A Living Sacrifice
January 9th, 1955 @ 10:50 AM
A LIVING SACRIFICE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-09-55 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we have come to the twelfth chapter of the Book of Romans. And in your Bible, if you will turn to it, you will find it most profitable to follow the message this morning in your Bible, the twelfth chapter of the Book of Romans. If you have been to church here in this downtown First Baptist Church in Dallas, and if you have followed the pastor as he has preached through the Bible, and the Book of Romans, or if you have read the book and remembered its structure, you cannot but be somewhat surprised, almost shocked, when you come to the twelfth chapter of that book. In the first eleven chapters of the Book of Romans, if you have followed the exact method and the close reasoning of the apostle, you will be surprised at the apparent heaping together of these mottoes that seemed to be loosely gathered together and dumped here in the twelfth chapter of this book. But if you look at it more closely, you will find that what Paul begins to say, as he opens this so different part of the book, is nothing other than a logical sequence. It is a reasoned consequence of what he had written before; he starts off:
I beseech you therefore, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God . . . your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
“I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God” [Romans 12:1]. Paul is now saying—writing—a thing that comes out of what he has said before. What are those things he has said before? “I beseech you therefore, by the mercies of God.” In chapters 1 through 8, he had spoken of the compassionate mercy of God upon the Gentiles, upon us. And in chapters 9, 10, and 11, he has spoken of the mercies, the compassion of God upon the Jew. And upon the basis of the mercies of God, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, “Therefore” [Romans 12:1], and then he begins to speak. Look at this mercy of God—the basis of which Paul is saying, “therefore”— then the rest. In that eleventh chapter, right across the page from you, look at the thirtieth, the thirty-first, and the thirty-second verses:
For as in times past ye did not believe God, yet now you have obtained mercy . . . even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies…
[Romans 11:30-32: 12:1]
And then all of the rest of those exhortations to Christian living [Romans 12:1-21].
There are two things that I see here as Paul begins this exhortation in the practical part, the application part of the great doctrinal Book of Romans. And the first one is this: that Paul bases all Christian living, all Christian morality, all Christian ethic, he bases it upon Christian doctrine, upon Christian believing. To Paul, the living part, the ethical part, the moral part is nothing but a logical consequence of the doctrinal part, the believing part, the creed part.
If you have read at all Christian history, the history of the church, you will find that in every age there is always a tendency to magnify one of them and to minimize the other one of them: doctrine and practice, believing and living, faith and application. In the generations past, the history of the church almost without exception was the magnifying of the doctrinal part, the creed part. How the people did, how they lived, how they behaved was of no matter or consequence at all. But the energy of the church was given to the writing of great creeds and great doctrines. They were involved in those vast Christological controversies, in those reformations, in the teaching of the faith—what a man ought to believe—and in writing out those great creeds. That was the church in the generations past.
In our generation and in modern times, it is exactly the opposite. Today, we don’t give a flip of our finger about what a man believes, or his creed, or his doctrine, or his church, or no creed, or no church. Today, we say all that matters is what a man does. It’s his practice; it’s how he lives, and the faith and the creed and the doctrine are nothing at all. And that’s the reason that in this cheap and shallow generation, we have come to expect to find grapes off of thorns and figs off of thistles. No great ethic is ever possible except by a tremendous doctrine, a deep and underlying faith! Practice is but the logical outgrowth of doctrine—creed, faith, what a man believes. Now in the apostle Paul and here in the Bible, you will find those things always equated.
First, there’s no exception to this, first: Paul will lay down a vast, deep, broad tremendous doctrinal basis, like here in Romans, the first eleven chapters of the Book of Romans. Then on that basis, on that broad, deep foundation, he will rear the structure of a great, worthy, noble Christian life. That’s the first thing.
Now another thing here: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God” [Romans 12:1]—mercy, revealed here in the first eight chapters to the Gentiles; mercy, revealed by God through Jesus Christ [Romans 1:1-8:39].
In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters to the Jew: “I beseech you therefore by the revelations and the mercies and the compassion of God in Christ Jesus, that . . . ” [Romans 12:1], and then he goes ahead with all of the noble Christian ideals that you read this morning [Romans 12:1-21]. Now, Paul says that there is into this world, there has come a new dynamic, a new means of moral achievement and attainment.
