What were your expectations this morning as you came to church? – good coffee, learn about Bible, warm welcome, kids. Good but Total Revolution? My friend describes many Christians' expectations as 'middle-class+'. The Christian life is a bit like your gym membership; one takes care of your physical fitness, one takes care of 'spiritual' things and you add each in to suit your lifestyle. But does that match up to what Paul is talking about in Romans 12?
Author of Romans; Paul's life revolutionised by encounter with God's grace. From #1 destroyer of early church to #1 promoter, from proud, rule-following religion to 'chief of sinners'. Everything has changed Paul's life is being re-built from ground-up, re-imagined, He's re-understanding who He is. Now desperate to share God's grace – Rome; NY, Paris, London and Tokyo combined – cultural epicenter.
First 11 ch Paul explaining God's mercy on a cosmic scale. 12 hinge-point.
The best way I can describe it is like the budget report a couple of weeks ago. Shortly after the details of the budget are announced you begin to get a number of wittily titled presentations about how the budget affects you – the average man on the street. Romans 12 is a bit like that; its the transition from Paul's passionate re-telling of God's grace and mercy to what that means for life.
We're starting a new series today; 'Total Revolution: How The Gospel Transforms Everything' we're beginning to see how The Gospel will transform the way we view ourselves, our relationship to the state, each other, work, forgiveness, history, everything.
Now clearly 'everything' is quite a lot of ground to cover so I've got some more modest ambitions for us this morning so I've just got two points.
I want to spend some time exploring this link Paul makes between The Gospel and a transformed life; what's the mechanism, how does The Gospel begin to change everything? That's point 1; 'In view of God's mercy'
Secondly I want Paul to show us how, in response to God's mercy, we should now begin to see ourselves and each other. That's point 2; 'Seeing ourselves in the light of God's mercy'.
In view of God's mercy
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[or reasonable]act of worship.
Therefore in view of the last 11 chapters. In light of God allowing Jesus to suffer so that we can be forgiven and free. In response to this the only reasonable, rational response is to;
offer your bodies as living sacrifices
These final five chapters show us how to live all of life differently in response to the mercy God has shown to us in Jesus. Reference point, lens, filter.
That's why we're studying 'The Cross' at weekend away. It isn't just the gateway to becoming a Christian – continually converts, changes us. God's mercy saves us and its also the driving force, the engine for transformation. Paul's flesh and blood example the most religious, moral man yet only truly transformed by encountering Jesus.
offer your bodies as living sacrifices?
No longer need for bulls, goats sacrifices. Christ perfect, final sacrifice.Worship required now, not through sacrifices but throughout all of our lives.We present bodies – do, speak, act, create, think and love as living sacrifices
Our physical bodies, our homes, our relationships, work, children, our passions, our creativity and skill all of these are now part of our worship of Christ. 'Everything is spiritual'. As God's plan to redeem creation unfolds before us that isn't a burdensome command it's one that invites us to re-understand everything at the feet of our wonderful saviour – Jesus.
So how does this work in practice? How do we begin to live in the light of God's mercy?
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.
Let's dig into this, Paul is saying in order to test and approve what God's will, to live in line with, in view of God's mercy these two things need to happen;
1 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world
2 but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Positive and negative held together: do not conform any longer to the thinking of culture that isn't living in reference to God's mercy – live a counter-cultural life; instead be transformed, having your mind set, your way of thinking remodeled.
Life lived in view of God's mercy is counter-cultural. Therefore have to consciously choose, daily to live that way. Mainstream culture will often but up against the reality of God's mercy. What this world says about us and the way we think must not be passively accepted but measured against the truth of the Gospel. Therefore we cannot passively allow culture to wash over us but rather we must re-analyse what it's saying in the light of the cross.
Doesn't mean building monasteries, but it does mean asking questions, taking notice of the impact it has on the way we think. Not just academic – attitudes, truths that we believe about ourselves, life. Just as when you sit here you listen and evaluate what is said against scripture, so we must do the same when we're preached at for two hours in a cinema.
Everything isn't negative. Ask if it holds true in light of God's mercy. Filter, carefully consciously what is influencing, molding us – won't just happen.
Positively; be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Unusual sentence. Emphasis not on us – an external force acting on us. As we resist the influence of the pattern of this world we put down the barriers to God's grace working in us. In the Greek this is continuous as in keep allowing yourself to be shaped by, keep gaining a taste for God's goodness. Paul isn't arguing for Buddhist meditation in which you seek to empty your mind of everything rather he is acknowledging that there is always something filling our minds and that something drives the way that we live, the way that we think and feel about everything. Ephesians 4.23 puts it like this; 'to be made new in the attitude (or spirit) of your minds'. NOT academic knowledge but a change of attitude, conviction.
