Sermon Delivered at the
Convention Sunday Service
by the Rev. Paul E. Bloedel — Lebanon, Oregon
The Gospel of God’s grace in Christ Jesus is the most comforting message that a penitent sinner can hear—that on the basis of Jesus’ work of atonement all our sins have been completely forgiven by God, He will not punish us (as we deserve to be), but loves us and cares for us in this earthly life, and will finally take us to heaven to live with Him in endless joy and bliss. But that glorious Gospel is grossly abused and misapplied when it is used to comfort the heart and pacify the conscience of a person who is continuing willfully and intentionally in sin without remorse. Jesus did not earn forgiveness for us so that we would continue living in sins or give into vice all the more easily (II Corinthians 5:15)—feeling safe and secure in our sins. When the devil and the sinful flesh of man misapply the Gospel of God’s grace and forgiveness to make people feel comfortable continuing in wickedness, then the threatening voice of God’s Law, which the impenitent person needs to hear, is made silent and without effect. May the Lord guard and keep us from ever taking the Gospel of the free forgiveness through the blood of Christ as a license to sin carelessly without fear of punishment. We would be showing ourselves to be most vile unbelievers who really despise Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, if we would intentionally continue to disobey Him. Accordingly, the Apostle Paul asks in his letter to the Romans: “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (6:1–2).
Of course, we realize that the devil, the world, and our flesh are often successful in leading us into the pathways of sin and error. But we are not to indulge ourselves in those sins; we are not to excuse them, defend them, and willfully continue in them; nor are we to put ourselves into tempting situations. Though it is the Law of God that clearly teaches us what we should and should not do, yet the doctrine of Scripture that enables us and motivates us to turn from sin and live godly lives is the Gospel, in which we are told about the mercies of God toward sinful mankind all for the sake of Christ Jesus’ work of redemption. Let us, therefore, this morning, on the basis of our text, focus our attention upon the following theme:
The Mercies of God Move Us to Serve Him.
We shall see in the first place that (I) living in God’s service is completely reasonable for us as Christians; and, secondly, that (II) serving God according to His will means being changed from our natural, worldly way of living.
Right at the outset of our text, we are directed to consider that which motivates our obedience and willing service of the Lord, where we read: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (v. 1). But what exactly is meant by “the mercies of God”? It is simply a reference to the loving kindness that God extends to us poor miserable sinners for Christ’s sake. The Bible uses a few different words to bring out different aspects of God’s love. The term “grace” is used to emphasize how God’s love toward us is a free gift that we do no merit. The term “longsuffering” is used to emphasize how God’s love toward us is extended patiently for a long time (He does not immediately damn us to hell after our first sin, even though He would be completely just in doing so). And the term “mercy,” as we have it in our text for this morning in the plural form, is used to emphasize how God’s love toward us is compassion and pity for those who are in great need of His help.
But what is it that makes our need so very great? It is, of course, our wretched sinfulness and the dreadful punishment of hell that each and every one of us deserves on the basis of God’s perfect justice on account of our many sins in thoughts, desires, words, and deeds in violation of the holy Law of the Lord. The Bible makes it clear that, from the very beginning of our existence, even while still in our mother’s womb, we are sinful creatures (Psalm 51:5); and, apart from the saving grace and mercies of God, all people would live their entire lives only sinning (Genesis 6:5), never pleasing God (Romans 8:7–8), never coming to Him in faith (I Corinthians 12:3), and bringing upon themselves the just recompense of their wickedness (Hebrews 2:2), namely, everlasting pain and agony in the fires of hell (Isaiah 66:24). Indeed, our need is great!
Thankfully, God is full of pity, mercy, and compassion towards us for Jesus’ sake. In His mercy and grace, God sent His Son into the world to be our Substitute under His own Law—keeping it perfectly in our stead. But because God’s Law has been transgressed by us and all people, the Lord’s justice demands that punishment be carried out. So then in order to save sinful mankind, Jesus took the sins of the world upon Himself, together with the wages of those sins, even the unimaginable pains of hell, and suffered under the wrath of God in our place on the cross. And for Jesus’ sake, on account of that redemptive work, God forgave the sins of the whole world, “not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19). Now by faith in Christ Jesus and the forgiveness He won for us, we are God’s dear children (Galatians 3:26) and heirs of life everlasting in heaven (Romans 8:17).
