Perhaps you have heard this verse, “Therefore I implore you, brothers, by God’s mercies, to present your bodies as a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God, your rational worship; And do not be configured to this age, but be transformed by renewal of the intellect, so you may test the will of God, which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Quite often this verse can be taken out of context and configured (conformed) to our preferences, doctrines, desires and personal whims and fancies. I am not here to argue over “what this verse means to you or me” but to question why this verse is not holy and wholly applied, especially by those who feel it is their job to parse together a literal application with only a few handpicked and out of context verses that speak to a literal application in external behavior alone.
In addition to questioning how, why and what one uses to apply scripture to their neighbors, I would also like to know how one, so confidently, takes on the task of verse application, when they are nowhere close to “literally” living as holy sacrifices. Lastly, if you don’t mind, I am here to help with the literal application of this verse as it should be applied, if one so chooses to be in the business of verse application. To be honest, the literal application that I hear most “Christians” use on most verses is somewhat weak and superficial, and does not go quite far enough in really bringing the hammer down on the people they are really trying to bring down the hammer down on. So, if you don’t mind, hammer please.
First, if we are talking about living, holy acceptable sacrifices before God, then we are talking about living healthy and whole lives, without blemish in thought, word AND deed. This means that we are to be perfect as Christ was perfect spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically and relationally to himself, his neighbor, his community and his world. It means that in order to be perfect as Christ was perfect and to literally present oneself as a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God that we are not entitled to skip any commandments, especially not the first commandment on idolatry, (which is what America and consumerism is built on). To perfectly keep commandments, also means to use Jesus’s application of the commandments and to realize that anger is murder and lust is adultery. Truthfully speaking, even the ABSOLUTE call to perfection in keeping the 10 commandments is still nowhere close to understanding, let alone applying, a literal interpretation of the biblical law/ commandments.
Unfortunately, as easy as it is to pull just about every verse in the Bible out of context to fit our personal preferences, the Bible is pretty clear about the law’s demands. The law as Jesus showed us, demands PERFECTION in every thought word and deed from eternity to eternity.
Literally speaking, the ONLY way we are presenting our bodies as a literal living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God is to be completely free of greed, gluttony, idolatry, selfishness, pride, discontentment, jealousy, entitlement, judgement, disobedience, racism, sexism, unwholesome talk, impure thoughts, and so, so,so much more. However since that is not possible for any single one of us, then the only way that we can actually present our bodies as living, holy, acceptable sacrifice is by being covered in the grace, forgiveness and love of Jesus Christ. “By that will we have been made holy, through the offering of the body of Jesus the Anointed once and for all.”
So, literally there is no literal way of presenting our bodies as living, holy, acceptable sacrifices. Instead, to have any hope of presenting our bodies as living, holy, acceptable sacrifices to God is to believe and accept the forgiveness of sins and open the free gift of faith that we have received.
Now if we are speaking of judging others, which is definitely another thing we are commanded not to do, but we are, as we like to say holding people accountable, and we want our fellow Christians to actually do what they say they believe, then please be careful. And, do not be like the rich young ruler who proudly goes to Jesus believing with his whole heart that he has kept the whole law, but when Jesus tells him to sell all he owns and follow him, he goes away not only sad, but extremely guilty of not even keeping the first commandment on idolatry.
Again, if we are going to hold people accountable i.e. judge, perhaps it’s best to first look at the commandments that we are not keeping that looks like a log in our own eye and that we somehow bypass to shamelessly cast guilt and shame on our neighbors for what we see as the speck in their eye. And the truth is that we are only able to see a speck, because we are unable to see their spirit, heart and mind. Yet, we should be able to see our own log because we should be more aware ourselves and our struggles, and like Paul and see the war that rages inside of us, “I am a man in torment—who will deliver me from the body of this death? Grace to God through Jesus the Anointed, our Lord. So then I myself am a slave in mind to God’s Law, and yet in flesh to the law of sin.”
It is abundantly clear that from our spirit filled bodies flows a divine power to transform us from the inside out and resurrect us to new life, new habits, new desires and new ways of doing things. Truth is that it may take some time before we see, that we are being transformed. And while we are being still and watching what the Lord will do to transform us from the inside -out, he has given us the freedom and power to practice what we say we believe, and be a living prayer, a witness to the truth and to be a man or woman who relentlessly pursues God with all our hearts, minds, spirits and bodies, all the while loving our neighbors as we love yourselves; and doing all these good deeds without one single thought that our doing good deeds adds anything to the perfection of Christ that covers us from head to toe, inside and out, and presents you and I as a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice to God.
I know this is already long but If you don’t mind, please allow me to speak to the use of fear, guilt, shame and fear as a means of verse application. Instead of using shame, guilt, fear and pain to get a point across and put a heavy load on Christians that they should be free of, thanks to Christ. Perhaps, we should be ready with truth and love to move quickly to give the good news of the gospel and help to remove guilt, shame, fear and pain.
