Key Verse: 12:2
"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."
Did you have a Merry Christmas? Thank God that we could remember and praise God for coming in the flesh to redeem us for the last three weeks. It was not actually time to return to Romans yet, but I realized the next lesson on the schedule was actually a wonderful theme to think of for New Year time. "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Is it a coincidence? God knows. I pray we can find encouragement through Paul's directions and start transforming this week. I pray by transforming, we may experience the blessing and wonder of life that accomplishes God's good pleasing and perfect will in 2016.
1. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices
Verse 1 "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 act of worship." Who can summarize God's mercy toward us, according to the lectures we shared in the last few chapters of Romans? Paul examined the way God is working to save his people in great detail for quite a while. He earnestly challenged the Jews to come out of their Judaism to serve God by faith, and reminded the gentiles that they cannot be proud of themselves for having faith, when so many Jews do not. He tried to help everyone trust only the gracious mercy of God who sent Jesus to atone for all their sins, rather than put any hope in their own work. Now he wants to talk about practical living for God's kingdom.
In view of God’s mercy, the first thing believers should do is offer their bodies to him as living sacrifices. It is no less than what the Lord Jesus did with his body on earth. Of course it does not mean all believers are to be martyred as a rule, but that as long as we are alive in the world, our bodies should be completely devoted to God and living up to his will. A sacrifice offering in the old law was given over to God completely. The owner abandoned all right to any of the food that comes from it, leaving it for the priests. Anything that they did not eat was burned to ashes. Similarly, as long as we live, Paul tells us that anything which is not useful to God should not remain in our lives. Our bodies should be holy and pleasing to God. Some Bibles call this our basic responsibility. It is both basic responsibility and the highest blessing that we can offer ourselves like that, so this Bible describes our doing so as a spiritual act of worship.
The Jews expected the gentile Christians to conform to their sacrificial traditions and rituals, but Paul directed those Jews and gentiles to offer themselves to God instead. He wants them to repent of their squabbling and selfishness to live as one holy family under God their heavenly father. We fall short of God's hope on our part when we seek spirituality in some other "self-serving" form of worship. There is a lot of temptation to serve myself today. Spiritual systems that exalt one man over another is the core of many religions that are growing around the world. God's mercy forbids any such thing, for he has bundled us all together under one banner of “sinners in desperate need of his mercy for salvation.” Offering our bodies to him as living sacrifices brings us all to the same level. We all come to him helpless, bankrupt and entirely belonging to God, to be used for his purpose and none of our own. It looks totalitarian to unfaithful eyes, but it is reasonable in every way, if we truly believe that God has created us and this whole universe for his glory.
2. Be transformed
Have a look at verse 2. If we agree that offering ourselves to God is right, we can find God's hope for us here. Let’s read it together. "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." God's hope for us begins practically, with something we can do. Avoid following the ways of the world. In the immediate context of the previous chapters, it means to say, "You Roman Jews who want to serve Jesus, don't cling to the idea that you are great because God called Abraham your ancestor. You Roman Christians, who want to live for God, don't despise those Jews who don't understand yet, as if they are unworthy of your fellowship." In the future and our times, it means Christians really should not spend much time in the lost world. No more wavering back and forth between their sinful desires and living for God's glory.
What could be the overall pattern of the world? One commentary reminded me of John's first letter. He wrote, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." According to this, the pattern of the world is the opposite of what pleases God. The world pleases our eyes and revolves around things we like to brag about. Sinful man craves overeating and abusing fellow human beings endlessly. The inner desires to commit sin by any means are very powerful. In our times, fighting against sinful cravings has gone out of style, filling our eyes with many pleasures has become the norm. I heard of something a couple years ago that I thought could never happen in a church, and I worried that it was totally disregarding John's instructions. The church invited the young fellows from the neighborhood to come and play the most violent video games available. The games were all about shooting machine guns and blasting people to pieces for fun. The thought it was a good way to "keep them off the streets." In my mind, they were inviting them to fill their eyes with blood thirsty images and feeding their pride of life to the full. One commenter suggested they could get even more people off the streets if they invite them to drinking parties to watch ungodly movies all night long. There are many ways the pattern of the world is destroying believers like this. Man is bombarded by temptation to satisfy the lust of our flesh, lust of our eyes and prideful boasting everywhere. Ladies are suffering from its influence as much as the men thanks to the fashion industry and peer pressures to do ungodly things in the name of equality. Did you ever see how the plastic surgery industry remanufactured all the young ladies in Korea? They have one design, and all look the same. (Are they people or Korbie dolls?) The world is applying very strong pressure nowadays to make believers conform to its pattern. Many former Christian communities fell down under the worldly pressure to appoint leaders the Bible does not allow, re-define relationships in ungodly ways and basically ignore the Bible as the word of God all the time.
