A Living Sacrifice
12 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Dear Friends in Christ,
What do you think of when you hear the word “surrender”? What images come to your mind? The way you answer those questions will depend to a great extent upon whether you view surrender as a positive or a negative, for indeed it can be taken both ways. For example, remember this picture that was splashed all over our television screens and newspapers when Saddam Hussein was finally captured? They found him hiding in a hole in the ground, at which time he was forced to surrender, which was obviously a negative thing for him, but a positive thing for us.
When I typed in “famous surrenders” on Google, it brought up a number of incidents including General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865; Michael Jackson’s surrender to authorities on Nov. 20, 2003 for charges that a 14 year old boy was bringing against him; and the surrender of a Japanese soldier named Hiroo Onoda, who finally surrendered on March 19, 1972, 29 years after World War II had ended. He had been sent to some isolated island in the Pacific and no one ever told him that the war was over.
So negatively, surrender carries with it the idea of losing, giving up, admitting defeat, yielding and submitting to a stronger opponent, things that are almost unthinkable in this day and age where winning is everything. But surrender takes on a much more positive meaning when we use it in reference to God and we understand that surrendering to him is to be at the heart and core of every Christian’s life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it should be the most natural and fitting response to the amazing love and mercy and grace that God has shown us in his Son Jesus Christ. So as we continue our sermon series on how to live a good news life in a bad news world, we want to spend our time this morning and next Sunday taking a look at what it means to live a surrendered life.
And nowhere in the Bible do we find a better description of what this involves than in the words of Paul that serve as our text for today. After spending 11 chapters in the book of Romans describing, detailing, and explaining the incredible grace God has shown to us fallen and sinful human beings, Paul urges us to surrender our lives to God with these words: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” That’s a powerful word picture that Paul gives us there, especially when we take into account what was done with sacrifices back in the Old Testament. The animals that were offered were skinned, washed, placed on the altar, and then all of it was burned. All of it was given. And in a very similar way, that’s what God wants to do with us. He wants to skin us. By that I mean he wants to strip away all of our false pretenses, all of the masks that we wear, all of our fake facades that we love to hide behind. In other words, he wants us to come clean with him because it isn’t until we actually do that that he can begin his life-changing work in us.
This is something that I remember seeing happen many times at Promise Keepers gatherings years ago as men by the hundreds and thousands would go forward during the opening night to make a new beginning with God. But I especially remember one gathering in particular where after all of that had already happened, one of the next speakers brought up the issue of pornography and the crippling, addictive, and destructive effect it was having on the lives of many men who were there that night. Like a skilled surgeon, this speaker began to peel away the layers of lies and deception and lust that characterized so many of those men’s lives. And spontaneously, without even being invited to do so, many of those men streamed to the front of the arena to confess those sins, to lay them down at the foot of the cross, and to surrender their hearts and minds and lives to Jesus.
By the way, this personal act of surrender is called many things in the Bible: consecration, dying to self, taking up your cross, receiving Jesus not just as your Savior but also as your Lord. It matters not what you call it, but rather that you do it. And I’ll be the first to admit that doing it is a lot easier said than done. So I want to spend the rest of my time this morning taking a look at 2 barriers that often stand in our way of total surrender to God.
The first of those barriers is fear. We’re afraid to give ourselves totally to God. And I believe the reason we are, whether we realize it or not, whether we’ll admit it or not, is because we don’t trust him completely because if we trusted him completely, then we’d have no problem surrendering to him completely. And just follow me on this. The reason we don’t trust him completely is because we don’t know him as well as we should. For if we did, then we’d have no problem trusting him. Do you understand that?
I sure do because I’m kind of speaking from personal experience here. Way back when I was in high school, I had several girlfriends. And you might find this hard to believe, but I was one of those extremely, insanely jealous boyfriends. If I saw my girlfriend talking to another guy, my blood would begin to boil and I would let her know in no uncertain terms that I’d better never catch her doing that again. I know it was stupid. I know it was immature. But what was my problem? Well, it was trust, wasn’t it? Or maybe I should say a lack of trust. I did not trust any of those girlfriends.
