12:2.  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.

When we look at the devastating national experience of ancient Israel we find that its error was to fall into apostasy by desiring the secular and pagan world instead of desiring God.  As a result of their desire for the ungodly, the nation was ultimately destroyed, leaving only a small remnant of the faithful.  The Israelites wanted to "be like the world."  They followed secular and pagan philosophies and practices, accepting the world's culture as their own.  The modern church of today faces the same temptation, and to a large measure, yields to it.

1.  Do not conform to the world. 

This, the greatest sin of the ancient Israelites, may be the greatest sin of the church today: conformity to this secular and pagan world.  Some argue that the church is not "relevant" if it opposes worldly philosophies.  A large part of the church has become so accepting of secular culture, that it is very difficult to distinguish between those who are members of the body of Christ and those who are members of the body of the prince of this world.  Conformation to a secular world-view rejects the Lordship of God, and replaces His authority with the authority of worldly things and personal desire.  Conforming to this world can be expensive when we yield to the bombardments by those who want a piece of our income, those who want to sell big houses, new cars, new gadgets, etc.  Those who stare at the television for any period of time are exposed to hours of such bombardments.  Conformation to this world can often be seen by what we wear, as we follow the latest fashion trends that are often designed to promote base sensual desires, fashions that find their way into the church.  The message of this world is one of self-indulgent consumption, quite the opposite of the biblical message of faith and giving, but quite similar to the messages of ancient Baal worship.  One cannot conform to this world and live a holy life.

2.  Renewing of the mind.

Rejecting this secular and pagan world is an act of positive, definitive volition:  one must make a deliberate choice to do so.  Paul describes this act as a transformation that comes by the renewing of the mind.  Prior to a life of faith, all people were fully immersed in this pagan world.  Our mindset was consistent with this world's secular mindset.  The saving act of faith is more than simply believing that there is a God and that the Bible is true.  Satan believes these truths. The saving act of faith is the found only in the surrendering of one's heart and mind to God.  It is in this choice that transformation takes place.  When one surrenders to God, one seeks God's "world view" instead of that of this ungodly society.  The mind comes under the authority of the Holy Spirit. Our goal is to take on the "mind of Christ,"[3] seeking to understand and interact with our world and with others as Jesus does.

3.  Prove that which is good, acceptable, ... 

When the mind is brought under the authority of the Holy Spirit, the entire decision making process radically changes.  Life is a sum of all your choices.[4]  Choices are to be filtered by the godly imperative.  When decisions are made, each is tested against that which the Holy Spirit would illuminate as good and acceptable to God.  Every choice can be illuminated by the Holy Spirit that resides in the heart of the believer, if one would simply listen to God rather than to the deafening voices from this pagan society.  The writer of the Proverbs pens an agreement with Paul as he writes,

Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Note that trust is given with all of the heart; it is in acknowledging Him in all of our understanding that we find this path of sacrifice, this path of worship.  Matthew writes,

Matthew 6:33.  But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Proving that which is good involves seeking the kingdom first in all that we do.

Charles M. Sheldon wrote a famously successful book entitled "In His Steps,” that described the experience of several people who made a commitment of total sacrifice to God.  They vowed that every decision in life would be preceded with, "What would Jesus do?" or "What is God's will in this."  They would then commit to follow that godly choice.  When each decision is preceded with an honest desire for God's will, the renewal of the mind is taking place.  Paul states that it is in this process that we will be able to know the complete and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:3.  For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

Here Paul states another of the primary hindrances to turning our thoughts and desires over to the LORD: pride, or self-will. The secular world-view defines the value of a person based upon a quite different model than God does.  This world values people on their appearance, their wealth, and their influence.  When we start to value these things in ourselves, we actually devalue ourselves while thinking we are lifting ourselves up.   

How are we to think of ourselves? The Greek text uses the word, , sophroneo, that refers to thinking with a sound and clear mind, a mind that is not cluttered with bias. We should see ourselves as God sees us, and God is not a respecter of persons: that is, no person has a higher value before God than another; therefore we should not value ourselves above others, nor place others on a spectrum of varying value.  Humans receive all of their value from their state as a loved creation of God:  created by Him and for Him.  This gives each person a value that is beyond any earthly measure, above any amount of wealth, power, or influence.  All people share this same value, so we should look upon each other as individuals of great value without regard to any earthly or natural state or status.  Consequently, there is no room for any form of prejudice or bias towards others in the heart of a Christian. 

