Growing In Godliness Blog

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Author: Tom Rose

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Forever is Composed of Now

Friday, November 13, 2020

Forever Is Composed of Now*

By Tom Rose

Forever is an easy way to think of eternity.  It never stops; it just keeps going on.  It’s timeless.  After this life is over and judgment occurs, each of us will continue in an endless existence in either heaven or hell.  As shocking as this statement may seem to some, Christ Himself said as much in Mt. 25:31-33, 46.

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. And these (goats) will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous (sheep) into eternal life.”

So what determines whether one is a “sheep” or a “goat?”  Again, Christ answers that question in Mt. 7:21-23.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

In essence, whether we choose to obey God and His laws in this life will determine our place in the next.

Returning to the title, you are probably wondering how Now is composed of Forever.  When I reflect back on the moment when I decided to be baptized, I recall an unmistakable urgency.  It was not a casual action, and it was not something to be put off for a later time.  Although I was raised in a 5 generation Methodist family, at barely 18 years of age I obeyed the Gospel and was baptized during the first semester of my freshman year in college.  I had learned God’s plan through dating my future wife while attending Sunday evening church services and needed to act upon my understanding.

Although that was almost 60 years ago, it modeled exactly what had happened in first century Christianity.  In Acts 2:38, a crowd of three thousand were baptized on Pentecost.  In Acts 8:26-39, an influential Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by Philip in a desert. And in Acts 16:25-34, Paul baptized a Philippian jailor and his family at midnight.  In each case, and every other recorded baptism in the Bible, the believer was immersed in water as soon as possible after the individual recognized the need for it.  Thus, the operative word was Now.

In modern society, to leave a “legacy” ordinarily means to specify the distribution of property – money, in most cases – to heirs according to the terms described in a will.  However, it is a relatively rare event for most people to be mentioned in a will.  And yet, people talk all the time about the life of a person, now deceased, how it enriched them.  Aside from the obvious things, each of us will leave behind for all the world to see the value system that marks everything we did.  Somehow, people who never asked us directly what we valued in life never doubt for a moment what it was.  They know what we thought of people of other colors and creeds by the language we used and the lives we connected with.  They know how we treated strangers, how we loved the individuals closest to us, and how we cared for those who loved us - even how we spoke to them in hard times or gave ourselves away to satisfy their needs.  They know the depth of our spiritual life by the way we treated those around us, and what we thought of life, and what we gave our lives to doing.  Therefore, our legacy is far more than just our fiscal worth.  And though we add to it every moment of our lives, during our lifetime, we are given both the vision and the wisdom to understand that our legacy is what we choose it to be.

In closing, it is the power of the present that makes us aware of our future and how much of it may be left.  Although it is truly a gamble, you reason if you are young and healthy, sixty years, probably.  However, for most older adults, ten years, hopefully.  Five, surely.  But the truth for all of us is, tomorrow, God willing.  Thus, the question comes, “What could you do today that would influence your life for all eternity?”  The simple answer is: put on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27), and if you’ve not yet done so, earnestly consider doing it because “Forever Is Composed of Now.”  Your life, your legacy, and your relationship with God will be immeasurably better – both in this life and the next - for having done so.  Indeed, “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

*This title came from a line in a self-published book by Kristen L. Crawford entitled, Within the Shadow of Myself: A Poetic Memoir, p. 28.  ISBN 9798644302284

Showing Brotherly Affection

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Showing Brotherly Affection

By Tom Rose

It has always been that way.  You dress up in your best to go to church.  Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away.  Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.”   Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before?  “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They’d just make me feel worse.”

But the scriptures show a different picture.  Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’”  Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4).  Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father.  But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20.  If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.

Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him.  Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him.  Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love.  In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us.  However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!

Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10).  Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts.  Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time.  A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome.  When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days.  However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him.  Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns.  Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.

Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly.  Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department?  Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?”  And why is that?  One writer offers this observation:

“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1

I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity.  “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet.  He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth.  He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant.  It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else.  He was born so we could be born again.  He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2

Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort.  Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright.  That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did.  Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837.  Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels.  In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy.  On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests.  At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle.  After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.”  She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils.  The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.

Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us.  For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14).  Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).

1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in

            Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.

2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-

            47.

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

Friday, September 30, 2016

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part II

By Tom Rose

Author, Philip Yancey, describes a friend who was battling with his fifteen-year-old daughter.  He knew she was using birth control, and several nights she had not bothered to come home at all.  The parents had tried various forms of punishment, to no avail.  The daughter lied to them, deceived them, and found a way to turn the tables on them saying, “It’s your fault for being so strict!”

