The World Wants to Conform You to Itself.
We’re coming up on three years in February. Three years! We’re starting to get a little more independent. More responsive to other kids and learning how to develop friendships—starting to lose our baby fat—maybe even learning how to share our toys. Three year old NewChurch is definitely not a toddler anymore.
We started with a few things in mind. That we would be a church for people who aren’t currently part of a church—either because they didn’t grow up going (like me), or maybe they have been hurt by church people in the past (also like me). From the beginning we’ve tried to design NewChurch to be a place that is welcoming and not too strange for people who are walking into a Christian worship service for the first time—which is a constantly moving target, but it remains a goal nonetheless. We want to be a church where you don’t have to leave your brain or your sense of humor or your sense of justice and mercy at the door. We don’t want to be a church that comes off as phony—we’re not trying to sell Jesus with fake plastic smiles. Or scaring people into buying pearly gate timeshares—treating the Gospel like some kind of fire insurance policy for the after-life.
We think people are looking for something real. Something that offers solid meaning and purpose—the world seems like a pretty bleak empty place sometimes—everywhere you look there’s chaos and pain and hatred. We believe the God who created the world is the only hope we really have—so we started NewChurch to share that hope with people who might not hear about it otherwise.
It’s why we do what we do. We think it’s the most important thing in the world. This community where we gather to meet with each other and meet with God. This place where we worship God and love people—we say that all the time “worship God and love people,” what does it even mean?
That’s what I’m gonna talk about today. The mission of NewChurch is to worship God and love people. We think this is supposed to be the basic meaning and purpose for all our lives. The center of everything—God’s will for all of us individually and for everything we do together as NewChurch.
Let’s pray as we get started: Father in Heaven, we want to do Your will. We want to know what Your will for our life is, what Your purpose for creating us and saving us and bringing us together in this place. Speak to us this morning through Your Word—show us what You want from us, give us the courage to do it and cover us with Your mercy as we muddle our way toward being the people You’ve called us to be. AMEN
Romans 12:1-2 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.
You probably already know this but when you’re reading the Bible and you see a “therefore” the first thing you need to do is find out what it’s there for. St Paul appeals “therefore by the mercies of God, to present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” So, we back up a little and try to find what he’s referring to—and in this case, we keep backing up all the way to chapter one. Paul has been describing the amazing mercy of God for eleven chapters and he finally gets to the point of it all at the beginning of chapter 12.
In chapter one he talked about how we let sin run all over us—dishonoring our bodies through all kinds of bad behavior; in chapter 12 he says to present our bodies to God. Chapter 1 he talked about how we wasted our life worshiping created things; now in chapter 12 he says to present ourselves as worship of the God who created everything. In chapter one he said that we once had undiscerning minds, but now he says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In chapter two he says that we all know God exists and what He wants; but now he says we need to test and discern what the will of God is. Basically, the downward spiral of those early chapters finds its reversal beginning here in Romans 12.
“Therefore” everything flows from God’s mercy. “Therefore” because He is merciful to us—we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, this is our spiritual worship—He showed us mercy because of Jesus, He forgave us and made us holy, made us acceptable to God, able to come into His presence, able to speak to Him in prayer, able to hear His Words of promise and hope and grace—in spite of our stubborn, selfish, lazy, angry, sad, petty sinful self-destructive ways—and none of us should pretend for a minute that we don’t know that’s exactly who we are—but in spite of all that, He has shown us mercy. So what are we supposed to do in response?
We’re supposed to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.
The world wants to conform you to itself. It never sleeps. Never rests. Every moment of your life, whether you’re awake or dreaming, the world is trying to bend you, twist you and distort you into something unholy. Ungodly. Something ugly. That’s why we’re constantly tempted to be the worst version of ourselves. Saying mean things. Withholding kindness. Defining ourselves by our pet sins. Neglecting prayer. Refusing to read God’s Word. Skipping church half the time. Wasting our time on distractions. Jumping with both feet into the outrage culture and hating our enemies. The world, the flesh, and the devil want to use you to destroy everyone around you, and destroy yourself. The world wants to conform you to itself to destroy our church and make everything we’re doing ineffective.
