The Pursuit (Romans 12:1-2)

October 2, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, AL. James Jackson, Senior Pastor

Good morning! Please turn to Romans 12.

This week I spent way more time than I should have watching greyhound races. Don’t worry. I wasn’t betting any money. But I had heard a sermon illustration that talked about what happened at a greyhound race one time when the rabbit malfunctioned. And I never want to tell you something in a sermon that isn’t true (unless its something I make up), so of course I had to hunt down the story myself.

Now, if you don’t know anything about greyhound racing, and its okay if you don’t, because we’re baptists, and we aren’t supposed to know anything about greyhound racing), the dogs are trained to chase this mechanical bunny. But the thing is, they are never supposed to catch the bunny. But one day, the mecahnical bunny malfunctioned. Watch what happened:

[show clip]

That was one thing, but as I got sucked in to watching all these YouTube videos about greyhound racing, I saw this one too. I apologize because the quality on this one is so bad, but these two videos together illustrate something that I want to make sure I get across to you this morning. So watch carefully—this one is only about twenty seconds long.

[second clip]

Ok, so in video one, we see what happens when the greyhounds finally caught what they had been chasing after. You see that once they did, it was game over. They didn’t know what to do. They lost all motivation for actually running the race. A couple of them flopped down on the track, others just chased their tails or ran around in circles. Once they caught what they had been pursuing, this racetrack just became a dog park.

Then, in the second video, we saw what happened when the dogs, who had been chasing after something fake, were suddenly confronted with the real thing. They lost interest in pursuing the fake thing. In fact, they left the track and started running in the opposite direction, in pursuit of the genuine article.

Now why am I bringing this up? Its because I think these two images, taken together, illustrate something about what we have been talking about all year long as we have studied the book of Romans.

There’s a lot of people that are like the dogs in second video. They’ve spent a good chunk of their lives chasing after things that won’t satisfy their souls. Whether that’s fame, or possessions, or popularity, or athletic achievement, or sex, or political power—all of those things are like the fake rabbit. And then they encounter the truth of Romans 1:16—that the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, and they’re like—that’s the real thing. I’m gonna chase after that. And in the course of this year, we’ve seen people who have done that same 180 degree turn those greyhounds did. They stopped chasing after those things that have no power to save and started pursuing the real thing—a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But then, there are also some people who have sincerely been chasing after a relationship with Jesus, but they’ve been doing it with works-based religion, or legalistic righteousness, which is really no righteousness at all. Romans 1:17 says that in the gospel there is the righteousness of God for faith—not a righteousness that comes from ourselves. So they’re like those dogs that keep chasing the mechanical rabbit.

When you live your life pursuing religion instead of a relationship, then you are laser focused on running really fast, and trying really hard, and wearing yourself out in the attempt to please God.

And then they are confronted with the grace of God that we see in the book of Romans—that it isn’t our own righteousness that saves us, and it isn’t our righteous deeds that sustain us. Our righteousness is all about what Christ did for us, not on what we do for Him.

So now, its like they’ve caught up to the mechanical rabbit, and they’re like, “Now what?” If its all by grace and not by works, then does it matter how I live my life? Do I stop running? Do I stop striving? Do I stop pursuing?

And that’s where we are at the beginning of Romans 12. We are now in the fourth and final section of Romans. I could give you a pop quiz to see how much you remember, but I will be nice. I’ll have it up on the screen. This is also on the back of your listening guide.

Overall theme of Romans: The Righteousness of God

  1. The Wrath of God (1:1-3:23)
  2. The Grace of God (3:24-8:39)
  3. The Plan of God (9-11)
  4. The Will of God (12-16)

It’s in this last section of Romans that Paul moves from doctrine to practice. Beginning in chapter 12, Paul is going to talk about how we continue to pursue God—not in order to obtain a relationship with God, but because we have a relationship with God. Paul’s laid out 11 chapters of heavy, heavy theology. If you’re a Greek scholar, (which I’m not, but there’s lots of smart people that have pointed this out), you notice that the first 11 chapters of Romans are full of indicative verbs. The indicative mood presents true information. These things are certain. These things happened. I ate pizza for dinner. The wrath of God is poured out. All have sinned. The free gift of God is eternal life. There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Indicative mood. Is what is certain.

But in the last four chapters of Romans, there are lots of imperative verbs. If the indicative mood is about what is certain, the imperative mood is about what is required. We’ll see lots of imperatives in the last four chapters of Romans. Let me give you a road map of where we are going between now and the end of November. No promises, but my goal is for us to finish the book of Romans before Advent begins. This is also on the back of your listening guide:

  • Loving your church with your service (Romans 12:3-8)
  • Loving Your Church with your attitude (12:9-16)
  • Loving Your Enemies (12:17-21)
  • Loving Your Government (No, really!)  (13:1-7)
  • The Law of Love (13:8-14)
  • Loving through our differences (14:1-15:13)
  • PS: I love you (16)

Now, when you look at that road map, you probably notice one word that pops up over and over. And that is no accident. Listen: if there is one big idea I want you to come away from this sermon with, it is this:

Our pursuit of God is motivated by love, marked by love, measured by love, and expressed with love.