Yancey recalls his friend telling him, “I remember standing before the plate-glass window in my living room, staring out into the darkness, waiting for her to come home.  I felt such rage, I wanted to be like the father of the Prodigal Son, yet I was furious with my daughter for the way she would manipulate her mother and me and twist the knife to hurt us.  And, of course, she was hurting herself more than anyone.  I understood the passages in the prophets expressing God’s anger.  The people knew how to wound Him, and God cried out in pain.”

“And yet I must tell you,” said my friend, “When my daughter came home that night, or rather the next morning, I wanted nothing in the world so much as to take her in my arms, to love her, and to tell her I wanted the best for her.  I was a helpless, lovesick father.”

When I think about God, I hold up that image of the lovesick father, which is miles away from the stern monarch I used to envision.  I think of my friend standing in front of the plate-glass window gazing achingly into the darkness.  I think of Jesus’ depiction of the Waiting Father of the Prodigal, heartsick, abused, yet wanting above all else to forgive, to begin anew, and to announce with joy, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

Compassionate forgiveness is at the heart of extending grace.  C. S. Lewis exclaimed, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  Indeed, ‘forgive and forget’ are easy words to say, but can be difficult to do!  Yet, if we fail to do so, bitterness, rather than the Lord, will rule our hearts.  For a moment, let us look at what it means to forgive.  Forgiveness is not ignoring those who wrong us, ignoring the sin, nor putting the offender on probation – promising to “forget” if no other offenses occur.  Rather, genuine forgiveness means halting the cycle of blame and pain; breaking the cycle of ungrace. 

What blocks forgiveness; it’s not God’s reticence – but ours.  It may be our attitude toward the offender always wanting to put “conditions” on our efforts such as: 1) I am unable to forgive you – at this time; 2) I’m going to forgive you, but in the future I’m not going to have anything to do with you; 3) I’ll do it, but consider it a favor from me to you; and 4) I’m going to forgive you, but I’ll never forget it!  However, none of these actions are supported by the scriptures.  Mt. 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  On the other hand, it may be our attitude toward our own sins that contribute to our inability to accept forgiveness. Weighted down by repeated failures, lost hope, and a sense of unworthiness, we pull a shell around ourselves that makes us almost impervious to grace.  Like the friend’s  daughter’s refusal to listen to wide and loving admonitions of grace, so we stubbornly turn away as well.  And like a spiritual defect encoded in the family DNA, ungrace is easily passed on in an unbroken chain to others.

We as humans also struggle with two types of hoarding.  First, we are often unable to forgive ourselves as old memories clog our lives and Satan reminds us of our failures by bringing that junk that was once tossed to the curb back inside.  Secondly, we fail to forgive others as sometimes we feel we have a right to carry a grudge and thereby not only stack up our own junk, we haul in someone else’s too!  If the cycle of ungrace goes uninterrupted, in time it will lead to resentment – a word that literally conveys the idea of “to feel again.”  Resentment clings to the past, relives it over and over just as one would pick each fresh scab off a wound so that it never heals.

In our everyday interactions, ungrace behavior can cause cracks to fissure open between parents, parent and child, siblings, brethren, best friends, business partners, prisoners, tribes and races.  Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail “rope-bridge” of forgiveness.  One can best understand forgiveness by observing what God does when He forgives us our sins.  He removes the notation from the record (Mica 7:18-19).  He forgets, putting it out of His memory (Heb 8:12).  He then treats us just like He did before we sinned, receiving us back wholeheartedly (Lk 15:20-24). 

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith.  By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am.  By forgiving, I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out.  I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy.  And yet I never find forgiveness easy, and rarely do I find it completely satisfying.  Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain.  I have to approach God again and again, yield to Him the residue of what I thought I had committed to Him long ago.  But I do so, because Jesus instructed us in His model prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  In 1984 Charles Williams has said of this prayer, “No word in the English language carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word as.”  Why?  Because Jesus plainly linked our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of our fellow man.  In a world that runs by the laws of ungrace, Jesus requires – no demands – a response of forgiveness.  So urgent is the need for forgiveness, that it even takes precedence over “religious duties” (see Mt. 5:22-24). 

Thus, God granted us a terrible agency: by denying forgiveness to others, we are in effect determining them unworthy of God’s forgiveness, and thus so are we.  In some mysterious way, our own divine forgiveness depends on us.