But God has shown us mercy, and therefore we are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice.
“Living sacrifice” is an oxymoron. It seems to contradict itself, like “jumbo shrimp” “found missing” or “Microsoft Works.” Oh come on, that was “seriously funny.”
Living sacrifice is meant to be a play on words. He was talking to people who knew all about making religious sacrifices—the Romans and the Jews, when they wanted to pray, they would go to a temple and offer a sacrifice to their god. Whatever was being sacrificed was gonna be stabbed, chopped up or burned on an altar—it was certainly not gonna be living anymore. So, what did Paul mean by “living sacrifice?”
I think we have to look at Romans chapter 6:
Romans 6:2–5 How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
See, Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. He’s the final, once and for all, perfect sacrifice to forgive us of our sins and make us right with God. He was sacrificed on the cross—and He died. But that ain’t the end of the story. He did something no sacrifice had ever done before—He rose from the dead. He came back. A living sacrifice!
Then Paul explains that in our baptism, we were connected to His sacrificial death—therefore—we were forgiven and made holy. AND, we’re not left for dead either—we’re also connected to His resurrection. We become living sacrifices because we’re connected to Jesus.
So we’ve been shown God’s mercy. Mercy has been applied to us because we’re connected to Jesus. Now what?
It’s like God sent us a gift card in the mail. We open it up and read it, and we’re like, “Cool! Awesome! God thought of me and sent me a gift card.”
You ever get a gift card and put it in a drawer and forget about it? Or put it back in the envelope and throw it away? Last year, according to “Marketwatch Research” close to a billion dollars in gift cards went unused. Isn’t that nuts?
The Gospel isn’t supposed to be an unused gift card.
See, we become living sacrifices because we’re connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection—but Romans 12 tells us we have to present ourselves as living sacrifices now. We have to do something with it. We’re not supposed to put the gift in a drawer and forget about it. Philippians 2:12 says we’re supposed to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Which doesn’t mean we’re supposed to “figure out” our salvation, it means to “work out” what has been “worked into us”—we’re supposed to do something with this salvation. God has shown you mercy, now go do something good with it. Gotta use the gift card. Spend it.
But where are we supposed to spend it?
Hebrews 13:15 says we should “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise”—all though the day we should be offering praise and thankfulness to God—everywhere we go. This is the worship God part.
And Philippians 2:17 says our faithful service is like an offering to God. Faithful service to God means serving others— this is the loving people part. In fact the very next verse in Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Worship God. Love people. This is what presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice means. This is what worshiping God means.
People are always trying to make “worshiping God” as small a part of their life as possible—keep it in a tiny little compartment. St Paul is blowing the doors off that idea here: he’s saying, because of the mercy God has shown us we gotta go all out. Worship is 24/7.
What about going to church? Are we supposed to gather for church services on Sunday morning and “worship” God? Is that also part of what it means to present ourselves as living sacrifices? Yes. Absolutely. Hebrews 10:25 says we’re not to forsake the gathering of the saints, the people of God, we gotta go to church—but when we do, we’re supposed to offer ourselves as living sacrifices—meaning, worship becomes the guiding principle for our whole life. We worship on Sunday morning, and that sets our course for worshiping God with the other 167 hours of the week.
“Worship God. Love people” is really just another way of saying what Jesus told us was the greatest commandment, the summary of everything God wants from us. In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” We worship God by loving people. We do God’s will when we love people. We go to church on Sunday and then we spend the rest of the week “working out our salvation” and doing something with the mercy God showed us by doing stuff for other people.
The World is Against You. But the whole world is trying to drag you down—keep you from doing any of this. The world wants you to sleep in on Sunday, so you’ll crawl inside your own head and get selfish. So you’ll make everything about you. The world wants to conform you to itself. It doesn’t want you to be transformed. It doesn’t want you to be renewed. The world doesn’t want you to present yourself as a living sacrifice, it wants you to be a dead pile of selfishness.
Let’s read this together: Romans 12:1-2 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.
