YOUR FOCUS SHAPES WHO YOU ULTIMATELY BECOME

Imagine living in a society where everyone had a distorted concept of God, and that concept was shaping their lives. A place where ritual did not bring freedom, but rather bondage. A place where fear rather than love was the motive for service to that false understanding, yet that was the kind of place that Abraham lived in nearly four thousand years ago. At the center of the life of the people was the temple complex where the people worshipped the heavenly constellations: the sun, moon, and stars.

I wonder what caused Abraham to finally connect to God. I wonder if questions filled his mind that the life he was seeing daily didn’t quench the longing in his soul, and satisfy the questions in his mind? We do know one thing from the record of Scripture, that there came a day when God revealed Himself to Abraham and his life was radically changed. 

The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. 

Leave your country and your people, ‘God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’[i]

That encounter with God changed the course of Abraham’s life. When we meet God, we cannot remain the same. The writer of Hebrews explained how Abraham responded to God’s call. 

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.[ii]

Abraham’s response to God in obedience is the nature of true worship. Worship is the response of a genuine encounter with God. The great need of the church is to connect to God in genuine worship. Warren Wiersbe in his book Real Worship states:

We are weary of ‘business as usual.’ We need and want a transforming experience from the Lord, the kind of spiritual visitation that will help to heal our broken homes and our split churches; that will strip away our religious veneer and get us back to reality; that will restore true spiritual values and destroy the cheap counterfeits we have been foisting on ourselves and the lost world; that will, most of all, bring such glory to God that the world will sit up and take notice and confess that ‘God is truly among [us].’[iii]

There is only one thing that will change us and that is when we truly worship God. What becomes our focus in life shapes who we ultimately become like. The need for transformation in our society is very evident. But it must start in each of us individually. The result of genuine worship is transformation. The idea of transformation appears three times in the New Testament, and each time reveals the effects of true worship. The change comes from God’s spirit working within us to impact the world around us. It is a process called ‘sanctification, whereby God changes us into His likeness. 

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.[iv]          

The second place where the idea of transformation is communicated in the New Testament is in the story of the transfiguration, where Jesus was changed. The experience revealed His true Divine nature. God is working at transfiguring or changing our lives from what we once were to what we will ultimately become. Worship is the means to that change.

The third place this word is used is in Romans 12:2 where we discover what worship really is and how it brings about that transformation to our lives. So what is true worship? In Romans 12:1-2, we discover four things about the power of worship that changes us.

THE FIRST THING WE DISCOVER IS THE EXPLANATION OF WHY WE WORSHIP GOD

What are the reasons for us to worship God, and what about worship toward God that changes us? What we need to understand is that as human beings we were designed to worship, but often we find people worshiping either what is wrong or worshiping things. Worship is when we give our deepest affections and highest praise to something.

A. We worship God because of who He is.

He is worthy to be worshiped. Many people have a limited view of worship. They see worship as only what we do while we are singing to the Lord. Worship is so much more.

When you consider all the words used for worship in both the Old and New Testaments, and when you put the meanings together, you find that worship involves both attitudes (awe, reverence, respect) and actions (bowing, praising, serving). It is both a subjective [internal and heartfelt] experience and an objective activity [singing, giving, serving others]. Worship is not an unexpressed feeling, nor is it an empty formality. True worship is balanced and involves the mind, the emotions and the will [the total personality]. It must be intelligent; it must reach deep within and be motivated by love; and it must lead to obedient actions that glorify God.[v]

Evelyn Underhill has defined worship as ‘the total adoring response of man to the one Eternal God self-revealed in time.’”[vi]

B. We worship God because of what He has done.

What we do is an expression of who we are. In Romans 12:1-2, we are encouraged to worship God because of what He has done on our behalf as believers. Paul makes an appeal to us to worship God because of His incredible mercies. The ultimate mercy of God comes through Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf when He died on the cross.

The book of Romans is the most systematic presentation of God’s salvation for human beings. We discover God’s motivation in giving His life for us. God’s love is the driving force of why He died for us. When we consider how much God demonstrated His love and mercy toward us, the only adequate response is worship. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.[vii]

This chapter marks the transition that moves from what God has done on our behalf to how we should respond in life toward God and others. Whenever you read the word, it is always pointing us back to what has just been said. So what were some of the mercies that Paul wrote about in the first eleven chapters of the book of Romans that God did on our behalf that should motivate us to surrender our lives for him?  

1. We are made righteous in God’s eyes. 

Through Christ’s substitutionary death we now have a right standing before God allowing us to come into His presence. That is a powerful thing when you consider that no unrighteous person was able to do that. This gift came through faith in Jesus Christ.

But now apart from law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.[viii]

The entire Old Testament revealed the barrier between people and God. The whole sacrificial system with a high priest who entered the presence of God but once a year revealed the problem of access. But now through Jesus we have a new way, a new access, an immediate and continual access to God. We are allowed into His presence. Faith in Christ creates a new, pure heart, as Jesus stated in the Sermon on the Mount, only those who are pure in heart shall see God.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.[ix]

This suggests that there are some who will be excluded from God’s presence. This then warns us that life is not static, but is a battle filled with challenges that we must overcome. The Christian life is one of endurance. 

but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.[x]

There is a battle for our souls as we must continue to trust in Christ day by day growing in our faith life helping us overcome all the challenges to destroy our faith. There are people who will choose to go their own way, overcome by sin and evil, which ultimately leads to eternal separation from God.

Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.[xi] 

Death speaks of separation. The first death is a physical and spiritual separation. The second death is an eternal separation from God. But through God’s mercies revealed in Christ we have been forgiven, cleansed and put into a right relationship with God and declared righteous.

2. What is even more incredible is that we have been justified and now have peace with God.  

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,[xii]

Sin caused a barrier in our relationship to God and has been addressed. Our sins have been taken away by Jesus, our sin bearer. The legal idea here is that our sins have been removed from our account. The idea of justification is ‘just as if we had never sinned.’ We are absolutely forgiven. People may bring up our past, but God chooses not to remember it. He doesn’t hold it against us. The devil taunts us, reminds us, condemns us, but God’s forgiveness is complete.  

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.[xiii] 

3. We have been given a new identity and a power to live a new life.

This life comes through the Holy Spirit who comes to live in us. The Spirit of God that cries out to our Heavenly Father.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you will live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’[xiv]

It is in the power of this relationship that we are changed and are able to live a new life.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.[xv]

The basis or foundation of worship then is the relationship we have with God through faith in the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. It is because of God’s mercy that we can do anything, or as Eugene Peterson translates the following text.

The person who lives in a right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.[xvi]

We don’t save ourselves, but because of God’s gracious gift of new life and forgiveness we are now empowered to live wholeheartedly for God and do what pleases him, which is another way of describing true worship.

THE SECOND THING WE DISCOVER IS THE EXTENT OF TRUE WORSHIP

We have so many misconceptions of worship. Many believe that when we are singing that this is the extent of worship. We may or may not be worshiping? It is not about form but about what is transpiring within our hearts.

A. Here our texts tells us that we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God- this is your true and proper worship.[xvii]

We voluntarily give ourselves to God. Pastor John MacArthur Jr. shares how a woman came to him after he had spoken at a conference and said,

I just can’t seem to live the Christian life the way I should. I’m frustrated. I don’t have spiritual victory or a sense of accomplishment. I struggle with the simplest forms of obedience, and I’m constantly defeated. 

When she was asked what she had tried to do to solve the problems, she had tried everything suggested. As she related: ‘I’ve tried to get everything from Him that I can, but I’m not satisfied. I’m still miserable and want more. To which MacArthur answered her, ‘I think you have just put your finger on the problem. The key to spiritual victory and true happiness is not in trying to get all we can from God but in giving all that we are and have to Him.[xviii] 

God has already given Himself to us, the issue is, have we given ourselves fully to Him? In the Old Testament only the descendants of Aaron were priests. In the New Testament every believer is a priest. A priest is someone who has access to God. Paul is challenging us as priests of the Most High God to offer the ultimate sacrifice: ourselves. In the Old Testament they killed animal sacrifices, here we are to offer up a living sacrifices. We give our lives, which speaks of our time, energy and resources to serve God. Everything we give to God, has already been given to us by Him. 

B. This offering of ourselves is described as true and proper worship.

To withhold ourselves from God is not only unwise it’s unloving. John MacArthur Jr. points out: “There can be no sanctification [becoming more Christlike], no holy living, apart from our bodies.”[xix]

That is why Paul prayed,

May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.[xx]

How many realize that sin is irrational and illogical behavior? It is always destructive to ourselves and others. To give ourselves totally to God in response to His total giving to us is the heart of worship. This is what we ought to do on a daily basis.

THE THIRD THING WE DISCOVER IS THE EVIDENCE OF TRUE WORSHIP

Worship is described here both in a positive and negative way. Paul begins by stating what we ought to avoid.  

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.[xxi]

A. We are not to conform to the ungodly values of our society.

In another translation it talks about not being conformed to the pattern or the schemes of this world. The word world is better translated as age. So we are not to embrace the schemes of this present age. The Bible describes this age as ‘the present evil age’. It’s influenced by demonic forces. There is no question in our minds of the evil that is occurring in our world. Why? Because things like education alone can’t fix it, nor can money fix our problems because it is not an economic issue – it’s a spiritual problem that only God can repair.

Why do we conform then to this present evil age? One of the pressures or fears is that we may not be accepted by others. So we often compromise our views in order to be accepted. However, when a view is contrary to God, we must resist it and live differently, even though we may suffer rejection. We must not be surprised that a culture that has rejected Jesus Christ will also reject us. Jesus prayed that we would not stumble at this very point in his High Priestly prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.[xxii]

Not only is worship expressed by resisting the values in rebellion against God, but worship is something we embrace.

B. We are to become transformed by the renewing of our minds.

The real battle in life is being fought within ourselves. The battlefield for the soul is in our minds. That is why Paul in Philippians encourages us to nurture our minds by what we feed it.

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.[xxiii]

We are encouraged in that same epistle to have the mind of Christ, a humble mind. It is the key to healthy relationships. Pride divides people, humility unifies people. When we esteem others better than ourselves we are going to treat them better.

