Acts 10:39b-441NIV New International Version Translations
39b They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
These verses in Acts are part of a short sermon that Peter delivers to Cornelius’s household. We still refer to this message as a way to illustrate how the proclamation of the resurrection can work as part of God’s master plan. Peter’s words are important because they summarize the story of Jesus. However, there is a much deeper significance in them. It is sharing of this story, we can see that both Peter’s and Cornelius’ understanding of the gospel has been enlarged. The message has transforms how they both comprehend God. For these two men, the significance of Jesus’ resurrection does not merely consist of knowing or reciting details about an empty tomb, as vital as such details may be. More important, the resurrection provides them evidence of God’s commitment to all humanity. For Peter, the “light bulb” just clicked on and he now perceives all that has happed in a new light. The resurrection story is now providing the foundation for the key new realities that God has revealed to them.
Peter has derived a new understanding of God’s impartiality from recent visions and their interpretation (10:9-16), the story relayed to him by Cornelius’s men (10:17-23a), Cornelius’s own report (10:30-33), and the hospitality that both men extended in response to what God was doing in their midst. Peter therefore describes Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the explicit purpose of grounding and substantiating his conviction about God’s impartiality. He talks about Jesus from the perspective of one who has just recently come to realize God’s embrace of all peoples, including a Roman soldier. For Peter, he now gets it, Christ came for all not just the Jews.
Peter is testifying about God’s bringing salvation to gentiles. Peter is describing the gospel story and his own ministry by accenting the universal scope of that story and ministry. Jesus is Lord of all (v. 36). Because God was with him, he healed all who were oppressed (v. 38). Release from sins now comes to everyone who believes in him (v. 43). There is no special class that exists in God’s Kingdom. All are equal.
At the same time, the source of this salvation is rooted in God’s actions through Jesus Christ, who was sent specifically “to the people of Israel” (v. 36) and proclaimed his message only in Galilee and Judea (vv. 37, 39). Even Jesus’ subsequent encounters with the risen Christ were also limited to Jesus’ followers in the days after the resurrection (v. 40-41). While Christ’s coming into history was to secure God’s relationship with Israel, the benefit of salvation is secured for all because of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. Because God was active through Jesus, Jesus’ story attests to the fact that our God is welcoming of all. Our God refuses to make distinctions among people. Peter sees in Jesus’ story as evidence that confirms what he has come to learn about God. God, through Jesus Christ, has prepared salvation “in the presence of all peoples. (Luke 2:29-32)”
To look at our two verses from Romans, we can assume that Paul is writing for the most part, to Gentiles. He knows that his audience feels no obligation to offer animal sacrifices such as the Jews for the forgiveness of sin. Paul says, however, that they still have a sacrificial obligation that, in fact, surpasses that of the animal sacrifices required by Torah law. Christians are not allowed to substitute an animal’s life for their own, but are instead required to sacrifice their own lives. The requirement, now, is no longer ritual slaughter, but is instead the presentation of the living person to God as a living sacrifice, a life dedicated to the service of God, a life committed to doing God’s will, a life lived in faith and lived out in faithfulness. The Christian is now required to present their bodies for God’s purposes on Sunday in worship and on Monday in the workplace. There is no moment or circumstance in which the obligation does not apply.
This living self-sacrifice, Paul declares, is “holy, acceptable (euareston well-pleasing) to God” (v. 1). Animal sacrifices were holy, because they required taking something precious (a life) and offering it to God. In our antiseptic world, where we buy meat shrink-wrapped from a refrigerated case, we must stretch to imagine what it must be like to raise an animal from birth—and then to see that animal slaughtered and then to eat a portion of the meat as an act of worship. It had to be sobering, gut wrenching. To watch an animal die violently is repulsive, as is the preparation of that animal for consumption.
The slaughter of the animal is to remind all of us that, apart from the grace of God, this would be our life as required on the altar. Now Paul tells Roman Christians that it is indeed their lives that are required, but not on the temple altar. Instead, they are to offer themselves as living sacrifices. Such sacrifices are holy and pleasing to God, even as animal sacrifices, offered in the right spirit, were holy and pleasing to God. Living sacrifices are holy in that they represent lives lived in accord with the will of God.
“Don’t be conformed to this world (aioni—age), but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind“ (v. 2). The word that is translated “conformed” has to do with conformation that is malleable—that can change from day to day or year to year. The person who is “conformed to this world (aioni)” is free to embrace the next popular philosophy or fad at will. Being “conformed to this world” is rather like being a leaf blown by the wind, never knowing exactly where you are going next—or why.
The word that is translated “transformed,” however, is quite different, and involves transformation at the core of one’s being. If being “conformed” would leave us adrift like a leaf, being “transformed” leaves us with feet on the ground, anchored, and steady. Paul is calling us not to be caught up in every fad or wafted by every breeze, but instead to let the Spirit transform us at our core so that we can have a faith strong enough to maintain course in spite the winds of popular opinion.
What are the things of this age that mold and shape masses of people? They include popular culture, such as motion pictures, movies, music, and sports. They include popular philosophies, such as New Age , PC thinking and the Cancel Culture. They include incentives to succeed, even at the expense of vulnerable people. They include racism, nationalism, sectarianism, and denominationalism. These are forces that teach that our tribe is good and other tribes are bad. There are surely many other examples of the things of this age that would mold us into shapes not suited for the kingdom of God.
Items for Discussion
- Why do you think that sacrifice is a requirement in a Christian’s life?
- What happens when there is no sacrifice – everything is provided, easy, pleasing to humans?
- How do you feel about the fact that Christ came for the Israelites but we get a benefit out of it as a secondary gift from God?
- If God views ALL PEOPLE as equal, where does society, our world culture go wrong?
- What do you think the proof should be that a person or group is responding to Peter’s and Paul’s philosophy?
- Can race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or any other human attribute help in our ultimate goal of salvation?
- What are the most dangerous things of this age and/or time period?
- What is the best way to offer a sanctuary for those seeking the Peace of God promised by Christ?
- 1NIV New International Version Translations