Life-Altar-4x3-1John Frame was certainly correct when he wrote, “The Christian life is a rich journey, and it is not easy to describe.”[1] Maybe that is why the New Testament has multiple pictures of what it means to live for Jesus Christ in this world. The Christian life is depicted as a walk (I John 2:6; 3 John 4); a race (I Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:7); a battle (Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Timothy 4:7); and as we have seen in Romans 12, a living sacrifice.  

Transformed and motivated by God’s mercies, believers are to live their lives as an offering to God. This is what we are calling in these series of posts, “Life on the Altar.”  This life is not one we would have found or desired on our own…ever. (Romans 3:10-18; Ephesians 2:1-4). This life in Christ begins for believers with the miracle of the “new birth” or “regeneration.” This powerful, transforming work is an act of God’s sovereign grace in which, through the power of the gospel, one repents of their sins and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul described this wonder of wonders as God delivering us from the domain of darkness and transferring us to the kingdom of his beloved son (Colossians 1:13). 

In our last post, we looked at a couple of examples from the Gospels at the power of Jesus to transform lives. Zaccheus was changed from the town cheat to one who was willing to give back fourfold to those he had defrauded (Luke 19:8). To such a response, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house (Luke 19:9).” The Gerasene demonic was transformed by the power of Christ from a frightening menace, to a man at peace, clothed and in his right mind (Mark 5:15). Adding to these the woman at the well in John 4, who had a storied past and a handful of husbands. However, in a mid-day conversation with Jesus, she received the living water he spoke of in salvation. Her witness for Christ spread as she invited others to come and see the one who “told me all that I ever did (John 4:39).” The life-changing encounters found in the Gospels are presented so that we would believe in Christ and follow him all of our days.

The gospel is not a self-help program.  Jesus is not a personal life coach to help us on our way to self-improvement. He is the only one qualified to be the all-sufficient Savior for sinners, and His transforming power is our only hope of redemption from the slavery of our sin. Christ is the exclusive mediator who has built the bridge of reconciliation with God and who makes it possible to live a life pleasing to him.

The saving work of Christ continues through the centuries and has reached even to us. When Paul wrote the believers in Rome, they had not seen Christ with their eyes, but they received the message about him by faith. What was true of them is true of every believer regardless the century in which one lives, and the collective boast of every believer through the ages is, “Salvation belongs to the Lord! (Jonah 2:9)”

The reason I am belaboring this a bit is because of Paul’s command in Romans 12:2, where he writes, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  How can we “be transformed” when that is a work of God? I believe the answer is found in that Paul is explaining the work of God in our lives that continues through our active participation, and here it is linked to the ongoing renewal of our mind. The transforming, saving work is God’s alone, to whom all glory belongs, but the living of the Christian life does not happen apart from the believer’s effort. The work God begun in us is designed to continue through our presenting ourselves to him moment-by-moment. Our sanctification (growth in Christlikeness) requires our full engagement and our best effort. How could a living sacrifice be anything other than fully engaged to the will of God? 

This is how we are to understand the commands in the New Testament. We are to pursue them in obedience with a heart of faith as we seek to please the Lord. Paul explained to the Philippians the cooperative relationship between the believer and God as a synergy, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12,13).” We are to “work out” not work for our salvation. This speaks of the tests and trials that come with following Jesus, and such a life is marked by the reverence and fear of the Lord.  As we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, we can rest assured that God is working in us to accomplish his good purposes.

Our growth in Christ continues as our mind is renewed by God’s truth. John Stott’s words are helpful in summarizing our moral transformation in Christ, “First our mind is renewed by the Word and Spirit of God; then we are able to discern and desire the will of God; and then we are increasingly transformed by it.  To sum up, Paul’s appeal is addressed to the people of God, grounded on the mercies of God, and concerned with the will of God. Only a vision of his mercy will inspire us to present our bodies to him and allow him to transform us according to his will.”

Romans 12:1,2 is the foundation for understanding this powerful picture of the Christian life. We are to live our lives on the altar before God. Surrendered to him and delighting to do his will. In Christ, this is the life we are called to live, and from it comes the power we must have as we look to all the challenges this world presents. 


[1] Frame, John. The Doctrine of the Christian Life   (P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg, New Jersey, p. 3)