So the first point, God’s will for you is to recognize that you are a recipient of God’s tremendous mercy. You need to get that. If you don’t, none of the rest of this message will make sense.
Now, we get to the second point, God’s will for you is, in view of this mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.
Back to Romans 1, the portrait of humanity is bleak. Our thinking is futile. We have depraved minds and darkened hearts. And we degrade ourselves and one another through our bodies. And the gospel came. Jesus entered into the world. The Word of God was spoken and the Word showed up in the flesh and while we were spiritually dead, like a bag of bones, life is breathed into us. Salvation has come and we are given a brand new spiritual life.
Since salvation has come, it follows that with the bodies in which we used to commit sins and worship idols before Christ, now with those very same bodies, we can offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. This is a radical reversal. Bodies used exclusively for sinning and degradation and idolatry can now be used to offer worship to God.
This underscores the importance of what we do with our bodies as Christians. It’s an obvious point, but we are bodily creatures. This means we live out our faith in our bodies. Sounds obvious, but is it really?
People in the first century would have been shocked by Paul’s assertion that the body can be used to worship God. Greek philosophy was considered the highest level of sophistication. And philosophers like Plato said the body is the prison for the soul. The body was considered evil, the flesh was fallen, the source of all wickedness and lust, an endless black hole of desire. And this body was considered to be separate from our souls.
I think this thought is still prevalent today. What I do with my body, the activities I participate in, the things I immerse myself in, what I perceive with my senses, none of that really matters because my personal, private faith in God is unaffected. This is utterly false. Don’t fool yourself in believing that what you do is separate from what you believe. And for Paul to say, while it is true that the body along with our whole person is fallen, with the coming of Christ and the gospel, the good news is that even our bodies can be redeemed and our bodily actions can be received as a worship unto God. This is a radical concept.
This means how we live matters a great deal. How we live our lives in our bodies — our obedience or lack of obedience — it is of big concern to God.
Even our posture matters. You don’t listen to a lecture sprawled out on the floor. You sit up in a chair and if you are a really good student, you come early and you sit in the front row. You take notes. Sure, we can listen to a lecture via streaming audio from our beds at midnight, but that posture hinders our ability to digest and assimilate what we are listening to. What we do in terms of our bodily posture matters.
Or what about our posture in prayer? I like prayer walks and prayer walks reminds me that Jesus is walking with me, He is leading me, and this brings a certain sense of God being by my side. But there are times of desperation, when you get that emergency phone call from the hospital, when a prayer walk is utterly inappropriate. Crisis hits and that’s when we fall to our knees in prayer as we cry out for his mercy. Even in prayer, our posture communicates something about the type of prayer we are offering to the Lord.
Or take for instance, something small like coming forward for prayer during our song of commitment at the end of our services. Many times, as a college student, I would hear a message and God would convict me and I could have easily just rededicated my life at my seat. And offered a private prayer to the Lord. But somehow, I felt like doing so made it a bit too easy. That conviction from the Lord could easily remain merely an abstract thought and after the service, I’d go back to school and by Monday afternoon, I’d forget what the message was about. Then, it was just an emotional response, but nothing concrete materialized.
But there were other times that I felt convicted by the message to come forward and to receive prayer and to announce to others that I would like some accountability on my commitments. But during those Sundays, I felt a literal tug of war. God telling me, I want you to come forward, Ray, and make a public commitment. And inside, I was saying, no, Lord, I can’t give that up, or I failed again in that sin, how many times can I come forward and repent about the same sin? And I was doing battle with God and literally I could feel a physical resistance to the Word of God.
But I am thankful that from an early age, God taught me the importance of bodily obedience. Even that small act of humbling myself and coming forward to receive prayer from someone else helped to solidify my commitment to God as a college student. Those were my formative years as a young believer when God was teaching me that bodily obedience is essential. Because faith in God is not abstract. It is not just ideas swimming in my head. No, the gospel transforms us from the inside out so that with the same body that we used to sin, we can worship God through our bodies — with our time, our energy, our money, our gifts and our talents.
And if we think about this truth about how in Christ we can offer worship to God through our bodies, many other truths fall into place. We know there is a vast difference between someone who talks about the importance of prayer and someone who actually wakes up early and prays regularly. Because the act of prayer is a bodily act. Or someone who is moved to tears by a poor person on the street or a video about the suffering in Haiti and someone who actually volunteers their time and helps out at Skid Row or saves up their money to join a mission trip to Haiti. There is a world of difference.
Or someone who says they love their friend, and someone who actually picks up the phone and calls or drives over to visit that friend, there is a qualitative difference. Or someone who says God and church are important to me, but they stay up too late studying or some other events come up and they skip church. And it seems reasonable, I have a midterm. I have this event that only comes up a few times a year. What’s the big deal? I can just turn on a podcast and use that for my regular Sunday worship and not attend a church. The problem is you don’t like the podcast and you can just turn it off. We don’t pick and choose what we listen to and what we don’t want to listen to. We don’t fit God into our schedules.
No, God is in control and we alter everything around him. So even the act of getting ready on Sunday morning and putting on our Sunday best and taking a shower and showing up at service is an act of bodily worship. We are saying, God, you are important enough for me that I will put everything else that is going on in my life on hold to dedicate this Sunday morning to you and literally worship you with my body as a living sacrifice and I won’t let anything else interfere with it.
Brother Matthew led prayer meeting this past Thursday and I was blessed by his sharing. And so with his permission, I wanted to share with all of you what he shared that night. Matthew led the first ever Caltech grad Bible study this past Wednesday along with Ryan and 1 other student. And Matthew said, it’s only been one week that he’s had to gear up for teaching regularly, but already he feels like he needs to reorient his life and cut things out because he has to make time to prepare for Bible study. And I heard that and I was like, Amen, brother! That’s right! The more you devote yourself to God, it has to result in concrete changes in our daily lives. Because we are physical, finite beings. We have bodies. We are limited in time. We cannot be at two places simultaneously.
And I think this applies very directly to Caltech students. I don’t what it is, but I have worked with Caltech students for a number of years and it just seems like you guys like pain. When I was in college, I was trying to arrange my schedule with the minimum number of units and no 8am classes and I was trying to free up my lunches so that I could share my faith with oters, be available to serve and read my Bible, things like that. But I hear so many of you like to take the maximum number of units. And you hit the maximum number and you petition to take more. And 1 major is not enough. You want to double major. And I guess that’s why you are at Caltech. You are interested in so many subjects, not necessarily for the grade but for the scholarly love of the subject matter.
And so it makes sense, God’s will for you will most likely involve academia at some level. But students share with me at the end of the semester how it was a tough year spiritually and they are not sure why. But I am like, I know why. You are involved in 5 clubs, you serve at 2 ministries, attend 3 small groups and you are running for office in your dorm. And you have 61 units. And you sleep only 4 hours a day. To me, it’s obvious why God would be distant with that kind of schedule. We are spiritual beings, yes, but we live out our faith in our physical bodies so what we do with our bodies matters in terms of our usage of time, our workload and what activities we join or cut out. All of that matters. Let’s examine our lives. What things can be cut out to make more room for God? Sometimes, the most spiritual act you can do is to sleep. Do I hear an Amen?
The same goes for the rest of us. If we spend our entire weeks engrossed in various forms of entertainment and gossip and slander and basically living selfishly and we come to service and we wonder, why am I not getting anything out of the messages? And as a speaker, I will be the first to admit, maybe it’s because I am boring or ill-prepared. But couldn’t it also be that how we live Monday through Saturday affects our Sundays?