So with that in mind, let’s look at Romans 12:1-2. We’re just going to be looking at those two verses, and so I’d like you to stand, if you are physically able. And since it’s only two verses, I’d like us to say them, out loud, together. They’ll be on the screen, or you can read them from your listening guide:

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,[a] by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[b] Do not be conformed to this world,[c] 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.


Paul begins with “I appeal to you therefore.” Therefore is one of those transitional words that help you make the connection between everything Paul’s about to say and everything he’s said up to this point. The cliché they teach you in Sunday school is that whenever you see a therefore, you have to back up and see what it’s… there for. So how far back does he want us to go?

Notice that it’s “I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God.” Another translation says, “in view of God’s mercies.” JB Philips, in his translation, put it this way: With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers…

So, “therefore” Could refer back all the way to the beginning of the book. Chapters 1-3 are all about the wrath of God, and the section ends with that verse we all have memorized—“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

But what’s the next verse? If you’re going to memorize Romans 3:23, you have to memorize Romans 3:24 also:

24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

So Paul says “I appeal to you “by the mercies of God, not the judgments of God.”

This tells you right away that our motivation for everything that is about to come—all the imperatives—is not because we are worried about God’s judgment, but because we are grateful for God’s grace. Our obedience won’t be motivated by fear of God’s punishment, but gratitude for God’s grace.  

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that you have been saved from God’s wrath: that’s one of the mercies of God.

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that God has poured out his grace on you. That there is no condemnation of you. That nothing can separate you from him. All those are the mercies of God.

In view of God’s mercy… With eyes wide open to the fact that God grafted the gentiles into his family tree, without rejecting the Jews completely.

All of these are God’s mercies. And so in view of God’s mercies, what do we do?

  1. Offer our bodies. Not just our minds. It would have been typical Greek and Roman thinking to separate body and mind. Greek philosophy was about dualism:  were convinced that since the flesh was corrupt, it didn’t matter what you did with it anyway. Your entire spiritual life was about your mind. Now, how many of us live with that same kind of dualism today? When we talk about the difference between our “spiritual” lives and our everyday lives, we are buying into the same kind of dualism. And really, there is no division between spiritual and everyday.
  • As a living sacrifice: I’ll say this for Paul. He was an equal opportunity confuser. If the Gentiles were stumped about why God wanted our bodies, the Jews were flummoxed about what a living sacrifice was supposed to be. They had all seen sacrifices being offered at the temple. Sometimes there were birds, sometimes there were bulls, sometimes there were rams, sometimes there were lambs, but they all had one thing in common. They were DEAD. So I’m sure the Jews were going, “how would that even work? If the sacrifice is alive when you offer it, isn’t it going to keep wriggling off the altar?”

To which Paul would say, “Exactly!” That’s the challenge of living for Jesus. We get all excited at a revival, or youth camp, and we give ourselves to God. “Lord I offer my life to you… everything I’ve been through…”

And then life happens. And the glow of youth camp fades away. And we get busy, or distracted. And then youth camp comes around again and we are right back at the altar, to rededicate our life.” Well, if you dedicated it, why are you rededicating?

Because living sacrifices have a way of crawling off the altar.

You know, there are some people God will call to die for their faith. It happens every day. In fact, according to a study done by the Catholic church in 2000, twice as many Christians died for their faith in the 20th centuries than in the previous 19 centuries of the church put together. So I’m not saying God will never ask you to die as a martyr.

But it is much more likely, especially in the United States, that He is going to ask you to live as a martyr. You’re like, what? Martyr means “die for your faith,” doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. The Greek martus simply means “witness.” When Jesus told the disciples that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, it didn’t just mean that they would die for their faith. It meant they would be witnesses of their faith.

And listen, that can be a lot harder. To be a living sacrifice means that you are putting yourself fully at God’s disposal. It means to be willing to obey God in anything He says in any area of your life. All day. Every day. For the rest of your life.

 For serviceHere’s how John Stott puts it in The Message of Romans:

We are to offer different parts of our bodies… to God as ‘instruments of righteousness. Then our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.”[1]

Do you see now why I would say being a living sacrifice is tougher than just being a sacrifice? If you’re a Hamilton fan it reminds you of the line when George Washington says to Alexander Hamilton “You’ve got a head full of fantasies of dying like a martyr? Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

Paul says our living sacrifice is to be characterized in two ways. First, it is to be holy. Holy means to be set apart for service. We don’t just repent of sin, we renounce sin. We refuse to be ruled by sin any longer.

Second, our living sacrifice is to be acceptable. An acceptable sacrifice met all the requirements of a sacrifice. If it was a grain offering, it was to be the firstfruits of the land—not the leftovers. This is where we have to ask the question, are we offering to God the best of our time, or what’s left over?

