Please open your Bible to Romans 12. On July 6, 1924, the Olympic stadium in Paris was packed. People had come from all over the world to witness sixteen days of glory. Much like today, the centerpiece of the Olympic games was the 100. And on that 90-degree day, the crowds gathered to see the crowning of the world’s fastest man. The Scotsman, Eric Liddell, was the favorite–however Liddell wasn’t suited up. He wasn’t warming up, he wasn’t on the track, he wasn’t even in the stadium. He was down the street at the Scots Church of Paris–preaching.
You see, Eric Liddell was a devout Christian, and his personal convictions did not allow him to run on Sunday. And so he willingly forfeited his spot in the 100. Contrary to the story line laid out in the movie Chariots of Fire, this was no surprise. The schedule for the 100 was published long before the Olympics and Liddell had opted out, deciding to run the 400 instead. Now the 400 is a very different race, known as the dreaded long sprint that nobody wants to run. Unlike the 100, there is a sustained maximum effort that goes beyond the energy reserves of the short distance sprint.
Liddell was not world class in the 400–in fact his times were marginal. Yet he still managed to make it to the finals. The 400 is one lap around the track and each man must stay in his lane. Because of the turns in the track, the starting positions are staggered. The person in the outside lane is disadvantaged, starting the farthest forward and is unable to see his competitors until he comes around the final turn, three-quarters of the way through the race. Liddell drew the dreaded outside lane eight. Add to this that the man in lane seven, an American had broken the world record earlier in the day in the semi-finals.
For an hour before the finals, Scottish bagpipers just outside the stadium laid on their pipes, filling the air with the sounds of Scotland to support Liddell. And as he was walking to the starting blocks, one of his teammates handed him a note that had 1 Samuel 2:30 written on it, “Those who honor me I will honor.”
The gun went off–and unable to see his rivals, he was left with little option but simply to peg it as fast as he could for as long as he could. In describing his form, one newspaper wrote, “He is remembered as probably the ugliest runner who ever won an Olympic championship. When he appeared at Paris in 1924, his huge sprawling stride, his head thrown back and his arms clawing the air, moved the Americans and other sophisticated experts to laughter.” When asked about his strategy, Liddell said, “I run the first 200 as hard as I can. Then for the second 200, with God’s help, I run harder.”
At the halfway point, he was three yards ahead of his nearest competitor. The American in lane seven later recalled, “I couldn’t believe a man could set such a pace and finish.” But Liddell pushed himself like a man possessed. He didn’t weaken. The other runners strained every muscle, but could not narrow the lead on the Scotsman. With head thrown back and chin thrust out in his usual style, he broke the tape, finishing six yards ahead of the rest of the field and breaking the world record. His story is captured in the book, For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton.
Throughout the New Testament, the authors describe the Christian life with different metaphors. In Hebrews 12 they are runners in a race, Ephesians 6 pictures soldiers putting on armor to fight a battle. In 1 Corinthians 9 they are boxers in a ring, in 2 Timothy 2 they are farmers in the field, in 1 Peter 2 they are slaves of Christ, and so on. In the passage before us this morning, Romans 12:1, Christians are pictured as living sacrifices. Open your Bibles to Romans 12.
To compete as an Olympic athlete requires total sacrifice. These athletes train their entire lives, with a singular focus and a singular goal. Christians are much the same. They live their lives, all that they are, with a singular focus and a singular goal. That goal is to give all that they are to God as an act of worship.
Webster defines worship as the expression of adoration for something. John Piper takes it one step further to say it is treasuring God above all things. Eric Liddell said worship is complete surrender. What do you treasure most? In the movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, theologian Jack Sparrow said, “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.” He had a compass that points toward what your heart wants most. What does your heart want most? Career? Family? Money? Sports? Relationship? Comfort? Social standing? Your appearance, sexual satisfaction, health? Every one of us worships God–but some of our gods have little g’s.
This morning, in Romans 12:1, we will find that there is only one object worthy of your worship and it is Jesus Christ. He alone is to be adored. He alone is to be treasured above all things. To sum up this verse and our message in one phrase, “Worship is complete surrender.” Look at Romans 12:1, “Therefore I urge you, 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.” I would like to draw four characteristics of worship from this verse to show you that worship is complete surrender.
1. Worship involves all that you are
Let’s start by looking at the phrase, “present your bodies”–this is a reference to your physical body, but has the idea of putting your whole self, all that you are, on the altar. The imagery points back to the Old Testament sacrificial system, where an animal was taken into the Temple, placed on the altar, and offered to God. The whole animal in its entirety was presented before the Lord.
As a Christian, your offering to God is not an animal sacrifice or paying indulgences, or some other form of religious effort–it is to give your entire self to Him. All that you are–your physical body, your mind, and your will are placed at His feet. We lay every lustful thought, every rebel desire, and all sinful cravings on the altar.