Read these mottoes again that we all read together. Why, they are as ancient as time. For example: “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirsts, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head” [Romans 12:20]. You say, “Well, that’s a marvelous Christian doctrine. That’s a wonderful Christian revelation.” Ah, you don’t know what you are talking about. One thousand years before Christ, Solomon said, Proverbs 25:21-22: “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.”
What is the Christian religion? Is it a republication of ancient morality and ethical thoughts? Listen to me. There has never been any culture, there has never been any great civilization, there has never been any history of a noble people but that they had their marvelous ethical teachers. Way back yonder, years before Christ, lived these marvelous, marvelous moral proponents: Confucius, Mahavira, Lao Tse, Zoroaster, Socrates, Plato, and a thousand others. I remember when I started reading history, one of the first men I came across was Hammurabi. You remember Hammurabi? Hammurabi lived so long back there that I don’t know when he lived, but he was a great ethical and moral teacher.
Was it for the lack of moral teaching? Was it for the lack of codes of behavior and ethic that the Christian religion was given to us? No! No! These moral platitudes that you will find in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Romans and everywhere else in the New Testament are platitudinous things that were said again, and again, and again, and again, all through the ages and all through moral teaching. But what was lacking was this: what was lacking was the dynamic, the ability, the means by which to achieve those high ethical codes.
Seneca was a contemporary of the apostle Paul; they lived together. They were in Rome at the same time. And some of these wonderful literary geniuses loved to write poems and essays about a meeting together—discussions between Seneca and Paul. Seneca was a contemporary of the apostle Paul, and he taught great and wonderful things. Read him and see. But at the same time that Seneca taught, Rome was a moral cesspool, and his prize pupil, Nero, was nothing other than a butcher.
What is that one of the poets said?
Rise upward, move upward …
and let’s move upward
And cast out the beast
And let the ape and tiger die”
[adapted from In Memoriam, Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
That’s it. “Move upward and cast out the beast and let the ape and tiger die.” Isn’t that wonderful! Wonderful? But how are you going to move this heavy bulk of ours? How are you going to let the ape and the tiger die in us? It isn’t because we don’t know better that we don’t do better. It isn’t because the world has lacked ethical teachers that it has fallen into the dark maelstrom of indescribable iniquity. What the world has lacked is the means, the dynamic, the ableness to achieve those lofty moral ideals that have been known since the beginning of time. And that is the Christian religion, and the Christian faith, and the Christian message. It pours into the human heart and into the human soul. It pours a new genius, a new ableness, a new ability. There is a regenerating power, there is a moving spirit of God that comes into the life of the Christian; and its root, its outworking is altogether natural and consequential. As the bud will change into the flower and as the flower will change into the fruit, so Christian doctrine, the revelation of Jesus Christ, when it is received and believed for the human soul will unfold in the beauty of a Christian life. That’s that!
“I beseech you therefore by the revelation of God, by the doctrines of God, by the Christian religion”—then all that follows after is but a natural consequence of a faith, of a persuasion, of a doctrine, of a believing to which a man has given his life. Now that is religion in the Book, in the apostle Paul:
I beseech you therefore by these great doctrinal revelations that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Now, I used to do this a whole lot. I used to preach out of my Greek New Testament; but I came to feel that people were feeling that I was trying to be ostentatious and falsely learned. So I quit it. Just once in a while now do I ever refer to my Greek Bible. But if they say I’m ostentatious and falsely learned this morning, well, I thought just one time I’d run the risk because it just looks different to me in this Book than it does in this one.
Now I want to show you why it looks different to me. I can read that there forever. And I get the idea I’m to give my body to Christ. But the rest of it isn’t quite clear in my mind. But I can look at it here, and it is just as plain as it can be. And I want to show you why. “I beseech ye therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a sacrifice, living, holy, well-pleasing to God, your reasonable service” [Romans 1:1]. And then we’ll take the rest in a minute.
Now all of those words are in apposition to bodies. “I beseech ye therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, the revelation of Jesus Christ, that ye present” [Romans 12:1]—and that is a technical Greek word for the Levitical offering. When a man went up to worship God in the days of the Roman Empire, he brought an offering with him, a sacrifice [Hebrews 10:1]. And that parastēsai is a technical word for the bringing, the presentation of an offering to God. And every Roman that read it and every Jew that read it knew just exactly what he meant—the taking of the animal sacrifice and laying it on the altar before God [Hebrews 10:1]. So we, says Paul, are to present before God, we are to take up to the altar of God, our bodies [Romans 12:1].