Who follows Jesus must run the other way, do not let peer pressures and your own inner cravings shape and conform you to the ways of the world. Rather be transformed, by renewing your mind. How do we do that? It's not the same as brainwashing, cleaning up the old one. We saw a renewing when the little shanty homes of our Bible center were demolished to renew the property into a giant apartment house for disciples. Perhaps renewing our mind is similar, and makes a good example for New Year renewals. "Out with the old, in with the new." is a popular saying this time of year. The fact that we often renew things proves that renewing our minds is not out of reach, however, I do believe some help, or at least inspiration from God is necessary to fully achieve a renewed mind. After God’s inspiration, we only need to choose his way over our way one decision at a time.
Many situations are a no brainer to determine what the sinful man desires and what the holy God would like us to do. "Do I rent the ungodly movie or read the Bible and pray? Should I be kissing and touching my boyfriend or require him to marry me first?" These are no brainers. Yet as time goes by, our minds get worn down by constant temptation, and badgering by sinful desires. So, it obvious that being transformed goes on continually, like a strong tree growing year by year, patiently and persistently seeking God's kingdom as we push our sinful nature aside to please God. The bottom line is, I guess, that it takes work to renew something. I wish we could 3d print a new mind, or ask a mind surgeon to remove my brain and put in a Bible, but it won't happen. God inspires us to renew our mind and be transformed with his word, but we have to be conscious and diligent to bring about our own mind's transformation. Seek first the kingdom of God, is how Jesus told his disciples to get on the road to their transformation.
What will be the result of our hard work and diligent attendance to renewing our minds? See verse 2 again. "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." Paul is encouraging those believers to step out in faith so they may find out what God has shown him about salvation and true brotherhood among believers. He is simply promising them that they will understand how much God truly loved all mankind when they put their worldly minds away. They will be able to test God's will, to see if he really is saving people by faith in his son rather than by religious ordnances. At the moment, even thinking God could save that yucky person over there or those unforgivable wretches outside was out of the question. But if they renew their minds, they will approve of God's calling all tribes and kindred to him as one. In a word, testing and approving God's good pleasing and perfect will assimilates us into his kingdom and brings us joy over God's plan of salvation while we serve as his ambassadors in this world.
Renewing our mind is the beginning of the transformation, but we should know what to aim for and what to expect as the result. Thankfully, Paul offers several chapters of practical things we can do and what to look forward to as we get transformed. Look at verse 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." Of all things to work on, Paul wrote about our attitude first of all. When we think soberly of ourselves, we can easily recognize our own sin problem. Sober minded believers admit we have nothing to say for ourselves if God were to call us to account. Compare to the pattern of the world; where I compare myself to others until I find someone I think is worse than me and convince myself that I am okay. We must see ourselves from God’s point of view, or we will be groundlessly proud of ourselves and always find someone to look down on. I learned of a survey proving that when believers become proud of themselves they are the most arrogant of all people as they demean and judge the lowly people. It was a survey of waiters and waitresses who work on Sunday. They felt the church crowds were the worst. James warned about such judgmental thinking in his letter when he heard they asked the good looking people to sit up front and shunned the shabby looking people.
To make sure we have a clear reason to respect others, Paul offered an example of a body in verse 4&5. “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” The example proves that we cannot respect one person more or less than another in the work of God. We may find ourselves relying on one or another in varying degrees, but we can never look at another believer as useless to the work of God. "... we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."
As one body, there are many things that each part may do. Paul offered some examples in verse 6-8. He listed prophesying, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading and showing mercy. Can we find such things in our church? Paul encouraged the Corinthians to pray for prophesying above all things. He said if all were prophesying the unbelievers will be convinced they are sinners as the secrets of their hearts are revealed, leading them to fall down and worship God exclaiming, “God is really among you!” According to that description, prophesying is a precious gift that helps Bible students renew their minds and transform into holy children of God when they repent.
