Dear Friends, 7/7/11
Every day we wake up to face a new day full of challenges and potential heartache. We feel two things at the same time: that there is far more to do than we can accomplish today, and secondly that we lack the resources (physically and financially) to barely begin. This realization can threaten to undo us from the start. What should we do? Go back to God’s Word! Who does God say we are? What does God say we can do?
Let’s look to Romans 12:1-2.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God . . .”
What mercies is he speaking of? Well, for context look back at Romans 11:33-36. We learn there that “His riches and wisdom and knowledge” are “deep, unsearchable, and inscrutable.” We learn that all things are “from him, and through him, and in him.”
- God’s gift in Christ.
Faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved. Easier, softer ways abound, but they don’t really save, or work. When I talk about being saved, I mean using your God given brain to reach out and surrender your will and life to God’s care in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ’s work on the cross is perfect. There is nothing else you can do to save yourself. This does not mean that God does not give you work to do, but it is always only a response to the work Christ has done.
“to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
- Our worship as a response. Your worship is to give your body holy and acceptable to God as a living sacrifice.
How do you give yourself as a living sacrifice? By living in Christ and allowing His Holy Spirit to lead you in obedience. Your sacrifice does not take place alone. You cannot live holy apart from Christ, and you cannot remain in Christ while separating yourself from the spiritual brothers and sisters he places you with. We are all called to a local body of believers. Within that local body we learn to serve Christ by serving one another as bond servants.
Paul is describing a whole new way of worship with this expression “living sacrifice”. Instead of burning up offerings that only express our devotion vicariously, we are to offer our very bodies themselves continuously. In some ways it is easier to be a martyr and die than it is to daily die to ourselves for Christ. In some ways it is easier to give of our money, as much as we need it, than to surrender our pride and be humiliated publicly by siding with people who represent the ways in which our great society has not given us what was needed just to be human.
We are live offerings, on fire with the Holy Spirit, and yet never consumed. We burn brightest together and grow cold when we separate. As offerings we are somehow never consumed or spent. As individuals we may fear that we’ll be used up in our service. That we’ll grow weary in our prayer and worship. That physically we just can’t take what God gives us to do. But as living sacrifices that does not happen. God uses us continually, but doesn’t use us up. As we surrender our fear and pride we become more useful, not less.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds”
- Not conformed to this age but transformed by mind renewal.
In order not to conform to this age we have to be able to see where our age lives at odds with the gospel we profess. We have to see where our age offers an alternative gospel. And we have to know that many professing Christians have so conformed their preaching to the idolatries of this age that far from offering a faith that saves, they preach a kind of gospel that says our age is right and that mind renewal is not really necessary at all.
Martin Luther King, Jr had much to say to us about conformity and our need to be “positively maladjusted.” He preached a sermon called “Transformed Nonconformist” on this passage of Scripture. He said, “Any Christian who blindly accepts the opinions of the majority and in fear and timidity follows a path of expediency and social approval is a mental and spiritual slave.” We are not called to be slaves to this sin, but slaves to righteousness. (Rom. 6:18)
Dr. King warned us however that nonconformity is not of itself good. Sometimes it doesn’t transform or offer redemptive power. He said,
“The experience, which Jesus spoke of as the new birth, is essential if we are to be transformed nonconformists and freed from the cold hardheartedness and self-righteousness so often characteristic of nonconformity. Someone has said, ‘I love reforms but I hate reformers.’ A reformer may be an untransformed nonconformist whose rebellion against the evils of society has left him annoyingly rigid and unreasonably impatient.”
I’d like to share a couple of short sayings from Peter Maurin that demonstrate the kind of nonconformity we should expect of Christians. He said,
“To be our brother’s [or sister’s] keeper is what God wants us to do. To feed the hungry at a personal sacrifice is what God wants us to do. To clothe the naked at a personal sacrifice is what God wants us to do. To shelter the homeless at a personal sacrifice is what God wants us to do. To shelter the homeless at a personal sacrifice is what God wants us to do. To instruct the ignorant at a personal sacrifice is what God wants us to do. To serve man [and woman] for God’s sake is what God wants us to do.”
And here’s another one:
“The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off. For when everybody tries to become better off, nobody is better off. But when everybody tries to become better, everybody is better off. . . “
The word for transformation Paul uses in Romans 12:2 (metamorphous) is the same word used to describe the transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospels. (Matt. 17:2, Mark 9:2) In 2 Cor. 3:18 Paul writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
This would be a great passage to tape to your mirror in the morning, to remind yourself of the changes God is accomplishing in your life everyday. You may not see your face glowing now, but as you follow Jesus others may begin to see and welcome the changes before you do. Receive that with thanksgiving.
“so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is goodand acceptable and perfect.”
- Knowing and doing the will of God, good, acceptable, perfect.
I often say to anyone who will listen that they can do the Next Right Thing. Not everyone however can know and do the will of God and live in a way that is good, acceptable, and perfect. Do you want what God wants for you? Do you believe that God will provide for you when you do the next right thing? Do you trust that God knows what He’s doing in your life right now? These questions put people on the spot because they’re a challenge. I believe anyone can do one right thing next. But not anyone can continue to follow that up with the NRT over and over. Why? Because without God we can’t be what we were created to be. We can’t be truly human.
We get accustomed to things as they are. We learn one way and it works, it gets comfortable and we wear it out. Good gets in the way of great and gradually it slides into ok, and then gradually bad. As living sacrifices we have to offer not only part of ourselves, but the whole continually. We are not personal perfectionists but rely on Christ’s humble mind continually and offer ourselves for His sake.
We are citizens of eternity, but we are accustomed to time as we know it. What can be accomplished in eternity by us here and now? Certainly not building giant towers to memorialize ourselves. But prayer and worship that continually changes us. Prayer and worship have no worth to this age. They are a protest to this age’s values. Prayer and worship insist that God alone is in control. Prayer and worship are the routine that inform everything we do until all that we are is caught up into adoration. When we lack anything we learn to turn to God. When we expect anything we learn to turn to God. When our efforts aren’t showing any visible signs of making a difference, we turn to God. God in Christ becomes our all in all.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Chris L. Rice