  • When we have a quiet time, do we sit down with God when we are at our most productive, or most exhausted?
  • Do we write our tithe check only after we make sure all our bills are paid, or before any other bill is paid?
  • What about our calendar? Do we look at travel ball, hunting season, finals week, project deadlines, water temperature at the lake, wind conditions at the golf course, and whether or not it’s a home game for Bama, and then decide whether or not we’ve got time to come to church? If so, then we aren’t giving God the firstfruits. We are giving God the leftovers, and it isn’t an acceptable offering.

What about if it’s a burnt offering? The Old Testament law was strict that any animal brought for sacrifice had to be without blemish. It couldn’t be lame, or bruised, or unclean. It had to be without defect.

And right now, you’re thinking, “What are you saying, Pastor?” Are you saying that I have to be perfect in order to offer myself to God? I thought this was about God’s mercy, not my sin? If I have to be spotless and blameless to stand before God, then I am sunk.

And dear friend, that brings us right back to the gospel. Where does your righteousness come from? It doesn’t come from yourself. That’s the fake rabbit. It doesn’t come from you trying to clean yourself up in order to present yourself to God. That’s legalism, or hypocrisy. That’s also impossible.

Hold that thought. I’ll come back to it in a minute. But let’s look at the last characteristic from verse 1.

Paul says “In view of God’s mercy”—that’s our motivation.

Offer you body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable.  And then he says, “This is your spiritual worship.” (ESV). In my opnion, this isn’t the best translation. The Greek word here is logicos, from which we get our word “logical.” So the KJV “this is your reasonable service” or the NASB “reasonable service of worship” is, I think, the better choice.

Our worship is reasonable, not ridiculous. It is the logical, sensible, normal, rational response to what has been done for you. It just makes sense.

Our worship of God doesn’t have to be weird. We don’t have to speak in tongues or handle snakes or run around the room or get slain in the spirit. We don’t have to have this mystical, out of body experience in order to have authentic worship.

We just have to respond to what has been done for us.

Tony Campolo told this story years ago at our seminary revival, and I’ve never forgotten it. He said that he was on a train once, and there were two men sitting in the compartment with him. Suddenly one of them had a seizure.

He shook. He rolled off the seat onto the floor. His friend quickly reacted, picked up the man and put him back on the seat. Took off his coat, made it into a blanket, rolled up a newspaper, put it in his mouth so he wouldn’t bite his tongue, and administered some medicine. The man shook for about a minute. And then he fell into a very, very deep sleep.

His friend said, ‘please forgive us. We were in Vietnam together. I was seriously wounded. I lost my leg.’ He pulled up his trousers, showed me an artificial leg. ‘My friend here, a hand grenade tore away half of his chest, and there was shrapnel all through his chest. He couldn’t move without screaming in pain. As we lay there, the helicopter that had been sent to rescue us was blown out of the air by a rocket and I knew we were going to die. Somehow my friend stood up. In agony he stood up. He moved with pain and he reached down and grabbed my shirt and he began to drag me through the jungle. Every step he took he screamed in pain. I yelled at him to Let me be. Go on without me. You’ll never get both of us out of this jungle. But he did. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.

‘A year ago, I heard he had this condition and I also heard that somebody has to be with him every minute of the day because we never know when these convulsions will occur and somebody has to be there to take care of him at that moment.

So I closed down my apartment in New York and sold my car and I came over and I’m that somebody. I’m with him every minute of the day. So that’s our story.

Campolo said ‘You don’t have to apologize to me, mister. This is a great story.’ I’ll not forget his response. He said ‘oh don’t be overly impressed. You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.’

For this man, moving to England to take care of his buddy was his reasonable service.

Let me close by circling back to the question I asked about acceptable sacrifices. If our sacrifice has to be unblemished and perfect, and if it doesn’t come from our trying harder, then how do we do it?

The answer is in verse 2:

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

I want you to notice something. Even though these are imperatives, and imperatives, as we talked about before, are all about what is required, these are passive imperatives. It isn’t what you do, but what you allow to be done to you:

Be transformed instead of being conformed. It doesn’t say “Transform yourselves.” The Greek word is “metamorpho”—metamorphosis. If Sandra Moore was here, I would have her talk about butterflies—how they are transformed, not how they transform themselves.

By the renewing of your mind, not “by renewing your mind.” Again, this is something that is done to you when you yield to God.

Then you will be able to discern God’s will. We don’t figure out God’s will in any other way but to let God transform us and renew our minds.

Closing: The title of this message is The Pursuit. And we started off by talking about greyhounds pursuing the rabbit. And at the beginning, the analogy was that we were the grayhounds, and the rabbit was that relationship with Jesus.

Now, allow me to flip it. What if we are the rabbit? What if Jesus is the one pursuing you?

This morning, let yourself be caught.


[1] Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, p. 104






Leave a ReplyCancel reply

Exit mobile version