The Keys to Godliness, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

Some of you have heard the story of Jim Elliot, but for others of you, maybe most of you, this may be new, because the events took place more than 46 years ago.  Jim Elliot was saved when he was fairly young, and he committed himself to Bible Training. While in college, he was well known and well liked. He was a good student, a school champion wrestler, a member of the student council, and president of the Foreign Missions Fellowship.  Jim Elliot could have fit into a pastorate anywhere in America, but God put a different burden on Jim’s heart.  There were those even then that thought it somewhat foolish to serve God in such a radical manner.  Jim thought differently.  In his diary he wrote, “He makes His ministers a flame of fire.  Am I ignitable?  God deliver me from the dread asbestos of ‘other things.’  Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be a flame.  But flame is transient, often short-lived.  Canst thou bear this, my soul – short life?  In me there dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him.  Make me Thy Fuel, Flame of God.”  In another place he wrote these famous words, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”.

God used Jim Elliot in this manner.  Jim was no fool.  He gave up what he could not keep to gain what he could not lose.  Jim put off marriage for a few years as he started his work as a missionary.  Later he did marry, and then brought his wife, Elizabeth, down to Ecuador to the work that was going on with the Quichua Indians.  But Jim wanted to reach another tribe where there was no Gospel work going on.  It was a fierce and dangerous tribe – the Auca’s.  Jim, along with 4 other men, prayed and planned and finally began the work.  There was initial success.  The Auca’s seemed to welcome the gifts dropped to them from a plane.  The missionaries prayed more, planned more, and dropped more gifts to the Aucas.  Finally, they were ready to try to make personal contact.  A base was set up on a sandbar on the bank of the river close to where the Auca village was located.  After a couple of days, three Auca’s, two women, and one man ventured to meet them.  They responded positively.  But the question on the missionaries minds was, could they make more contact?  Would they be able to contact the whole village?  There was more prayer and more planning until finally one morning, after the plane had flown over the village to try to encourage them to come to the camp on the sandbar, a group of 10 men was seen going toward the missionary camp.  Pilot Pete Fleming radioed the base station, “Looks like they’ll be here for the early afternoon service.  Pray for us.  This is the Day!  Will contact you next at four-thirty.”

Four-thirty came and went, but the radio remained silent.  There would be further contact with those missionaries.  On that Sunday afternoon, January 8, 1956, Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, and Ed McCully gave up what they could not keep to gain what they could not lose.  Five days later, a rescue party found their bodies in the river with Auca spears in them.  They gave their lives in their efforts to reach these ignorant people with the Gospel.

The world would say that is foolish.  God allowed 5 men to die.  He allowed 5 women to be widowed.  He allowed their children to be fatherless.  One child was born a few weeks after her father’s death.  But Jim Elliot’s words are still true – “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Another quote from Jim Elliot is also appropriate to understanding the missionaries’ perspective, “When it comes time to die, make sure that all you have to do is die.”  The world says this is foolish, but God used the death of these men to call other people to the mission field, and in less than three years contact was made with this same tribe, and Elizabeth Elliot, Jim’s widow, along with their daughter, Valerie, were living in the Auca village.  They were friends with the men who had killed Jim.  The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

I don’t know if God might call you to die as a missionary martyr in some foreign land.  I do know, absolutely, that God is calling you to serve Him where you are right now with the same commitment that Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries had.  How do I know?  

Because it is the only reasonable action

There can be for those who have responded

To the wonderful salvation from sin that

Is granted to us on the basis of our faith

In the person and work of Jesus Christ.


Paul has been explaining theology for the last 11 chapters.  Some of that theology is, as the Apostle Peter well described, “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).  It is not that Paul failed in anyway in his task of explaining the Gospel to the believers in Rome, but rather that the truths of the Gospel run very deep.  They are not easily grasped and understood because they reflect the mind of God Himself, and God is beyond us.  Recall from our study last week of how Paul ended this section of the book?

