Read Romans 12
How we respond to God’s infinite mercy is our discipleship. We sing I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. Do we know what we are saying when we sing?
Do we understand that our response to mercy and grace is our discipleship? Having been rescued from sin and death by the love of God, what will we do?
Paul concluded this 12th chapter by saying, don’t let evil get the best of you. Overcome evil with good. That’s a good executive summary but there is a whole bunch packed into the intervening 20 verses.
Let’s start unpacking. We won’t even get through the first sentence before we need to stop. Here are three things right from the start:
· In view of God’s great mercy
· I urge you
Therefore tells us that there was something before. It could simply refer to the fact that all who come to know God will come the same way, by his mercy; but more than likely it means considering everything that has been said up to this point—in the previous 11 chapters—something will follow that connects to it. This seems logical because Paul in the next few words addresses God’s mercy directly.
In view of God’s mercy is a condition we should consider in what is to follow. Considering that we fell short, couldn’t fix ourselves, were under God’s condemnation and wrath in that state, but God did everything that had to be done to make us right with him—he chose mercy for us—then shouldn’t we have an appropriate response to such great mercy?
I urge you is a personal appeal. Paul used plenty of expository appeals along the way. He uses analysis and builds his argument with his prose much of the time, but this time it’s personal. I urge you! Paul wants this to be a personal challenge to his readers. He is saying, with my whole being I beckon you to respond to the grace and mercy that you know in Christ Jesus. God loves you more than you can comprehend. Do something about it. Respond.
How do I respond? Let’s finish the sentence.
Offer your bodies as living sacrifices to God. Your whole life should be holy and pleasing to God. Everything you do should bring glory to God. It is as simple as Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.
How do we pay this debt? With our entire lives—with everything that we are.
In the Old Testament, the only sacrifice that got to live was the scape goat, and it got dumped in the desert with a year’s worth of sins to carry around. For the rest of the warm blooded animals lined up for sacrifice, their time as a living thing ended at the altar.
Those sort of sacrifices are no longer needed. The blood of Jesus was a once and for all sacrifice for sin. Now our everything is to be given to God and in this sacrifice we find life. Paul didn’t know what an oxymoron was but he surely wanted to get people’s attention with this unique combination of words.
In one sense, the words don’t go together. The sacrifice by definition does get to live. But in sacrificing our entire lives to God, we finally come to know life in the full.
And we haven’t even finished the sentence. This response is our spiritual act of worship, reasonable act of service, true worship—the only acceptable response to love so great is everything that we are.
Are bodies are a living sacrifice, but we respond mind and body. The second verse is as full as the first.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world any longer tells us that we have already been conformed to the world to some extent. The words any longer tells us to put the brakes on.
Up to a point, the world has shaped all of us. We are the clay but in many ways the world has been the potter. The patterns of the world have shaped our lives. Some of those patterns are tolerable. When you are driving on the interstate, get in a lane and stay in it. Quit texting and roaming across 3 lanes.
Do not conform to the patterns of the world does not mean drive in the pasture instead of on the highway. Sometimes if my GPS does not have the updates for a new segment of highway or interchange, it shows me driving across open country or a body of water.
Paul is saying what the proverbs said centuries before. There is God’s way and there is everything else. Enough with the everything else. We will do this God’s way.
We seek his kingdom and his righteousness and that means turning away the things of this world that want mastery of your life. We have one Lord and he alone is our Master. We can’t serve two, if we find that there is someone or something in this world that calls us to serve him or it, turn away.
Turn away. The patterns of the world that want to be our master don’t get our loyalty or attendance or support. They don’t get to mold us anymore.
So we put the brakes on and do a 180 degree turn. We don’t let the wrong potter mold us. Great metaphors, but how do we do that?
It begins in our minds. We begin with wherever we are and become transformed by the renewing of our minds. Transformation is a process.
Salvation may come in an instant but transformation is a process. I am getting out of my car an onto my tractor for my next metaphor.
Visualize a plowed field before anything has been planted—row after row of plowed sandy loam and clay just waiting to blow into Kansas. If it rains, the water that doesn’t soak in will run off, mostly down the rows, occasionally breaking over a row as contour and gravity have a little dance.
