Back when I was traveling the world for my non-profit, I met a lot of weirdos.
Yes, sometimes they were odd smelling people in a backpacker’s hostel. But you’d expect that.
What I mean is, I met a lot of what I’ll call “weirdos of the faith.” People whose dedication to Jesus and to the Church was extreme.
Like Pranjal in India, who dedicated his life to undermining the caste system with the power of Christ’s love. He never took a paycheck. He just trusted that God would provide what he needed. And God did. Weird!
Or Ira in Ukraine. In a culture that for generations had been dedicated to hiding weakness, she brought it into the light. She gave every ounce of her energy to caring for vulnerable children in the name of Jesus and people thought she was nuts.
Or Pastor Fred in Kenya. Fred graduated from seminary at the top of his class. He could have done anything he wanted. But he moved into East Africa’s largest slum to serve at risk youth. He willingly gave up his health, his safety, his future, to love others like Jesus.
These guys seemed like weirdos to me. Extremists.
I mean, nobody gives up that much for the gospel, right? Yeah, you give - you’re generous, but you don’t give everything. You don’t put yourself in harm’s way. You serve but you don’t sacrifice it all. Right?
These people were weirdos.
Well, that’s what I thought at first. But then as time went on it just kept on happening. I kept meeting people like this - who were “all in” - and I mean “all in” for Jesus. Who made tremendous sacrifices for their faith, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
And that’s when it began to hit me. What if they’re not the weirdos after all? What if these “extremists of the faith” are actually the normal ones? What if dedicating your whole life to Jesus is an ordinary response to what he has done for us?
What if we are the weirdos for treating our faith like an afterthought? For having our commitment to Jesus go about as far as our Instagram bio?
When it comes to following Jesus, what if we are the weirdos?
This question has transformed the way I think about faith. It has deeply shaped the trajectory of my life. And, frankly, it’s the reason I’m a pastor.
Because if we are actually the weirdos here (and I think we are!), then we’ve got work to do.
But not just that. If we’re the weirdos, then we’re missing out on some of what my friends around the world have in abundance:
Deep joy. Fulfillment. Peace. Purpose. Lives rich with the presence of God. Those characteristics define their lives.
They may have struck me as weirdos at first, but I’ll tell you what. In a time full of anxiety, depression, and mind-numbing distractions, I want some of what they have. Don’t you?
Well, that is what this new sermon series is all about. It’s called “All In.”
For the next four weeks we’re going to ask what it looks like to give everything to God and what we stand to gain if we do.
The series goes right along with one of our core values as a church:
Put Me In, Coach
We will not sit on the sidelines when God’s Spirit is moving. We are activistic, engaged, and passionate about using our gifts and resources to heal this broken world in Jesus’ name.
Put me in, coach. I don’t want to sit idly by.
In this series we’ll explore what it means to be “all in” for Christ and “all in” with your church.
We’ll talk about discovering and using our spiritual gifts.
And we’ll see just how much life and joy and abundance we can experience if we’re willing to put it all on the line.
To do that, we’re going to be digging deep into just 18 verses in the book of Romans, where the Apostle Paul talks about exactly this.
So grab a Bible and turn with me to Romans 12, Page ______.
As you do, I’m going to pray.
Alright, Romans 12. A little bit of background.
The book of Romans was a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Rome.
For the first 11 chapters, Paul sets up some major theological concepts - what Jesus accomplished on the cross, how Jews and Gentiles are now one in Christ, what salvation looks like…
And now, when we come to chapter 12, Paul turns a huge corner and starts talking about what we do because of all of this.
Today we’re going to look at the first two verses, but they’re hugely important ones.
In fact, the New Testament scholar NT Wright once said that “Paul's whole written work… could be seen as an extended application of Romans 12:1-2.”
So let’s read these two verses and then we’ll talk about what Paul means.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Alright. The key to this whole passage is this idea of our bodies becoming what Paul calls a “living and holy sacrifice.” What does that mean?
Well, it’s helpful to remember that in the ancient world, animal sacrifices were one of the primary ways people worshipped their gods - every culture had something like this.
In ancient Israel, specifically, people would take something very valuable to them - a sheep, a bull - and they would burn it on the altar at the temple to show honor and gratitude to God.