Verses 33-36 exclaimed, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?  Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

Over the last several days of our study in this Book we have wrestled through such topics as the depravity of man, righteousness, the condemnation of the Law, justification by faith, imputation of righteousness, the love of God, original sin, believer’s baptism, salvation from sin, sanctification, the believer’s struggle against sin, the foreknowledge of God, predestination, future glorification, election, God’s choice of Israel, God’s mercy to Gentiles, and Israel’s future hope. God is infinite.  We are finite.  We cannot understand God completely, but we can understand what He has revealed to us in His Word.  It is the same for us as it was for Moses when He said in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”  God has revealed enough about Himself that we can have a personal relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.  He has also revealed how He wants us to live.

In today’s blog we begin our study of a section of Scripture that is among the best in terms of practical application in daily life.  Romans 12, 13, 14, and 15 are all full of specific instructions on how God wants us to live in response to what He has done for us through Jesus Christ.  In the coming days we will examine subjects such as proper self-evaluation, the nature and function of the church, the character qualities every Christian should have, the importance of humility, responding to persecution, the Christian and government, the Christian and taxes, the Christian’s relationship with other people, the urgency of the times, principles of conscience, dealing with “weaker brothers,” the true nature of godliness, our commitment and acceptance of one another, and dealing with the divisive.  My prayer is that by the time we are done with our study of these chapters each of us will have grown and become more like Jesus Christ.

But before Paul gets into any of those specifics, he must first deal with the general principles that underlie each of them.  You cannot properly deal with other people, whether they are Christians or not, unless you have the correct foundation.  You are not going to be a godly person if you do not have the key that opens the door to godliness, and the key will not do you any good if you will not go through the door.  Paul deals with those foundational issues in 12:1 and 2, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

 The Mercies of God.

Paul’s Urging – The first thing we find in the text is that Paul is urging those reading his letter to respond to what he has written.  Theology is a great study, but if it is left in the intellect, it is of no value.  In fact, it is damning, for to learn and know what God is like and what He wants from us, and then to fail to respond and act according to those truths is to heap up God’s condemnation upon yourself.  Jesus gave the principle in Luke 12:48 that, “To whom much has been given, much will be required.”  Jesus was even more to the point in Matthew 7:26-27, “And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.  And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

Paul’s “urging” here is more than just a request to do something.  Paul does not want his readers, or us, to fall into either the great tragedy of hearing the Gospel, but never following Christ, or of following Jesus only half-heartedly.  There is a strong emotional element within this word.  It is a beseeching, an entreating us to action.  Recall from 9:3 that Paul’s compassion was so great for the lost that he could wish himself accursed if that would somehow bring them to salvation in Jesus Christ.  That is, of course, not possible, but it gives us an idea of his urging here.  Jesus warned the church at Laodicea that He would spit them out because they were lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16,).  They were neither hot nor cold.  Paul admonished the Corinthian Christians because they continued to be “babes in Christ.”  They should have been spiritual men, but they were still men whose minds were occupied by carnality, the fleshy things of this world (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).  Here we find that Paul is urging the “brethren,” those  claiming to be Christians, to live in a manner worthy of the claim.

God’s Mercies – The basis of Paul’s urging is God’s mercies toward man.  The “therefore” ties this passage to the preceding passage in which Paul had concluded his discussion of God’s dealing with both Jew and Gentile as one of showing mercy.  “Mercy” here in 12:1 is a word which speaks of compassion and sympathy that dwells in the heart of God for us because of our hopeless and sinful condition.  God’s mercies are what has given us hope.  Paul’s urging of us to present ourselves as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God is not based on fear of God’s condemnation, but rather upon gratefulness for God’s mercies.

