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.

This morning we are going to visit 2 questions.

  1. Worship. What IS it? What does it look like?
  2. Our minds. What benefit is there in engaging our minds?

Worship

First things first, I want to make what I believe is a really important point—worship is NOT simply singing songs of praise. Reducing our understanding of worship to simply mean ‘that time of singing at the start of a meeting’ does a real disservice to everything worship IS.

It is important to understand that when I talk about worship, I am talking about ALL that worship is, not just singing songs. We don’t want to fall into the trap of seeing worship as being just singing or praying, it is SO much more than singing songs – worship is about lifestyle. Those things that we value, admire, love and enjoy most are objects of worship, so people today worship all sorts of things, from rock stars to jobs, to TV programmes to endorphin-exploding experiences (anything but God)!

As Christians, our worship is (or should be) part of our DNA, it is in everything we do – it is the total alignment of our heart, soul, mind and strength with the will of God. It is our wholehearted response to God’s extravagant love and mercy.

Archbishop William Temple (1881–1944) wrote that, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness, nourishment of mind by his truth, purifying of imagination by his beauty, opening of the heart to his love, and submission of will to his purpose. And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.”

Simon Ponsonby (pastor of Theology St Aldgate’s, Oxford) writes this: “Worship is not limited to singing songs, but is a life poured out in holiness, obedience, service, almsgiving, mission, sharing the Gospel with the lost, sharing our bread with the poor, sharing our lives with one another. I believe God receives glory by the very birth of an infant, by bees making honey, by husband and wife making love, when the painter paints, the singer sings, the architect designs, the teacher teaches, the athlete competes. Worship in song, in verbal praise is one part, a significant part of worship, of glorifying God, but not the only one.”

But let’s not swing on a pendulum. I am NOT saying we shouldn’t sing songs! Worship includes singing and praise. We should praise God, the Bible clearly describes singing songs of praise to God in the Old Testament in all sorts of contexts, INCLUDING going into battle! Offering your body is not just dancing about and singing loudly! It does include that, David danced with all his might before the Lord, worshipping him. Many of the Psalms are songs of praise. Into the New Testament, we read that the disciples sang songs together ‘when they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives’ (Mark 14:26/Matthew 26:30), and Paul certainly commands it ‘be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord’ (Ephesians 5:18–19).

So, at the risk of sounding like a cracked record, I am not saying that singing songs is not a form of worship. The Bible clearly describes music and singing as a form of worship, especially in the Psalms. Worship involves singing songs, but it is not just singing songs. We need to keep this in mind as we continue.

We will look first at v1, which describes worship. Paul gives us motivation for our worship: in view of God’s mercy, the nature of our worship: present your bodies, and the depth of our worship: a living sacrifice

Motivation for Worship

V1 ‘In view of God’s mercy’

It is my belief that for a great many people, being a Christian is rooted in either or both of the following 2 things …

  1. Fear. I’ll use a personal testimony to illustrate. When I committed myself to Jesus, when I made the choice for my lifestyle and actions to match what I said I believed, one of the strongest motivations was fear. I was frightened of going to hell, I first became a Christian because I believed that was the route to eternity with God in heaven and I was frightened of the alternative. Many people stay in church, simply because they are frightened of the alternative. Pascal’s wager says this, ‘either you are wrong and there is nothing after death, in which case neither you nor I will ever know—OR I am right and we will both know. I will be in heaven and you … well, you won’t. Do you want to take that risk?’ Many people are followers of Jesus because their answer to that challenge is ‘no, I don’t want to take that risk’. People worship God because of a deep worry that, ‘if I don’t, God will smite me with his mighty smiter’.
  2. Selfishness. Joel Osteen has written a book titled ‘Your Best Life Now’, and the belief that being a Christian and worshipping God is primarily a mechanism to bring us happiness is particularly strong in some Christian circles, and is a strong motivation for evangelism, fellowship, and even our worship. In other words, I am a Christian because it will make me feel good, or righteous. If I don’t get a good feeling from whatever aspect of Christianity I am engaging in at the moment. Church isn’t meeting MY needs (fellowship/children’s work/not ‘feeding’ me)? I’ll find another. (note that this criticism is NOT intended to absolve churches from their responsibilities in these areas).

BUT ultimately, our faith, and how we live out our lives as Christians, is not and should never be about US, about how WE feel. So, WHY do we live our lives faithfully as Christians? Not so we feel good, that’s for sure. Paul says here, we do it ‘in view of God’s mercy’. But what, exactly, IS God’s mercy?

