Teaching series from Romans

The New Worship Service

Romans 12:1-2

Teaching t07949


People often ask me "Why don't you have a worship service?" This meeting doesn't seem to fit the bill for them. Some don't realize that we have times for corporate singing at 8:00 am and Wednesday night--but others do know this, and still feel that doesn't fit the bill. "Where is the worship service--you know, the order of worship with the set times for singing, prayer, ritual, etc.?" Some people even point out to me that many evangelicals are rediscovering the importance of liturgical worship. What about us? Why are we a non-liturgical church?

The answer to this question is not that we just want to be different for the sake of being different. It is rather that liturgical worship has no place in New Testament church life. Although this kind of service was central to Old Testament worship, the New Testament neither describes nor prescribes such a service. Instead, it replaces it with a radically new worship service. Read 12:1. The last phrase in this verse may be translated " . . . which is your spiritual liturgy/worship service."

What is it?

Paul is purposefully using Old Testament worship terminology--yet showing how this new worship service fulfills and replaces Old Testament liturgy.

Old Testament worship had a three-fold pattern:

First, the worshipper was the recipient of God's blessing--usually in a temporal way (GOOD HARVEST; INCREASED FLOCK).

Second, the worshipper then thanked God by offering up a whole burnt offering--an animal that was sacrificed to God by being burned completely up at the altar.

Third, God "smelled" the "sweet savor" of the burned sacrificed. This is anthropomorphic language--God doesn't have nostrils and his stomach doesn't growl when he smells roast lamb. It simply means that when the worshipper approached him in gratitude and in this way, God was pleased with his worship.

Paul reiterates the same order here, but shows how much greater our worship service is.

First, we are the recipients are far greater blessings--not merely temporal blessings, but spiritual blessings which Paul calls "the mercies of God." The "therefore" refers back to the tremendous spiritual blessings Paul has enumerated in chapters 1-11 (JUSTIFICATION; SANCTIFICATION; UNIQUE ROLE IN HISTORY).

Second, we show our gratitude by offering a far greater sacrifice--not an animal to be killed, but our own bodies as a "living sacrifice." We offer our whole selves to God, our whole lives to be lived for him.

Since Paul is addressing people who are already Christians ("brethren"), this is a second decision--not required for salvation.

And yet it only makes sense that after experiencing something of God's forgiveness and life-changing power and ministry significance, we would freely choose to say to God, "Here is my life--my body, my mind, my time, my possessions, my plans, my relationships--I give it all to you, for your service, to advance your will." This is signing over the title deed of your life. This is becoming a bond-servant. In New Testament times, sometimes a master set his slave free out of sheer love. Sometimes that freed slave chose freely to remain a servant in his household out of gratitude for what the master did.

How will God respond if you do this? You may think, "I have so many problems and limitations. I know I will fail and fall. This is probably a stench to God, not a sweet savor. God is probably amused at best, or embarrassed at worst by this offering."

But Paul says it is "well-pleasing" to God. He is delighted to receive this offering from you. He regards it as precious, and nothing else pleases him like this!

Have you participated in this worship service? This is worth more than all the church worship services you will ever attend. Perhaps God is calling on you this morning to make this transaction with him. What do you say?

What will it entail?

Some of you may need further information before you decide to worship God in this way. "If I give my life to God in this way, what will he do with my life? What does it look like to be a 'living sacrifice' to God?" Many of the specifics (where you live, what kind of ministry you have, etc.) will differ according to God's unique plan for each of our lives. But in 12:2a, Paul sketches out two things that it will entail for everyone who worships God in this way.

It will entail resisting conformity to the world-system. Read 12:2a. J. B. Phillips translates this: "Don’t let the world-system squeeze you into its mold" (CAPUTO'S ARTWORK HERE). This is counter-cultural language; it is a call to be part of a resistance movement.

When I was a student, I was part of the hippie counter-culture. It critiqued the "establishment" for its materialistic and racist values, and it critiqued the "plastic" people who allowed themselves to be molded into this dehumanizing system.