Here in the surrender of our lives as living sacrifices, we are told that we must not allow non-biblical values to squeeze us into the mold of a culture that does not know God. We must not allow that to be done to us. We must not allow ourselves to become victims of godless values but rather we need to be transformed or changed by the renewing of our minds.

It is in the mind that our new nature and our old humanness are intermixed. It is in the mind that we make choices as to whether we will express our new nature in holiness or allow our fleshly humanness to act in unholiness.[xxiv]

What is the best way to renew our minds? We must engage our minds in God’s word. We must embrace His values, His thoughts. That is why the Psalmist wrote:

          I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.[xxv]

Where did Paul originate these concepts of conformity to this present evil age versus transformation by the renewing of the mind. You say it was the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Absolutely! But these concepts are found earlier in the Scriptures.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers. [Be not conformed to this world]

but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night [Rather be transformed by the renewing of your mind].[xxvi]

Dr. Andrew Newberg, in presenting a series of lectures, as a medical researcher, has taught on the effects that spiritual practices have on the brain.

Several studies have compared those who meditate and pray as part of their spiritual tradition to people who do not meditate or pray.’ [Here are just a few of the interesting findings.]

…Several MRI studies have shown that brains of long-term practitioners are thicker than the brains of non-practitioners. …have more activity in the frontal lobes… also see changes to the central structure of the brain called the thalamus, which controls sensory information, cognition and consciousness. Basically, it is essential for our experience and understanding of reality.[xxvii]

One of fascinating things that happens when people are meditating and praying is that the brain releases dopamine and serotonin which are important chemicals that help transmit information in our brains, helping us have healthier emotional and physical lives.

What are medical researchers discovering? That spiritual practices have a powerful physiological impact on our brains in a powerful and healthy way.

THE FINAL THING WE DISCOVER IS THE EFFECTS OF WORSHIP

Ultimately, worship causes us to fulfil God’s purposes for our lives. We are able to discern and do God’s will. It is only as we do God’s will that we are actually worshiping Him. Worship is not about form or function, as much as it is an attitude of the heart and the action of our lives.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is his good, pleasing and perfect will.[xxviii]

Worship affects the entirety of our lives. Worship is not a few moments on a Sunday morning! It is not just singing a few songs! Worship is the outcome of our encounter with God. It flows out of communion with Him into our relationship with those around us moment by moment. It causes a changed life: a life becoming more and more like the One we worship. We become like God or godly.

It is out of this life separated to God, the holy life that a proper estimate of who we really are develops.

For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.[xxix]

          We develop a life of dependency on God, which is what true humility is.  

Romans 12:3-8 speaks of the gifts of grace that each of us have been given by God, so we are to make a right estimation of who we are. We are what we are by the grace of God.

Only those who are holy and humble can live a healthy life. I’m not just talking about physical health, but emotional, mental, spiritual and relational health. It is all wrapped into one. Paul continues on in this chapter to describe the healthy life as a life of love.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.[xxx]

This is love in operation. How are we living? Are we putting into practice our faith?  

Paul challenges us to worship God! It begins by daily presenting ourselves in our entirety to God as a living sacrifice. We do this by renewing our minds. This in turn is done by spending time with God in His word.

That is why I want to challenge all of us beginning in this New Year to make a decision that will change us for the rest of our lives. How? By becoming a person who daily spends time reading, praying, studying and meditating on God’s word.

How can we know God’s will if we don’t listen to what He has to say? We must then put into practice what God is revealing to us in His word. The result is worship. What we worship, we become like. When we act like God, we become like God. Our focus shapes what we ultimately become like.

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[i]     Acts 7:2b-3, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[ii] Hebrews 11:8.

[iii]    Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, (Nashville, Tn: Oliver Nelson, 1986), 14.

[iv]    2 Corinthians 3:18.

[v]     Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, 21.

[vi]    Evelyn Underhill, Worship, (London: Nisbet and Co., Ltd., 1936), 36; as quoted in Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, 21.

[vii]   Romans 12:1.

[viii] Romans 3:21-22a.

[ix]    Matthew 5:8.

[x]     Matthew 24:13.

[xi]    Revelation 21:7-8.

[xii]   Romans 5:1.

[xiii] Psalm 103:12.

[xiv]   Romans 8:15.

[xv]   Romans 6:4.

[xvi]   Galatians 3:10, Message Bible, (Colorado Springs, Co, NavPress, 2002.

[xvii] Romans 12:1.

[xviii] John MacArthur, Romans 9-16, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago, Il: Moody Press, 1994), 137-138.

[xix]   Ibid, 138.

[xx]   1 Thessalonians 5:23.

[xxi]   Romans 12:2.

[xxii] John 17:14.

[xxiii] Philippians 4:8.

[xxiv] John MacArthur, Romans 9-16, 149.

[xxv] Palm 119:11.

[xxvi] Psalm 1:1-2.

[xxvii] Andrew Newberg, The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience, Course Guidebook, (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2012), 33.

[xxviii] Romans 12:2.

[xxix] Romans 12:3.

[xxx] Romans 12:9-13.

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