A New Way of Thinking
For the past several weeks, I’ve been telling you that having been made in God’s image is a complete game-changer, and that the comprehension of this requires a response on our parts. Several times I have also mentioned that our response needs to be in the way we think about things, in our point of view concerning the world around us. This week, we’ll begin our investigation of what the Scriptures have to say on this subject…
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. 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.
As all of you know, whenever we see the word “therefore”, we are reading a passage that draws a conclusion from what has preceded it. While that is certainly true here, this one isn’t just referring to the verses just concluded, for this is the beginning of a new unit (12-15) and thus, “therefore” is drawing a conclusion from the preceding unit (1-11), which is a very important distinction. The first unit in Romans discussed grace; the second unit discusses our response to grace. Thus, Paul is telling us that in response to God’s amazing grace, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
Verse 1 is, in a sense, a counterpoint to the Old Testament worship in which animals were sacrificed and rituals were observed. Notice the presence of the words “offer”, “sacrifice” and “worship”, all three of which are terms that pertain to worship in the Old Testament. The old system of worship involved symbols and ceremonies, but worship in the New Testament involves “spirit and truth”. Consequently, the proper and true manner of worship for the Christian is for us to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Please understand: This is no platitude; it is an imperative. A fair question right about now would be, “OK, but just exactly how do I do that?”
You will no doubt be relieved when I tell you that Paul has provided the answer in verse 2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
My goodness, how we love to quote this, but how many of us actually do it? How many of us actually believe that it is possible? Surely this is nothing more than an abstract ideal, a goal that cannot be realized in this life!
Maybe we should all pause and re-read it; look carefully at the words, the grammar…
Holy heart attack! This is no abstraction; it too is an imperative!
So, here’s another question: Would the Apostle Paul command us to do something if it is impossible? Perhaps we need to think about this some more. Do you recall what Paul told us regarding Israel’s failure to attain righteousness? Yes, that’s right: They never obtained righteousness because their faith was in their ability to conform to the Law, but what God wanted was for them to put their faith in Him… and with God, all things are possible.
Notice that in the imperative of verse 2, there is a contrast, a duality that is set up by the word “but” “Do not be conformed… but be transformed” Thus we have a choice to make: Either we live as the world does with its values, activities and ways of thinking, or we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds so that we have an entirely new way of thinking with different values that lead us to a different way of life; this is our choice, and to be quite candid with you, it is very much like the choice that Israel had to make.
Paul set out his proposition in verses 1-2, that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices and be transformed by the renewing of our minds as a response to grace− in verses 3-8 we have our first lesson on how to go about it: Serve the body of Christ in humility.
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 faith God has distributed to each of you. (12:3)
So, it would seem that the first step in the transformative process is that we adopt an attitude of humility. Right away, we can see that not being conformed to this world was something Paul was very serious about (v. 2) for in this age of “game”, “swagger” and “bling” humility is very much out of style. Verse 4 uses the metaphor of our bodies in the same way that Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 12 as he shows that each of us has a unique part to play in the Body of Christ. While this is easy enough to grasp, he takes another shot at the attitudes of this world in verse 5 when he says each member belongs to all the others. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Christians bristle at that one.
In verses 6-8 Paul refers to spiritual gifts that each of us has received by the Holy Spirit.
I hope you will consider this carefully: In a context of humble service, a context that is not only counter-intuitive but also counter-cultural for most of us, Paul tells us to exercise our spiritual gifts in humble service to the Body of Christ. Think about the magnitude of the implication of this…
Not only are we to adopt an attitude of true and honest humility, not only are we to consider our positions as members of and belonging to the Body of Christ, but we are to serve the Body of Christ. Yet even more striking than that, we are to rely upon our spiritual gift from God in our service, which is to say that we are not to rely on our own strength, ability or talent, but on God’s grace alone.
Now, let’s think about what we’ve already seen in Romans, again let’s consider why Israel did not obtain righteousness by the Law. They relied on their own strength and ability to follow the Law, but they did not rely on God for His righteousness. How are we to live as Christians? We are to rely on God in all things to serve His purpose and not our own abilities.
Paul has several more lessons for us on this subject in Romans, and we’ll continue our investigation next week- see you then!