Meditations on Christian Devotedness

Romans 12  •  26 min. read  •  grade level: 8
While many in the present day are teaching and writing much on the important subjects of consecration, devotedness, and holiness of heart and life: and while many are more or less affected by the general interest which these inquiries are creating; it may be well for thee, my soul, to retire for a little into the sanctuary of thy Lord's presence, and there learn what has been long written on these and kindred subjects. Be assured there is nothing new under the sun. These various aspects of christian character, with the motives and objects by which they are created and sustained, are fully revealed in the word of God. The true ground also on which they rest, thou wilt find there. Oneness with Christ as the last Adam, the exalted Man in the glory, must be thy standpoint, otherwise thou wilt " see men as trees walking "-thou wilt be confounding that which has its roots in nature with that which is of the grace of God in truth.
Know then, and assuredly believe, O my soul, that thou art one with Him who bore thy sins on the cross, who is now on the throne, and who is coming again to take thee up to be with Himself in His home of love and glory. Wrong ground—a mistaken point of view-leads to great confusion and self-contradiction, to the mixing up of law and gospel, faith and experience, self and Christ. No matter how good our eyesight may be we cannot see without light. Thou must be in the sunlight of thy Lord's presence to see the true foundation and the divine course of all things. And there, O wondrous truth! O privilege infinite! O blessedness unspeakable! thou art at home-at home, as thou art nowhere else-in the concentrated light of heaven's noonday brightness. He is thy righteousness, absolute and complete, in the presence of God; He is thy eternal life, thy peace, thy joy, thy rest, thy glory. Thus arrayed in the moral glories of thy Lord, and basking in the beams of His complaisant love, what hast thou to fear? And know also, O my soul, that all this is true now -true to faith, though not to experience, and always true in the sight of God.
In proof of this, take the two highest notes in the New Testament as to the Christian's position. One is sounded by the apostle Paul and the other by the apostle John. 1. " But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and bath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Here pause for a moment and meditate, not only on thy place in Christ, but on the " rich mercy" and the "great love" of God, which set thee there. What can be sweeter to thy thoughts than this precious truth? And there it is, believe it fully. 2. " Herein is our love [or love with us] made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world." This is a plain statement and must be received in the simplicity of faith. It surely means, that as He-Christ-is, in God's sight, so are we, though still in this world and encompassed with many infirmities. And this should teach thee never to look to self or experience if thou wouldst know thy place and acceptance in the presence of God; but always to Christ as the measure and expression of thy portion there. There is only one other passage that I will bring before thee at present, and this we will call, the dowry of the bride. " But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Here thou wilt see, that by the will and wondrous grace of God, Christ Jesus is made unto the Christian-every Christian-wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
We will now turn to our beautiful chapter, where we shall meet with similar truths, though not in the character of a distinct subject, but as the native result of our union with Christ, and of looking to Him as our one and only object in our journey through this world.
Verse 1. I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service. The first lesson here to be learned is a very important one-the apostle's style of address. How graciously and tenderly he entreats the saints at Rome as brethren I Great apostle as he was, he places them all on the same level with himself. This, of course, is true of all Christians as regards their pardon and acceptance in Christ, however varied their condition may be as to the manifestation of the divine nature. " One is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." (Matt. 23:88But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. (Matthew 23:8).) But how endearing is the apostle's manner, compared with the high, imperious style of many who profess to be His successors, or at least to be ministers of Christ! " I beseech you therefore, brethren;" this is true humility though accompanied with divine authority. Only nearness to the Lord can give both. But what an example for all Christians, for thee, my soul, when having to do with the poorest of the flock!,
We will now notice the foundation on which the exhortation rests-
" The mercies of God." True christian devotedness evidently flows from the devout consideration of the mercies or compassions of God to the poor outcast sinner. The apostle appeals to the hearts of the brethren as being happily acquainted with the riches of divine mercy to lost and ruined souls. The effect of meditating on this aspect of God's character is transformation to His image, and devotedness to His glory, as our holy, acceptable, and reasonable service. Most blessed, precious privilege! And this holy imitation of the divine character, be it observed, is not the result of our own efforts, but flows naturally from the blessed truth that we are made partakers of the divine nature, as taught more fully by the apostle elsewhere. " Be ye therefore followers of God," or, literally, imitators of God, " as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also loath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor." Here pause for a moment and meditate deeply; the subject is vast and most practical. Talking of devotedness, of holiness, of consecration, what is thy standard? Is it thine own possible attainments by unwearied watchings, fastings, diligence, or what? Self in a thousand ways may be thy governing object, but wrong in all. Could God present a lesser or lower object to His children than Himself, as morally displayed in the Person and work of His beloved Son? Impossible " It would dishonor Himself and the grace He has shown us: and it would be the most grievous loss to His children beloved, whom He would train and bless yet more and more even in this scene of evil and sorrow, turning the most adverse circumstances into an occasion of teaching us what He is in the depths of His grace, and filling ourselves with the sense of it, so as to form our hearts and fashion our ways.... Neither law nor even promise ever opened such a field as this. The very call so to imitate God supposes the perfect grace in which we stand: indeed it would be insupportable otherwise." *
(* Lectures on Ephesians, W. Kelly, page 240.)