Ephesians 2:4–6 ‘**But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places* in Christ Jesus’*

1 Peter 1:3–4 ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you’

Titus 3:4–6 ‘But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior’,

Worship can be so, so selfish. People often judge worship based on whether they ‘get something out of it’ or not. As someone who has led worship on numerous occasions over the years, on more than one occasion people have expressed this view or something similar … ‘the worship wasn’t good this morning—you didn’t chose any songs I like’. I never had the nerve to say it out loud (except in private to Wendy), but the response should be ‘that’s OK, we weren’t worshipping you’.

In other words, the foundation of our lives, our faith in God and our motivation for worship is because of what He did for us in Christ Jesus. Paul describes our sacrificial lives as our ‘spiritual act of worship’. Our service to God, all of it, is described as our spiritual act of worship.

Nature of Worship

2 things to point out ..

  1. Worship is physical, ‘offer your bodies’ 
  2. Worship is a sacrifice, ‘as a living sacrifice’.

Worship is physical, ‘offer your bodies’ 

Given that worship is physical, (offer your bodies), we can see what it looks like.

I grew up in a family and community which had that ‘faith is a private thing’ attitude, and expressing faith in any form in a public way was viewed with almost the same mistrust as public indecency. This was especially true when thinking about the singing aspects of our meetings.

But, our faith is NOT private in that sense. I would agree that saving faith is something personal. Indeed, ‘confess with your mouth’, and ‘believe in your heart’ are both personal activities. However, ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16 ), is an example of Jesus saying our faith should be SEEN. In fact, Jesus says of the false prophets, ‘By their fruit you will recognise them’(Matthew 7:16). We should be able to SEE evidence of each other’s faith, and that includes their worship.

In 2 Samuel 6:12–23, we read an account of David and Michal. David was bringing the ark back to Jerusalem and his worship was plain to see. David was dancing before the Lord with all of his might, he stopped every 6 steps and sacrificed to the Lord, he gave gifts to all who were there. There would have been no doubt that David was worshipping God, it was shown in his actions, we read that Michal was watching him from the window (note she wasn’t joining in!). His worship was expressed directly towards God verbally, musically and through the sacrifices he gave. It was also directed towards the people there – David worshipped God by both blessing people and giving gifts to them.

His worship seems to include making offerings to the Lord AND blessing and giving out food to the people.

We tend to think of worship as being totally God-focused, yet here it is also seen as being man-focused. How can we incorporate the blessing of one another in our worship of God?

We have another hint about this in Acts 2 & 4, where Luke, in his description of the fellowship of believers, makes a point of noting how they cared for and loved each other.

This also echoes Jesus’ own words when he talks about the sheep and goats and declares that whatever they do (or don’t do) for the prisoner, the angry, the naked, the thirsty, they do (or don’t do) it for Him (Matthew 25). Our relationship with God impacts directly on how we treat one another (and, alarmingly, vice-versa!).

Our worship is both God-ward (love the Lord your god with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength), and man-ward (love your neighbour as yourself). One of the key verses for us as a fellowship is John 13:34, 35  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Worship is not merely spiritual and private, it is physical and public.

Worship is a sacrifice, ‘as a living sacrifice’

For sure, the desire to sing songs of praise to God ebbs and flows according to our personal circumstances. When we’re going through a tough personal time, declaring praises and singing about how God is good is probably about the last thing you want to do. It is a sacrifice to set aside your feelings and sing songs of praise

2 Samuel 24:18–25 is the account of David building an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David has to buy the land and Araunah tries to give it to him along with oxen for the burnt offering and the sledges and yokes for the wood. David’s response is found in v24 (I’ll read from v22–24)Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

Hebrews 13:15 says, Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. But goes on to describe what that looks like Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God(Hebrews 13:16).

1 Peter 2:5 describes the church, the fellowship of believers as a spiritual house: you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, did you notice the purpose of this house? To offer Spiritual Sacrifices.

Given that the purpose of the sacrificial system under the law was to atone for our sinfulness, and given that now the Law has accomplished its purpose (to lead us to Christ), and that Jesus declared it to be fulfilled (this is what Hebrews 10 is all about), when Paul talks about offering our bodies as living sacrifices, he cannot possibly have meant ‘so that you get right with God’.

We don’t offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices to get right with God, we offer ourselves because we ARE right with God.

Sometimes our worship is a sacrifice in the sense that our old nature battles for supremacy in our lives. Paul in Romans 6 talks of that, doesn’t he? For every one of us, the urge to be in control of our own lives, to rule ourselves, is very strong. It is a real act of worship when we make the choice to surrender our wills and our desires to God’s will. So, for example, if someone or something irritates you and your first reaction would be to blow up or have a go, but you don’t, you suppress that human nature and choose God’s way of peace and self-control, you are engaging in spiritual worship which is pleasing to God. I rarely if ever talk about money, but another example might be if you sense God is prompting you to Gove something to someone or some charity, and you suppress the desire to keep the money for yourself and obey that prompting—especially if it costs you, you are making a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God. These are just two examples, I’m sure you could think about others.

