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Romans (Series 2)

Living Sacrifices

Romans 12:1-13

Lesson audio

It is an article of faith in many evangelical churches (including the one in which this author serves) that an intellectual Christian is, of necessity, a hypocrite. People who think about their faith are clearly (somehow) incapable of real Christianity. When asked how this squares with the command to love the Lord your God with “all your mind,” the answer is some variation on the idea of, “Check your brain at the door, ‘cause God wants your heart.” One prize example: “He wants you to love him with all your mind, but you can’t be intellectual about it.” Today’s passage is another embarrassing one to this point of view – but don’t worry, a little thought and we’ll have some way to deny the life of the mind in the Christian.

Life of the Mind

Romans 12:1-3 NIV

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual[1] act of worship. (2) Do not conform any longer 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. (3) For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Therefore

We need to begin with a review of what has passed before:

  • Paul has reviewed for us the history of Israel and Christ, noting that the chosen people have rejected Christ.
  • We, the Gentiles, were therefore “grafted in” to the people of God. Thus, we didn’t earn it; God took their rejection and made a greater good of it. There is no credit to us.
  • If we’ve been grafted in, then we can be pruned out.

It is in this context that Paul gives us his command.

Offer your bodies

There are two views of the human body with strikingly similar results which we must expose as being wrong:

  • There is the modern view that the human being is pure animal. Misusing the body would be considered something like alcohol abuse; but adultery is simply just another form of sex. The only thing to beware of is damage to the machinery.
  • The ancient view was that the flesh – the tangible human being – was evil, corrupt and passing away. Therefore, whatever you did in bodily form was perfectly acceptable; only the spiritual could be considered sinful.

Thus the modern accepts adultery as right and good; the ancient thinks it trivial. Arrogance was a sin to the ancients, but a virtue to the modern. We have progressed so much, you see.

The Christian view is rather different: the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, to be kept holy. Adultery is, therefore, a sin, for it breaks the marriage vow. The human being is not just a body, nor a dissociated spirit and body – but one united organism. (This explains, in one way, the necessity of the resurrection of the dead). The Christian is therefore responsible for keeping the body holy.

Transformation of the mind

You can thus see that the mind, far from being irrelevant, is indeed a major part of the Christian life. Like all else, it must be brought into its proper place:

  • We are not to conform but be transformed. This is a mental transformation; the idea is that the Christian should NOT be thinking like the rest of the world. (Some thought about materialism might be appropriate here).
  • There is a purpose to this. It is not just so that we will think happy thoughts, but rather so that we will know the will of God. Ponder that; the purpose of transforming your mind is so that you will know the will of God. Have you ever asked for that? Now you know how to get it.
  • The chief obstacle, of course, is pride. If you continue in your pride, how can you transform your mind into the likeness of the humble Christ? And if you don’t, how can you know God’s will?

Body Life

Romans 12:4-8 NIV Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, (5) so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (6) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his[2]faith. (7) If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; (8) if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Concept: church as body

One of Paul’s favorite pictures of the church is that of a body. We may see these reasons for the usefulness of the picture:

  • It reminds us that, as bodies are visible, we are the visible presence of Christ in the world. The church is the body of Christ; our hands and feet are his in this world.
  • It shows us that there is unity in diversity as there is unity in the Trinity. There is no “typical Christian” – all races, classes, categories of any type are in the church. By this we become all things to all men so that we might win some to Christ.
  • The body is united – we belong to all the other members. A body dismembered is no body at all. It is in our unity that we show Christ. If we bicker, who will listen to us?
Differing gifts

There are some interesting points not usually associated with the gifts to the church. Paul brings them out here, most likely out of concern for the unity of the body. Consider; have you heard this about the gifts of the Spirit?

  • Sometimes, you need to “let” someone use his or her gift. “Let him teach.” The modern method is not to look for someone with the gift of teaching; rather, that person is seen as not having the right college degree. Much better to draft someone from the right school.[1] (We don’t seem to have this problem with the gift of giving.)
  • Sometimes the nature of the gift determines the nature of the service. If you are to govern, then diligence is an obvious requirement. Form follows function – a creative artist might say.
  • Occasionally – not always – the use of the gift is in proportion to faith. That’s the case for prophecy, but not for giving, evidently. The connection, however, is obvious.
That they are gifts

We need to remember that our gifts are just that: gifts. If you have the gift of giving or teaching, it’s nothing to boast about. It’s a gift, not an award.

That’s one reason we are taught not to judge others. Who knows what gifts your fellow Christian might have? Perhaps he is in the wrong place of service, doing his best.

But whatever gift you have, it has one privilege: you can use it for the glory of God.

Sincere Love

Romans 12:9-13 NIV Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (10) Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. (11) Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (12) Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (13) Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Hate evil, cling to good

There is something quite deep here:

Consider first the character of God. God is love. He is also righteousness. Those who grow like him will begin to imitate his character.

  • Thus, to love sincerely is to be like God. Since you are a part of the body of Christ, this is just what should be expected.
  • What may surprise you is that for exactly the same reason you should grow to hate evil.

Christians do not grow into placid people, but zealous ones. Let me give you a test which might make this clear to you. Which one describes you:

Ø  I object to people who perform abortions because they don’t think like I do.

Ø  I object to abortions because they are morally wrong – and the people who do them are, as a practical fact, murderers.

Ø  I object to abortions because they kill children – who God loves, and so do I.

You probably don’t fit neatly in any category on this; but there is one thing you might see. For the Christian, the imitation of God means a definite reaction to the slaughter of abortion. It’s a part of just who you are.

Brotherly love

Paul gives us three ways in which we show our brotherly love in general:

  • Devotion to each other. There is a reason the teacher wants to know if you’re going to be in the hospital. We are supposed to care for each other; to do that we must care about each other. We’re family.
  • Honor each other. To treat your fellow Christians with respect; to see to it that they are applauded for such good as you can see; to make sure that they are not just another name on the roster – for Christ never did such a thing for his church.
  • Hospitality and giving. Your brothers and sisters have physical needs – a place to stay at times; money, food, clothing or just the loan of a bigger shovel. It is God’s command that you do so. As Americans, the richest Christians in history, it applies even more to us.
Love God

Zeal, with knowledge, is a good thing. But just exactly how does one love God? Loving my neighbor is a visible thing; what about loving God?

  • Be joyful in hope – remember that your hope is in the return of our Lord. Is not his return a thought of joy?
  • Be patient in affliction – or, quit whining and wait upon the Lord.
  • Be faithful in prayer.

May I leave you with one thought? Taken as individual commands these seem to be quite a laundry list. Taken as examples of loving God, and therefore his children, the matter is much simpler. It starts with the transformation of the mind, from the mind of sinful man to the mind of Christ.



[1] As might be obvious, my gift is teaching. The first reaction to this at my new church was to tell me that we wanted only staff members to teach classes. Just who’s running things here? The Spirit, or the staff?

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