Imagine Paul told you to gain an appreciation for fine wine. Ypu could do some research and increase your knowledge – growers, grapes, conditions. Go to S. France, meet the weather-beaten man whose been crushing grapes since he was 7. Sip, smell hold glass, talk pretentiously about it. No appreciation neccesarily. Need to drink it – allow it to mould, transform palette – bad wine taste bad, trained to recognise good wine.
I think Paul saying something similar; stop drinking bad wine, glugging mindlessly. Be under the influence of God's goodness and learn, train yourself so that you can recognise the goodness of God's good, pleasing and perfect will.
Well it might mean put the axe down on some of the ways we consume and are influenced by culture we might need to change the books we read, the websites or blogs we visit, the TV we watch certainly we need to have ways of critically evaluating these things. We should engage with culture, we should enjoy and create it but we enjoy the best of it through the lens of God's mercy. Just as we appreciate a beautiful sunset more because we know it's creator and amazingly He knows us! So we enjoy a well-written book, beautiful cinematography or a stunning piece of music more when we view it with eyes that see God redeeming a broken creation. We do not consume mindlessly, we look along the shelf and we pick out the really good wine.
Before that we actively allow ourselves to be acted on by God's grace and to be transformed by it. How? Lots of ways but primarily allow communication. John 17 'Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.' I'm going to tell you to read the Bible more and I don't apologise; Jesus prays that we would be transformed, purified by doing so – its not optional.
Start/re-start reading scripture regularly. Put yourself where you can hear it faithfully explained – come to church, go to home group. None of us have got this down its about continuing to cultivate opportunities to drench ourselves in good stuff. Rod wrote a great piece on the website about meditating on what God has done over Easter – go read that. This isn't a guilt trip by Paul but a call to cultivate a taste for God's goodness, you're going to drink something so why not make it the most compelling, beautiful and life-altering thing you could imagine.
That's Paul's methodology then; in view of God's incredible mercy all of our life is now eligible for and demanded as worship to the king. As we look at the world around us with this new perspective we begin to see it in a new light, a light which demands that we no longer allow ourselves to be conformed to the world's pattern but rather that we gladly trade it in for better wine as we pursue and cultivate a taste for the finest thing; God's good, pleasing and perfect will.
Seeing ourselves in the light of God's mercy
Throughout series see Paul applying this new mindset to different spheres of our lives. From government (should be interesting – General Election) to forgiveness, love, hypocrisy and life lived in true community.
Paul starts by re-examining how we view ourselves. Paints picture of total transformation of relationships. V3 should bring us up with a jolt;
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 judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
We can't be proud any longer. We no longer view ourselves in terms of abilities achievements, or against other people. Free from that slavery to see truth - broken sinner who deserves hell but one who has by God's incredible mercy been bought back at a price. Now free to worship God with all of life whilst being restored into the image of the creator and redeemer.
We're like a set of broken, antique mirrors in workshop. Dusty and marked reflect a distorted image. But being restored piece by piece to the image we were designed to reflect. Pride is discounted but hope is not. Arrogance is crushed, flimsy self-image is replaced by true worth and dignity as images of God. When we measure ourselves by God's grace rather than culture's standards – allow these things to shape us – relationships redefined.
5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
We enjoy each others gifts and our generous with our own now that we know that they are God's grace given to us rather than the basis of our identity. We belong to each other, we're part of one body in Christ interdependent and reliant on each other, each of us benefiting from God's grace at work in each others lives. That's why it matters that you here, it matters that you at home group when they re-start a week on Wednesday. It matters that we all find places we can serve, not just so that jobs get done but so that God's grace in us is on display.
9Love must be sincere (or genuine or without hypocrisy). Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
We no longer need to hide the truth from each other because our relationships are characterised by an understanding of God's grace. We are not afraid to call sin, sin because we each hate it and are being restored from its damaging effects and we join together in fighting it. We cling to what is good because we have tasted God's goodness and are desperate for more of it, anything else tastes rotten.
10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.13Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another.
We start to enjoy an incredible depth of relationship. We are devoted to each other, we are hopeful of our own transformation and that of our community and beyond. We pray together and having this love for each other we forgive one another. We learn to appreciate God's unconditional and sacrificial love for us as we share our possessions, our homes, our food our lives with each other. We are filled with joy when our friends rejoice and we cry together when one part of the body is injured.
Isn't this a life worth pursuing? Paul's call for us to be transformed by the renewing of your mind continually give us a clue that this is a process to embark on rather than a destination we have arrived at. But isn't the view from God's mercy beautiful, doesn't a life lived like this look beautiful? Might it be worth pursuing, together? Not as a project for us, not as a community for us to build and hide in but rather as the only natural, rational response to God's incredible mercy shown to us.
Let's allow ourselves to be transformed, totally and let's use all of our life to worship; our minds, our gifts, our relationships, families, food, homes, creativity, intellect, character, time our jobs as tools to worship our creator and redeemer. Let's pray.