But then in the summer of 1974 I met the girl who would one day become my wife – Marilyn. And as I got to know her better and fell in love with her, I saw in her a faithfulness, an integrity, and a commitment to our relationship that I’d never seen before in any other girl I’d dated. No longer was I plagued by these all-consuming feelings of jealousy. No longer did I get upset if I happened to see her talking to another guy. For the first time in my life I found a girl that I knew I could trust. And I’ve got to tell you, the feeling of freedom that it gave me was so refreshing and so overwhelming.
My point being, the better you know God and the more you realize how much he loves you and how committed he is to you, the easier you will find it to surrender to him. And how do you know God loves you? Well, a good place to start it to open this Book that we call the Bible which is nothing less than his love letter to you. For in these sacred Scriptures he not only tells you that he loves you over and over again, he also says that he will never leave you or forsake you; that he is aware of and cares about every detail of your life, even down to the number of hairs that you have on your head. In Jer. 29:11 he tells us that he has plans for our lives, plans that include a hope and a future. In Ps. 86:5 we’re told: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you.” And in Rom. 5:8 we discover that the greatest expression of God’s love for us took place when he offered his own Son Jesus Christ as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Paul writes: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So if you ever want to know how much you matter to God and whether he is really worthy of your trust and your surrender, just look at Jesus with his arms outstretched on the cross and listen to him as he says, “This is how much I love you! I’d rather die for you than live without you.”
Listen, my friends. God is not a cruel taskmaster or bully who uses brute force to coerce us into submission. He doesn’t try to break our will and make us cry “uncle.” Instead he woos us to himself through the sweet news of the Gospel and really offers us freedom in our submission to him rather than bondage. For when we completely surrender to Jesus, we discover that he is not a tyrant, but a Savior; not a boss, but a brother; not a dictator, but a friend.
Then a second barrier to total surrender is pride. For if we surrender ourselves to God then we are admitting something about ourselves. And that is that we are not capable of running and controlling our lives, much less saving ourselves from our sins. By the way, that desire to have complete control is as old as mankind. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve displayed in the garden when they ate of the forbidden fruit? In essence, they were saying to God, “We know what your way is, but we’d much rather do it our way.” And the world has never been the same since.
So we must come to grips with something very important here. And that is that we are not God and we never will be. We are human. He is divine. We are finite. He is infinite. We are sinful. He is sinless. We are limited in so many ways. He is limitless in all ways.
And when we understand that, when we grasp how much greater he is than we are, doesn’t it make sense to surrender ourselves to him? Many of you have heard me use the illustration of a parade to help us better understand the different perspective that God has on our lives than what we have. We all love a parade, don’t we? Years ago on the last Sunday of July Marilyn and I and our girls would head down to Campbell Hill to see the parade they have as part of the annual Campbell Hill picnic where Marilyn and I originally met. Typically, it’s a pretty big parade with a few bands, lots of floats and horses, and lots and lots of politicians if it’s an election year like this. And just like many of you have the same spot you sit in when you come to church each Sunday, so also we had the same spot where we would sit each year to watch this parade. But we could only see each part of the parade as it passed by, one section at a time. We couldn’t see the whole parade from beginning to end. So we never really knew how long it was going to be and how many participants were left until the last horse had walked by.
And that’s the way it is with our lives. We can only see one part of our lives at any given time – the part that is right in front of us. We have no idea what is coming, what tomorrow holds in store for us. And really, that’s a good thing because if we did know what was coming, think of how our sorrows would be increased as we would live in constant fear and dread of the terrible things that we knew would be happening to us. And think of how our joys would be diminished as we would know beforehand the good things that were going to happen to us and the surprise factor would be removed.
But God is different. He’s sees the parade, namely, our lives, from above. He’s over it all and therefore sees it from beginning to end. He knows what’s coming, so nothing surprises him. Nothing catches him off guard. And when we couple that with his perfect love and the promise that he gives us in Rom. 8:28 that he will cause, or orchestrate, everything that happens to us to work out for our good and his glory, can you see why it is well worth our while to surrender ourselves to him?
Well, next week when we get together we’re going to take a look at one more barrier that often stands in our way of completely surrendering ourselves to God. And I’ll also be sharing with you the blessings and benefits that go along with living a surrendered life. Until then, may the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds firmly anchored to the Rock of Ages Jesus Christ who surrendered his life for you on the cross so that you might have life with him forever.