But God took the initiative and shattered the inexorable law of sin and retribution by invading earth, absorbing the worst we had to offer, crucifixion, and then fashioning from that cruel deed the remedy for the human condition.  Calvary broke the logjam between justice and forgiveness.  By accepting onto His innocent Self all the severe demands of justice, Jesus broke forever the chain of ungrace.  And we as His children must do likewise.

Allow me to close with a true story of grace in action.  As 2013 came to a close, Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of such bestsellers as The Tipping Point and Outliers, spoke publicly about his own rediscovery of faith.  He credits a visit with a Mennonite couple in Winnipeg, Canada, who lost their daughter to a sexual predator.  After the largest manhunt in the city’s history, police officers found the teenager’s body in a shed, frozen, her hand and feet bound.  At a news conference held at the family’s home just after her funeral, the father said, “We would like to know who the person or persons are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives.”  The mother added, “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” stressing the phrase at this point.  “We have all done something dreadful in our lives, or have felt the urge to.”

The response of this couple, so different from a normal response of rage and revenge, pulled Gladwell back toward his own Mennonite roots saying, “Something happened to me.  It is one thing to read in a history book about people empowered by their faith.  But it is quite another to meet an otherwise very ordinary person, in the backyard of a very ordinary house, who has managed to do something utterly extraordinary.  Their daughter was murdered.  And the first thing the Derksens did was to stand up at a press conference and talk about the path to forgiveness.”  He adds, “Maybe we have difficulty seeing the weapons of the Spirit because we don’t know where to look, or because we are distracted by the louder claims of material advantage.  But I’ve seen them now, and I will never be the same.”

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Finding Grace in a World Full of Ungrace – Part I

By Tom Rose

 

[Note: The article that follows draws heavily from two books by Philip Yancey which are referenced at the end.  In an effort to help describe grace, this author uses a new word to contrast everything that is not grace, which he simply terms ungrace.]

We speak of grace often as if we fully understood it, but do we?  More importantly, do we believe in it and do our lives proclaim it?  Most of us have grown up with many values based on what sociologists call the “Protestant Ethic.”  It can be described in phrases like: pull yourself up by your own bootstraps; the early bird gets the worm; no pain, no gain; there’s no such thing as a free lunch; and stand up for yourself!  However, each of these are examples of “ungrace”.  Indeed, most institutions run on ungrace and their insistence that we earn our way.  Over time, we build up a resistance to grace – partly because it is unearned (and doesn’t seem fair) and partly because it is shockingly personal to the individual who receives it. 

Aware of our inbuilt confusion about grace as well as our difficultly to explain it, Jesus chose to teach about it frequently – most often in the form of parables.  The three stories in Luke 15 (about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son) seem to make the same point.  Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.  It is only when we pause and allow their meaning to filter through our minds that we are confronted with their astonishing message and begin to realize how thickly our veil of ungrace obscures our view of God.

For example, can you image a housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin (Lk 15:8-10).  Now that image is not exactly what comes to one’s mind when we think of God.  Yet that is exactly the picture Jesus insisted upon.  In effect He is asking us, “Do you want to know what it feels like to be God?  Well, when one of my creatures pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed my most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.”  The message is clear: God will go to any length to bring us home.  How far will He go?  All the way to Calvary.  God gave us His Son as proof that He has not given up on us.  That’s grace!

Grace is unmerited, undeserved, unconditional love of God toward man.  Grace is what every sinner needs, but none deserve (see Rom 5:8).  Unconditional love is a difficult concept to grasp.  By grace, God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.  Truly, God’s goodness toward us was not based on any thing we had done – or would do in the future.  He acted freely and without expectation of receiving anything of equitable value in return.  It was unearned kindness.  Indeed, grace is the essence of the gospel as it puts the “good” in the Good News.  It provides healing to those who hurt, help to those who struggle, and hope to those who despair.

Here is an important concept, though: while salvation is by the “riches of His grace” (see Eph 1:7), it is not by grace alone.  Paul, in Eph 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”  The giver and gift are so involved that the gift cannot be handed over unless the recipient is involved.  Grace is God’s part; faith is man’s part.