Renewing our minds

There is a real criticism which I’ve encountered on numerous occasions over the years, it is rooted in a belief that ancient cultures are, well, uncultured. That education and science has enable man to ‘outgrow’ God. That belief in God is somehow relegated to history or the domain of the weak-minded. Yet there is a real inconsistency in this attitude because modern people are no different to people in earlier cultures.

There is real inconsistency in the world around us, which claims to be rational and scientific and criticises people of faith as irrational and unscientific. Yet, if you ‘drill down’ into this belief, you will find all sorts of presuppositions and assumptions which are neither scientific nor rational. People accept as absolute ‘fact’ things which just cannot be proven by either logic or science. The most obvious is the conviction that someone’s ‘self-identification’ of who they are is reality. So someone born biologically male who ‘feels’ that he is a woman, is accepted without question as a woman. Despite the medical fact that every cell in his body bears the male chromosome, that gender-affirming surgery may changes his appearance, but will never change his biology, despite the fact that men have NO IDEA what biological women feel, or how their psyche interacts with their biology to identify them as female.

The Scriptures are full of exhortations to use your brain, The greatest commandment includes the mind in our love of God…

Mark 12:30 love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

One of the keys to living a successful Christian life is engaging your mind. If you think about it, the Bible is full of references and connections to our minds, it talks about truth, Jesus talks about understanding which involves the mind, Peter calls us to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope that we have.

James talks about wisdom from above, which we are supposed to exhibit being open to reason – an attribute of the mind.

Paul says here that we are not to be conformed to the pattern of the world, and in 2 Corinthians he writes this: *For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

In our emotionally driven world, the phrase ‘do not conform … but transformed by the RENEWING of your minds’ is especially counter-cultural* (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).

I would suggest that far from being thoughtless, the Christian faith is one which uses our thought, uses our brain and commends thoughtfulness.
It is not without reason that science is rooted in the Christian faith. In fact I’d go so far as to say without the Christian faith, science may never have developed, I certainly don’t believe it would be as advanced as it is now.

One of the foundational causes of science is Christianity, the belief that God is a God of order, that we have the mind of God and that by investigation and thought, we can better understand the world in which we live. By orders of magnitude, the scientists at the start of our modern scientific age were Christian, and as I’ve alluded to earlier, as Christianity is being rejected, we are moving away from science and into irrationality, so, for example,

  1. Modern views about abortion are that the growing baby inside a woman is ‘not really human’ — against all the scientific and medical evidence.
  2. Modern views about gender are that our gender is determined by factors other than medical analysis and physical appearance.
  3. Modern views around the universe, such things as multiverse theory, Oort clouds and the like which are philosophical assertions which have absolutely no basis in science.

Paul writes, do not conform to the pattern of the world, Jesus says much the same, He describes to the disciples how the kings of the world acted, and says to them you are not to be like them’ (Luke 22:26), he prays for the disciples and for believers in John 17 and says things like they are not of the world just as I am not of it.

So, one of the most counter-cultural things you can do nowadays is to look to the science. Actual science, not philosophical assertions which sound scientific but simply are not. It is not unspiritual to use our minds. People will reference 1 Corinthians 14 which appears to pit the mind against the spirit (if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful 1 Corinthians 14:14), they will say things like theology is dry and dusty and quenches the spirit. I have met people over the years who have done just that.

The problem is this: far too many people mistake emotions for spirituality. Jesus calls us to engage and use our minds as we seek to follow Him. Our minds are key in our faith, we are doing Jesus a disservice if we simply discard them as unspiritual.

Benefits of renewing our mind.

In a sentence …

Romans 12:2 you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We often believe that we have to ‘feel’ the will of God in our hearts. Inside. We will default to the ‘still small voice of God’ which is a reference to the account of God’s meeting with Elijah in the cleft of the rock. We also talk of the ‘inner witness’ of the spirit (Romans 8:16, the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit), compare how we react to: ‘in my quiet prayer time last night God spoke to me’ with: ‘I used my brain and my intellect and I thought the matter through and comae to a conclusion’. Most Christians I have met would consider the first statement to be more ‘spiritual’ than the second. I would contend that the second is every bit as Godly as the first!

In his description of the gifts of the spirit in Ephesians, one of the things Paul describes them as being for is so that we will grow and develop and become mature. He says Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14).

In my experience, those who have a faith based in their intellect as well as in their emotions can witness more effectively, answer hard questions about their faith and, in fact, are much more consistent in following Christ effectively, they are not swayed and blown about by their emotions. Their minds, their intellect, provide a stable foundation for their faith.

God gave us a brain, when we allow Him to lead and guide us, we are able to use it and think. I believe that when we do that, we will live much more stable and fulfilled Christian lives.