Transformed. To be transformed is to be reshaped—like the Transformers. A change in our outward self—the things other people can see. Then renewed is more internal—our mind and emotions, our spirit. it’s our responsibility to let the change happen—both internal and exterior—in a holistic, complete way. Like Jesus said, “heart, soul, mind and strength.” Every part of us.
See, the thing that happens when God saves us—pick the word of your choice: He redeems us, we’re born again, baptized, given new life, forgiven, shown mercy—it all basically means the same thing: that God has saved you by grace through faith in Jesus. He chooses you. He seeks you. You once were lost but now you’re found—you were passive in that part of the deal. You were connected to Jesus and made like Him into a living sacrifice wholly acceptable and pleasing to God.
But, then you gotta do something. You have to present ourselves. You have to walk in a manner worthy of your calling. And no one’s gonna do it perfectly, that’s why there’s grace—but we have a part to play by faith. We have things to do. We gotta start walking by faith. We gotta tuck in that baby fat, make some baby steps, and try to be faithful.
And we do it here—In this sin dominated, death producing world of pain and sorrow. In this nightmare horror story we find ourselves toddling along in. We may live here but we have to resist the world, the “spirit of the age.” We’re in the world but not of the world. We have to resist the temptation to withdraw and hide—resist making it a game of “us against them.” Loving people means we gotta be “for” them—no matter who they are. We have to resist this outrage culture we’re surrounded by that relentlessly tells us to hate our enemy. Jesus says if we’re His disciple we have to love our enemies—which isn’t gonna be easy, or come naturally.
The world wants to conform you to itself. It wants you to fail. It wants you to die and stay dead. But that’s not what Jesus wants for you—He gave His life so you can live, so you can have hope, so you can have meaning and purpose. This is God’s will for your life. That you would worship Him and love people.
[So that’s what NewChurch is all about. That’s what we think life is all about. Presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, every part of our life.
But it’s not gonna be easy. Every day we’re gonna have to die to our self and rise to Christ. And if we call NewChurch home it means some other things, too:
It means we’re gonna step up and take ownership of this mission God has given us. We’re not gonna take this place for granted, we’re not gonna grumble—this isn’t just the place were we hang with our friends and get spiritually fed each week—we’re not babies anymore—we’re gonna find a place to serve, we’re gonna give generously and we’re gonna pray for the mission of NewChurch. We’re gonna be a living sacrifice.
We gonna show up Sunday mornings to give thanks, to praise God for who He is and all He has done for us. We’re gonna continue to grow in our faith and knowledge and understanding. We’re gonna be a living sacrifice.
We’re gonna worship God and love people with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
We’re gonna forgive each other as God has forgiven us and shown us grace and mercy.
We’re gonna pray for NewChurch and for each other every day—for His favor, wisdom, blessing and power.
We’re gonna be a living sacrifice—active in the life of the church. We’re gonna eat and drink with sinners, and we’re gonna look for opportunities to talk about the hope that Jesus has given us—when we see an opportunity we’re gonna go straight to awkward. We’re gonna show each other kindness, gentleness and respect.
This transformation and renewal is gonna spread into the rest of our lives, too. We’re gonna live it out in our homes with our families, at school, at work, at the store, at the gym, on social media—even when we think we have the right to be right and everyone else is wrong. You know what, Jesus had the right to be right and everyone else was actually wrong—the way of a Jesus follower is to follow Him. To be humble. To be a living sacrifice.
It’s the only way your life’s gonna have any true meaning and purpose in this world. Jesus is the only one who gives us something to believe in—He’s our only defense against this world that wants to conform us into its twisted unholy hopelessness—Jesus gives us meaning that makes our pain count for something, His promise of new life, of resurrection—it’s the only hope we really have in this world.
So, we’re coming up on three years in February. We started with a few things in mind—ways to worship God and love people. I’m so grateful to have all of you to share this with—this spiritual family—I’m so thankful to share this hope and mission with you. May God give us the courage to resist the world and truly do His will as we are transformed and renewed into the people He has called us to be.