March Magazine Article: A Life of Worship

Here's my article for the churches' March magazine:

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

A lot of people who call themselves Christians limit what that means. They may mean that they made a commitment to Jesus at some stage in their life. They may mean that they come to church on a Sunday. And they may mean even less than that. Perhaps they have a vague affiliation with the Church of England (maybe they were baptised or confirmed) and they tick the Christian box on the census or when they go into hospital.

The problem is, that the gospel of Jesus requires rather more than that. It require all of us! In the letter to the Romans Paul has been spelling out the good news of Jesus and its implications for us whether we are Jew or Gentile. In chapter 12 Paul turns to how this gospel should be worked out in practice.

In verse 1 he looks back to the gospel of God's great mercy to us and tells us that we must offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. In other words, we offer ourselves to the service of God. Our lives are not our own. They are God's. What we do is not what we want to do, but what God wants us to do. Jesus says something very similar in Mark 8:34-35:

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35 NIV)

So half-hearted, limited commitment, just-on-a-Sunday Christians don't really match up. It's why it is so sad when people who claim to be Christians clearly aren't living that way, because it's an indicator that they aren't Christians at all. It's not that the gospel isn't a free gift by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8 and for that matter chapters 1-11 of Romans!). Nor are we saying that Christians will be perfect – we know that's not true! However, by God's grace working in us, those who are saved give their whole lives to their Saviour. Our lives are an act of worship.

What does that look like? Well v.2 tells us. First, we must not be conformed to the pattern of the world. We mustn't be squeezed into the mould of the culture. If the Christian and the church are the same as the non-Christian and the culture, then something is very wrong. That means we should be very wary of people telling us that we need to change how we behave and what we believe just because those things makes us look odd to the rest of society. It can feel a compelling argument when it's suggested that if we just changed on this or that point more people would come to our churches, or would feel that Christianity is for them. But if we allow ourselves to be conformed like that, then we lose the gospel of Jesus and then, even if people do come, they come to a lie.

Where might we be tempted to conform? It can be that we are tempted to change our ethical standards – that's the current temptation with same-sex marriage, but that is one of a long line of things, e.g. abortion, any sex outside of marriage, bad language, which are all standard now in our society, but shouldn't be part of the Christian's life. It can be that we take on the goals and worldview of our culture. Perhaps instead of the glory of God being our ultimate aim, we aim at a nice house, a fulfilling job, a good education for our children, a leisurely retirement or whatever is common at our age and stage. These things might not be bad things, but if they are the goal of our lives, they are idolatry and we have been conformed.

The second aspect of a life of worship is that, instead of being conformed, we should be transformed. That transformation happens by the renewing of our minds. As the gospel that Paul has outlined in Romans takes a grip of us we see things in a new way. As we see things in a new way we want to live in a new way. That's the pattern in Romans. As Paul outlines the glorious gospel at the start of the letter, he expects life transformation at the end of the letter, e.g. love and care for other Christians and respect for authorities

So what might that mean for you this month? Let me ask you three questions to help get you thinking.

1. Do you see your whole life as devoted to God or is Christianity an added extra?

2. What areas of your life are actually conformed to the world if you are honest?

3. How does the good news of Jesus change how you see those areas of your life?


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