You can’t weep your way into this heavenly place. You can’t study or work or will your way in. No, the only way to the throne-life is by way of a living sacrifice: “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
Paul is speaking from experience. Here is a man who was rejected, tempted, persecuted, beaten, jailed, shipwrecked, stoned. Paul also had all the cares of the church laid on him. Now he’s saying to us, “Do you want to know how I came to be content in whatever condition I was placed, how I came to find true rest in Christ? Here is the path, the secret to appropriating your heavenly position: Present your body as a living sacrifice to the Lord.”
The Greek root for “living” here suggests “lifelong.” Paul is talking about a binding commitment, a sacrifice that’s made once in a lifetime. Yet, don’t misunderstand; this isn’t a sacrifice that has to do with propitiation for sin. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only worthy propitiation: “Now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
The sacrifice Paul describes is one that God takes great pleasure in, precisely because it involves the heart. What is this sacrifice? It is one of death to our will, of laying aside our self-sufficiency and abandoning our ambitions.
When Paul exhorts, “Present your body,” he’s saying, “Draw near to the Lord.” Yet, what does this mean, exactly? It means drawing near to God for the purpose of offering our entire selves to him. It means coming to him not in our own sufficiency, but as a resurrected child, as holy in Jesus’ righteousness, as being accepted by the Father through our position in Christ. The moment you resign your will to him, the sacrifice has been made. It happens when you give up the struggle of trying to please God on your own. This act of faith is the “reasonable service” Paul refers to. It’s all about trusting him with our will, believing he’ll provide all the blessings we need.
Our peace and contentment always depend upon our resignation into God’s hands, no matter what our circumstance. The psalmist writes, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).
If you’ve fully resigned yourself into God’s hands, then you’re able to endure any and all hardships. Your Father’s desire is for you to be able to go about your daily business without fear or anxiety, totally trusting in his care. And your resignation to him has a very practical effect in your life. The more resigned you are to God’s care and keeping, the more indifferent you’ll be to the conditions around you.
If you are resigned to him, you won’t constantly be trying to figure out the next step. You won’t be scared by the frightful news swirling around you. You won’t be overwhelmed as you think about the days ahead because you’ve entrusted your life, family and future into your Lord’s safe and loving hands.
How worried or concerned do you think sheep are as they follow their shepherd? They are not worried at all, because they’re totally resigned to his leading them. Likewise, we are the sheep of Christ, who is our great Shepherd. So, why should we ever be concerned, disquieted or worried about our lives and futures? He knows perfectly how to protect and preserve his flock because he leads us in love!
In my own life, I’ve had to learn to trust God one problem at a time. Think about it: How can I say I trust God with everything, if I haven’t proven I can trust him with just one thing? Merely saying the words, “I trust the Lord completely,” isn’t sufficient. I have to prove this over and over again in my life, in many areas and in everyday things.
Many people living today have said, “I resign, I commit, I trust,” only after they say there was no other way out of their situation. But true resignation, the kind that pleases God, is done freely and willingly, prior to our coming to wit’s end. We are to act in agreement with the Lord, as Abraham did, giving God his life as a blank check, and letting the Lord fill it all in.
In perilous times like these, is the church powerless to do anything? Are we to sit and wait for Christ to return? Or, are we called to take drastic action of some kind? When all around us the world is trembling, with men’s hearts failing them for fear, are we called to take up spiritual weapons and do battle with the adversary?
The prophet Joel saw a similar day approaching Israel, one of “thick darkness and gloom.” According to Joel, the day of darkness that was approaching Israel would be one such as never seen in their history. The prophet cried, “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty” (Joel 1:15).
What was Joel’s counsel to Israel in that dark hour? He brought this word: “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent” (Joel 2:12-14).
As I read this passage, I am struck by God's words. As gross darkness fell over Israel, God appealed to his people: “Even now, at the hour of my vengeance—when you’ve pushed me out of your society, when mercy seems impossible, when humankind has mocked my warnings, when fear and gloom are covering the land—even now, I urge you to come back to me. I am slow to anger, and I have been known to hold back my judgments for a season, as I did for Josiah. My people can pray and petition for my mercy. But the world won’t repent if you say there is no mercy.”
Do you see God’s message to us in this? As his people, we can plead in prayer and he will hear us. We can make requests of him and know he will answer the sincere, effectual, fervent prayers of his saints.
The prophets warn us that when we see God shaking the nations, and perilous times befall us, our natural man will fear greatly. Ezekiel asked, “Can your heart endure, or can your hands remain strong, in the days when I shall deal with you?” (Ezekiel 22:14).
When God warned Noah of his coming judgments and told him to build an ark, Noah was “moved with fear” (Hebrews 11:7). Even bold, courageous David said, “My flesh trembles for fear of You” (Psalm 119:120). And when the prophet Habakkuk saw disastrous days ahead, he cried out, “When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself” (Habakkuk 3:16).
The fear that came upon these godly men wasn’t a fleshly fear, but a reverential awe of the Lord. These saints weren’t afraid of the enemy of their souls but they did fear God’s righteous judgments. And that’s because they understood the awesome power behind the approaching calamities. They didn’t fear the outcome of the storm, but rather God’s holiness!
Likewise, each of us will experience overwhelming fear in the coming times of destruction and disaster. But our fear must come from a holy reverence for the Lord, and never from a fleshly anxiety about our fate. God despises all sinful fear in us, the fear of losing material things, wealth, our standard of living.
All over the world, people are filled with this kind of fear, as they see their nations’ economies deteriorating. They’re afraid an economic flood will sweep away everything they’ve labored for throughout their lifetime. Such is the cry of unbelievers who have no hope. It ought not to be the cry of the godly. Indeed, if you’re a child of God, your heavenly father will not endure such unbelief in you.
Let God be your fear and awe. That kind of fear leads not to death, but to life!
There is an important lesson to take note of in the story of Noah. The tigers went into the ark and didn’t come back out plant eaters. Their nature did not change by being in the ark. The animals were saved from the flood. That is their lives were preserved for a time, but their natures did not change. They were not transformed. The tiger did not repent of eating other animals; he stayed the way he was.
If you have, at some point in your life, prayed ‘the prayer’ and asked Jesus to come into your heart but nothing has changed, that may have been a prayer based out of religious emotions, not sincere repentance.
I’ve been to Broadway shows that so moved my heart that I was in the theater crying. Let’s say they had given an altar call: “If you want to see a change in your romantic life like you just saw in this play, step forward and you can have a better relationship with your girlfriend, boyfriend or wife!” I might have gone forward and had someone tell me how to do it better.
Those kinds of emotions are based off of external events, and they can be good, but they’re rarely lasting. Sometimes we do the same thing with God, and the best way to tell whether or not this has happened is if we see real change in our hearts and lives.
When we come to Christ, we should be given a whole new nature. The Bible states, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14, ESV). God transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
When we come into Christ, there should be some changes. We should start to feel different, act different and respond differently. A life genuinely following God is always transformed.