"God does not ask us to bring in our livestock and burn it on the altar; he asks us to give ourselves, to put ourselves alive on the altar. To be a Christian means to live a life of sacrifice, a life of presentation, making a gift of ourselves to God. Some people think that all it takes to be a Christian is to scribble a cheque or to give a few hours of service here and there on special projects for the church. But that’s not what believers are called to. My life is to be set apart and consecrated to God. That is what is acceptable to him; that is what delights him; that is what pleases him; that is the appropriate response to him and for him." - R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans
If R.C. Sproul is right, and I believe he is, how do we daily die to self? How can we die to self, giving ourselves fully to God?
In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Not only does Paul argue for why we should die to self in these verses, he also tells us how.
1.) We can and should be motivated to die to self and give ourselves fully to God because of the gospel, the mercies of God.
The gospel is about God’s love for us. It is about His desire to bring us into the Trinitarian love relationship. In other words, it is the outworking of His desire for us to experience the eternal love, joy, delight, and satisfaction that He, the Son, and the Spirit have experienced from eternities past.
Consistently reflecting on God’s love for us should motivate us to get to know Him. It should cause us to delight in Him and to love Him. It should create a sense of gratitude in our hearts. Gratitude is important, because as one author puts it, “All Christian living and ethics are ultimately rooted in a deep gratitude for what God has done for us… [so that our] [e]very decision and every action…[is] a response to His mercy.”
In order for us to constantly be reminded of the power and motivation of the gospel, we must preach the gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves of God’s love and actions on our behalf. The gospel, then, is both the power and motivation for us to die to self daily, not just the "ABC's" of the Christian life.
2.) We can die to self and give ourselves fully to God by purposing to no longer be conformed to the world.
In the beginning of verse 2, Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world…” (Rom 12:2a).
Paul's use of "conformed" is meant to paint a picture of a mold for the reader. My son has a Play-Doh set. Not only did it come with several containers of Play-Doh, it also came with several molds that allow you to form or mold the Play-Doh into cool things like alligators, dolphins, monkeys, and dogs. The molds are easy to use. You push the Play-Doh through them and voilà, you have an animal or object that looks like one of the molds.
Just like it’s easy to mold Camden’s Play-Doh into something that resembles one of those shapes, it is easy for the world to mold us into itself. This is something Christians must fight against because the world's values and goals are antithetical to God's.
We must approach this with caution. On the one hand, we are naturally nonconformists who don’t conform for nonconformity's sake. But we can’t just be blanket nonconformists such that: if the world wears lipstick, we don’t. Or, if the "world" goes to the movies, we don’t. Or if they plays sports, we don’t. We can't reject the world outright. We were created to live in the world, to be a part of the world, and to extend God's glory into the world (Gen 1-2). On the other hand, because we are natural conformists, we must be careful not to allow ourselves to conform to the world’s sinful patterns. The point being, we must not run to either extreme. Instead, we must carefully balance between conformity and non-conformity by (1) purposing to no longer be conformed to the world and (2) being transformed by the renewal of our minds so that we know the will of God.
(3) We can die to self and give ourselves fully to God by being transformed by the renewal of minds.
In the middle of verse 2, Paul write, “...but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2b-c).
Paul tells us that our minds must be renewed so that we can test what is the will of God.
While renewal is necessary, we can’t renew our minds apart from God's initial working in our lives. We can't renew our own minds because we are fallen. In our fallen state, we are totally depraved. Our mind has a spirit all its own — a viewpoint, a mindset, a bent that is different than and opposed to God. Until God works in our lives to change us, we will remain incapable of knowing, understanding, and accepting His will. But, by God's grace, He doesn't leave us to wallow in our own sin. He exercises grace by giving us what we don't deserve – renewal. He works in our lives bringing about renewal through the Holy Spirit, who changes us both from the outside-in and the inside-out.
The Spirit's Work from the Outside-In
The Holy Spirit changes us from the outside-in by presenting God’s Word to us, drawing us into prayer, and into relationships with other godly Christians, and leading us to hear the Word preached and to meditate on Christ.
The Spirit's Work from the Inside-Out
The Holy Spirit also changes us from the inside-out by changing our heart. The heart is what the Bible refers to as the seat of the person. It is our will, wants, and desires. The Holy Spirit works in us to change these desires so we will want God and His will for our lives. Without the Holy Spirit working heart change in us first, we won't accept the truth of the gospel no matter how much preaching and teaching we receive.
Have you ever wondered why someone can grow up in a Christian home, attend church every week, meet with godly mentors, and even read the Bible cover to cover, but reject God as soon as they move off to college? It’s because an external change occurred without heart change. Unless our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit to accept the things of God, we can hear all the preaching in the world, meet with the godliest people, and read God’s Word cover to cover, but we won’t accept God’s truth, nor will we apply it to our lives. That is why it is so crucial we experience change both from the outside-in and inside-out.
Our Part in the Renewal Process
While I have argued thus far that the Holy Spirit is the primary agent for change, we can't forget that we play a part in the renewal process. We must work alongside the Holy Spirit, which we do by:
- Reading God’s Word
- Attending weekly worship services
- Going to the Lord in prayer
- Meeting with godly Christians
- Memorizing Scripture
- Reading Christian books and commentaries that help us understand and apply God’s Word
While these things won't bring about an initial change in us, they are the means the Spirit uses to expose us to God's will and to change and renew our minds. It is important, then, that we use them in order to see continued renewal in our lives. In doing so, we will be protected from accepting the world's mentality, allowing us to continue to live as living sacrifices who remain on rather than crawl off the altar.