The phrase, “the mercies of God,” refers to all that Paul has already said about God’s provision for man to be saved from sin and its consequences.  Man is completely sinful and justly deserves to die (1:18-3:20), yet God provided for man’s salvation from sin and its consequences through the atoning Sacrifice of His own son, Jesus Christ.  Man could now be justified (i.e. absolved from sin) by faith in Jesus Christ (3:21-5:21).  The result of justification is sanctification.  The person is set apart to live for God.  He is dead to sin and alive to God.  He is freed from the law and finds life in Jesus Christ (6-8). God’s merciful dealing with the nation of Israel is God’s demonstration of His own righteousness, power and faithfulness to keep all His promises past, present and future (9-11).  We can trust God to keep His promises given to us in the Gospel.

Many people who profess to be Christians fail in the Christian life at precisely this point. Some do so because they fail to understand the Gospel.  Salvation from sin and its condemnation comes solely by God’s grace in providing the necessary sacrifice to atone for our sin in Jesus Christ, and His imputing or attributing Jesus’ righteousness to us based on our faith in Him.  Salvation is not and cannot be by man’s own efforts no matter how valiant the effort is.  Those who are still attempting to earn their way into heaven should be the most aware of this because their failure to keep even their own standards of conduct, much less God’s commands to perfect holiness, should cause them to cry out to God for mercy.  Instead, their guilt just drives them on to either redouble their effort to be good, or change the standard to suit their own sinfulness. However, neither of these can absolve the person of their sin, and so they remain under God’s condemnation and wrath.

Others do understand the gospel.  They rejoice greatly in being cleansed from sin and made righteous by Jesus Christ.  However, they have not yet learned to walk in the joy of that forgiveness.  They still have a prohibitive conscience in which they live in fear of God being angry with them if they err.  But that is the wrong reason to strive to live a godly life. God loves us and has proven it in Jesus Christ.  1 John 4:18-19 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  We love Him because He first loved us.”  Jesus has already taken upon Himself our punishment for sin.  We pursue holiness out of love for Christ.  Jesus said “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” and “He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:15, 24).

I give myself as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God because of my love for Him.  I do not fear Him.  Yes, God does correct and chastise me when I sin, but I know this is done out of His love for me.  As Hebrews 12:6 states it, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”  And a wise son accepts his father’s discipline.  It is the fool that will not listen to his rebuke (Proverbs 13:1).  Because I love Him, I want Him to correct me when I stray from Him.

It is in response to God’s manifold mercies – His kindness, justification of us through Christ, forgiveness of our sins, reconciliation with Him, sanctification of our lives, and promised glorification that we would be with Him in heaven for eternity – all these mercies and many more that Paul urges us to present ourselves as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.  But is a living sacrifice?

 A Living & Holy Sacrifice.

 Defining Sacrifice.  In order to understand the concept of being a living sacrifice, we must understand the sacrificial system of the Old Testament.  Leviticus 1-7 details the five different offerings that were to be made to God as part of Old Testament worship. All of them, except the grain offering, involved the sacrifice of an animal.  It is the nature of a sacrifice that all of it is given completely over to the worship of God.  The lamb, bull, goat, or dove that is sacrificed is killed.  They do not take a little blood out and try to make atonement for sin with that.  The animal is slaughtered.  Even in those sacrifices in which a portion of the animal is returned to the one making the sacrifice, it is to be used in celebration of God’s goodness to them – God’s mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, etc.

 A Living Sacrifice.  Paul is telling us to be a living sacrifice.  To be a “living sacrifice,” we must be totally given over to God.  While God calls relatively few to suffer physical death for the sake of His Kingdom, as occurred with Jim Eliott and many others, we all should be ready to do that if required.  However, there is greater emphasis throughout Scripture on living for God than on dying for God.  The fact is that it is harder to live for God than to die for God.  Death occurs in a moment of time and then you are with the Lord.  Living can last for many years and includes enduring the normal suffering a Christian experiences living in this sin filled world.  Paul told Timothy that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).  Jesus said we would have trouble in this world, but we can take courage because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

A living sacrifice counts themselves to be dead to self and alive to Christ.  Paul put it this way in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the [life] which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me.”  Crucifixion brings death.  Paul considered himself to be dead to self and alive to God.  Our own baptism was to be this same identification just as we saw back in Romans 6.  