It is this Gospel of God’s great love for us in Christ that moves us to love Him in return, as the Apostle John writes: “We love Him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). Though both faith and love for the Lord are invisible (in the heart), yet they are displayed in our lives by the fruits of faith and love, namely, obedience to God’s commandments. Again, St. John writes: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3). And the Apostle James writes: “I will show thee my faith by my works” (2:18).
The mercies of God in Christ Jesus provide all the motivation that a true Christian needs to live his life in the service of the Lord. Threats of punishment can curb the man’s sinful flesh, but at the most only produce an outward, very superficial obedience (coupled with resentment and possibly even hatred of God); and that is certainly not pleasing to the Lord. That is why Paul admonishes and exhorts us in our text by the sweet mercies of God for Christ’s sake rather than by the threats of God’s wrath, so that we are motivated by the Gospel gladly and willingly to serve and obey our loving Lord and Savior from our hearts.
We are told in our text to present our bodies a “living sacrifice” to God. We are to give ourselves completely over to Him—no longer living in the service of sin or of our own selfish, fleshly interests. Yes, our text calls this a “sacrifice,” and so it is. But it is not at all a sacrifice meant to atone for our sins or appease the wrath of God, for that kind of sacrifice was offered up once and for all by Jesus Christ in our place when He offered up Himself on the cross. The Scriptures say: “By one offering [Christ] hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. …Now where remission of these [sins] is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:14,18). Our “living sacrifice” of service and obedience to the Lord is what we Christians should gladly offer to God in appreciation for His great sacrifice of Himself to save us—enduring the pains of hell so that we could be spared that punishment. The Bible tells us that Christ died and redeemed us from our sins so that we would serve Him. In St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we read: “He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again” (5:15).
Our text mentions that the “living sacrifice” of obedient service that we bring before God is to be “holy” and “acceptable” in His sight. Since God Himself is holy (sinless and hating sin), nothing short of holy sacrifices would be acceptable unto Him. But since we all have the old, sinful flesh, every good work we perform is still tainted with sin; we fall far short of the perfection He requires; and, as the prophet Isaiah writes: “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (64:6). It is only by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, which we receive as our own by faith in Him, that our sins are covered and our works and sacrifices are counted as holy and acceptable before God (I Peter 2:5; Philippians 1:11).
Our service of God is described in our text as being “reasonable”—involving our mind and reason, as opposed to mere outward formalism. Of course, the dedication of our lives to the Lord’s service is mocked by the unbelieving world and thought to be completely insane—completely unreasonable for a religion to have such control over one’s life. However, it is should be clearly understood that it is completely reasonable for our Creator to demand such service of us; and it is certainly reasonable that we, His creatures, would serve Him. Furthermore, it is only reasonable that we who have been the recipients of God’s great mercy, His saving grace, would feel so indebted to Him that we would certainly desire to serve Him with our lives out of gratitude for all that He has done for us to save us from our sins and from eternal death. By contrast, it is completely unreasonable for a person to say that he is a true Christian who trusts in Christ and accepts the grace of God with a thankful heart, but does not desire to serve the Lord and persists in willful disobedience (Romans 6:1-2). Anyone who would make such an unreasonable claim is clearly “a liar” and a hypocrite (I John 1:6; 2:4).
If your appreciation for the mercies of God in Christ is real and heartfelt, then you will not merely say an empty “thank You” to Him, while intentionally doing that which you know displeases Him. On the contrary, the mercies of God will move you to offer your heart, mind, and life to the Lord’s service. Indeed, that is “your reasonable service” to the One who saved you from hell by His own bitter suffering and death on the cross.
We are told in the second verse of our text: “Be not conformed to this world” (v. 2). Paul here admonishes us not to allow ourselves to be molded into the image of this sinful world (either inwardly or outwardly). In the way we think, in the way that we evaluate things that are good and things that are evil, we are to be very different than the unbelievers. So also in our outward conduct—the way we act in public, the things we do, the places we go, the way we speak, and so on—we are not to be “conformed to this world,” but should clearly stand out as being quite different than the children of this world.
