By Joanna Tien, Class of ’18
One small misunderstanding of a seven-letter word can lead to major misconceptions about Christianity and Christian living. When Christians and non-Christians alike hear the word “worship,” their mind may immediately associate that word with musical worship, where religious believers express their devotion and value of their god through musical expression. It is true that musical worship is one component of the Christian life (Psalm 95:1, Ephesians 5:19), but Christian worship is far more richer, deeper, and complex than that. In Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul writes:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In other words, God desires us to sacrifice our bodies as worship–and not just any kind of sacrifice–a sacrifice that is living and holy. No, God is not asking us for dead human bodies as sacrifice, a literal human sacrifice. He desires a sacrifice whose daily life is pleasing to him. One question that naturally follows from this is: How do we apply verse 1 to our daily lives? But I think there is another more pertinent question to address: why should we worship God like this in the first place? For only when the latter question is satisfactorily answered do we get the motivation and rationale for answering the former question.
So, what is so great about God that he should command that we devote our entire lives to him? Romans 12:1 hints as to where we should find the answer in Scripture. Notice the word “therefore” is at the beginning of the verse, which implies that the command to worship God is a part of a bigger argument. In this specific case, “therefore” in Romans 12:1 is referring back to Paul’s arguments in Romans 1-11, where he explains what God did for undeserving sinners. God’s worthiness is demonstrated in his redemption of fallen sinners. Romans 1-8 will be briefly surveyed in this article, followed by a discussion on how we should respond in worship to what is covered in Romans 1-8.
The Sin of Humanity (Romans 1)
One cannot truly understand why God should be worshiped if he is not first convinced of humanity’s need for grace. Romans 1:21 states that “although [humanity] knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” These Gentiles, or non-Jews, “knew” God through what the created world revealed about him, namely his “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20). And since people were able to know God through observing God’s creation, Romans 1:20 also states that they are without excuse for their transgressions against God, which resulted from their turning away from him. Romans 1:29-31 states that:
They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
Perhaps for ordinary people like you and me, this kind of evil seems far removed from the small white lies, internal judgments, and annoyed thoughts that we commit in our daily lives. One reaction to verses 29-31 is to think: “That sounds terrible, but it only describes murderers, pedophiles, rapists, thieves, and other criminals, not most ordinary people.” Nonetheless, it is important to note that verses 29-31 do not present a comprehensive list of the depravity of fallen man. Even though we may not associate ourselves with the contents of verses 29-31, it is undeniable that we have and will continue to perform immoral, unjust actions–we envy others, gossip, act out of greed, disobey our parents, and more. The truth is that even if we do not fit most or all of the characteristics described in verses 29-31, we have fallen short in one way or another (Romans 3:23).
Just one sin or transgression is enough to preclude us from a right relationship with God (James 2:10). Those same sins make us deserving of God’s righteous judgement.
God’s Righteous Judgement (Romans 2)
In light of God’s righteous punishment towards sinners, we must realize that if we decide to continue in our stubbornness and unrepentance, we are “storing up wrath against [ourselves] for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done’” (Romans 2:5-6). Paul writes similar things in Ephesians where, at one time, the Ephesian Christians were chasing after worldly things, “by nature deserving of wrath,” and unable to produce anything that would please God due to their sinful nature (2:2-3). The fact that God repays each person according to their deeds has a two-fold implication: non-Christians will experience God’s eternal wrath and anger, eternal trouble and distress (Romans 2:8-9), whereas Christians who “by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality” will receive eternal life, glory, honor, and peace (Romans 2:7, 10).
The question then becomes why Christians are pardoned from eternal damnation even though humanity is unrighteous and does not seek God (Romans 3:9-11). How can the human race acquire righteousness that we lost after the Fall, righteousness that is impossible for us obtain by own works, righteousness that would justify us to a holy and perfect God?
Righteousness Through Faith in Christ (Romans 3-5)
If humans cannot do anything to get ourselves out of the conundrum that we are in, then the only way out is for God to do something for us. And yet, there is nothing that obligates God to justify us so that we may be restored to a rightful relationship with him. God would be perfectly just in allowing every single person to experience eternal damnation because it is what we deserve. Romans 3:23 states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” However, Romans 3:24 is also important as it provides the glimmer of hope we need: “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Similarly, Ephesians 2:4-5 states, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” God has grace. God is full of grace–mercy towards undeserving sinners–and love, that is manifested in Christ.