But one word of inspired authority settles the whole question to faith forever: " Be ye therefore imitators of God as dear children." This is thy standard and the measure of thy devotedness. Being the children of God we are partakers of His nature, and ought never to admit a standard lower than the nature of which we are partakers. God was manifested in Christ Jesus, the express image of His Person. It is in Him that we see our new nature, presented in all its perfection, and in all its fullness, but in Him as man, and as it ought to be developed in us here below, in the circumstances through which we are passing. It is indeed humbling to think that we have answered so little to the call of God to be imitators of Himself as His children. But he has given us an object in which He manifests Himself that He may lead and attract our hearts to follow Him: and this object we know as the one who loves us and gave Himself for us, and the only object the Christian should ever have. " There is a sense," says one, " in which God is, morally, the measure of other beings -a consideration which brings out the immense privilege of the child of God. It is the effect of grace, in that being born of Him, and partaking of His nature, the child of God is called to be an imitator of God, to be perfect as his Father is perfect. He makes us partakers of His holiness; consequently we are called to be imitators of God, as His dear children. This shows the immense privilege of grace. It is the love of God in the midst of evil, and which, superior to all evil, walks in holiness, and rejoices, also, together in a divine way, in the unity of the same joys, and the same sentiments."*
(* Synopsis, vol. iv., page 439.)
We now return for a moment to the subject of mercy after this rather long digression, but the one passage throws much light on the other and gives greater breadth of truth to the mind.
The word " mercies " is here used in the plural, because it signifies, not mercy as an attribute of God simply, but the compassions of God which have been fully developed in the different instances already enumerated. At the same time, it may have a special reference to verse 31 of the previous chapter, where we find Jews as well as Gentiles concluded in unbelief that God may have mercy upon all. " Even so these [the Jews] have now been unbelieving with regard to your mercy [the Gentiles] in order that they should receive mercy." Thus the Jews having forfeited all right to the promises through unbelief, must be brought in at the end on the ground of mercy. And this God will do when He has brought in the fullness of the Gentiles. But it is the privilege of the Christian to meditate on the mercies of God as displayed in redemption, as well as in His dispensational ways. It was pure mercy that thought of him in the counsels of eternity, that gave him a place in the purposes of God, that wrote his name in the Lamb's book of life, that watched over him in the days of his unbelief, that called him by His gospel, that gave him deliverance from sin and condemnation; that gave him the Holy Spirit, union with Christ, and the hope of His coming; and thereby communion with God the Father, and the enjoyment of all the unspeakable blessings of His grace and love.
"When all Thy mercies, O my,God,
My ransomed soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost
In wonder, love, and praise."
This is a great subject. Hasten not over it in thy meditations, O my soul. It is highly practical and may go far to form and consolidate thy thoughts of practical Christianity. Strange to say, the interests of religion are supposed by some Christians to be better secured when the soul is under law and occupied with its feelings and doings, than when it is under grace and feeding on the truth of the divine compassions towards it from first to last. But heed not this false alarm, it is the old cry of this world's wisdom, " The grace of the gospel leads to licentiousness;" but what is it that the fleshly mind will not pervert? Even " the mercies of God " are used as a refuge for living in sin. " God is merciful," we hear people say, " and if we do our best, and live a good, moral, sober life, and show kindness to our neighbor, He will not condemn us with the openly wicked." After this style many speak, but it is always the language of those who are careless about their souls, and who have no heart for Jesus.