Read the The Parable of the Vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), then pause to notice the role of each character.  God is the master of the house, Christ is the foreman, the laborers are the disciples, the vineyard is the church, and a denarius was the ordinary pay for a day laborer.  Whereas the first group of workers agreed to a set wage, the others merely trusted the master to give them “whatever is right” (see v. 4).  Now at the close of day, the early hires were dirt covered, sweat drenched, energy depleted, hands throbbing, back aching, and denarius deserving – everything the latecomers were not!  The foreman was told by the master to pay the wages beginning with those hired last.  As each worker stood before the foreman they each were given a denarius – regardless of the time they started work.  Predictably, the story has those who get more than they deserve, those who think they deserve more than they get, and a jealous reaction arises.  However, no one received less than he initially expected, and some received more.  The master had not made the early hires equal to the latecomers; rather he made the latecomers equal to the early hires.

Many Christians who study this parable identify with the employees who put in a full day’s work, rather than the add-ons at the end of the day.  We like to think of ourselves as responsible workers, and the employer’s strange behavior baffles us.  However, unless we step outside the world of ungrace we risk missing the story’s point.  God dispenses gifts, not wages.  None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life.  If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell!  Grace cannot be reduced to generally accepted accounting principles.  In the bottom-line reality of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word deserve does not even apply.

Jesus did not want His followers to be haughty, nor did He want them to have an employee mentality.  It is not so much for so much.  Rather, they should focus on work, not wages; service, not seniority; production, not position; trusting in God’s goodness at the end of the day and not comparing themselves to other workers.  From our Protestant Ethic background, we reach a troublesome dilemma as few things seem more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!  But this is the ‘New Math’ of grace. The master did not give the latecomers what they deserved; he gave them what they needed.  It was not based on merit, but mercy.  Moreover, if we care to listen, there is a loud whisper from the gospel that we, as believers, did not get what we deserved.  For each of us as His children deserved punishment and got forgiveness.  We deserved wrath and got love.  We deserved a debtor’s prison and got instead a clean credit history.  We deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance, but He left our world to return to His and set the table of grace, beckoning us to come to His banquet feast.

It should be noted, however, there is one aspect of the Protestant Ethic that is affirmed by the scriptures.  Phil. 2:12-13 admonishes us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling…for it is God who is at work in you.  No one is too bad to be saved, but some are “too good” to be saved because they have a self-righteous attitude.  They tend to look down on others, think too highly of themselves, and feel that God owes them something.  Then there are others who are unwilling to make the effort to change their lives and to put in the work to grow in Christ.  Nevertheless, God will always do His part to make you into the person He wants you to be, if you will work, too.

In summary, grace remains the last and best word to describe what God has done for each of us.  First, grace is free only because the Giver Himself has borne the cost.  Second, grace makes its appearance in so many forms that it is difficult to define.  However, something like a definition of grace in relation to God would be: grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.  Yet, grace alone does not save us; grace is God’s means by which – if we choose to obey His commands - we may be saved.  Third, grace alone melts ungrace.  Finally, Christians are saved by grace in order to serve by grace.

When I stand before the throne,

Dressed in beauty not my own;

When I see Thee as Thou art,

Love Thee with unsinning heart;

Then, Lord, shall I fully know –

Not till then – how much I owe!

 

For the above article, ideas and phrases were selected from: Grace, by Aaron Erhardt, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015; God’s Amazing Grace: The Sweetest Sound of All by Wilson Adams, Murfreesboro, TN: Courageous Living Books, 2015; What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997; Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014.  

Rethinking Our Walk in Christ

Saturday, July 02, 2016
Rethinking Our Walk in Christ
By Tom Rose
 
Christians desperately need to know how we can have a positive, optimistic, spiritual future while living in a disintegrating, chaotic and increasingly non-Christian society that threatens to take us down with it. A second urgent challenge concerning the Christian life is that it is so daily. It seems we never get a break because the world never stops its relentless, daily attempts to squeeze us into its mold. Both of these chronic issues can be solved by understanding Roman 12:1-2.
 
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to
God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed
to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect
will of God.”
 
Let’s begin by looking at the term sacrifice. We have been trained by our culture not to believe in sacrifice, but rather to believe instead that we can have it all. Indeed, we have everything we need at our finger tips with the touch of an app or a nearby shopping mall where we can get it instantly just by sliding a plastic card. However, Paul reminds these Roman Christians that when they were baptized into Christ, they chose to turn their body into a “living sacrifice” – one where the old man of sin is dead and buried and a new creature arises to live a new kind of life in sacrifice to God (Rom 6:3-11).
 
The concept of self-sacrifice is a prerequisite to the second idea in this passage: the renewing of our minds. The kind of sacrifice God requires comes from a renewal, a transformation, of one’s mind and life. Indeed, one cannot separate the idea of sacrifice from the concept of renewal as it is the transformation of our minds that will keep us from being conformed to the world in which we live.
 