Now, here’s where I say in Greek you could just see that thing. Every one of those words that follow are in apposition to that word for body, somata. Now look at them. Every one is going to end in the same letter, in the same accusative form.
“Your bodies,” thusian, zōsan, hagian, euareston, latreian— latreian, logikēn, humōn. Every one of them has an “an,” and on, and on, and on, and on. Now, when you look at it in this sentence, all of those words are modifying, that when you present your body, lay it on the altar of God, you are to present your body a sacrifice upon the altar of God [Romans 12:1].
Thusian, what is that? That is, your body is the sacrifice. Lay it on the altar. Lay it on the altar. Zosan: living, not dead, not slain, as they slew the animal; but to be laid on the altar, living, zosan.
Hagian, it is to be pure and without stain.
Euareston, to God, toi theoi, it is well pleasing, without blemish. You couldn’t take a lamb that was sorry and hurt and wounded; it had to be the best in the flock to be well pleasing to God.
Tēn logikēn, that means “logical.” That’s the exact word here “logical.” That is, the service you render to God is not to be by blind rote and ceremony, but it is to be of your mind, it is to be a thought-out thing. It is to be a conscious, volitional thing. You can translate it “spiritual.” You can translate it “reasonable” [Romans 12:1]. When you go before the Lord and what you do is by rote or by practiced ceremony or by repetition, ritual, God says, “No!” But your service is to be rational, it is to be spiritual, it is to be of the mind.
Now, to look at that a minute: we are to bring our bodies. Now in the next part of the verse, he is going to talk about our minds [Romans 12:2]. But the first part here, our bodies, we are to bring our bodies and lay them on the altar [Romans 12:1]. Through our death, we are to reach a new spiritual life in the Lord Jesus. And the sacrifice we bring is not a dead sacrifice and a dead offering, but it is to be a living sacrifice and a living offering [Romans 12:1].
And that is achieved, look at it for just a moment. That is achieved: “How shall I bring this body of mine and lay it there on the altar of God, a living, a living sacrifice, a living offering, how shall I do it? Because the flesh is so much with us, and it is so impossible to be subdued, and to be beat down, and to overcome; how shall I do it?”
Well, this is the way it has been done. I can bring my body and lay it on the altar of God, a living sacrifice, and subdue it by mutilation, by the whip and the scorpion, by the monastery, by the contempt and disciplines of this life. I can do it like that.
Not long ago, to my horror and to my amazement, I read where the greatest theologian of the Roman church who lived in the mediaeval ages—that theologian, in order to offer his body a living sacrifice unto God, in order to overcome the temptation in the flesh, he emasculated himself in order to be rid of the temptation in his life. When I read that, I was horrified and amazed, an offering laid on the altar of God, mutilated, emasculated, disabled, cut. When I saw that film Martin Luther—and everybody ought to look at that, the life of Martin Luther—when he was in the monastery trying to subdue the flesh, you remember that scene when he goes into the little monastic cell, and he takes down off of the wall a whip with those heavy steel thongs. And when supper is called, Martin Luther doesn’t appear. And the abbot goes and opens the door of the cell, and there Martin Luther is, lying prostrate on the ground, on the floor of his cell. He has beat himself into an unconsciousness.
How shall I lay this body upon the altar of God? Mutilated, whipped, monastic, disciplined by the contempt of life? God says, “No!” But when that body is to be laid upon the altar, it is to be without blemish. It is to be uncut. It is to be unmutilated. It is to be perfect, as we are able to make it perfect.
Every drop of blood is to be a drop of fire. Every nerve and every muscle is to be intact and in place. And that body is to be laid on the sacrifice of God, a living, a pulsating thing, all whole, all dedicated, all yielded unto God. That’s what that Book says. How shall I lay that body on the altar? “I’ll lay it there, and then when the times are too hard and the troubles are too great and the burdens are too heavy, then I’ll quit. And I won’t bear it.” That’s a dead sacrifice. That’s a dying offering. The offering is to be laid there—you, you—the offering is to be laid there, full of life and the pulsating, quickening power of Almighty God as the Lord lives and breathes in you—all of you, all of you [Romans 12:1].