Another gift is teaching. Do you think he means math teacher and music teacher or computer science professor? I hope so. Teachers are God’s instruments who can transform students into wise and productive members of society. It may be Paul is referring to the ones who teach the Bible. Do you believe God gave you a gift to teach the Bible to others? James even stressed in his letter that the teachers are in danger of stricter judgment, especially if they fall into some hypocrisy of teaching the Bible but not doing what they told others to do. The Bible teachers really need encouragement and support.
What do you think of serving? I always felt it was easy to serve someone with a ride or help moving or something similar, like we fixed a pipe one day in our friend’s house. Serving felt like the most natural thing for me. Now I am getting older, so serving moving missions gives me many body aches. Thank God for one email on my message list is called, …servant@somemailserver. What a blessed believer to know so sure calling and precious gift as that. Can the teacher or prophecy sharer look down on the one who serves by taking out the garbage? No. They are all one body and God sees all their labor the same.
How about the other things: encouraging, contributing, leading and showing mercy? M. John has been trying very hard to encourage everyone to work hard for God, especially J&JP. Sometimes we felt burdened by his encouraging and feel so heavy about it. Thank God for the merciful coworkers listen compassionately while we complain about MJ's encouraging.
Whenever I think of a gift of mercy, medical servants come to my mind first of all. To my eyes, they are like the most powerful glimpses of God's mercy on sinful man that I can see. Whenever I see how they fix our broken bodies, I stand amazed, and wonder how God must work in the other dimensions to heal our souls in Jesus' hands. Thank God for you merciful people.
There were two left in this short list: contributing and leading. I thank God for the gospel workers contributions and supporting each other in 2015. Some of us literally could not survive today if not for the generosity of others in our community. Pray for and thank God for the sincere devotion that inspired the contributors among us. We see also precious leaders growing and doing their best to help us work for God. God gave MP wisdom to lead all kind of programs and schedules. He gave SJ & MF to lead precious musical programs. The students took turns leading the way for many gospel related events and Bible studies on the campus. MP & MM served JBF very patiently and with deep love. MJ&RC lead CBF very humbly and very graciously for another year. Praise God for the leaders he has provided for our community. Pray for them to bear fruit and remain as light in the dark world for many years to come.
What do you think of all these particular gifts? Many times we envy someone with a gift of some kind or another and think we are useless because we don’t have that particular gift or talent. In fact, we all have many chances to do something, but we avoid the chance to use our gifts for God. Martin Luther King Jr. said there is no reason to think we are useless. According to Jesus’ testimony in the Bible Dr. King noticed that anyone can be great in God’s sight because anyone can serve others. The problem is we more often use our gifts to serve ourselves, rather than offer our gifts and talents to God. Some use their talented fingers to text gossip and their latest achievements. How many took time to write textimony about their Bible study last week? We have many gifts from God, so let’s work on using them all for his glory from now on.
Whatever the gifts we can find, it should be obvious that we have to work on them. We have to try and fail and support each other as we mature in skill. Thankfully, gifts God give to build his church are not like little toys for Christmas which we use until they break, or until we use them up like bottle of soap. As our mind renews and our lives transform, our serving gifts improve and we become more skillful. Paul told us to exercise our talents in proportion with our faith, generously, diligently and cheerfully. Jesus said, “give and you shall receive, a good measure, pressed down and shaken.” God gave us various gifts so we may give back to him and bless others. They are the sort of gifts that truly keep on giving as we make bodies available to God. Let’s take Jesus word for it and let God use the gifts he has given us generously.
Verse 9 seems to stand out as a strong direction and goal to achieve as we transform. Let's read that one together too. "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." As I studied with the one I love most of all, we though sincere love is important and stands out because many of the things that come afterward in the passage will not be possible if we love others with ulterior motives. Along with love, there is bound to be hate. They are necessary opposites. We need to be clear about what we love and what we hate. Sometimes we have a love to hate experience. Love to hate someone? It is double evil, because we spend all our time hating the evil doer, but we enjoy watching the evildoer do evil. Be clear about what we love and what we hate. If it's evil, get rid of it. If we keep dabbling with evil, it will infect our branch and make it diseased, and you know that God cuts off fruitless branches. On the other hand, if it is good, glue yourself to it and wrap a chain around you that makes sure the good thing will not get away. Was Bible study good for you? Cling to Bible study until the end. Was choir singing for God’s glory good for you? KrazyGlue yourself to the song team. You know what I mean. If things honor and glorify God, do them and gather around you until there is no way for evil things to hang around.