Why do we often value others less or more than ourselves?  It is the natural, worldly, but ungodly, thing to do. The desire to lift ones self above others comes from that  primal and prideful response that is conformed to the world.  We are not to be conformed to the world.  All people are of infinite value to God, and there is no place for pride. God's word states that the expression of pride is an abomination to Him.  There are no less than 300 references in the Bible which speak to the pride of man, and they all describe the same truth which is stated in:

1 Pet 5:5b.  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble"

The expression of pride is one of the most damaging and discouraging acts that take place in the life and community of the body of Christ.  Satan can use unrestrained pride to create conflict and division in the church as its members vie for power and influence.  When a congregation is bathed in the mind of Christ, no such conflict exists as each member steps back and surrenders their will to the will of the Holy Spirit that is found through the shared experience and testimony of all of its members rather than through the demands of a few.  Paul recognizes this as a huge problem in the early church, and it is still prevalent in the church today.  Paul continues as he gives us some instructions on integrating our various abilities and opinions into one united body under the Lordship of Christ.

Romans 12:4-5.  For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.

One of the great errors of the church is its demand for conformity.  We judge one another based on our conformity to a set of rules and regulations that even we ourselves cannot obey.  This attitude is one which is, again, conformed to the way the world judges value.  In the body of Christ, our values must be different than those of this secular world.  Each of us is unique and is of infinite value, and together we make up the body, which is the sum of us all, with the Holy Spirit forming its shape.  When we force absolute conformity, we reduce the ministry to its smallest common denominator.  When we despise the worth of others by pressing our own will, we disallow their contribution to the whole.  When we try to control the body, we take upon ourselves the lordship of the body, usurping the power of the Holy Spirit, and disallowing others to exercise their gifts.  This is not what pleases God as our spiritual worship.  Paul states that "all members have not the same office."  Each has a unique set of gifts and interests to offer to the kingdom of God, and obedience for every Christian is found in the expression of those gifts. 

Rom 12:6-8.  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.

Here Paul lists some of the gifts given by the spirit, and this list is by no means complete.  This list serves to illustrate the variety of ways individuals may find to express their faith within the context of the gifts, talents, and interests that they have.

·        Prophesying:  The special ability God gives to some to proclaim the Word of God with clarity and to apply it fearlessly with a view to the strengthening, encouragement, and comfort of believers and the convincing of unbelievers. The special gift whereby the Spirit empowers certain Christians to interpret and apply God's revelation in a given situation.

·        Serving or ministering: Being available to God as His servant, taking on any task that God leads and empowers to do.

·        Teaching:  The special ability God gives to some to explain the truths of the Word of God clearly and to apply them effectively so that those taught understand and learn. To instruct others of Biblical text in a logical and systematic way so as to communicate pertinent information for true understanding and growth.

·        Encouragement:  The special ability God gives some to offer comfort, words of encouragement, hope, and reassurance to discouraged, weak, or troubled Christians in such a way that they are consoled.

·        Giving:  The gift that enables a believer to recognize God's blessings and to respond to those blessings by generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully giving of one's resources (time, talent, and treasure) without thought of return.

·        Leadership:  The special ability God gives to some to set goals in accordance with God's purpose and to communicate these goals to others in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work together to accomplish these goals for the glory of God.

·        Administration:  The special ability God gives to some to steer the body toward the accomplishment of God-given goals and directives by planning, organizing, and supervising others.

·        Mercy / Compassion:  The special gift whereby the Spirit enables certain Christians to feel exceptional empathy and compassion for those who are suffering (physically, mentally, or emotionally) so as to feel genuine sympathy for their misery, speaking words of compassion, but more so caring for them with acts of love that help alleviate their distress.

What are some other spiritual gifts that God gives to individuals that are to be exercised within the community of the fellowship of Christ? 

·        Intercession / Prayer:  The special ability God gives to some to pray for extended periods of time on a regular basis and see frequent and specific answers to their prayers to a degree much greater than that which is expected of the average Christian.

·        Faith:  The special conviction God gives to some to be firmly persuaded of God's power and promises to accomplish His will and purpose and to display such a confidence in Him and His Word that circumstances and obstacles do not shake that conviction.

·        Tongues:  The special ability God gives to some to speak prayer or praise in a human language they have never learned or to communicate a message from God to His people. The special ability God gives to some to speak in a language not previously learned so unbelievers can hear God's message in their own language.

·        Interpretation:  The special ability God gives to some translate the message of one who speaks in tongues.

