All Life Is Worship, by John Piper
In the first message on worship three weeks ago the main point was, first, that in the New Testament there is a stunning indifference to place and external form: “Neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship God, but in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21–23). Not in Samaria but in spirit; and not in Jerusalem but in truth. And, second, there is a radical intensification of worship as an inner experience, “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). Worship is real, authentic experience in the heart with God, or it is nothing.
Then two weeks ago in the second message, I tried to show what the vital essence of that inner experience of worship is. And I argued from Philippians 1:20–21 that it is a cherishing of Christ as gain, or a being satisfied with God in all that he is for us in Jesus. Paul said that his expectation was that he would magnify Christ by life or by death, because for him to live was Christ and to die was gain. So we magnify Christ in death and in life by counting him to be more gain than anything the world can offer. The key to praising Christ is prizing Christ. Christ is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Then last week, over at Bethel you may not have thought we were continuing our series on worship, but we were. It is not insignificant that what we do on Sunday mornings are called worship “services.” What do we mean, “services”? What is a “worship service”? And my point last week from Acts 17:25 and Mark 10:45 was that “God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, but he himself gives to everyone life and breath and everything.” And, “Christ came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Whatever else a worship “service” is, it must first and foremost be served by God.
“Whatever else a worship ‘service’ is, it must first and foremost be served by God.”
This is simply a way of underlining the lesson from the week before. God is magnified when we cherish him as gain above all things, and come to him tell him that and to find more of him. God serves us by giving life and breath and everything about himself that goes to the deepest recesses of our hearts. We worship first and foremost by thirsting and hungering after God above all things. And that means that we worship first and foremost by being served by God. It is a worship service, because the service starts with God’s serving us what we so desperately need, namely, himself.
We will come back to that in the weeks to come.
But this morning we are picking up on another point from last Sunday and the Sunday before. Namely this: if the vital essence of that inner experience we call worship is a being satisfied in God or a cherishing Christ as gain above all things, this accounts for why Romans 12:1–2 portrays all of life as worship. You remember that I asked last week, “Well, what is the Christian life if God cannot be served by human hands but loves to serve us? What does life look like?” And the answer would seem to be that we get up in the morning and we get our hearts fixed on Christ. We go to him and renew our satisfaction in him through his word. And then we enter the day seeking to express and increase that satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus.
Let’s look at Romans 12:1–2, which connects all of life with worship.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
So verse one says that presenting your bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice is worship. Now, what is this referring to? A sacrifice was usually a dead body, not a living one, so he says “living” to make sure we know he doesn’t mean literal human sacrifice. A sacrifice was usually laid on the altar and parts of it were eaten by the priests and that was the end of the animal. It had no more existence. But that’s not what Paul means, because at least three times in Romans 6 (verses 13, 16, 19) he speaks of presenting our bodies or our members to God like this, and in every case it is so that our members — our arms and legs and tongues, eyes and ears and sexual organs would become instruments of righteousness. So the sacrifice is not only living, it is moving about and doing things in the world.
So how is it a sacrifice? And practically how do you present your bodies to God as sacrifices? I think the best answer is to see the connection between verses 1 and 2. My suggestion is that verse 2 is the realistic explanation of the more symbolic verse 1. Verse 1 talks about sacrifices and worship. Verse 2 talks about your mind being renewed and doing the will of God.
The explicit link to show you that Paul is thinking this way is the repetition of the word “acceptable” in verses 1 and 2. Verse 1: “Present your bodies . . . holy and acceptable to God.” Verse 2: Use your renewed mind to prove what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect. So there is probably a close link between offering your body to God as an acceptable sacrifice to God, and doing the acceptable will of God.
So if verse 2 is likely a realistic explanation of the symbolic picture of verse 1, let’s look at it for a moment. There is a negative command and a positive one: negatively, don’t be conformed to this world; positively, be transformed. Not conformed, transformed. Devote your life as a Christian to being changed. Don’t settle in at the level of transformation you now have. Oh, how many Christians throw away their birthright by coasting. Be transformed! It’s present tense, ongoing, continual growth in un-conforming yourself to the world.
But how does this happen? What is involved? Does it mean we should just study what the world wears and watches and listens to and buys and plays, and then do the opposite? Well there will be a difference at most of those levels probably, but that’s not what the text focuses on, is it? It says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The focus is not first on getting the outside of the cup cleaned up, but on getting the inside cleaned up. In other words, transformation and non-conformity on the outside must flow from a new mind. Be transformed in the renewing of your mind.
So you might say, “Okay that means we must learn to think differently than the world thinks, and that will transform us from the inside out.” Well, that is true. But there is a word in verse 2 to show us that it is not the whole truth, and may not even be the main truth — depending on what you mean by “thinking.”
What is the function of the mind according to verse 2? What is the goal of a renewed mind? Right thinking is surely essential. If you think illogically, you will probably live badly. For example, you might think something like this: “Premise 1: Most TV ads entice me to want things that I don’t need. Premise 2: Watching more TV causes me to see more such TV ads. Conclusion: Therefore the more TV I watch the less I will be enticed to want things I don’t need.” That is simply illogical thinking and it will cause you to live badly if you don’t think better than that.
But that is not what verse 2 stresses. There is a very crucial word that we have to get right. The NASB says that our renewed mind is so that we may “prove what the will of God is.” The key word is “prove.” It is a tremendously important word. It has two implications: one is the idea of testing and proving something’s value. And the other idea is the capacity to assess it and approve of a value when you see it. It is very hard in English to bring out both these ideas with one word. The NIV does it in fact by using two words. It refers to the renewing of your mind, then says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” That is the full idea. Test and approve.
