A Living Sacrifice to God (Day 26)

Read Romans 12:1-21
   When sacrificing an animal according to God’s law, a priest would kill the animal, cut it in pieces, and place it on the altar. Sacrifice was important, but even in the Old Testament God made it clear that obedience from the heart was much more important (1 Samuel 15; Psalm 40; Amos 5). God wants us to offer ourselves, not animals, as living sacrifices: daily laying aside our own desires to follow Him, putting all our energy and resources at His disposal and trusting Him to guide us. We do this out of gratitude that our sins have been forgiven. 
   Paul warned Christians: Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world that are usually selfish and often corrupting. Wise Christians decide that much worldly behavior is off-limits for them. Our refusal to conform to this world’s values, however, must go even deeper than just behavior and customs; it must be firmly planted in our mind: Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. It is possible to avoid most worldly customs and still be proud, covetous, selfish, stubborn, and arrogant. Only when the Holy Spirit renews, reeducates, and redirects our mind are we truly transformed. 
   God has good, pleasing, and perfect plans for His children. He wants us to be transformed people with renewed minds, living to honor and obey Him. Because He wants only what is best for us, and because he gave his Son to make our new life possible, we should joyfully give ourselves as living sacrifices for His service. 
   Healthy self-esteem is important because some of us think too little of ourselves; on the other hand, some of us overestimate ourselves. The key to an honest and accurate self-evaluation is knowing the basis of our self-worth: our identity with Christ. Apart from Him, we aren’t capable of very much by eternal standards; in Him, we are valuable and capable of worthy service. Evaluating yourself by the worldly standards of success and achievement can cause you to think too much about your worth in the eyes of others and thus miss your true value in God’s eyes. 
   Paul uses the concept of the human body to teach how Christians should live and work together. Just as the parts of the body function under the direction of the brain, so Christians are to work together under the command and authority of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). 
   God’s gifts differ in nature, power, and effectiveness according to His wisdom and graciousness, not according to our faith. God will give spiritual power necessary and appropriate to carry out each responsibility. We cannot, by our own effort or willpower, drum up more ability and thus be more effective teachers or servants. These are God’s gifts to His church, and He gives faith and power as He wills. Our role is to be faithful and to seek ways to serve others with what Christ has given us. 
   Prophesying in Scripture is not always predicting the future. Often it means preaching God’s message (1 Corinthians 14). 
   Look at this list of gifts in verses 6-8 and imagine the kinds of people who would have each gift. Prophets are often bold and articulate. Servers, those in ministry, are faithful and loyal. Teachers are clear thinkers. Encouragers know how to motivate others. Givers are generous and trusting. Leaders are good organizers and managers. Those who show kindness are caring people who are happy to give their time to others. It would be difficult for one person to embody all these gifts. An assertive prophet would not usually make a good counselor, and a generous giver might fail as a leader. When you identify your own gifts, ask how you can use them to build up God’s family. At the same time, realize that your gifts can’t do the work of the church all alone. Be thankful for people whose gifts are completely different from yours. Let your strengths balance their weaknesses, and be grateful that their abilities make up for your deficiencies. Together you can build Christ’s church. 
   God gives us gifts so we can build His church. To use them effectively, we must 1) realize that all gifts and abilities come from God; 2) understand that not everyone has the same gifts; 3) know who we are and what we do best; 4) dedicate our gifts to God’s service and not to our personal success; 5) be willing to utilize our gifts wholeheartedly, not holding back anything from God’s service. 
   Most of us have learned how to be courteous to others: how to speak kindly, avoid hurting their feelings, and appear to take an interest in them. We may even be skilled in pretending to show compassion when we hear of others’ needs, or to become indignant when we learn of injustice. But God calls us to real and sincere love that goes far beyond being hypocritical and polite. Sincere love requires concentration and effort. It means helping others become better people. It demands our time, money, and personal involvement. No individual has the capacity to express love to a whole community, but the body of Christ in your town does. Look for people who need your love, and look for ways you and your fellow believers can love your community for Christ. 
   We can honor others in one of two ways. One involves ulterior motives. We honor our bosses so they will reward us, our employees so they will work harder, the wealthy so they will contribute to our cause, the powerful so they will use their power for us and not against us. God’s way involves love. As Christians, we honor people because they have been created in God’s image, because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and because they have a unique contribution to make to Christ’s church. Does God’s way of honoring others sound too difficult for your competitive nature? Why not try to outdo one another in showing honor? Put others first. 
   Christian hospitality differs from social entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host: The home must be spotless; the food must be well prepared and abundant; the host must appear relaxed and good natured. Hospitality, by contrast, focuses on the guest’s needs, such as a place to stay, nourishing food, a listening ear, or just acceptance. Hospitality can happen in a messy home. It can happen around a dinner table where the main dish is canned soup. It can even happen while the guest and the host are doing chores together. Don’t hesitate to offer hospitality just because you are too tired, too busy, or not wealthy enough to entertain. 
   In this day of lawsuits and incessant demands for legal rights, Paul’s command in verses 19-21, sounds almost impossible. When someone hurts you deeply, instead of giving him/she deserves, Paul says to befriend him/her. Why does Paul tell us to forgive our enemies? 1) Forgiveness may break a cycle of retaliation and lead to mutual reconciliation. 2) It may make the enemy feel ashamed and change his/her ways. 3) By contrast, repaying evil for evil hurts you just as much as it hurts your enemy. Even if your enemy repents, forgiving him/her will free you of a heavy load of bitterness. 
Forgiveness involves both attitudes and actions. If you find it difficult to feel forgiving toward someone who has hurt you, try responding with kind actions. If appropriate, tell this person that you would like to heal your relationship. Lend a helping hand. Send him/her a gift. Smile at him/her. Many times you will discover that right actions lead to right feelings. 
These verses summarize the core of Christian living. If we love someone the way Christ loves us, we will be willing to forgive. If we have experienced God’s grace, we will want to pass it on to others. And remember, grace is undeserved favor. By giving an enemy a drink, we’re not excusing his/her misdeeds. We’re recognizing him/her, forgiving him/her in spite of his/her sins: just as Christ did for us.