But we can very easily be led astray and become “conformed to this world” if we are not careful in our dealings with worldly individuals. Not that we can or even should try to avoid all contact with the unbelievers altogether (I Cor. 5:9–10)—because then we would never have an opportunity to testify to them of what the Bible teaches and let our Christian light shine before them. But we should always be on our guard lest they draw us into their sinful activities, or sinful ways of talking, or sinful ways of thinking. Thus Jesus prayed for His disciples, saying: “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15).
Weak Christians will sometime allow themselves to fall under the influence of this world to the extent that they shamefully blend in very closely with the unbelievers—not letting their light of faith shine to the glory of God the Father but, instead, being at least somewhat conformed to wicked ways of the world. Not only is such worldliness very dangerous to a Christian’s faith, but it also shows that “the mercies of God” in Christ Jesus mean very little to the weak Christian if he so readily chooses to follow the beckoning of the world rather than the voice of His Savior.
In the Scriptures we are told: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not” (Proverbs 1:10). But oh how difficult it is to resist the enticements to conform to this world if we are trying to “fit in” and be well-liked by our worldly acquaintances, coworkers, classmates, friends, and relatives. Accordingly, the Apostle Paul wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners” (15:33), or more literally: “Evil associations (bad company) corrupt good morals.” We should all pray earnestly that God would help us to resist the temptation to be like our unbelieving acquaintances and to participate in their sinful activities.
Instead of being conformed to the behavior of this world, we are admonished in our text as follows: “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” (v. 2). The word translated as “renewing” in our text literally means a “complete change for the better” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). We are to be “transformed,” or changed, from our natural fleshly condition, which opposes the Word and will of God, to a new condition of love and friendship with God in which we desire to put into practice the “good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” This is not a mere external change of behavior, or just an outward reformation of bad habits; but it is, as our text says, a renewing of the mind, of our inmost self, our heart, our soul. And certainly, when the mind has been changed, the way the person lives outwardly will also change. And it should definitely be evident to the people around us that the Holy Ghost has changed us—that we are the children of God who are moved by His mercies in Christ Jesus to live our lives in His service.
But how are we to know precisely what God wants us to do, how we are to serve Him, how He wants us to live our lives? Thankfully, God has not left us to guess about what works are pleasing to Him and what works displease Him. In His holy Law, the Lord has clearly revealed how He wants us to live our lives and serve Him according to His will. And here again, it is important that we do not allow ourselves to be mislead by the world around us. For example: The world says that it is mean and cruel to spank children or to inflict any kind of pain upon them. But the Bible says: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Proverbs 13:24). The world says that it is unloving (or even unchristian) to tell someone that he is sinning and needs to repent lest he be condemned to eternal hell-fire. But the Bible says: “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart; thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor and not suffer [or permit] sin upon him” (Leviticus 19:17). The world says that Christian love and tolerance should cause us to have fellowship with all other churches and their adherents that say they believe in Jesus, even if they have errors in other doctrines. But the Bible says: “[Christian love] rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” (I Corinthians 13:6). So we are to be guided by the Scriptures in our lives of sanctification rather than follow the “wisdom” of this world if we want to serve the Lord in a way that truly pleases Him.
And what is it that will motivate us to do this? Not the threats of God’s punishment, not the thought of earning or meriting anything good from Him, but the tender “mercies of God” in the Gospel of Christ is what moves us in love and gratitude to serve Him, to be continuously renewed in the spirit of our mind, and to fight against the temptation to be conformed to this world. Remembering that it is only through the great mercies of God in and through the work of our Savior Jesus Christ that we have been saved from our sins and the punishment of hell that we deserve, we should not lack any of the needed motivation to serve Him. So then out of gratitude for such mercy and grace, we should, as we are exhorted to do in our text, present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice to be used in His service according to His will.
May the loving compassion and tender mercies of God always have this blessed effect on you, so that you always cling firmly to Christ, your Savior, in faith and gladly serve Him in love here on earth and hereafter in heaven. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria