“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.” Romans 12:1
It is a fundamental tenet of the Christian religion that doctrine is inseparably connected to life. The two go together. Without one, there will not be the other. That tenet is perhaps nowhere more clearly set forth than in Romans 12, right after the holy apostle had spent the first eleven chapters of this epistle defending, defining, and explaining that precious gospel doctrine of justification by faith alone. For what does the apostle tell his audience as soon as he has completed the exposition of that doctrine? He goes on to set forth in the remainder of the epistle the life of religion that ought to, and even must, flow out of the hearts of all who truly embrace sound doctrine, which life may be summed by this one pithy phrase: “Saved to Serve.” In so doing, he calls the saved to live the life of service. We Christians are saved by God, and saved by Him completely apart from all works in order that we may give ourselves to Him and serve Him. Therefore, also, do we serve one another in the midst of His church, whereof we are and will remain forever living members.
This service graciously expected of us by our God is termed here as the Christian’s “reasonable” service. In other words, it would be unreasonable and illogical for those truly saved not to serve. It would be an insincere religion that does not serve. This service is the Christian’s fundamental duty, and underlying it is and must be a spiritual attitude. When that attitude is present and the life of service flows out of that attitude, there will be a beautiful, blessed, manifold display of it in the church.
It is a fundamental duty of the Christian to be active in serving in the church. That point arises out of the word “reasonable” used by the inspired apostle. A life of active service is a basic and essential trait of the sincere, genuine believer. Just as phonics and spelling are basic to the English language; just as structured programming and algorithms class are basic to a computer science major in college; so also is service basic to him who is called Christian.
It is so for the Christian for many reasons. First, our Lord Himself calls us to serve. Second, He Himself was the perfect example of loving service. Both reasons are given by Jesus Himself in Matthew 20:25-28, where, calling attention to His ministry, He told His disciples that He gave His life “as a ransom for many.” If the Master Himself gave and served others, then His disciples also are to do the same.
Dear believer, do you not want to serve? Do you not want to serve the living and true God and His dear Son your Savior and Lord? He gave His life for you. He saved you when He did not have to show mercy to you. He would have been perfectly just to leave us in our sins. But He didn’t. Father God gave His Son to us. And the Son showed Himself to be the outstanding servant by giving the extreme gift of His very own life for us. Do we not, therefore, want to serve Him as a token of our deep thanks for His salvation and service to us? As much as service is our fundamental duty, it is also our heart’s desire to serve one another in the church. For in so doing, we are thanking God for His great, undeserved salvation of us.
This attitude of gratitude is what the apostle is getting at when he tells us that what underlies true Christian service, first of all, is personal consecration or devotion to God, a presenting of our bodies (that is, our very selves) as “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” He who would serve others does so because he first devotes himself to God and serves Him. Just as the Old Testament believer would give to God a sacrifice in devotion to and worship of Him, so also are we to give and devote ourselves to God as a token of thanks to Him for our salvation. And when we relate to God in such a way, we will relate to those who belong to Him in the way of service. That stands to reason. The law of God consists of two tables: one concerning how we are to love God, and the other concerning how we are to love the neighbor. The two fit together, so that if one were to say that he loves God but does not actually love (and therefore serve) the neighbor, that person is a liar (cf. I John 2). Loving service in the church and to her members is part and parcel of the very same love with which believers love their God.
There is, however, a second spiritual attitude that underlies true service in the church. And it is the lovely Christian grace of humility. The apostle brings this up in verse 3: For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt every man the measure of faith. In other words, the fruit of humility within us is evidenced by a sober recognition that all the good that we have in us, all the talents that we have (of teaching, preaching, hospitality, and so on) and the measure thereof, are not our own doing, but God’s gift to us. They are given to us not for us to exalt ourselves and lift ourselves up in pride over and against our brothers and sisters in Christ, but to the glory of God and towards the service and benefit of our fellow saints. He who embraces this truth and is continually conscious of it will not be proud, but humble. And he will use his gifts not for his own glory, but for the glory of God and the edification of the church.
The underlying attitude of gratitude to God marked by devotion to God and humility is what characterizes true Christian service. Dear reader, how are you doing with this attitude? Does it live and thrive in your heart, your mind, and your soul?
If this attitude does live and thrive in us, and if it also does within the members of our church and denomination, it will manifest itself clearly, and in many ways. The apostle sets forth two main ways here.
First, it will manifest itself in a spirit of unity, for “we, being many, are one body in Christ,” a truth that he states and reiterates in verses 4 and 5. But, on the flip side, there will only be disharmony, division and schism when pride rears its ugly head in the church! Would to God that every man….not…think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith! Would to God that we think, speak, and act more and more out of the new man and the Spirit of Christ that indwells us, and less and less out of the old man of sin! Then the gifts that have been given us will not be used for selfish reasons but will be humbly pressed into loving service in the church among her members (cf. vv. 6-8), and her spiritual unity will flourish!
And where unity flourishes in the church, there will be many clear and unmistakable expressions of love among her members. Some of these expressions are set forth by the apostle in verses 9-13. Evil will be abhorred, and the lives of her members will be marked by holiness (v. 9). There will be the practice of “preferring one another” (v. 10). Members will be “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer,” even as they serve the Lord under difficult circumstances (vv. 11 and 12). Benevolence will be diligently given to those in need, and hospitality exercised among her members (v. 13).
How is all this possible? How do we lay hold of this spirit of Christian service and grow in this fundamental duty of the Christian life?
By continually receiving the good and gracious instructions, commands, and admonitions that are found in the Word of God. For we are told in verse 2, And be not conformed to this world: 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. The mind is the gateway to our soul. We are to fill it not with the world and its thoughts, priorities, and pleasures but with the Word of God: its doctrine, its reproof, its correction, its instruction in righteousness.
Dear reader, will you not dedicate yourself to true service in the church? A service characterized by consecration to God and Christian humility? I beseech you by the mercies of God that you do so.