But why did these First Century Christians entertain such a radical idea? The answer lies in the term “therefore.” In chapters 9 through 11 of Romans, Paul develops a sweeping view of God’s redemptive plan for Jews and Gentiles showing both are saved by the mercy of God. In those three chapters, which immediately precede the word “therefore,” the word mercy occurs nine times, and yet it occurs not a single time in chapters 1 through 8. In 12:1, Paul makes the connection between God’s mercy and our self-sacrifice by proposing: in view of the mercy God has offered, sacrifice yourself to Him, kill your old sin-infested self, and open yourself to a new life He offers by His loving mercy. He even adds that it is reasonable, logical, and credible to do so!
 
Although some of my readers are probably saying to themselves, “Yes, I’ve got all this, but what about this crazy world and all of its relentless pressures?” Return to the text where Paul lays out a twofold challenge in 12:2 to every child of God: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). To better understand these two options, let us look at the meaning of these two words.
 
Be Conformed – Gk. Suschematizo, to become together with (like) another figure or shape. Only found twice in the New Testament where the word refers to “conformity to the world” in Romans 12:2, and “conformity to the lusts of the world and flesh” in 1 Peter 1:14.
 
Paul commands believers in Rome not to allow the world to conform them to its agenda, values, culture, norms, priorities, or expectations. The influences pushing at us from those external forces is powerful and unrelenting. In essence, it is loud, powerful and unstoppable. Perhaps two translations of this passage will help us get a better understanding:
 
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”
J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it
without even thinking.” Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase from
The Message
 
The phrase “without even thinking” illustrates that the pressure to conform is so constant, so ongoing, so pervasive that it becomes part of the environment and thus, we no longer notice it.
 
Be Transformed – Gk. Metamorphoo, to form with. This compound word comes from our familiar word metamorphosis which is the process whereby a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.
 
What is most revealing about these two words is that both are always rendered in the passive voice. This means no one independently conforms or transforms himself, but rather is conformed or transformed by a process initiated by a power outside himself. In this verse, God has given Christians two commands, obeying the second gives us the power to obey the first.
 
DO NOT be conformed by the power of the world around you;
that power which comes from Satan.
DO submit to the process of transformation. The power to do
that comes from God and His Word.
 
It is vital to comprehend that it takes both an external and an internal effort to accomplish the renewing of one’s mind. The external dimension is exposure to the Word while the internal dimension is a cultivated heart and mind that want to be renewed.
 
What we learn from God’s Word and submission to Him does not change anything about our external circumstances. The world may still deteriorate; we may be persecuted or otherwise suffer. But what will change can be our minds, and that makes all the difference. The apostle Paul was one of the most abused, persecuted, and oft-imprisoned men who ever lived (see 2 Cor 11:23-28). Yet Paul was one of the most chronically joyful souls regardless of his circumstances or state of need (Phil 4:11). His joy and confidence came from his renewed mind and its strong connection to God.
 
We as Christians are to be a source of inspiration, making a difference in this world. In His first sermon Jesus urged His believers to be “salt” and “light.”
 
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how
shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown
out and trampled underfoot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot
be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but
on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mt. 5:13-16
 
If we dare live our faith in open and transparent ways, the rest of the world could well see Christ living in us (Gal 2:20). In pre-refrigeration days, if a slab of salt-cured pork went bad, nobody blamed the pork. They blamed the quality, amount, or application of the salt. Salt and light radically impact everything they touch. People were attracted to Jesus because He was different. In Him they saw something that neither the Romans nor the established Jewish religion had to offer. Today, every time the world comes in contact with a Christian, a transference of hope, love, and relevancy should occur. If we are being transformed by that same Christ, people will be attracted to Him through our manifestation of His righteousness, His purpose, His love, and His unchanging ways.
 
Finally, we must address the daily struggle that confronts us living a faithful life as God’s children. In another reference to renewal Paul says, “The inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). Here, just like in Romans, the words are present-tense verbs, showing that it is a continuing, ever-present, never-ending reality that requires our “day-by-day” diligence.
If we will allow our minds to be renewed continually by the Word of God, we will spot immediately when we, or the world, have gone off course and need correction. We will not drift slowly, carried along by the winds of change. Rather, we will implement corrections in our course countless times each day – and that is why keeping the faith is such a daily occurrence.
 
A Christian who is transformed will learn the will of God, live the will of God, and love the will of God. Is it any wonder that a great Bible teacher, D.L. Moody exclaimed, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.”

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