In the rest of the passage, Paul zooms through all kind of relational, interpersonal experiences to look for and pursue in the transformed life. They are examples of the Godly character appearing in us since they fit the way king Jesus came to earth, made his dwelling among us, took the form of a servant to carry our diseases and bear our sorrows.
One of the most common new year goals are to get it shape or lose some weight. They represent a physical transformation. We very often fail to reach the goal because we try really hard in one week to make up for many years of slacking off in physical exercise. With many body aches, we give up. Every trainer will tell you that you have to build up with small steps, incrementing slowly until you reach your goal. This passage shares very godly, spiritual transformation goals. If we jump on them all at once and try to do them all in one week we will surely burn out. Still the fact is, we will have to work on them all, even just a little at a time. If we ignore them and don't try, we will just stagnate and melt back into the worldly way. What will happen if we put effort into transforming more into a Romans 12 kind of community in 2016.
9 If our love is sincere, God will love to be around us, and the seeking people will love to be with God together with us. If we hate what is evil; cling to what is good, evil doers will feel ashamed and jealous of the good things they see, or they will just go away, since they don't find any fun companionship.
10 If we become devoted to one another in brotherly love, and honor one another above ourselves, everyone will feel valuable, encouraged and useful, they will be willing to share and do things together joyfully.
11 If we are never lacking in zeal, but keep our spiritual fervor, serving the Lord; then we can look forward to Jesus promise coming true about the servant who took care of the house when the master was gone. Jesus and his father will make their home among us and he will say to us at the end, "well done good and faithful servant."
12 If we transform well, until we are joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer, we experience the close fellowship with God that we heard about in Apostle Paul's life and we will be blessed by God's mysterious working in ways we never imagined.
13 If we share with God's people who are in need and practice hospitality, God will probably keep sending youngsters to fellowship together with us in the summer, maybe other visitors too who can encourage us and inspire us with mission reports from around the world.
14 If we learn to bless those who persecute us; bless and do not curse them, we will have the glimpse of Gods own image shining in our lives.
15 If we rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn the love of God will be working in our lives as it did among Jesus and his early disciples. His prayer, that we may be one with him as he is with God will come true.
16 When we live in harmony with one another, not proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position, we will become like the highest degree blackbelt martial artist in the spiritual dimension. To associate with the lowest position people is the exact image of Jesus Christ the Lord. What happened when he did that? God saw his obedience and exalted him to the highest place. Pray for such transformations among us, so we may know what it means to share Jesus' suffering in this life and look forward to sharing his highest glory in eternity. If we stop being conceited, we will be able to get along with others very well, even work together with others to build the kingdom of God. Nehemiah is the good example when he did not act proud of himself as the governor, but served side by side with the high and low citizens to restore Jerusalem.
17 If we do not repay anyone evil for evil, and are careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody our community will be the fountain of forgiveness that invites all kind of sinners to experience God. It will be the light of the world that Jesus wants us to be.
18 What if, whenever it is possible, as far as it depends on you, we were to live at peace with everyone? It will be the day we know for sure King Jesus, the prince of peace is ruling over our community and leading us on his way to victory over sin and death in this world.
Verse 19 and 20 say, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."" Suppose we really keep God's direction and do his will like this, trusting everything that happens in this life to God's hands. I think we will be on the way to living daily in his good pleasing and perfect will, where there is only glory for god and peace in our lives no matter what happens in the world around us.
See verse 21. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." This sounds like the heart of God, who loved this evil world so much that he sent his only begotten son to save it.
Tell the truth. Am I just thinking wishfully? Do you think God will do something wonderful among us if we put some effort toward transforming ourselves into the kind of people we read about in this chapter? I hope God will keep be pleased with our transforming effort, and keep his promises and make his dwelling among us and give us the joy of the Lord Jesus in the New Year and forever. Let's read verse 12:2 again. "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."