Living Sacrifice: Its NatureRomans 12:1-2Theme: Holiness.This week’s lessons teach us the extent to which we must offer ourselves to God. LessonPaul uses the word “holy” to indicate the nature of the sacrifices we are to offer God. Any sacrifice must be holy. That is, it must be without spot or blemish and be consecrated entirely to God. Anything less is an insult to the great and holy God we serve. But how much more must we be holy who have been purchased “not with perishable things such as silver and gold… but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Peter wrote, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). The author of Hebrews said, “…without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
This is the very heart of what we are talking about when we speak of living sacrifices, of course. Or, to put it in other language, holiness is the end of the matter. Or, to put it in still other language, it is the point to which the entire Epistle to the Romans has been heading. Romans is about salvation. But as someone wise has noted, salvation does not mean that Jesus died to save us in our sins but to save us from them.
Handley C.G. Moule expressed this well: “As we actually approach the rules of holiness now before us, let us once more recollect what we have seen all along in the Epistle, that holiness is the aim and issue of the entire Gospel. It is indeed an ‘evidence of life,’ infinitely weighty in the enquiry whether a man knows God indeed and is on the way to his heaven. But it is much more; it is the expression of life; it is the form and action in which life is intended to come out…. We who believe are ‘chosen’ and ‘ordained’ to ‘bring forth fruit’ (John 15:16), fruit much and lasting.”1
Is there any subject that is more generally neglected among evangelicals in America in our day than holiness? I do not think so. Yet there was a time when holiness was a serious pursuit of anyone who called himself a Christian, and how one lived and what one was inside a person was important.
England’s J.I. Packer has written a book called Rediscovering Holiness in which he calls attention to this fact. “The Puritans insisted that all life and relationships must become ‘holiness to the Lord.’ John Wesley told the world that God had raised up methodism ‘to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.’ Phoebe Palmer, Handley Moule, Andrew Murray, Jessie Penn-Lewis, F.B. Meyer, Oswald Chambers, Horatius Bonar, Amy Carmichael, and L.B. Maxwell are only a few of the leading figures in the ‘holiness revival’ that touched all evangelical Christendom between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries.”2
But today? Today holiness is largely forgotten as being important for Christians. So we do not try to be holy. We hardly know what that means. And we do not look for holiness in others. The great parish minister and revival preacher Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” But what pulpit committees look for holiness in a new pastor today? Hardly any. They look for a winsome personality, a skilled communicator, a good administrator, and other such secular things.
As for ourselves, we do not seek out books or tapes on holiness or attend seminars designed to draw us closer to God. We want seminars on “How to Be Happy,” “How to Raise our Children,” “How to Have a Good Sex Life,” “How to Succeed in Business,” and so on.
Fortunately, this lack has begun to be noticed by some evangelical leaders who are disturbed by it and have begun to address the subject. I commend Packer’s book, as well as a book written a few years ago by Jerry Bridges called The Pursuit of Holiness. There is also the older classic by the English bishop John Charles Ryle by the same title.3
We will be pursuing the matter of holiness repeatedly as we make our way through each of the important ideas in Romans 12:1-2.
1 Handley C.G. Moule, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1896), pp. 324-325.2 J.I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness, (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Publications, 1992), pp.12-13.3 Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1978) and J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties and Roots (Cambridge: James Clark, 1959). Lately a number of important books have approached holiness from the side of the spiritual disciplines: R. Kent Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Man (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1991); Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988); and Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1991).
What is a holy sacrifice?
According to 1 Peter 1:15-16 and Hebrews 12:14, why should we be holy?
Why is our holiness important to God?
How is holiness an evidence of your new life in Christ?