 A Holy Sacrifice.  But this is more than just being a living sacrifice.  It is also being a holy sacrifice.  Some people think of themselves as being living sacrifices, but they are so somber and sullen that everyone around them would be better off if they were dead sacrifices.  To be holy means to be set apart from sin to God, not set apart from joy to sorrow.

A living and holy sacrifice is also a joyful sacrifice regardless of the circumstances. Why?  Because it is counted a privilege to be alive and serve God even if that means suffering.  Consider the response of the apostles when they were flogged in Acts 5:40. Verse 41 says they went away “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for [His] name.”  It was midnight and Paul and Silas were in jail, but what they were doing?  Praying and singing hymns of praise to God with all the other prisoners listening to them (Acts 16:25).

What is Sacrificed.

Paul specifically states that we are to present our “bodies” as living and holy sacrifices. The Christian should have already given their souls to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Here Paul adds that the physical aspect and all that is housed in it, our minds, emotions, and will, are also to be given to God.

Bodies – We are not our own.  The physical body of the Christian is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  We have been bought with the price of the precious blood of Jesus Christ and are to glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

This is true, yet how do we as Christians cater to every whim of our physical bodies in order to please its every appetite?  We seek to make it as comfortable as possible and are unwilling to risk its comfort, care, and health in serving Christ.  Is this not a real reason that many people will not consider overseas missions as a career or even a short term trip.  Your body will not be comfortable in the hot climate.  There are dangerous creatures there.  You may not get the food you like, or even worse, you might go hungry.  You could catch a disease and get sick.  The people may not like the Gospel message and might physically harm you.  Even setting aside the idea of physically going yourself as a missionary either short or long term, many foreign national missionaries can live on what the average American will spend on just the excessive junk food we eat.  Add in the cost of pampering ourselves with all sorts of luxury items and then cooling the house at 68 in the Summer and heating it to 78 in the Winter.

Paul understood all the dangers to his physical body that being a living sacrifice would entail.  In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 he details some of these including the physical dangers from his traveling, being cold, being hot, being shipwrecked, being hungry, being thirsty, having sleepless nights, being imprisoned, being beaten, flogged and stoned.  Yet, in Philippians 4:11-12 Paul says he learned to secret of being content in all of those circumstances.  He could do all things through Christ who strengthened him.

What physical comforts are you willing to sacrifice in serving Christ?  Are you presenting your physical body as a living and holy sacrifice to God?

Mind – Paul states in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God is, that which is acceptable and perfect.”  We will talk about this verse in tomorrow’s blog, but understand that the Christian is to sacrifice their mind.  We are not free to think about whatever we want.  We are to follow God’s direction in our thinking.  We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), and put our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2).  In Philippians 4:8 Paul’s says to think specifically on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, worthy, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy.

What do you fill your mind with?  One of the greatest frustrations I have as a pastor is this area.  I get 45 minutes a week to teach you the Scriptures.  Some of you are in Bible Study, so add another 45 minutes.  A few of you are involved in other Bible Study of some sort, so add another 1 hour or so.  Add in even the song and fellowship time and the average church pew sitter will have between 1 to 4 hours of spiritual input per week.  But compare that to the number of hours per week you are on-line, watching television, listening to the radio, and filling the mind with the counsel of the ungodly.  Some of you may say, well, we watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Radio.  That could be good, but are you discerning what you are listening to?  There are plenty of false teachers on the airwaves, and if you are listening to them, you are feeding on poison.  Then there is reading input.  Which do you spend more time with, your current book, newspaper, and magazines, or your Bible?

