When you hear the word "worship," what thoughts and images naturally come to your mind? In our current, common focus, "worship" is the watchword. Our natural images of worship likely are related to Sunday morning worship assemblies. In our thinking, what does and does not occur in those assemblies is critical, all important. How do we "prove" we are "the church"? Through our worship assembly on Sunday morning. How do we "prove" we "keep the faith"? Through our worship assembly on Sunday morning. How do we "prove" we respect Bible authority and follow Bible examples? Through our worship assembly on Sunday morning. Nothing that occurs in a believer's life is as important in declaring "faithfulness" as what occurs in the Sunday morning worship assembly.
In a common current concept, the key factor is attendance. Worship occurs if a Christian is physically present in an assembly on Sunday morning. Worship occurs if the Christians assembled take communion. Worship occurs if the Christians assembled sing a cappella (even if a Christian attending does not sing). Worship occurs if the "five acts of worship" actually occur. If worship occurs, and if the Christian is physically present, he or she is "faithful."
Our common concept of biblical Christian worship regards worship to be an event. Worship occurs when correct procedures happen on designated occasions in an assembly of Christians. Paul introduced Christians in Rome to an expanded concept of worship: worship occurs when the daily life of the individual believer is devoted to godly existence. Worship is an existence, not an event. At times, Christians gather to worship as a group. As a group, they honor and glorify God. But the individual Christian worships his God and his Savior by the way he or she lives, by the way he or she thinks, and by the way he or she serves God's purposes.
Consider the imagery of sacrifice in Romans 12:1,2. To us, sacrifice is typically centered in the idea of "giving up" something. "Giving up" foods with a high saturated fat content for health reasons is, to us, "sacrificing." "Giving up" a boat to acquire money to help educate our children is, to us, "sacrificing." "Giving up" a weekly trip to the movie theater to help the family budget is, to us, "sacrificing." To us, the imagery of "sacrifice" is a "personal loss" we absorb for a purpose. Infrequently do we associate sacrifice with worship.
Their images of sacrifice and ours are not the same. Whether converted Jew or converted idol worshipper, their imagery of sacrifice was quite similar. Before conversion, the devout Jew offered sacrificial worship at the Jewish temple. He took an animal there to surrender its life in honor of the living God. Before conversion, the idol worshipper offered sacrificial worship at the idol's temple. He took an animal there to surrender its life in honor of the idol.
A living animal was placed on an altar and killed. Paul was not talking about giving up desserts so that we physically can live longer. He was not talking about giving up a possession to educate our children. He was not talking about giving up a recreational event to improve the family budget. Paul discussed a "holy sacrifice." He talked about an understood act of worship. He talked about the most common act of worship occurring in their world.
Paul presented this sacrifice as the action of Christian worship. It did not occur near or in a physical building called a temple as an event. It occurred each moment of life as an act of personal surrender. It did not involve giving the life of an unwilling animal. It involved willingly giving your own life. It was not a sacrifice in which animal life was destroyed. It involved a living sacrifice that gave the believer's life continually as long as that Christian physically lived.
Some notable differences contrasted this Christian act of sacrificial worship with sacrificial acts of worship in Judaism or idolatry. The motivation for the Christian sacrificial worship was God's mercy. God sacrificed Himself in the death of His son on the cross. Through that death, God atoned for our evil acts and rebellious thoughts. Through that death, God redeemed us [purchased the right to forgive us]. Through that death, God made us alive.
Why? Because we deserve such consideration? No! Because we deserve forgiveness? No! Because we are a "profitable purchase" or "good buy"? No! In no way are people worth the price God paid. He or she who understood [understands] forgiveness knows God's forgiveness is not based on any form of human deservedness. We as Christians belong to God because He is merciful, and only because He is merciful. He allows us to belong to him.
Since God sacrificed Jesus for us, it is only reasonable that we should give ourselves in sacrifice to God. As an act of worship, each day we surrender our existence to God. We willingly allow God to teach us appropriate ways to surrender.
We surrender ourselves on the sacrificial altar (1) by refusing to allow the influences that shape and control "this age" to determine who we are and how we live; (2) by allowing God to reshape our minds so that He can teach us how to think; (3) by committing ourselves to the discovery and understanding of God's purposes; (4) by redefining good, God pleasing, and maturity.
Romans 12:3 through 15:13 focused the Christians in Rome on how this was accomplished. We must understand this entire section by understanding how Christians in Rome were to "climb on the altar." Only by "climbing on the altar" in an existence that worshipped God could they be living sacrifices.
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 3, Lesson 1
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