True, most true, God is indeed merciful and gracious, but the boundless mercies of God are no refuge to the soul apart from the work of Christ. God has shown His mercy to the guilty in giving the precious blood of His own Son as a safe refuge for the chief of sinners. But if this shelter be neglected the whole universe cannot provide another. The testimony of God Himself is, that " The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin." The blood is the sure token of judgment passed, of holiness, righteousness, and justice satisfied; of the forgiveness, cleansing, and complete salvation of the sinner. But we must now turn to the latter half of our verse.
" That ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." The apostle leaves no room here for the liberty of the flesh, or for going back to the law as a rule of life. The believer is to be formed morally by the knowledge of God, and consecrated to Him as his reasonable service. It is of the body, or outer man, that the apostle expressly speaks. " That ye present your bodies." The body is here viewed as the sacrifice, and the believer as presenting it; so that the whole man is to be yielded up as an offering to the Lord.
But if thou wouldest well understand this character of devotedness, thou must study and master chapter vi. There we learn that Christians are, first of all, to reckon themselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. They are brought into this position by death and resurrection, as set forth in baptism, in virtue of the finished work of Christ. " Therefore
we are buried with him by baptism unto death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." Baptism is the symbol of Christians having part with Christ in death. He died for sin, they died to sin in His death. This is the grand fundamental truth of entire devotedness and practical holiness. " How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" Such is the reasoning of the Spirit of God. All true Christians believe that Christ died for our sins, but comparatively few believe or enter into the truth that we died to sin in His death.
But the consequences of not apprehending this plain truth, which the youngest confessor of Christ
is supposed by the apostle to know, are immense and innumerable. From the first struggles with self in the newly awakened soul, to the highest efforts of the pietists and the mystics, the root is the same; it is occupation with self in all. Whether it be the young believer longing after peace with God, or the advanced believer straining after holiness and perfection, they are looking for it within. The eye is turned inwardly in search after feelings, or a consciousness of having arrived at a higher state of christian life. But this is not all. When death to sin is not seen, there can be no real separation from the world, especially what is called the religious world. Hence we may often be surprised to see godly men mixing with the world and helping on its plans and improvements. But the whole system of self-occupation, of seeking to improve the first Adam condition of man, of seeking to attain complete sanctification in the flesh, is judged by the simple truth, that the Christian died to sin in Christ's death, and that in his baptism he owns this, and is bound to walk as one already and always dead to sin. In a tone of disappointment the apostle appeals to his brethren at Rome, and asks the question, " Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ were baptized unto his death?" As much as to say, Have you forgotten the meaning of your baptism, are you ignorant of so elementary a truth?*
(*For a fuller unfolding of this weighty truth, see Synopsis, vol. iv., pp. 145-151; Lectures on Romans, W. K., pp. 83-91.)
In the latter part of the chapter we have this great principle applied in detail, which chews that the body and every member of the body is to be employed in the service of God. It is not enough to say of any one, " He is very true at heart, but fails in his personal attendance at the various meetings of his brethren, and otherwise in using his tongue, his hands, or his feet, in the Lord's service, and thinks he may be excused because of circumstances." Many too are ready to say, who have found a reason for remaining at home, " I was with you in spirit, I was helping by prayer." While this may be true and good in some cases, in others, we fear, it may be self-delusion. The service of the body is as fairly required of the Lord as the prayer of the heart. It is well to know the Lord's claims on the body-on our personal service and presence. " Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments unto God." The idea of a sacrifice is surely that of entire consecration-of body, soul, and spirit. The devoted victim under the law was slain and laid on God's altar. The act was complete-a complete surrender. Christians are to present their own "bodies" as a "living sacrifice" in contrast with the sacrifices of the law which were put to death. It is a self-sacrifice; but "with such sacrifices God is well pleased;" and the only sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to Him now. All others are profane. The sacrifice of the mass, so-called, and the whole system of ritualism, are a practical denial of the finished work of Christ, and most offensive in the sight of God. "It is finished," was the shout of victory; all was accomplished. " For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Heb. 10:1414For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14).