“And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:13). Why? Because your body is His temple. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
He dwells in you and your body is to be given to the worship of God and not to satisfying its own desires. The Temple existed for the worship of God and now your body exists for the worship of God. He did not give your body to you to use for your own sinful pleasures. You have been given arms, legs, hands, feet, to worship Him. How are you using your body right now? Would you say you are using it to worship God or to worship something else?
Let’s talk about your eyes–they are amazing, aren’t they? Each eye has over 2 million working parts and can distinguish 10 million different colors. If your eye were a digital camera, it would have 576 megapixels, just a few more than the iPhone 14 which has 48. Are you worshipping God with your eyes? Or are you like those in in 2 Peter 2:14, “Having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin.” What about your visual entertainment—what you watch on TV and in movies? Do you look at things that demonstrate you are a worshiper of God or a worshiper of sex?
Let’s talk about your hands–what websites or social media outlets do they take you to? What or who do they touch that they are not supposed to? Do they pick clothes that are not appropriate? Clothes that are concealing instead of revealing? What about your ears? What do they listen to? Is it music with explicit lyrics? Is it conversation with others that is raunchy? What about your mouth? What comes out of your mouth–words that encourage and build up or words that tear down? Words that are appropriate for the need of the moment or words of gossip and slander? Four-letter words, the Lord’s name in vain? The point is simple–God gave you a body not to enjoy sin, but to glorify Him, to worship Him.
The reason to say no to porn, no to eating too much, no to excessive drinking, no to dressing immodestly is to glorify God with your body. This echoes Paul’s heart in Philippians 1:20, “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body.” Worship involves all that you are because it is complete surrender.
2. Worship is costly
Look at the phrase in Romans 12:1, “present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Again, the sacrificial system is in view. I want to give you the picture. The head of household would select an animal from his flock. He would travel to Jerusalem. He would come to the Temple, the place where God’s presence dwelt. He would enter the outer court and he would get in line. While waiting, he would be confronted with the reality that the animal was a substitute for him–a life for a life. He would come to the priest who would take the man’s hand and put it on the animal, and then run a knife across its neck so that its blood poured out.
Priests were butchers who killed thousands of animals–so much so that on certain high days in Israel, there were rivers of blood running out of the Temple. The picture, don’t miss it, was that in the death of the animal, the sin of that man and his family was being symbolically transferred to that animal, and it was then killed. A substitution was made. It was a picture of the greater sacrifice to come.
But Romans 12 is different. He is not asking for a dead animal. He is asking for you—alive, not dead. He wants all that you are as a sacrifice. What does the text say? You are a living sacrifice. It is an active process in each and every waking moment of your day. In every thought and in every word and in every action that He would be lifted high–that all of your life, at all times, would be lifted to Him as a pleasing aroma.
Worship is not just singing songs on Sunday morning or going to Community Group. It is not just carrying a study Bible around, or saying, “Have a blessed day,” as you walk out of church. Worship is a lifestyle. It is to live in a way that magnifies God in all things. It is the outward expression of a heart that is on fire for Jesus Christ. To live each and every day with Christ as first place in everything. To give Him your body, to give Him your mind, to submit all that you are to Him.
During World War II, in the Pacific theatre, the Allied forces and mostly American marines sought to take control of a small island called Iwo Jima from the Japanese. It was a strategic plot of land that would allow the Allies to directly attack Japan. The Japanese were in a heavily fortified position. They had dug out a complex series of tunnels and caves through which they could quickly move their forces, store their supplies, and attack unseen. The island was shelled for days before the initial attack. But even still, during their initial landing, the American forces were cut down by a staunchly devoted and entrenched enemy who would choose death over surrender.
Over the next 30 days, American forces would advance—slowly, painfully, suffering great loss. On some days, they would move forward only one or two feet. It was one of the hardest fought and bloodiest battles in World War II. The soldiers were 18 to 21-year-olds who, day after day, laid their lives down. Stepping into harm’s way again and again, they sacrificed themselves, not just once, but over and over, making decisions to stay in the battle, to keep fighting, to continue on their mission. Eventually, they prevailed and took the island, but at great personal cost.
It is a worthwhile comparison of being a living sacrifice. It is active. It is constant. It is costly. It is a daily, even moment by moment decision to deny our flesh, to die to self, to put all that you are on the altar and to live that day, that moment for the glory of God. Worship is complete surrender–when God gets all of you at all times. When the passing pleasures of this world are denied and inch by inch, foot by foot, we move forward, fighting against our flesh.
