If someone looked at your life based on how you spent your time, what would they determine is the most important part of your life?
Would they be right?
For me, I’m quick to tell you that my relationship with God is the most important part of my life. But if you were to tally up the minutes I spend at work and at home, that’s not the picture you’d get. After a busy season of life, I’ve realized my time with God has become marginalized—that is, literally pushed into the margins of the page. I give God the leftover time I have in the morning as well as the few fading minutes of the evening.
Does that sound much like a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe? I don’t think so.
I know I want to change. I’ve found the closest thing to a game-plan in the first two verses of Romans.
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.
1. Get on the altar
God isn’t after a show. He’s not waiting for your best audition into the kingdom of heaven. He wants you exactly as you are, not exactly like you wish you could be. Paul says “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
What happens to a sacrifice? It dies.
Paul is asking us to do so much more than a daily devotional. He’s asking us to do way more than “spend time with God.” Paul is asking us to die to ourselves—to start with a posture of obedience and sacrifice. Once we decide to obey, then we learn what obedience means in Romans 12:2.
2. Be transformed
Transformation is never an instantaneous process. Caterpillars don’t change into butterflies in one night. People don’t lose 100 pounds in a day (or a week, or a month). I shouldn’t expect anything different from my relationship with God.
Yet this transformation is passive. Romans 12:2 says “be transformed….” The decision “do not be conformed” comes when we surrender self to step onto the altar of God. The decision “be transformed” comes when we work out the implications of staying on the altar of obedience.
3. By the renewal of your mind
Transformation is passive, but there’s a way to allow passive transformation to happen, and it comes through “the renewal of your mind.”
There are so many voices in the world, and God wants us tuned to His. Trying to find the will of God without the Word of God is like trying to find your way through pitch black wilderness without a flashlight (see Psalm 119:105). Yet getting directions with no intention of following them isn’t very useful, either. The combination of a heart set on obedience and the Word of God is powerful material for the Holy Spirit.
4. By testing, you may discern what is the will of God
This is the part where a majority of people step off the altar. I don’t like to admit it, but Romans 12:2 basically says that the instructions aren’t going to be clear at first. We have to be okay trying and failing.
I couldn’t ride a bike until I was nine years old. Every time my parents would take off the training wheels, I would become paralyzed. If I didn’t ride this bike perfectly, I was going to fall off. And that failure meant pain. I needed practice. And even though I knew all the basics, I needed to be okay trying and failing until I got it right.
God redefines failure (I could write an entire post about this). His grace sees us as we are and sees what we can become. Trying for righteousness and failing is not disappointment in God’s eyes.
This is so hard. I get it. It’s hard to step onto the altar knowing you’re going to be consumed. Everything I want is going to die. More aptly, I am going to die. Yet in dying to myself, I find myself more alive than I have have been.
The path to aligning our beliefs with our lives has to start with a commitment to obedience. That decision, when combined with the Word of God, produces transformation sometimes so subtly that we don’t even know it is happening until it has happened. If we are committed to obey God and are filtering our mind through His Word, then we have to try practical obedience, even when it results in failure.
God isn’t looking for a blameless sacrifice. He’s looking for an obedient one.
1 Samuel 15:22
And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.