Since the one sacrifice of Christ was offered, sacrificial and ceremonial worship, with the long ritual of the Jews' religion, has passed away. These were types and shadows which came to their end by the coming of the Messiah. " The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth." God looks for intelligence in His servants according to the true light. The sacrifices of old had no conscience, no intelligence, no self-judgment, but the " living sacrifice" of Christians is called-" your reasonable service."
But some may still be ready to inquire, " In what sense can it be said that we died to sin in Christ's death, for I feel that sin is as really in me now as it was before my conversion?"
Most surely it is there, and seeks to rule as formerly; this is just what the apostle refers to and warns against. " Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." So long as we are in the "mortal body," sin will be there and will seek to reign, but we are to reject its claims and refuse obedience to its desires. Our new place of blessing in Him who died and rose again, takes us far beyond its dominion. " For in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God."
Now mark what follows; all believe this verse to be quite true of the blessed Lord. None believe that He died to the love or the practice of sin, but to sin itself. But what does verse 11 say? " Likewise reckon," not, observe, realize, that we could never do, but, " reckon"-account, "ye also your. selves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Surely nothing could possibly be plainer than this in the reckoning of faith. " Likewise"-in like manner, plainly means, that the believer is to reckon himself dead to sin and alive unto God in the same sense that Christ is. He who denies this, does violence to the word, casts an indignity on the work of Christ, and reaps, as the fruit of his unbelief, a harvest of doubts and fears.
Know then, O my soul, and be well assured of this great truth;-that death is thy only deliverer from sin, and resurrection thy only way to the new creation. We die out of the old state in His death, and rise into the new in His resurrection. This is deliverance. True, happy, heavenly deliverance! Within the gates of glory, in the reckoning of faith, thou mayest breathe freely and sing thy song of victory. No enemy can ever cross the grave of Christ. It is the grand terminus of sin, Satan, death, judgment, the world and the flesh. " The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Oh, glorious liberty! Oh, blessed reality! To be within the gates of thy glorious land, O Emmanuel! To know that no enemy can ever invade thy peaceful borders; that no evil can ever enter there; that no serpent will ever lurk in thy Eden -the blooming paradise of God; that no tree of the knowledge of good and evil shall ever grow there; is our unmingled blessedness, our eternal security.
And there we stand with Thee, even now, by faith, O Jesus, Savior and Lord; we only await Thy coming to take us there actually. " A little while," and faith and hope must give place to the grand reality, the heavenly promise. " And they shall see His face." Faith's deepest hold of truth, and hope's highest expectations, are all fulfilled; we have seen his face. This will be thy heaven of heavens, O my soul; to see Him as He is. But what of thy faith and hope now, tell me? All is well; all is well; every wish is met, every desire is satisfied. I stand with Him who is Head of the new creation. One with Him in whom I died as a child of Adam; one with Him who bore my sins that I might be forgiven and have peace with God. Yes, I say it in the integrity of faith, on the authority of the Lord's own word" in Christ Jesus." And my place and portion there are measured and expressed by Him. This I know, that I am one with Him in life, righteousness, privilege, blessing, glory; and where He is, there I shall be; and what He is, that I shall be forever. John 14; 17; Rom. 8
Oh, happy soul, richly endowed and blessed, thou needest nothing more, only to feed on what thou hast and delight thyself in Him. But thinkest thou ever of those who have missed their way in this dark world, and know nothing of thy happiness? O seek to win such hapless souls to thy Savior. Every soul that thou winnest, will be as another precious stone in His diadem of glory. This is the happy work of the lover of souls-to gather precious stones from the rubbish of this world for His crown; they can be found nowhere else. And are there not many lost souls around thee to whom thou mayest speak, if thou canst not take a public place in testimony? Jesus says, " Come," to the weary and heavy laden; and thou mayest say, " Come;" and even to the chief of sinners Jesus said, "Make haste, and Come." O wondrous words of purest grace, from the living lips of the blessed Jesus! "Make haste, and Come." This could not mean to-morrow, but just at once. A child knows what "make haste" means, and why should sinners doubt and linger?