It was a way of demonstrating with your actions the commitments of your heart.
Now, the death and resurrection of Jesus did away with that sacrificial system for the people of God - we don’t have to sacrifice animals anymore to be made right with him.
But here Paul is saying we do still need to make a sacrifice.
Ok, so what are we sacrificing? Well, it’s not something we have, it’s who we are - our bodies - our very selves.
Paul is saying that the thing we are offering to God in worship is us.
But unlike animal sacrifices, where we take the life of an animal and burn the body, these sacrifices are living sacrifices. Ongoing sacrifices. They’re not just a one-time thing.
And they are holy sacrifices. Set apart from the rest of the world.
Paul is essentially saying, the way to truly and properly worship God is to give him your very life.
All of it. That’s what worshipping God looks like. But I find this interesting.
The NLT translates the end of verse 1 as “This is truly the way to worship him.” But literally in the Greek Paul says that “this is your logical or rational worship.” (logikos)
Now that’s a bit of an odd thing to say, because normally when we think of faith we think of it as the opposite of logic or rationality. It’s something we believe in.
But here Paul is saying, “No. Giving your whole self to God - your entire life - is the rational thing to do.”
Why? Well, because of everything he’s written in Romans 1-11. The God of the universe has made a tremendous sacrifice to bring us into relationship with him. He entered into our world and gave his very life to set us free.
It is not logical or rational to consider that monumental truth and respond with, “Oh, neat. I guess I’ll join a social club that I’ll attend a couple of times a month. I might give a few bucks if I have any leftover.”
Paul is basically saying, “What!? The creator of time and gravity reordered the entire fabric of reality for you. The only rational way to respond that kind of sacrificial love is to give him all that we possibly can in return. Which in our case, is everything.”
Again, these people I kept meeting around the world got this. They understood that there is nothing more worthy of our time and energy and resources than the purposes of our God.
They’re not weirdos. They’re the only rational ones for responding to the love of God with complete and utter surrender!
“Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”
Normal followers of Christ dedicate themselves as living sacrifices to God.
We’re the weirdos if we think he’s worthy of anything less.
CHANGING THE WAY YOU THINK
Let’s keep moving. In verse 2, Paul describes what this kind of “all in” sacrifice looks like in our lives.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”
What he’s talking about here is something we often refer to in church circles as:
Sanctification: the process of becoming more and more like Jesus
Before we first believe - before we first surrender our lives to Jesus - we are, by definition, stuck in the behavior and customs of this world. We look like everyone else.
We focus on ourselves. We are greedy and mean. We hate people. We lie. We lust. We have no self-control.
All of that is the default setting for humanity in our broken world.
When we choose to follow Jesus, though, we begin a process of transformation - of sanctification - where we sacrifice our old selves and desires and the Holy Spirit begins to change even the very way we think.
We start seeing the world more like Jesus sees it. We begin thinking in terms of New Creation that God is making all around us.
We start to desire to be generous and kind. We begin to care for people the world says we should hate. We grow in self-control over our animalistic urges and start demonstrating self-giving love to everyone we meet.
In other words, we do become weirdos - but weirdos when compared to the values and behaviors of our world.
This does not happen overnight. Becoming like Jesus is a lifelong process.
But this is exactly the kind of transformation that happens when we put our lives on the altar. When we say, “this life is yours, not mine anymore.”
When we sacrifice our lives to God, he transforms us to look like Jesus.
It starts with sacrifice. It leads to transformation. And then, Paul says at the end of verse 2, then we learn God’s will for us.
In other words, this is when we discover our purpose - our destiny. Beginning to realize the reason God made us in the first place.
We talk at Grace all the time about how every person was created with a purpose to be uniquely used by God to help heal this broken world.
As Paul says in another letter,
We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
There is a reason that you are here. And you discover that purpose as God transforms you to look and think and act like Jesus.
And that process begins when you take the bold step of sacrificing your entire life to God. Put me in, coach.
Those weirdos I met around the world - those extremists for the faith - were all changing lives and healing the world and making a difference. They had found their purpose.
At first I thought they were cut from a different kind of cloth.
But now I realize this type of impact is exactly what we should expect when we put our lives on the altar (like they did) and say, “God, this life is yours.”