“The root issue is more than right thinking. It is right valuing.”
So what is the root issue in verse 2? The root issue is more than right thinking. It is right valuing. Not just right proving, but right approving. Not just right testing, but treasuring. Let me see if I can help you see the difference like this. It would be possible, perhaps to teach an uneducated person to recognize some of the traits of gold without his knowing how valuable gold is. So you might give him a job panning gold with you in a stream and pay him a dollar an hour while he accurately tests the yellow stones and tosses thousands of dollars worth of gold nuggets into your bag.
That is not the kind of renewal Paul is talking about. He is not saying: read enough books or listen to enough tapes or sermons so that you can spot a good deed when you see it and then work up the discipline to do it. He is saying, be renewed so deeply in your mind that you not only can test and spot gold when you see it, but also love gold — approve gold, treasure gold. That’s what the word means. (See Romans 1:28, 14:22; 1 Corinthians 16:3.)
Now you can see that the renewal involved is more than a logic lesson. If you want to find out if a certain material is sweet, you might reason logically: it is brown, gooey, comes from a beehive, crystallizes if you drop water in it, and makes the eyes of a two-year-old light up if you put it on toast. Therefore, you infer, it must be honey, and honey is sweet. That is not the main way Romans 12:2 means for you to find the will of God. The way to know if this material is sweet, is by the power of taste, not logic.
Ephesians 4:23 has the closest parallel to this verse and there Paul says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” That is a very strange phrase, “the spirit of your mind.” I think it means something like the capacity of your mind to taste the spirit of a thing. One of the reasons some simple, uneducated people live much more holy and upright lives than some Christians who are very educated is that their minds are far more deeply renewed. That is, they are so renewed that they can taste, or you might say smell, the rottenness of a temptation way before others and turn away before the least contamination happens. And they can taste and smell a beautiful opportunity for love before others see it coming.
In other words, mind-renewal is a deep spiritual change in how the mind assesses things and values things. In Ephesians 4:18 Paul says that ignorance (of mind) is rooted in hardness of heart. So if the mind is going to be wise and discerning about the will of God, the heart must be soft and susceptible to spiritual reality. In other words, the renewal Paul is calling for is profound, and deeper than any mere mental effort can achieve. This is why prayer is utterly essential. The constant prayer of the Christian is, “Open my eyes that I may see” (Psalm 119:18); and, “Let the eyes of my heart be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18); and, “Cause me, O Lord, to taste and see that you are good” (Psalm 34:8). In other words, God must do the renewing through his word and Spirit.
Now let’s step back and see what Romans 12:1–2 looks like with this insight. The root of Christian living in verse 2 is a profoundly renewed mind. It doesn’t just think clearly, but assesses truly and values accurately and approves strongly and treasures passionately what is good, acceptable and perfect. This is utterly relevant to our daily lives because 95 percent of the things we do during the day, we do without any extended logical reflection. We just act spontaneously out of the spirit of the mind that is in us (Ephesians 4:23) — or as Jesus said, out of the abundance of our heart (Matthew 12:34). So to live the Christian life with any authenticity we must be in the process of a deep renewal deep beneath right thinking.
Then verse 2 says that this deep renewal of the way we approve and assess and value reality leads us to a transformed life that is not conformed to the world. Now the non-conformity is not just external and forced, but internal and natural and free. It flows from our new values and assessments and where our treasure is. But it does change us externally and put us out of conformity with the world.
We find ourselves doing things that Paul calls the “will of God.” God has a pattern of life that he calls us to live that accords with new powers of approving what is good and beautiful and true, and new values and new treasures. There are good things, acceptable things, perfect things — different ways of talking about what God calls us to do in different contexts.
Now how does this relate to verse 1? How does this relate to the living sacrifice of our bodies offered to God, which is our spiritual worship? I think it is simply a way of describing what that offering of worship is. What verse 2 describes is a living sacrifice because in the renewal of our minds a whole way of tasting and assessing and approving and valuing and treasuring the world dies. We are, as Paul says, “crucified to the world and the world is crucified to us” (Galatians 6:14).
So the renewal is a dying of old values and the coming to life of new ones. It is the dying of old ways of treasuring television and food and money, and the awakening of new spiritual taste buds.
So our spiritual worship is to come to God each day and say: “O God, there is nothing that I want more than to approve what is most worthy, and value what is most valuable, and treasure what is most precious and admire what is most beautiful and hate what is most evil and abhor what is most ugly. I reckon myself dead to all that is unspiritual and worldly and deadening to my soul. Renew me, O my God. Awaken spiritual capacities of right assessment.”
And then we say, “And take me, body and soul, and make me the instrument of your glory in the world. Let the renewal you are working from within show on the outside. This is my spiritual worship. To show the world that you are my all-satisfying treasure.”
“The essence of worship is a being satisfied in God and cherishing of Christ as gain.”
There it is. Now we are back at the beginning. The essence of worship is a being satisfied in God and cherishing of Christ as gain. Romans 12:1–2 are not saying anything different. This is what it means to have a renewed mind. The renewed mind perceives and approves and treasures and cherishes the will of God (and thus transforms all of life), because it first and foremost perceives, and approves and treasures and cherishes God.
And doing the will of God is the outshining of God in his glory. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). All of life is the outshining of what you truly value and cherish and treasure. Therefore, all of life is worship. Either of God, or something else.
Therefore, be transformed in the renewal of your mind. Cherish God in all his works and all his ways. Reckon the old mind dead and offer yourself to God as a living sacrifice that he may put you on display by the outshining of his worth and his value in your life. Worship him with your life.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.