We struggle with giving Him everything, don’t we? We are okay with Sunday mornings, but making Him Lord of every area is difficult. The old saying is true–He is Lord of all or not Lord at all. Is He Lord of your thought life? Is He Lord over your lusts? Is He Lord over your fantasies, over your relationships? Over your anxieties? Over your insecurities? Is He Lord over your emotions? Is He Lord of your present, over your future? Over the small decisions and the big ones? Over your trials? Over your physical pains? Over your broken heart? Over your failures and regrets?
He owns your whole life–your home life, your friendships, your schooling, your career, your relationships. There is nothing held back–He gets it all. Every facet of your life, from the time the alarm sounds in the morning till you lay your weary head down at night. Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Worship is complete surrender. So, worship involves all that you are. Worship is costly.
3. Worship is giving God your best
Let’s look back at Romans 12:1, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” The word “holy” is to be set apart or morally clean. In the Old Testament, the requirement was an animal without blemish. God didn’t want a lame, weak, sick, dying animal. He required them to bring their best. And we too are not to come to God with our leftovers–we are not to come to God unprepared. We are not to come to a holy God in an unholy way.
“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4). We are to come to God with a life that honors Him. We cannot live for this world all week long and then show up ready to worship on Sunday morning. We cannot be entertained by things for which Christ died and then be ready to share our faith when the movie is over.
Many years ago, I went with three of my surgeon clients to New York as part of an educational trip. It was middle of the summer and the temperatures in Manhattan were 100+ and the humidity was crushing. We were sightseeing around the city and agreed to go see a movie so we could get out of the heat. The movie we bought tickets for was a rated R movie that was filled with raunchy humor and excessive skin. Instead of saying, “No,” I bought a ticket. Instead of walking out when the movie took a turn for the worse, I sat there. Instead of closing my eyes, I watched the entire movie, eyes open.
Then at dinner, just a few hours later, it happened–the opportunity I had been seeking and praying about for years happened. “Shawn, you are a Christian, right? What does that mean?” It was a fastball right down the middle. I proceeded to share the Gospel with them by telling my testimony. “In 8th grade, I heard a man preach about the holiness of God, that He is different from us, morally perfect, and no sinner can stand in His presence. Sinners are separated from God because of their sin. But Jesus, God’s Son never sinned, He perfectly kept the Law of God.
“And then He offered His own life on the cross, dying to satisfy the wrath of God. He gave His life for mine. He paid for my sins on the cross, the innocent for the guilty, He took my punishment. So when a holy God looks at me, He sees only the righteous perfection of His Son. He cleansed my guilty conscience, wiped away all my sin, and forgave me. And now, as a Christian I live for Him. I seek to be holy as He is holy. I have sacrificed all for Christ, I deny the desires of my flesh, and I live for a different Master.”
But it felt so entirely hollow, so empty of any real power–because my life did not match the message. I had not been a holy sacrifice. I had filled my eyes and my mind with filth and had not even repented yet. There was no holiness in me. I could only think of the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:7, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me.’”
I felt like Peter who denied Christ three times. Luke 22 says he went out and wept bitterly. Maybe you have felt this too. You succumbed to your lust and looked at porn this week. You lost your temper with your kids or fought with your spouse. You failed to trust God through your trial. Oh, my friend, you are not alone. We have all fallen short. Even now, even today. But we are not under Law, we are under grace.
And God accepts us, not because of how good we are, but because of how good Jesus is. He doesn’t see your sinful life. That was placed on Christ, all your sins–and there at Calvary He paid the price once and for all. Instead, the Father sees in you only the perfection of His Son, and in full acceptance He says, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” And so even on our very lowest days, God’s grace and His forgiveness cover all our sins. Corrie ten Boom said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
Do you remember the story in John 2, when Jesus cleansed the Temple? The leaders had corrupted the worship of God and turned it into a for-profit business. Jesus was furious, and in a state of righteous anger made a whip, flipped over the tables, drove the animals out and cleansed the house of God. His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me” (John 2:17).
If He felt that way regarding a Temple made of wood and stone, how much more does He care about the holiness of those who are His living temple? He will not stand by. He will not stop working on us, purifying us, disciplining us until Christ is formed in us. So what is it for you? What area of holiness are you lacking in right now? That impure relationship needs to end–today. For God is holy. The device that is dragging your soul to Hell needs to be removed–for God is holy. That foul music that is on repeat needs to be deleted from your favorites–for God is holy. Those revealing outfits need to be thrown out–for God is holy. Those friendships that are pulling you away from God need to be eliminated–for God is holy. Invite the Holy Spirit to cleanse His temple, to forgive, to restore you, and to make you new.
My friends, we will never be perfect. And on this side of Heaven, we will never worship God perfectly, but it is the desire of our heart to bring to Him a sacrifice that is holy, that is set apart, and that is worthy. And when we fail, we come to our great High Priest and confess our sin and He is faithful and righteous to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. It is our goal, according to Romans 12:1, to be “acceptable to God” or to be well pleasing to Him. To come to Him as the One who is worthy and lay down our lives, and give our very best.