There were many flaws with this movement. They opposed materialism, yet they lived off of their parents' money. They opposed the establishment's prejudice against people who looked and dressed differently from them--yet they were often prejudiced against people who were older and looked and dressed differently from them. Most tragically, because they had no solid alternative to the establishment's values, they ultimately succumbed to the very values they criticized--the hippies of the 70's became the yuppies of the 80's.

Yet for all of their flaws, they had a point. They were right to critique the poor values of the "establishment." They were right to critique people's sheep-like tendency to follow blindly. They were right to resist conformity to this system.

True Christian worship involves this kind of counter-cultural resistance, because there is an evil system in the world that imprisons the human race.

This is something far more pervasive than any form of government or political power block. It is a system of values that infiltrates every facet of human society (including the church) and imprisons every human being who is not vitally dependent on Christ. It is a system of values (read 1 Jn. 2:15)--hedonism and materialism and egotism--that distracts and seduces people from the only One who can give them real life. It is something far more insidious than any human conspiracy--with powerful temptations to succumb, and painful sanctions/punishments for those who resist.

The recent movie, "The Matrix," is about a powerful metaphor for this world-system. In the following clip, the main character (Neo) meets someone who explains just what the "matrix" is. SHOW CLIP. What follows is Neo's liberation from the "matrix" into membership with a band of freedom-fighters who seek to expose the "matrix" and ultimately destroy it.

In a similar way, when you come to Christ, he enlightens you concerning the world-system. But he doesn't give you the option of withdrawing from this system--not only because it is impossible until Christ returns, but also because it is unloving to those still imprisoned by it (Jn. 17:15,18). Rather, we are to be a radical alternative community who expose by positive contrast the emptiness of the system, and who invite people to be freed by coming to Christ and following him with us.

This is why we are called "Xenos" (read and explain Heb. 11:13), and we need to keep this emphasis!

So the new worship entails a negative, but it entails an even greater positive (read 12:2b). Not only "do not be conformed," but "be transformed"-- cooperating with God's transformation of your life.

Notice that these are the only two options. Unless you are transformed, you will be conformed.

The word here is metemorphoo, from which we get the word "metamorphosis" (CATERPILLER TO BUTTERFLY). God isn't interested in some superficial, external alteration of your life (EXAMPLES). He wants to change you from the inside out, replacing the world-system's values with his kingdom values: replacing temporal hedonistic and materialistic values with eternal values (GOD, GOD'S WORD & PEOPLE), replacing selfishness and pride with humility and sacrificial love.

How does God transform you? "By the renewing of your mind." Mental renewal involves two things:

Learning his perspective on every major area of life from his Word. This will involve some real work--not just studying the Bible, but evaluating what you read, watch, listen to, etc. in light God's truth. In a stimulation-oriented, dumbed-down culture like ours--where net and channel surfing reduce people to intellectually passive entertainment junkies, you'll be swimming against the tide if you move in this direction.

Responding to his Spirit as he applies this new perspective in personal and practical ways. This will involve some scary steps of faith . . . 

In the remainder of this letter, Paul describes what this transformed life looks like. He describes God's perspective on ourselves (12:3-8 >> NEXT WEEK), one another (12:9-13,15,16), our enemies (12:14,17-21), civil government (13:1-7), human history (13:8-14), and weaker brethren (14:1-23).

What will it result in?

Will it be worth it?  If you're like me, you may be suspicious that if you give your whole life to God in this way, you'll wind up having a restricted, boring life that you regret.

That's what Paul says, right? " . . . that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is restrictive, boring, and miserable." No, he says just the opposite: " . . . that which is good, and well-pleasing, and perfect." I have regretted a lot of things in my life, but I have never regretted giving my life to God and following his will for my life! Neither will you.

GOSPEL: God's will for you begins by receiving his mercies . . . 

Copyright 2000 Gary DeLashmutt