It means not a quiescence, not a dying, not a quitting, not a weariness; it means a battle, it means a conflict, it means the civil war that every man shall ever know who tries to lay on God’s altar the life that belongs to God. All of life is a fight against adverse forms, and how much more so is the life that is given unto God.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the doctrines and the revelations and the mercies of God to come up to the high altar and to lay upon that altar your bodies.” Not dead, but living, not blemished, but well pleasing, holy without blemish in the sight of God—your logikēn, logical, your rational, reasonable service [Romans 12:1]; something to do with your head, and with your mind, and your heart, a chosen thing.
And then he turns to the mind. “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” [Romans 12:2]. “And do not be fashioned according to this age.” If you’ll turn over here to the first chapter of 1 Peter, the fourteenth verse, “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts” [1 Peter 1:14]; that’s his exact word.
I’ll tell you another place where you’ll find that word. I haven’t got time for that.
“Do not be fashioned according to this age, but be ye transformed” [Romans 12:2]. The Greek word is a word that you know: metamorphose, “metamorphosize.” See, and you’ll find that word in the story of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ [Mark 9:2]. “But be ye transfigured, be ye metamorphosized, be ye changed by the renewing of your mind in order that you might test, prove, and discern what is the will of God” [Romans 12:2]. Then you have those appositions, those “ons” again: to agathon, to euareston, to teleion. “. . . what is the will of God—what is the good, and the well pleasing, the acceptable, and the perfect” [Romans 12:2].
Now, “do not be conformed—fashioned—after this age. But be ye metamorphosized, be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Now Paul is going to talk about our mind [Romans 12:2]. We have laid our bodies upon the altar, unmutilated, full of life, holy dedicated to God, the power in us. We have laid that on the altar [Romans 12:1].
Now our minds, our minds; there are two things there that I see that Paul says about these minds of ours. And the first is this: that we are to fashion our lives not according, not according to the world, but we are to fashion our lives by that holy ideal, that blessed pattern, that God places in the regenerated heart; or, as he uses here, in the quickened mind [Romans 12:2].
All of life is nothing other than an outworking of the vision, the conviction, the goal that a man has in his mind, in his head. And there are two great idols, two great patterns that a man can have in his head, in his mind. He can have the world, or he can have the mind that is in Jesus Christ. And whatever that man assembles his life unto will be according to the conviction, the things that he thinks is worthwhile, worth possessing, worth having, that he has in his mind.
To show you that that’s not a New Testament strange thing: if you’ve ever read Platonic philosophy—the philosophy of Plato who lived hundreds of years before Christ—the Platonic philosophy; the basis of it is this: that there is in this universe, in eternity, there are ideas, there are patterns. The only eternal things are those ideas and those patterns, and everything else we see is nothing but a copy of the idea and the pattern.
There is one great holy man, one pattern of man, and all of the rest is copies of men. You have many, many men. But there is an ideal man. There is an ideal piano. You have many, many, many pianos, copies of pianos; but there is one ideal piano. And everything Plato said, “the eternal things” is the ideal and all of the rest is just a copy of it. Now Paul is saying here that in our minds are those visions, and those dreams, and those convictions that, whatever they are in a man, to those convictions and those dreams a man will finally assimilate his life. There is no such a thing, Paul would say, as sorry thinking, and poor ideals, and unworthy idols, and a great noble life.
If a man is to have a great and wonderful and noble life, he must have great ideals, and great visions, and noble thoughts and aspirations. His paragons, his excellencies, the great goals toward which he feels he ought to reach in his life, they must be holy, they must come of a regenerated mind [Romans 12:2].
Now, if we have that, if we have that, our lives, says Paul, will be assimilated unto them; it will be assembled thereunto. We grow like our god, whatever god we worship, we become more and more like that god. And that thing is in our mind, and our life is the outworking of that vision and that dream and that goal.
Michelangelo—who was a mystic many, many times—Michelangelo sometimes had a way of saying that the art of sculptor was nothing other than the taking away of parts. By that, he meant this: that the great artist could see the statue in the solid, rough block of marble. And as the artist looked at that statue in that uncut marble, he took away here and cut away there and with a mallet here and the chisel there until finally there stepped out of the block of marble the statue that lived in the mind and in the heart of the genius, the artist, the sculptor.
