The opening verses of Romans 12 call us to offer our bodies to be spiritual sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Such a sacrifice is obviously not to be made in a void but within the context of the Christian community. We confess that those who are saved by the grace of God are to join themselves to a true church (Belgic Confession, article 28), and it is within this community that Christian life is to mature.
As part of the body of Christ, the believer can be encouraged to develop the gifts God has given him as he comes to know the will of God for his life.
Pride and Humility
One of the things God continually points out in the Old Testament is that the nation he had set apart as his was not called because of its strength or numbers (Deut. 7:7). God took Abraham, as good as dead, and made his descendants into a great nation. When they first conquered Canaan, they lived in houses they did not build, harvested crops they had not planted, and gathered grapes from vineyards they did not plant. Even though the Israelites were given everything they had as a gift from God, they became a proud nation—so proud that they believed they deserved the favor of God and his gifts.
All too often those who grow up in the church develop the same attitude as the Israelites. They become comfortable with theirsurroundings. They grow accustomed to the worship style, familiar with the sacraments, and antagonistic toward fellow believers. They no longer see Sunday services as a means to bring praise and worship to God but a place where they go to be entertained. Churches are filled with Christians who take pride in the millions of dollars spent on their building, their own activities in the church, and the accent of their minister. They know all the proper terminology and doctrines but remain convinced that they are saved by being part of the church rather than by the grace of God. Even though they are given everything through grace alone, they have become proud. By acting this way, Christians conform to the world’s view of success. Instead of rejoicing in one another’s gifts, they become competitive toward one another. Ministers compare their gifts with other ministers (and so do members who have roast preacher for dinner). Musicians compare themselves with one another, making sure they have the most appearances at the organ. Churches compare everything from growth rate, converts, and baptisms to budgets, building projects, and mission trips. We boast in our accomplishments rather than acknowledging that every good and perfect gift comes from God. By taking pride in our personal efforts and achievements, we cast ourselves into the bondage from which Christ has freed us.
Knowing the tendencies of the old nature, Paul repeats the advice he gave to the churches in Corinth (1 Cor. 3:1–7) and Galatia (Gal. 6:3) and tells the church in Rome that no member of the church should overestimate himself. When we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge that all that we have received is from God alone. Pride becomes a foreign element within the true Christian. Rather, there must be a growing in grace that manifests itself in turning away from worldly pride and focusing upon how great the love of God is.
The transformation wrought in us by the Holy Spirit enables us to discern God’s will for our lives and leads to proper humility. We must understand that what we are—God’s elect—comes not from our own deserving or accomplishments but is always a gift of God’s grace. Because it is always and only a gift of grace, we should not even so much as dare to take credit for any aspect of our salvation. Always we are to give praise to the Giver of the gift.
Each time we enter into the sanctuary for worship, we should realize that only because the veil was rent in two through Christ’s sacrifice may we come into the Holy of Holies and be in the presence of God. As we partake of the sacraments, we should be moved to tears that as real as the elements are before us, so real and sure we can be that our sins have been removed from us by the precious blood of our Savior.
The Body of Christ
The New Testament does not view Christians as loners who worship God while they go fishing on the lake rather than gathering together in church. While it is becoming more popular today, the idea that a person can belong to Jesus Christ without being a member of the church runs completely contrary to the New Testament. We are not separate individuals who come together to form the body of Christ on the Lord’s Day and then return to our little part of the world afterward. Every believer is part of a greater unit in which all the elect are part of one body—the body of Christ.
In one respect we are a large group of individuals, but in another respect we are one. Just as the body has a variety of members yet remains one unit, so also the church. Believers are one body—one living, organic, whole entity. We do not come together by means of any external organization, but we are in union in Christ. We are one because we are all one with him. Being grafted into Christ, we derive our life from him. No one can exist in the church outside of Christ, the head of his church.
Such a union is not merely external, based upon our profession or like-mindedness, nor is it based upon sentimental values or opinions. Rather, it is a vital union that arises from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, the union of believers is far more intimate than that of any other group of people or organization. There are no flow charts or diagrams; rather, the church is a body.
Each believer must know that he is only one member of Christ’s body among many. As a member of Christ’s body, we must recognize our own place and calling. We are not to use the gifts and talents that God has given us for our own self-gratification or for the praise of men. They are to be used to bring honor and glory to God and for the building up and well-being of the church.
Not only are we to use our gifts for the glory of God, but we must also encourage others to use their diverse talents to bring praise to the One who has delivered us out of our bondage to sin. While our gifts may differ according to the grace given us, each member and each gift is given by God and is intended by God for his use in his church.
Rather than becoming self-impressed, we are to use our talents with diligence, consecration, and love for God and fellow believers. Never are we to overestimate our own place in the church, nor should we underestimate that of our fellow members.
All members are called to their own tasks, and we are to gratefully and humbly accept their service even as they benefit from ours.
Since none of the gifts we receive are inherent within us but come to us by God’s grace, we are pledged to use them for the welfare and salvation of others. Some are called to prophesy, bringing God’s glorious message of salvation to his people. Some are called to serve in a practical manner by supplying the needs of God’s people. Some are called to teach and bring instruction to members of the body, both young and old, so that they have a better understanding of God and his Word. Some are called to encourage, as they apply that teaching and lead others to use their gifts more fully. Some are called to contribute to the needs of others, as God has blessed them with good business sense and prosperity. Some lead by using the administrative talents God has given them to chair church committees and organize ministries of the church such as daily vacation Bible school, jail ministries, and the like. Some are called to show mercy as they visit the sick, shut-in, the elderly, and widows.
Paul’s list is not meant to exhaust the opportunities available for service in the church. Everyone whom God has called to himself has received heavenly gifts from God. Some may have many, others only a few—but all members have a calling to humbly use that which God has given. No one within the church is called to be idle.
Each member should humbly work to discern how best to use his gifts in the church, concentrating on how to develop those gifts to God’s glory rather than envying or mimicking others. The consecration and transformation that Paul writes about are anything but theoretical. They are practical aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As the Holy Spirit increases our ability to perform in a variety of ways, we are to build up and strengthen the church, which is the body of Christ. We are what God has been pleased to give us for his work in the world as we witness to others and, in the church, as we grow in grace—ever seeking to do his good, pleasing, and perfect will for us.
Rev. Wybren Oord is the co-pastor of Trinity United Reformed Church in Lethbridge, AB, and the editor of The Outlook.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. What will happen to our lives when we are truly transformed to Christ?
2. How does pride differ from self-respect and the love for self that God requires of us?
3. How do we keep from becoming proud?
4. How do we maintain humility?
5. Can we be transformed to Christ without belonging to His body?
6. In what way is being a living sacrifice to God really being a sacrifice to others?
7. What does the comparison of the church to the human body tell us about the nature of the church?
8. How are the gifts given to us best expressed in your church? How can they be improved?
9. How would you deal with a person who claims to have no gifts?