“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.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… Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
(Romans 12:1-2, 9-13 ESV)
It is not a coincidence that Paul’s exhortation on Christian living, to love God and love as Christ loved us, follows his call for us to present ours bodies as a living sacrifice. We are worshippers created to live our lives as God commanded. Since the Fall however, every person has replaced God with themselves in self-worship, living in sin, trying to fulfill unceasing desire that can only be satisfied in Him. Our lives before salvation were just reenactments of what transpired in the Garden of Eden as we looked to ourselves for meeting our needs. Now, in Christ, we can abandon our perpetual worship of creation to worship the Father, but pursuing our sanctification is never easy.
I bet most of us are looking forward to reenacting Christ’s love for the Church in this present life, I am talking about marriage of course, but it is just one of many good gifts God can choose to bless us with, and it is just one of many desires we can have. What it means to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice is to surrender our desires to His will. When the choice comes down to worshipping God or worshipping ourselves we choose God, and sometimes our devotion is put to the test.
Will I act above reproach when the time comes? Is my life governed by fear of losing what God has given me, even perhaps what I falsely believe I have earned?
The Christian life is a reflection of one’s relationship with the Father. In those moments when we stand before the master of the universe with desires unmet, when idolatry’s temptation vies against obedience, we should be quick to set our hearts on God. We know our Lord is sovereign and loving, that He wills the course of unfolding history, and that all that has happened and will happen is to His glory. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28). What should stand at the foremost of our thoughts is that we are the recipients of God’s undeserved love and grace. God bought us out of our slavery to sin, and now He asks that we choose to serve Him, to live as if our lives were not our own, because God does not want mere service but hearts that love Him entirely.
If we can see Christ’s love in what he has done for us, we would keep his commandments and we would love one another as Christ loved us. Our love for God must be genuine for its outpouring towards others to be genuine. In Matthew 22:30-40, Christ says the entirety of the Old Testaments built on our duty to love God foremost and to love our neighbors. To further qualify Leviticus 19:18, Christ gave the command to love fellow believers as Christ loved us. But how did Christ love us?
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
(Philippians 2: 5-8 ESV)
Christ’s love for us was done in obedience to God, so when we love as Christ loved us it should be in obedience to God as our worship to Him. Our devotion to the Father is made manifest when we love one another. Even when a brother or sister does not deserve it; even if the world has convinced us they are not worthy of our affection, we are to love them in brotherly affection, because when we deserved death for our sins, Christ died for us in our place. By loving others like Christ loved us, as that Christ-like love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13; as it is shown throughout the gospels; as Paul gives examples in Philippians 2 of four men, including Jesus Christ himself, of selfless love, God demonstrates his power to change the hearts of lost sinners, and it shows that we can cast aside our little gods and give our devotion to God in action.
In God’s eyes, one does not deserve to be loved based on their merits. God chooses to love us even when we fail to honor Him. When we start loving people because of what they are capable of doing instead of who God sees them to be, we will slip back into our self-worshipping ways, and that misplaced worship is not only sinful it is harmful to our spiritual wellbeing. This kind of idolatry will devalue people into being emotion receptacles and dispensers. We will incessantly endeavor to please others so we can get our fulfillment out of them, and we will extract that fulfillment by any means that does not offend our arbitrary standards. That is what Paul is talking about when he says to “let love be genuine.” True love is devoid of selfish intention.
It is true that God created us to give Him glory; it is true that God has prepared us for good works; and it is true that He loves each and every one of us. No matter where we find ourselves God is due our worship. There is always the command to love God with utmost devotion, and there is always the command to love his children as Christ loved us. Obey His commands. Worship the Lord.