Second Corinthians 5:9, “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” And so we seek to battle our sin and to give ourselves, all of ourselves, as living and holy sacrifices. Worship is complete surrender. And this brings up a really important question. Why? Why this type of selfless sacrifice, why give all that we are to Him? And that takes us to our final point . . .
4. Worship is motivated by mercy
Look back at Romans 12:1 and let me read the whole verse. “Therefore I urge you, 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.” Why do you lay your body on the altar as a living sacrifice? Why do you give Him everything? Why do you set yourself apart to worship Him? Because, verse 1, of “the mercies of God.” Paul is urging his readers, he is entreating them and exhorting them as brothers and sisters. He has spent eleven chapters in Romans describing the mercies of God in great detail.
In 1:16, the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes.” In chapter 2:4, it is “the kindness of God that leads you to repentance.” In chapter 3:23 and 24, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” In chapter 4, we are saved not by our own efforts which fall short, but through faith in Christ.
In chapter 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In chapter 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In chapter 7:24 to 25, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In chapter 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But instead we are adopted as sons and daughters, given all we need, promised victory, told that all things will work to together for our good, and we are sealed in the great love of Christ. Verses 38 to 39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In chapters 9, 10 and 11, we are chosen by God according to His wise and sovereign plan and we are no longer destined for wrath, but for eternal life with Christ. And so we come to chapter 12, and we see in verse 1 the word “Therefore”. Therefore . . . having seen all that God has done for you, His amazing grace, His unstoppable love, His kindness that leads you to repentance–God has opened Heaven and poured out His mercies that we do not deserve, the greatest of which is the giving of His own Son. The greatest sacrifice–Jesus lived and died as the perfect Lamb of God. Not for any wrong He had done, but to pay for our sins, to cover our transgressions. He was laid on the altar as a living sacrifice. It was costly as He gave His entire life–for you and for me.
So why do we worship? What is the motivation? It is because of the mercies of God most clearly seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And so, the worship of Jesus is the response of a grateful heart that cries out, “If He would give all of this for me, then I will give all of this for Him. I willingly give up the things of this world, my ambitions, desires, my hopes, my future–I lay it all on the altar and I give myself wholly to Him, because He gave Himself for me.” It is not obligation or burden. It is not duty, it is delight.
Worship is not me trying to please God by my own efforts–worship is my response to Jesus’ work on my behalf. It is a heart that overflows with thankfulness and praise, that abandons self and with full and complete surrender gives ourselves completely to Him. Paul said, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). This is worship–a life that prizes God above all else. And to live with this type of devotion is the highpoint of every human being.
So as we wrap this up . . .
1. worship is all that you are
2. worship is costly
3. worship is giving your best
4. worship is motivated by mercy
Summed up, worship is complete surrender, but not all are worshippers. Some here have never surrendered their life to Christ. This is where it starts. Giving up all that you are–your treasures, your pursuits, along with your sin and your past, and trading them for the life-giving peace and love that is found in Jesus Christ. Only when you cast down the idol of self, of success, and of sinful pleasure can you find yourself in Christ.
For the rest of us, we have received mercy and so we worship. We come to Him in gratitude and lift our hearts to Him in adoration and we once again commit our hearts, our bodies, our very lives to Him. We confess when we fall short. We come back to the cross. We ask for forgiveness when we fail, and in that failing we choose to worship out of our brokenness and He makes us whole.
Just one year after the 1924 Olympics, Eric Liddell hung up his spikes and headed to China as a missionary. When asked if he regretted leaving the fame and glory of athletics behind, he responded, “It’s natural to think over all that sometimes, but I’m glad I’m at the work I’m engaged in now. A fellow’s life counts for far more at this than the other.”
In 1941, as World War II cranked into full gear, the Japanese invaded China. Out of precaution, he sent his pregnant wife and daughters home. Then alongside his brother who was a doctor, he stayed at a rural village where food, supplies, and medicine were in short supply. Before long, he was imprisoned in a Japanese concentration camp. Deprived of his freedom and without any creature comforts, he would never see his family again. But there in that concentration camp, he poured himself out as a living sacrifice, loving others, serving them, often forfeiting his own basic necessities to help those around him. He gave all of himself to the Lord, tirelessly working for the good of others.
Over the course of months, his health deteriorated. He tired easily, his headaches grew continually worse, he became confused and was unable to remember the people around him. It turns out that he had an inoperable brain tumor. He gave his life for the people of China, pouring himself out until his very last breath. Just five months before the end of the war as he lay dying, he spoke his final words, “It’s complete surrender,” and with that he went home to be with the Lord. What a story. May we pour out our lives in the same way. Let’s pray.