Being a living and holy sacrifice includes a presentation of your mind to God for Him to fill it with knowledge of Himself and His will.  In practical terms, this means a sacrifice of your time to pursue that knowledge as well as a mental effort to comprehend it.  Are you presenting your mind as a living and holy sacrifice to God?

Emotion – We have less direct control over our emotions because they are generally reactions to the circumstances we are in and our beliefs about them.  However, regardless of our feelings, we do have direct control over the actions we will take.  We may get angry, but we are not to sin in our anger or even let the sun go down on it (Ephesians 4:26).  We have a responsibility to control ourselves and deal with the things that make us angry instead of letting them fester into bitterness.

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), and that includes our emotions.  Being a living sacrifice includes letting God direct us instead of our emotions.  As we step forward to do God’s will, we let our emotions follow instead of lead.

Hebrews 13:15-16 tells us, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.  And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  We are to give the sacrifice of praise to God.  

  • In order to praise Him you must give up complaining and accusing Him of not being fair.  
  • In order to praise God you must understand things from His perspective and give up your personal view.  
  • In order to praise Him you must put forth the effort to “count your many blessings” and then lift up your voice to Him.
  • In order to praise God you cannot feel sorry for yourself, or hold grudges, or work to see your own will be done.

You must submit to God and seek His will to be done.  That is the final aspect of our sacrifice.

Will – The hallmark of the being a living and holy sacrifice really comes down to doing God’s will instead of your own.  King Saul found this out when the Prophet Samuel rebuked him in I Samuel 15:22-23 and said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and in subordination is as iniquity and idolatry.”  Saul lost the kingdom because of it.  David said it best in Psalm 51:16-17, “For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; thou art not pleased with burnt offerings.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” 

Being a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God is a matter of the heart attitude that submits to do God’s will.  Such a heart is broken over its own sin and longs to please God resulting in praise to God and service for Him.  As living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God, we set aside the desires of the flesh, the longing of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life, which are the things of this world that is passing away (1 John 2:15-16) and then serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ.

Who Judges It.  It is important to keep in mind that it is God that judges whether we are or are not a living and holy sacrifice.  For example, in Genesis 4:3-5 we are told that Cain and Abel both made sacrifices to God.  The Bible says Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions, and the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering.”  Likewise, Cain brought an offering, but it was from what he grew in his garden.  The Lord did not have regard for Cain’s offering.  We are not told why, and though we could speculate on the reason, the point here is simply that God is the sole judge of what is acceptable to Him.  Cain was wrong to be angry and even though God specifically warned him about it, Cain still acted in his anger and murdered Abel.

There is no benefit in sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake.  It must be what is acceptable to God, which means it must be according to His will, and it must be given to Him as He says.  Sacrifices that are made that are not in keeping with God’s will are worthless, and they could even bring God’s wrath if they are contrary to His will.  For example, many religious systems have dietary restrictions as part of the sacrifice that is made in the worship of God.  These are not fasts, which Scripture does commend, but the advocation of abstaining from certain foods as a means of worshiping God or attaining something spiritually.  Yet, 1 Timothy 4:1-4 is specific in saying that such dietary restrictions are the “doctrine of demons.”  Such a “sacrifice” does not please God.  Quite the contrary.

Reasonable Service.

Paul concludes this verse saying that presenting your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, is “your reasonable service.”  We will deal with this more in depth in tomorrow’s blog, but let me just quickly summarize the meaning of this by pointing out that from the Greek words being translated here we get our words “logical” and “liturgy.” Offering yourself as a living and holy sacrifice to God is the logical or reasonable service of worship in response to the mercies God has shown us.  It would be unreasonable to respond in any other manner.

Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:24-27).  Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Are you offering yourself as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God?  Are you denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus Christ?  Are you giving up what you cannot keep to gain what you cannot lose?  Or is the opposite.  For it is the fool that refuses to give up what he cannot keep in trying to gain what he cannot have.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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