·        Music:  The gift that gives a believer the capability to present personal witness and inspiration to others through instrumental music, singing, or dancing.

·        Writing:  The gift that gives a believer the ability to express truth in a written form; a form that can edify, instruct and strengthen the community of believers.

·        Evangelism:  The special ability God gives to some to proclaim the Gospel of salvation effectively so that people respond to the promises of Christ through conversion to Christianity.

·        Apostleship:  The special ability God gives to some to exercise general leadership or oversight over a number of churches with an authority in spiritual matters, which is readily recognized. 

·        Missionary:  The special ability God gives to some to minister whatever other spiritual gifts they have in another culture.

·        Wisdom:  The gift that allows the believer to sort through opinions, facts, and thoughts in order to determine what solution would be best for the individual believer or the community of believers. The ability to apply knowledge to life in such a way as to make spiritual truths quite relevant and practical in proper decision making and daily life situations. 

·        Craftsmanship / Artist:  The gift that gives the believer the skill to create artistic expressions that produce a spiritual response of strength and inspiration. Skilled Craft - the gift that enables a believer to create, build, maintain, or repair items used within the church.

·        Exhortation:  The special ability God gives some to help strengthen weak, faltering, and fainthearted Christians in such a way that they are motivated to be all God wants them to be.

·        Pastoring / Shepherding:  The special ability God gives to some to assume a long-term personal responsibility for leadership and the spiritual care, protection, guidance, and feeding (teaching) of a group of believers. 

·        Healing:  The special ability God gives to some to serve as a human instrument through whom it pleases Him to cure illness and restore health (physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually) apart from the use of natural means. 

·        Miracles:  The special ability God gives to some to serve as a human intermediary through whom He pleases to perform acts of supernatural power that are recognized by others to have altered the ordinary course of nature and authenticated the divine commission. 

·        Poverty:  The special ability God gives to some to purposely live an impoverished lifestyle to serve and aid others with their material resources.

·        Hospitality:  The special ability God gives to some to provide an open home and warm welcome to those in need of food, lodging, and fellowship. It involves a readiness to invite strangers to your home (or church) for the sake of the Gospel. 

·        Helps / Serving:  The gift that enables a believer to work gladly behind the scenes in order that God's work is fulfilled. The special ability God gives to some to serve the church in a supporting roll or to invest their talents in the life and ministry of other members of the body enabling them to increase their effectiveness.

·        Discernment / Distinguishing of Spirits:  The special ability God gives to some to know with assurance whether certain behavior or teaching is from God, Satan, human error, or human power.

·        Knowledge:  The special gift whereby the Spirit enables certain Christians to understand in an exceptional way the great truths of God's Word and to make them relevant to specific situations in the church. Also, the desire to seek out and learn as much about the Bible as possible through gathering much information and the analysis of that data.

·        Celibacy:  The special ability God gives to some to voluntarily remain single without regret and with the ability to maintain control over sexual impulses so as to serve the LORD without distraction. [5]

The expression of all of these, and other gifts, is an act of worship when that expression is brought under the Lordship of Christ and expressed both in the faith community and outside the faith community.  Paul envisions the very life of a Christian as an expression of worship.  Worship is not limited to a few acts of humility on a Sunday morning.  Worship is a basic attitude of life and the expression of one's gifts; both brought under the authority of God, and brought as a sacrifice to Him without reservation.  This is an expression that extends through every experience of life, both inside the walls of the church facilities, within the walls of the home, and outside of these two sanctuaries.  This may be a different model than that which many of us use if our life is characterized by compromise to this secular and ungodly world. 

Is your life a living sacrifice?   Paul's epistle to the Romans shows how it can be.  Habakkuk prayed for “deer feet” so that he could run the race swiftly and be empowered to climb to new heights.  This is God’s intent for the faithful: that we are all expressing our spiritual gifts for the furtherance of the kingdom.  Imagine what our lives would be like if this were the case.  This is both a model and a goal worth our continual and prayerful effort.  


[1] Referred to as the Pareto Principle.  Bunkley, Nick (March 3, 2008), "Joseph Juran, 103, Pioneer in Quality Control, Dies" New York Times

[2] John 10:10.

[3] 1 Corinthians 2:16.

[4] Albert Camus

[5] The identification and textual content of this list of gifts was taken from the web site, www.kodachrome.org/spiritgift.  This site contains an interactive spiritual gift analysis quiz that can help one identify their spiritual gifts.  A link to this quiz has been placed on the website, www.cedarrockbaptist.com.