We probably have heard at one time or another of the responsibility we have of presenting our bodies as "living sacrifices" unto God - something described as "holy and pleasing to God". I don't know about you, but this idea of being able to present anything to God which is "holy and pleasing" just seems a little bit too much out of my control! I have tried this "holiness" living for a long time now and guess what? I stink at it! As much as I put all my self-willed effort into trying to produce holiness within me, the worse I feel in the end. Why? It is not my "job" or "role" to produce this "holiness" by any "self-willed" means! It is God's business to provide this holiness through the blood of Jesus, and then to see produced within each of us the transition from self-willed performance to the reliance upon his grace upon grace in transforming us into holy and pleasing creatures. Sure, he wants us to expend some effort to see this holiness "worked out" in our lives - it is called obedience! Not "performance" or "attainment", but purely "obedience".
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. (Romans 12:3 MSG)
It stands to reason in considering our passage today that we have to look at the verses just prior to this one to see what our writer is saying. It basically says we are to present our bodies to God - as pleasing and holy sacrifices - in true submission to him and without being in submission to the things this world would have us so wrapped up in. A sacrifice in the Old Testament was something the believers of Paul's time would have been very familiar with. The lamb, bull, or goat was brought to the priest alive. You didn't choose one you "cleaned up" to remove the blemishes - you chose one which already was without blemish. Then it was presented for sacrifice. In terms of what our writer is asking, he is saying we bring the sacrifice which IS without blemish (Christ within us). We present our lives as living, breathing, and thriving sacrifices (because of the work of Christ within, not because of anything we have produced there ourselves). The warning given to the believers is that of being very cautious about being so affected by our "culture" that we miss this magnificent grace he has provided - simply because our "culture" is all about "self-help" and "self-will".
This brings us to our point of study today: "Living THEN, as every one of you does, IN pure grace, it's important that you NOT misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness TO God." Since God has been at work in our lives through this mysterious thing called "grace", we are to not be fooled into thinking what we offer is anything of our doing - it is all his! For we cannot do anything more than embrace grace and allow it to produce within us the healing and restoration only it can bring. I highlighted a few words because they are relevant to our study. We live in the NOW - not in the past. It is an established fact that grace brings us "out" in order to bring us "in" - we are no longer anchored to our past. We live IN Christ's grace - not because we deserve it, but because we have been embraced into it. We are NOT the holy ones - it is God within us making us holy. We don't bring this goodness TO God by any effort of our own - we merely allow him to exchange our unholiness and self-effort driven lives with his grace, love, and mercy (his goodness manifest).
The crux of our study today deals with us understanding these facts - really laying hold of them with our hearts, not just with our minds. As long as we are just allowing these facts to be something we try to understand with our minds, we will miss out on what grace really is - for grace is not fully understood by our minds, it is connected to God's heart by our heart, his Spirit by our spirit. We don't connect with God in our minds - this is impossible. We connect with him on an emotional and spiritual level - "feeling" his grace, "embracing" his love, "submitting" to his touch. We connect to him, not in the rules we can make with our mind, but with the grace we can embrace with our hearts and spirits! We often don't make it past this "works-oriented", "self-willed" performance kind of living until we are willing to make this connection on something other than a "mental" plane.
We first have to understand - something which comes because the heart finally connects the mind to the truth being embraced. I don't truthfully "get something until my heart "gets it". I have to have some other investment in it than mental knowledge. I can know my strengths, but until I really allow God to show me how to take those strengths and use them for his glory, they are just nice thoughts. I can realize my weaknesses, but until I allow God to point them out and show me the way he desires to turn them around in my life, they are continual stumbling blocks in my path and nothing more. You are probably no different than me - you have the same "strong-suit" you rely upon and the same "stumbling blocks" you trip over repeatedly! We need grace to connect the dots - strengths becoming something he uses to further his work of grace within us and weaknesses becoming the things he uses to further give evidence of changed lives to those in the world around us. As his grace touches our places of weakness and our stumbling blocks are removed, others will take note of this transformation and this brings others into a place of understanding the work of grace in a "submitted" life - the work of "holiness" being produced apart from anything we can do ourselves.
So, here's the upshot of all this: God doesn't need our sacrifice, but we do! It is this "presenting" action which helps us to lay down our self-willed, effort-driven, let me fix it myself kind of life. Submission is not just laying down and crying "UNCLE" - it is choosing to say "yes" to something other than yourself! Just sayin!