However if we have decided to continue with the business of verse application, then we should be very careful not to add more guilt, shame, fear and pain to our neighbor with the use of fear, guilt and shame. Often, I have wondered if the Bible is true, as Christians say we believe, and it’s word is sharper than a two edged sword, and it is inspired by the Holy Spirit”, and we are very careful not to add anything to the word of God, then why don’t we just get together and read the Bible and avoid the dangerous business of doing the Holy Spirit’s job of applying truth to our spirits, hearts, minds, bodies and relationships.
Likewise, is our way of applying biblical truth with guilt, shame, fear and pain a clear result of us already being conformed to the world, and doing what the world does best and attempt to control behavior with the very same things they use to control behavior. My time as an athlete saw no difference in the way coaches “motivate people” to play harder and the way most “Christians” motivate people to good works, and the absolute worse were “Christian coaches.” I learned in college in Advertising 101 that successful marketing is the use of guilt, shame, fear, pain and pride to control people.
Honestly, I think the use of guilt, shame, fear and pain is absolutely one of the laziest ways to motivate people and the coach talk that has found its way into Christian vocabulary has only proved to push people further away from a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I will admit, because for a long time it worked on me to a certain level, that the use of fear, shame, guilt and pain can definitely get sone external results. I also know from my own experience that neither guilt, shame, fear or pain will transform spirits, hearts, minds, bodies or relationships.
Guilt, shame, fear and pain may or may not help to configure (conform), mold, shape and piece together behavior that may or may not be acceptable to the person, who at the time is holding power and demanding external obedience. And, using shame, fear, guilt and pain to try and control people may not only break people apart, but it is quite possible that it feeds their fragmentation and forces them to look to someone, other than God, to piece themselves back together.
Do we dare forgo loving ourselves and our neighbor and helping them to be healthy and whole, to take on the responsibility to break people apart and then put them back together? Do we dare stand above our neighbor on some manmade pedestal to tell them who they are, what to think, how to feel and what to do with nothing other than a heavy dose of shame, guilt, fear and pain?
Do we not realize that by attempting to control another person, that we take away their voice, power, consciousness, thoughts and feelings, and in turn, make them feel more out of control. Thus, fueling the very disobedience, hatred, rejection, retaliation and bad behavior that we think that we are preventing. To believe that we can use guilt, shame, fear and pain as a means to an end and for what we deem “good” is absurd. To believe that any person has the power to control another human being’s spirit, heart or mind is delusional. To believe that we are entitled to use pain, guilt, shame and fear to beat others up, tell them like it is, and set the record straight is narcissistic, abusive and cruel.
There is absolutely a time and place for truth and that is in a relationship, where love has created a space to receive and give truth.
Only love has the divine power to transform people. Only truth has the power to set people free. I truly believe that if we (we who call ourselves Christians) took seriously the commands to love God with all our spirits, hearts, minds and bodies and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and we showed our neighbors what love looked like, tasted like, sounded like, smelled like and felt like, then all the “problems”, that are the results of people not knowing love, would almost disappear. Just like if we would commit to a daily practice of health that nourishes our spirits, hearts, minds and bodies would solve most of our sickness and disease, destruction of our world and poverty across the world.
If you are in the habit of using your God given voice, time, place and energy to spew fear, guilt, and shame, and to be loved by you requires pain, then don’t be surprised when people run away from you and to other things to cover, hide and deal with the pain you have inflicted. People are not designed to be controlled but to be loved and love doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people. Love is patient, kind, not easily angered, Love is unconditional and freely given in faith.
There is a fundamental difference between consequence and control. Without a doubt, we should have common sense and be very familiar with consequence, because consequence is a natural teacher and absolutely necessary to live. In the physical world, there is, without a doubt, cause and affect, and cause and affect can and will be part of other areas of our lives. But for those of us, who believe in the gift of grace, gift of faith, the gift of life, God’s love, and the teachings of Jesus Christ, then we believe in things that do not make sense, especially to a world built on cause and effect.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies, bless those who persecute us, sell all we have and give to the poor, do not judge, forgive an unlimited amount of times, be a peacemaker, be poor in spirit, and to love in such a way that it is the only thing we are known for. Never once does Jesus use guilt, shame, fear or pain to control or to transform people. Instead, he uses love, grace, mercy, kindness, goodness, peace, and sacrifice. and gives us the Holy Spirit.
Today, we have been given the gift to give up the divine task of applying verses, teaching people lessons and doing what only a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy and loving Father carefully and tenderly does with the purest love. We don’t need hammers to change people we need spirits, hearts, minds and bodies to love our neighbors, God and ourselves with the love we have been given.