So that’s how Paul starts Romans 12. He throws down the gauntlet. If we want to know why we’re here, we must be “all in” for Jesus.
A living sacrifice. Changing the very way we think. Weirdos in a selfish world.
Now in the next few weeks we’re going to explore what this looks like practically in our lives. How do we sacrifice our lives for God?
But this is heavy stuff. So right now, I just want us to take a few moments to do some self-reflection. I’m going to ask you some questions. I want you to answer as honestly as you can in your heart.
And I’ll say this right at the front: none of this is meant to be a guilt trip. No! It’s an invitation - an invitation to experience the life and joy and peace and abundance that comes from walking in line with who God has made you to be.
So here’s the question: How much of your life have you surrendered to God? Are you a living sacrifice?
Or to put it another way, how much of a weirdo are you compared to the behavior and customs of our world?
I’ll get specific. How much of your time and energy do you dedicate to God?
If I drew a line across the stage and over there you were “all in” - every last breath of your life is dedicated to the kingdom of God. And on that side, your faith is barely an afterthought… Where would you put yourself?
How “all in” are you?
What percentage of your time and energy is devoted to the purposes of God?
Now, that’s a question about all of your life. Maybe that’s a bit too vague. I could also ask about the time and energy you share with your spiritual family - with Grace Church.
I have a perhaps uncomfortable question for you - but again, we’re doing self-evaluation:
If everybody at Grace dedicated the same amount of time and energy as you - in attending, in serving, in building into this community - how would our church be doing?
Are you “all in” at Grace or beyond? Because I believe God has some pretty amazing things in store for you when you are.
So that’s your time and energy. We could also talk about the resources you dedicate to God - your money, your stuff…
Just like with Romans 12, it is the rational and logical thing to do to give back to God off the top of what we earn. Because if we’re fully surrendered, it’s all his anyway. We’re just stewards of his resources.
It makes sense to regularly set aside a generous portion of what he’s given us to invest in the things he cares about.
So do some self-evaluation. How “all in” are you with your stuff? With your money?
Are you tithing your income? It doesn’t have to be 10%, but are you setting aside a portion of every dollar you earn as a living sacrifice to God? Are you using your resources to care for the poor and marginalized?
Are you a weirdo with your financial values when it comes to the world around you? Or are you, as Paul says, copying the behavior and customs of this world by being just as stressed and tightfisted with your money as everyone else? How “all in” are you?
When it comes to Grace, specifically, I’ll ask that uncomfortable question again. If everyone at Grace shared their resources with this community with the same dedication and sacrifice as you, how would our church be doing?
Again, this isn’t a guilt trip. It’s an invitation. I talk a lot about the “positive feedback loop of blessing.” God’s blessing is poured out when we live with open palms. It’s not the prosperity gospel, but when we are generous God gives us even more to give away. That’s biblical abundance.
Are you “all in” with your resources?
Finally, let’s do some self-evaluation of your heart. To what degree have you sacrificed your desires to God?
Draw that line on the stage again. Are you living for what you want? Or are you living for what God wants?
How’s that journey of sanctification going? To what degree do your desires resemble the desires of Jesus?
NT Wright says that “Love is the language they speak in New Creation. We’re learning how to speak it now. One day we’ll be singing in it.”
How fluent are you in the language of love? How closely do your desires match those of your Creator?
If everyone at Grace Church had the same desire as you to live out the love of Jesus, how would this Church be doing?
Look. None of this is easy. There is a reason Jesus talked about following him in terms of dying to ourselves. There’s a reason Paul talks about sacrifice.
But remember: you are a masterpiece of God. You were designed with a purpose - to be a weirdo who dedicates their life to the healing of this broken world. To show your hurting neighbors what’s possible: joy, peace, abundance…
It may involve a death to yourself but being “all in” for Christ is the only way to truly come alive.
[Invite up Jim Swanson - introducing you to someone who has been “all in” for Grace]
Tell us a bit about what you each did for the Music Man’s set.
You have both given so much time and energy to this church. You’ve practically lived her for the last few months. Why is serving at Grace so important to you?
What does it mean to you to be “all in” for Christ, and, specifically, to be “all in” here at Grace? What would you want the people of Grace to understand about investing in their Church?