Hearest thou these encouraging words, my dear reader? Wilt thou come—come just now?
Happily for Zaccheus, he made haste and came. And what did he receive? Salvation! But suppose for a moment he had lingered, doubted, reasoned, delayed, until it was too late, as many did then, and do now? What would the consequences have been? Salvation lost, the soul lost, Christ lost, heaven lost, and all the blessedness we have been describing. But what would be the sharpest sting of the undying worm?-self-reproach. The awful sentence would recall the past, justify the Judge, and fill the condemned soul with speechless agony. " Because I have called, and ye refused: I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded: but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when darkness and anguish cometh upon you." Prov. 1:24-2724Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; 25But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: 26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; 27When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. (Proverbs 1:24‑27).
Oh, then, my dear reader, as thou wouldest not have this fearful sentence read to thee, with heaven's gates closed and hell's gates open,-come now to Jesus, " make haste and come." Nothing could more express the Lord's earnestness with lost sinners; nothing could more ensure thy sweet welcome to Him: but alas, alas, nothing could more deepen thy agonies, nothing could more fill thee with unmitigated misery, if thou refusest, than thy reflections on that gracious word, "make haste and come." The work of redemption is finished, all is done, thou hast only to yield thy heart to His love, believe His word, and trust the blood that can make thee whiter than snow. But on no consideration delay. O haste thee, haste thee, while the door is open, to-morrow may be too late, the door may be shut, and thy precious soul lost, lost forever and forever. " Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." Rev. 22:1717And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17).
Having so far cleared the -ground, and shown the foundations of christian devotedness in service, we will now go on with verse 2.
Verse 2. " And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." The connection between the first and second verses is manifest and beautiful. We have the body in the one and the mind in the other; the whole man is brought in. We are also reminded thereby, that mere bodily exercise, though consisting in the diligent observance of rites and ceremonies, would profit nothing without the renewal of the mind. The inner as well as the outer man must be formed morally for God, and His service. Hence the one grand end for the Christian to gain is the discernment of the will of God; and the highest expression of christian life in this world, is the life that is most perfectly subject to the divine will. We have to prove-though we may be long in doing so-that this and this only is good, acceptable, perfect, and well pleasing in His sight.
This then is thy life lesson, O my soul; and thou wilt do well to study these two verses carefully and together. Meditate deeply on each member of each verse, they are peculiarly full of the most practical truth for the Christian. Obedience, devotedness, subjection to the Master's will, are the truest features of the life of Christ in thee. This is to be thy one grand object-thy constant care-to be like Him! Lord grant a growing transformation' to Thine own image both within and without And now, observe, that the first thing thou hast to learn is how to guard against the evil course of this world.
"And be not conformed to this world." This is a hard lesson to learn. To be personally in a place where the habits and opinions of men rule, and yet to be outside of it morally-in heart and spirit -where the will of God rules is thy lesson. Nothing but the grace of God and a close walk with Him could make thee triumph here. Imagine for a moment, a young Christian fresh in his first love and in the bloom of his new eternal life, actively engaged from morning till night in the city of London, where gold is worshipped, and where everything else is sacrificed to the idol. Nevertheless, non-conformity to the spirits around him must be maintained; and when the hour of closing comes, non-conformity to their ways. Evenings reveal whose we are and whom we love and serve. The happy Christian is ready, with all his heart, for the prayer, the worship, or the instruction meeting, And many such there are, the Lord be praised!
The secret of our strength is the knowledge of Christ and the heart's occupation with Him. We learn to say in such circumstances, Christ is this to me, Christ is that to me, Christ is everything to me, thus it is all and only Christ. And no better school can there be to teach us watchfulness and dependence on Him. The experience is good, we learn our own weakness and folly in the midst of those who would rejoice in the smallest compromise, and become more and more cast upon Christ, and learn more and more of the depths of His grace, the value of His word, and the glory of His Person. Or, as the apostle John puts it, " I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one." 1 John 2:1414I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:14).