So Paul means here, in referring to our minds and our lives, the goal in our lives, in our minds and in our hearts is achieved by taking away this, and taking away there, and reshaping there and remaking there and the fine touch there. And as we go on, finally, the statute comes out, our lives come out, molded according to the vision, the dream that we have in our hearts and in our minds.
Now, he says, we are to achieve that—the metamorphosis of our life, the fashioning of our life, not according to the idols of this world and the call of this age—we’re not to do it according to this age and this life. But we are to do it according to the great image and pattern of the regenerated mind which is found in Christ Jesus. “In order, in order that we may prove, we may discern, what is the will of God—the holy, the acceptable, the well pleasing, and the perfect” [Romans 12:2].
Now a word about that, and I will have to quit. How does a man know the will of God? “Oh, I know the will of God. My church tells me the will of God. I know the will of God. This ecclesiastic tells me the will of God. I know the will of God. It’s in this creed. I know the revelation of God. It’s in this sentiment. It’s in these platitudes. I know the will of God. Why, I’ve been taught it. That’s the way I know the will of God.”
And that is why that most of the time I absolutely fail with many, many people when they come to me and talk to me about our faith and our religion. These things develop here in my ministry mostly through marriage. There will be a girl who will marry a boy of another faith and another religion. Or there will be a boy who will marry a girl of another faith. So they are trying desperately, trying desperately to get together. So they come to me, and this is a most common occurrence. They come to me. And as I begin to talk to that boy, as I begin to talk to that girl, I do it with a Bible in my hand—with a Bible in my hand.
But they say to me, “Yes, but my ecclesiastic, my superior says…” and then I am just helpless. I am just helpless. As long as the will of God for you is a dead creed, as long as the will of God for you is somebody’s confession of faith, as long as the will of God for you is what somebody says who is dressed in clerical garments, I cannot speak. I have nothing to say. But, but if you are willing, like Paul says here, by the dedication of your life and your mind to the mind of Christ; if you are willing to test and to prove and to discern by experience what is the will of God [Romans 12:2], you shall know—for you and your home and your life. You shall know the good, to agathon, the well pleasing to God, what He wants you to do; and the perfect, what is the whole course of God in His choice for your life, and you will know it experientially.
Some of you men here are trial lawyers. You stand before a court and before a jury. What Paul has in his mind here is this: that a man is to stand before the world and before friends and before people. He is to stand there in the same way that a witness stands before the Roman tribunal. And the lawyer on the other side cross-examines him. And he does it casuistically. And he does it with prejudice. And he does it in faithlessness and in unbelief.
But the true witness of Christ is to stand there and to say before the court and before the judge, he is to say, he is to bear testimony to the irrefutable, incontrovertible experience of his life. “Thus have I seen, and thus do I know, and thus have I experienced; it is not hearsay with me.” It is not the fawning words repeated from somebody else’s mouth. It is not just the passing on of what somebody else has said, but, “this is the will of God for my life as I have found it experientially, as I have read the Word, as I have prayed before the Lord, as I have sought to live before men.” And that is a testimony that men love to see; the testimony of a life that is experientially given to the faith and the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Man, how is it as you have found it, as you have lived it? What is the will of God?” [Romans 12:2]. Man is not the measure for Paul; it’s God. What do they say? What do they think? What do they preach? How do they do? That’s no matter. For us—what does God say? And what does God think? And what does God call for us to do? And we are given—in the doctrine and the mercies and the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ [Philippians 3:14]—we are given to that high calling, discerning the will of God by experience, giving ourselves thereunto, all the soul. That’s the Bible.
I’ve done a sorry out-of-it this morning. But every little old piece of that Book, if you’ll just drop down the plumbline and try to fathom it, it’s an ocean—ocean—the depths of the wonder of the riches of the glory of God in Christ Jesus [Romans 11:33; Hebrews 1:3], in that Book, that blessed Book.
All right, Mr. Souther, we sing our song. And while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you come down that aisle, stand by this preacher. “Pastor, here I am and here I come. I want to give my life to the Lord. I want to do it. I have thought about that thing. I have judged it for myself. It’s something I choose to do. It is my logikon latreuon. It is my reasonable, rational, spiritual service [Romans 12:1]. I have chosen, preacher, I have chosen and here I stand. I have chosen God and the faith and the revelation of God in the Lord Jesus.” Or into the fellowship of our church by baptism or by letter, however God would say the word, you come; you come, anywhere, everywhere. Come and stand by me, while all of us stand together and sing.