But what is it about Christ that justifies us and makes us right with God? Christ is the ultimate atoning sacrifice, atonement for our sins that would satisfy the righteous wrath of God. Through the shedding of his blood and his death on the cross, he received the punishment we deserve. In other words, the sins of people were once punished through animal sacrifices in the Old Testament, but Christ is the ultimate and final sacrifice. Christ died for our sins, and when we accept this free gift, our sins are pardoned and we are made righteous and justified before God. When we are justified, our sins are no longer counted against us. Paul summarizes the magnitude of the Atonement by stating, “when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
The best part is that this is not the end of the story. For not only do we get to have right standing (that we do not deserve) before an infinitely merciful, loving, righteous, holy, and just God, but also we also get to be in a relationship with him and to become more like him.
Sanctification: Ungodly Sinners Can Become More Like Christ (Romans 6-8)
Sanctification, or the process of becoming holy (i.e. more like Christ), is how we are prepared by God to ultimately commune with him in heaven, where we will be fully sanctified. Romans 8:29 says that “for those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters”. When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we are not only instantly justified but also steadily grown by the Holy Spirit to become more like Christ.
As a part of this journey of sanctification, Paul famously writes that we are set free from being slaves to our sinful desires and instead we become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). The word “slave” may seem overbearing―some of us might claim that we do not want to be a slave to anything, we just want to do whatever we want. However, Paul presents only two kinds of people: people who do God’s will, or people who do Satan’s will, which is for us to continue in our sin (Ephesians 2:2). Since post-Fall man is literally full of sin and nothing good can come out of him without divine intervention (i.e. the doctrine of total depravity), his desires will always flow from his sinful nature. Fortunately, Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, which means that they can slowly align their thoughts, deeds, and actions with God’s perfect will. For a more in-depth look at what Paul means by slaves of righteousness, take a look at this post.
The point is, through justification and sanctification, we no longer follow things that result in death (Romans 6:21), and we instead follow God and reap holiness and eternal life (Romans 6:22). By being a slave to God, we benefit from growing in holiness, becoming more and more like Christ in thought, deed, and character through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Post-Fall man’s potential journey through faith in Christ is miraculous; once ungodly, undeserving sinners are justified by Christ’s atoning death on the cross and then continuously sanctified by the Holy Spirit for the rest of their lives in preparation for unhindered communion with God in heaven. So, then, it is up to the reader to decide whether they want to follow Christ as their Lord and Savior and begin the most crucial journey of their lives. For those who have decided to follow Christ and believe in the magnitude and astonishing importance of his redemptive plan, it is important to convert belief and thought into daily action and worship.
Now we can finally come back to the verses we started with, Romans 12:1-2. Now that I have explained God’s boundless mercy to sinners (i.e. why Paul says “therefore”), I will expound an application of verse 1 that verse 2 hints at. First, verse 2 says to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It is then that we will not only be able to test God’s will by putting it into practice, but that we will also approve of what we find.
Transformation is an ongoing process, and Paul puts it at odds with spiritual complacency, or conforming to the world. The renewal of our mind comes from God and his Word. Right thinking and right valuing―wisdom and knowledge―come from the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). Fear is not used in the emotional sense of being frightened―but instead, to recognize God’s infinite mercy, power, and wrath, to see what he is capable of doing to sinners, and what he did to save us instead. So, then, how can we recognize who God is if we do not read Scripture, which reveals God’s deeds, character, and promises? One cannot come to think in a way that is pleasing to God if they do not know what pleases God in the first place. This is one instance of daily worship―daily devotionals in which we spend time with God through his Word and prepare ourselves to mortify sin through teachings in Scripture.
The renewal of our mind and the knowledge of God’s will then allows us to test it by putting it into practice. When we apply God’s commandments in our lives and strive to become more like Christ in thought, character, and deed, we will approve of it and cherish it and realize that God’s will is good and perfect. Another fundamental commandment to apply is to genuinely and earnestly pray to God (Matthew 6:6). God asks us to cast all our anxieties on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). The only way we can test whether prayer is conducive to a stronger relationship with God by properly putting it into practice, and if you are curious about the results that follow, check out this article. Finally, it is important to make a commitment to and invest in a local church, as we cannot fight this battle alone (Hebrews 10:25). We need other believers to rejoice with and mourn with, to bear each others’ burdens and walk alongside with. There are many more ways to be a living sacrifice that is specific to each individual, but prayer, fellowship, and the Word are important ways we can discover that for ourselves. The more we pour ourselves into these things, the more results will follow, results that are evidence of God’s good, acceptable and perfect will.
Worship is all about cherishing God and what we have gained in Christ, and letting that view inform how we live the rest of our lives. Honestly, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God is the best way for us to live, for it is the only lifestyle in which we lose nothing of true value but gain everything we need through Christ.