Rev. Looper is the senior pastor of the historic McIlwain Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Fl.
2011 Commencement Trinitas Christian School
May 26, 2011
Graduates, this is a service of commencement. What that means is that, though we are accustomed to viewing graduations as an end, what really is in view is a beginning—the commencement of what God’s inscrutable Providence has ordained for you from before the foundation of the world.
You, your parents—all of us—would like to know what that future is going to be. We cannot. But, by God’s grace, we do indeed know precisely what God has willed for you as you “work out” that Providence. In other words, though we do not know God’s decreed will for your entire future, we do know his revealed will for how you are to live in that future. This is beautifully stated for us in Romans 12:1 and 2:
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)
The strength of Paul’s plea deserves attention: Παρακαλῶ…ὑμᾶς he pleads. Most modern translations render this “I urge…you” and for good reason: Paul is overcome with urgency and passion. It is often said that Romans 8 is the pinnacle of this letter because of Paul’s soaring declaration of God’s love through Jesus Christ for his people—and it is indeed a breathtaking truth:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38, 39; KJV)
I believe, however, that the pivotal point in Romans is this passage that Pastor Brito and I are tonight commending to you, chapter 12. This is the “so what” of everything the apostle said up to this point. These verses and those that follow are what show us that the weighty things he has presented are neither merely academic nor polemic but are vantage point from which you and I as Christians must see what is in reality the only appropriate response to God that we may rightfully consider pursuing. It is here that the apostle stands in reflection—and then falls into worship: “I urge you, therefore, brothers…to present your bodies as…a sacrifice.”
This sacrifice is, he says, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν. You Greek students hear the word λογικὴν and rightly think of our English words, logic or logical. The New King James renders it well, “your reasonable service.” The only reasonable, the only logical thing that can be done, Paul says, is sacrificially to present your bodies—and your minds, as Paul says in verse 2—to the living, holy and pleasing service of our God.
But why a sacrifice? Upon what basis? For Paul, as indeed in the whole of the Scriptures, there is one point of reference from which this reasonable service draws both its meaning and power:
I urge you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…
If you miss this reference point as to why offering yourself as a sacrifice is the only reasonable thing for you as graduates, commencing this next phase of your lives, to do—then what you offer will be at risk of blasphemy and idolatry, because it will ultimately be the work of your own hands, that is, the produce of attempted self-righteousness and not a resting in the finished work of Christ, that is, the fruit that that flows from his righteousness given to you.
It is διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ –through, or according to the mercies of God that we are living, holy and acceptable sacrifices. How fitting that he uses the plural (οἰκτιρμῶν); it is the mercies of God, which are an overflowing fountain flooding the previous 11 chapters of Romans and distilling into in these three words in Romans 12:1: “living, holy, acceptable.”
It is the mercies of God, accomplished by God’s grace in Jesus Christ that have made you—and all who are united to Christ—living, holy and acceptable to God. These three are realities because of Christ’s death and resurrection—so that you may in reality pursue what, as Pastor Brito said, you were created to do: worship God with all your being. You are indeed his creational joy—and by the mercies of God in Christ you are also his redemptive triumph.
By the mercy of God you are living, dead to sin and alive to God because you have been united to Christ in his death, your sin forgiven; and united to Christ in his resurrection, and sin no longer can claim mastery over you. Live, then, as a sacrifice, pouring yourself out with all of your heart, soul mind and strength in praise, service and battle—in all that you do—as those back from the dead in the resurrection power of Christ.
By the mercy of God you are holy, set apart by God creationally, as Pastor Brito has mentioned, and set apart redemptively, because of God’s Spirit who has quickened you, fills you, adopts you as God’s child and propels you. It is by God’s Spirit that you are being transformed by the renewal of your mind, thinking no longer as the living dead in the world think, but with the mind of Christ, as his agents of redemption as a part of the covenant people he has set apart from the world for the world.
By the mercy of God you are acceptable to God—and this, in my mind, is the most amazing reality. As Paul says in Romans 5:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we havepeace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1, 2; ESV)
This, perhaps even above the others, you must believe: Christ has made you an acceptable sacrifice; in him God’s wrath against your sin is satisfied and you stand in grace before him as the object of his full delight and joy! Renew your mind again and again in this truth—he cannot be any more convinced that you rightfully stand before him, because he is the one who has stood you before him—he made you and he redeemed you.
So now, brethren, Trinitas graduates of 2011—I urge you by the mercies of God to pour yourselves out as living, holy, acceptable to God sacrifices into the world he made as the theater of his glory; spend yourself for his glory in your mind, testing all things that you will continue to encounter and that confront you by the Word he has given you.
Revel in the truth that the Spirit of God has promised to renew you by the means of grace that Pastor Brito has mentioned, drinking deeply in worship and communion with him and his people.
And out of this continual renewal give yourself to his praise in your whole body—hands, heart, feet and feelings—so that you declare in the excellence of all that you do that you are both servants of and sacrifices for the One
who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has or ever can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15, 16; ESV).