I preach to you now what will be the last sermon from the series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Though I say the last sermon, I do not mean the last word on the issue. The plan and intention of this series have always been to lay the biblical foundation necessary for us as a church to pursue and practice these gifts in the regular life of the church.
The glorious display of these gifts is reflected in the skill of the one who wields them. The preacher is good who is able to deliver the truth accurately, but better is he whose faithful training has rendered him a preacher with accuracy and unction, a capacity to speak truth convincingly.
With Spiritual Gifts, God has equipped us with the supernatural ability to love and care for one another in a personal and powerful way. With love as our central ethic, our desire for spiritual gifts begin and ends with our desire to edify the congregation of God’s people.
Now, I know that I promised the church a sermon on why I am not a cessationist, a sermon response to the critics of continuationism. However, the more I’ve prepared on the same, I am convinced that a sermon of that nature is more appropriately suited for a Bible Study rather than for Sunday morning preaching.
This is not the occasion to settle such disputes but to preach and expound the glorious Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. In other words, the substance of a sermon on the Lord’s day is the text of scripture, not the text of opinions. The sermon in that sense must never be a propaganda piece. It is one thing for the sermon to be the substance of positively affirming what the Bible says about Spiritual Gifts, and another for it to be the substance of negative criticism of man’s opinions.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the apologetic defence of continuationism must be made by first understanding the text and we have done that. But now, in order to refute the major claims of the cessationist, I do not want to turn this time of worship into a time of debate. I have said enough and more during our time together responding to many criticisms while expounding the text of scripture, but to turn our attention entirely to responding to these criticisms is something I would rather do in another context like our Friday Bible Study. So, I’ll fix a date for that, and inform you all beforehand, when I will preach a sermon on why I am not a cessationist.
So, I will keep my promise, just not during our time of worship on the Lord’s day.
So, with that, I want to now turn your attention to that famous passage in Romans 12.
We have studied the nature and purpose of Spiritual Gifts and how and why they are ordered as the normative practice in the church’s life.
We looked at each of the gifts that were mentioned, diving more deeply into some to understand their function and purpose in us edifying one another.
We looked at the most controversial of the gifts – tongues & prophecy, and once we upload the transcripts of all those sermons, you will have access to a lot of those resources to study them even further.
And like I mentioned last week, this sermon series is essentially a jump-start guide into the world of the Holy Spirit’s power manifest in the life of the church. Having studied this, it is our desire as a church that these gifts will begin to manifest in greater intensity in the life of our congregation. We do everything on the foundation of sound theology and this series was meant to enable us to do precisely that.
Romans 12:1 ESV
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
- This most iconic verse in the whole of Scripture needs no introduction. A reformed congregation would not find this a strange verse, it is one of the most preached texts in Christendom.
But let us take a look at it now, keeping in mind that the same author of Romans 12 was responsible for 1 Corinthians 12-14.
I make this comparison because one can clearly see similarities in his argumentation that allow us to compare and study both these passages side by side.
His intention in 1 Corinthians 12-14 to address the subject of Spiritual Gifts, and his intention in Romans 12 to address the subject of Christian worship, both lead him to almost identical arguments.
I appeal to you brothers – Paul the Apostle did not exercise his apostolic authority by Lording it over the people, but through reasoning and appealing, through exhortation and encouragement.
Paul is making a close-up and personal exhortation to the Romans.
Therefore, by the mercies of God – The ‘therefore’ in Romans 12 is a conclusion that points to all of Paul’s arguments from Romans 1-11.
From the power of the Gospel to the meaning & purpose of the law, to the pervasive sinfulness of man, to faith, from death in Adam to life in Christ, from the dead to sin to alive in God, from the wretched body of flesh to righteousness and release from the curse of the law, to no condemnation, to everlasting love, to God’s Sovereignty and freedom, to the unbelief of Israel and the hope of their subsequent renewal, Paul covers a lot of ground.
The sum of all this is encapsulated in this one glorious yet simple word – therefore.
So, when Paul references the mercies of God with the use of this ‘therefore’, he calls all of that which came before under that one phrase. All of these are the mercies of God. These things are the rich heritage of those who are saved by the Gospel of Christ, they are mercies from above.
Remember now that the book of Romans is an exposition of the Gospel from beginning to end.
So, Paul’s ‘appeal’ to the brothers is ‘therefore’ ‘by the mercies of God – upon the foundation laid from chapters 1-11.
- Present your bodies as a living sacrifice – there is a reason that Paul uses the word bodies. Why not just say present yourselves, instead of present your bodies? For those of you who were part of the church when we studied the book of Romans, you might remember that I addressed this.
For Paul to use the word bodies is to reference any activity engaged by the individual. Everything that we do in life is an activity of the body. Paul doesn’t want to be ambiguous to even the slightest degree here. He is explicitly pointing to any activity that our body does whether it be our speech, our movement, our hands, our eyes, or our legs; that in all that we do, we are a living sacrifice.
In many ways, death appears an easy escape from the difficulties of life. But we are called live sacrificially for the glory of God as much as we are called to die sacrificially for the glory of God. You have undoubtedly read:
John 15:13 ESV
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
But there are more ways to lay down your life apart from death, some of which are much harder than dying.
We are called to greater love in death, but also living. The glory of our God is not diminished by our living and then exalted in our dying. The glory of our God is manifest in our living and our dying, in our sitting and our standing, in our waking and our sleeping, in our strengths and our weaknesses, in our joy and our pain, in our confidence and our brokenness – the call of Romans 12 is to be bodies of glory, vessels of sacrifice, living not for ourselves but for the exaltation of the name that is above every name – the Name of Jesus Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords.
• Holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship – we are not to agree with all this only to hold to a standard of our own. This has to be holy and acceptable to God. There is a way to be “Christian” which is not holy and acceptable to God (Matthew 7:21-24). It is sinful for us to hold to a standard of our own, and such sinfulness is a measure of our compromise, the withholding of our bodies from being subject to such sacrificial living.
We truly glorify God only when we are holy and acceptable to Him.
This then is the sum definition of what we call ‘worship’. How does one worship God? How do you Christians worship God? By presenting the entirety of your frame, your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God.
This is an instruction of Scripture, an appeal, an exhortation that Paul gives to us. It is not an automatic occurrence in the Christian life, it is a volitional attempt to obey God.
The worship on the Lord’s Day gathering is the climactic eruption of our corporate attempt at presenting our bodies for prayer, praise, testifying, preaching, fellowship, breaking bread & exercising all of the gifts that the Lord has given us.
Romans 12:2 ESV
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
- Paul then adds an explanatory layer to what he is saying. The presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God is antithetical to the course of this world. Conformity to Christ is the polar opposite of conformity to this world. This that we are called to do will go against everything that the world believes and teaches, everything we see around us.
- And such conformity to Christ is a result of the renewal of the mind. Belief and faith are the roots of this transformation from worldliness to godliness. The Gospel message first renews our minds & hearts before it transforms our lives.
- And how are we to practically not conform to the world but to Christ? By discerning what the will of God is – what is good and acceptable and perfect in his sight.
So, the renewal of our mind in the belief of the Gospel of Christ enables us to discern what the will of God is, and that discernment leads us to conform to Christ and not to the world. As a church, for those of you who’ve been attending our service and our bible study, are you able to correlate all that we’ve been doing in light of this truth?
We’ve been learning about the centrality of the Bible & about the nature and purpose of Spiritual Gifts. What are we doing? We are identifying the value of Scripture, and renewing our minds in this word of God so that we may discern what the will of God is, so that we may conform to his will and not to the world.
- All these then are the elements of our act of worship – our Christian posture in life and death.
Romans 12:3 ESV
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
- “For” – Ladies and gentlemen, there’s a ‘for’ after this famous paragraph. Conjunction that makes sense of the following statements in light of the previous ones. It continues the flow of thought.
- By the grace given to me – In light of the spiritual reality of the Christian posture of living by the mercies of God, Paul relied on God’s grace on him by which he was called to be an apostle, to give the following instruction to the Church.
- Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
- True worship does not leave room for us to think too highly of ourselves, and neither does it leave room for us to think too little of ourselves. It brings sober judgment.
The sober judgment that identifies the measure of faith that God has assigned to each one of us, knowing what we can do in Christ, and what we are unable or poor at doing because of our weaknesses and our sins.
As we strive to grow in our faith, we are always aware of the measure of our faith.
- There is a measure of faith that God appoints to each one and they are different. This does not refer to what we call ‘salvific faith’ which is the faith that converts an unbeliever to a believer. The subject of salvific faith is not a matter of measure but a matter of effect. No one is more saved than the other because none of us are saved by our works.
But the faith here referenced is the gift of faith, the same mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9, and the measure of this gift is apportioned according to the will of God.
- Here begins the bleed of similarity between 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Romans 12. True spiritual worship discerns the measure of our spiritual gifting.
Romans 12:4–5 ESV
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
- Sounds familiar? This is the argument Paul follows in 1 Corinthians 12 to establish the fact that the Holy Spirit distributes the Gifts to each member according to his sovereign will, and these varied gifts are marks that identify whether one is a hand or an eye or a leg, each individually members one of another.
- We all do not perform the same function, but together we function as one body.
- Here again, Paul starts with the word ‘for’ to continue this thread of thought.
Romans 12:6–8 ESV
6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
- Gifts that differ according to the grace given to us – I take Paul’s reference not only to mean “different gifts”, but to the different measures of gifting to each individual for a specific gift as well [like we saw regarding the gift of faith in the previous verses].
Such variation is according to grace.
- Let us use them – I love this phrase. Her beloved is the conclusion of Paul in his great exaltation of what it means to worship God. That the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices is to use the gifts given to us according to the measure apportioned to us by the grace of God.
- if prophecy, in proportion to our faith – If one is gifted in prophecy, he is not to misuse it by an overzealous attempt to be more than what he has been apportioned. We are to use what we have, to give what we have, and not to think too highly of ourselves.
Prophecy is meant to be identified and exercised according to the proportion of faith that is identified by the sober judgment of an individual who offers his life for the glory of God.
The abuse of the gift of prophecy always involves a prophet who corrupts his body by conforming to the world, by compromising on his worship.
- Whether service, teaching, exhortation, generosity, leadership or mercy, we are to exercise our gifts among the congregation of the saints for such activities are the presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices.
I will stop here and not expound through the remaining verses but look at the start of v9,
9 Let love be genuine…..
- Does that sound familiar to you? 1 Corinthians 13? For even here, Paul takes us to “love”, that more excellent way, the one regulation to our exercising of the gifts according to 1 Corinthians, and here the one regulation to worship.
- Isn’t the harmony of Scripture incredible? O how his word is a lamp unto our feet!
Such a life of worship ought not to be strange to us beloved, we who have been redeemed by Christ who was the ultimate sacrifice.
Our call to such a life is to imitate him. Conformity to this kind of life is conformity to Christ because this is the life that Christ lived.
Philippians 2:6–8 ESV
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
He was the true and living sacrifice, born to die, born to be raised, born to be glorified above all.
Exercising the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is to partake in the Christian life, in the Christ-like life, to do the works he commissioned us to do.
Compare and see exactly what I mean by looking at the ending of Romans 12:9-21.
Romans 12:9–21 ESV
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Eagerly desiring the spiritual gifts, and exercising them as they are distributed to us, according to the measure given to each one by the grace of God, is to conform to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.