Sometimes it makes a rut—not a row but a rut cut out by the water itself. If the field doesn’t get reworked before the next rain, the water will go the same way and the rut will get deeper. Rain will follow existing patterns.
For that to change, the farmer has to get back on his tractor again. He might have to break out a blade and reshape the contours and terraces.
Our mind uses patterns. When our mind gets new information, it automatically tries to fit it into an existing pattern. That’s the way the mind works. For many things it is absolutely wonderful. To undergo a transformation, it takes a very concerted and deliberate effort.
We must renew our minds. We must plow the field again ready to receive a new pattern—a new way. We have to change not only the way we think, but we must manage the information that comes into our minds.
If it doesn’t belong, don’t let it in.
But what about that stay thought that just showed up? I don’t know how. It just popped into my mind.
What do I do? Kick it to the curb. Elsewhere Paul would say capture it and if it is hostile to the Lord get rid of it.
Take it captive. Don’t give it freedom to roam among the other good thoughts going about their business in our brain housing groups.
Wow! Gotta love all the metaphors and analogies but I need some nuts and bolts. Here are some nuts and bolts:
· Come with a teachable spirit. You must want God to plow the entire field.
· Read your Bible. That’s more than the verse of the day.
· Study your Bible. Think of Bloom’s Taxonomy or variations thereof.
o Knowledge—I know what it says and can generally remember it.
o Comprehension—I understand what it says.
o Application—I can do what it says.
o Analysis—I can make connections, see relationships, identify categories.
o Synthesis—I can break it down and put it back together again. I can write a midrash.
o Evaluation—This is not a test as we often think. I can find the value in what I have learned.
· Meditate upon God’s word. That can be the verse of the day. This is different than study.
· Engage fellow believers in growing in God’s word. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
· Listen during prayer.
· Find a time to be still—not just silent—still. Just be in God’s presence.
Then you will start to realize transformation through the renewing of your mind. If nothing seems to be happening, go back to the first step. Come with a teachable spirit.
We are almost through the first two verses. Do these things and you will begin to see what God has in store for you. We like to say what God’s will is.
We sometimes use not knowing what God’s will is or what he has in store for us as an excuse to do nothing. We feign the words, “I sure wish that God would reveal his will to me. I sure wish he would tell me what he wants me to do.”
If we want to know what God’s will is, Paul says here is what you do. Give your whole life to God and renew your mind, then you will know what God’s will is.
Sometimes we think, what if I get the sorry end of the stick in God’s will? Then we need to understand that God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect. We need to stop asking questions formed by the patterns of the world and accept that God’s will is good, pleasing, and perfect.
The third verse you have heard throughout Paul’s epistles. You have nothing to boast in other than Christ. You don’t need to get puffed up or claim victory on your own.
Sober up! Engage a sound mind. Sing Jesus Paid It All. Even the measure of faith that brings us to the salvation that initiates this thing called discipleship came from God. In this thing called discipleship we are to judge ourselves knowing that God has given us both faith and gifts.
We are sober—of a sound mind if you will—and ask, “What am I doing with what God has given me?”
Get ready to set your dictionary aside and read in context. Paul will use the terms faith and grace in multiple contexts. If you look up grace in the theological dictionaries you will find something along the order of unmerited forgiveness from God.
That’s a good definition, but grace does not restrict itself to that definition. In the grace we have received we find that God’s favor is poured out upon us beyond being saved from sin and death. We have gifts that come from God that are realized in his grace and manifested as we act upon the faith we have been given.
You might be thinking that this explanation doesn’t make things any clearer. Let’s break it down.
Grace is big! It is more than just a get out of hell free thing. It is about being free to live the life God has wanted for us since before we knew we existed. Grace is big!
With our salvation, God gave us gifts. He’s like that. Giving is his thing and he is good at it. Our gifts produce fruit only when we use them. But he has equipped us to use them.
Paul includes a familiar discussion and analogy. We are one body and have many functions. That’s the way our human body works and Paul says that’s the way the body of believers work as well. And we are specially equipped with gifts from God.
Paul enumerates: prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, helping others, and giving. He could have continued. This list is not to the exclusion of other lists. His intent was not to make a list of all of the gifts that God gives with his grace.
His intent was to tell believers that discipleship requires those who have received faith and gifts to use them. If God gave you the gift of encouraging, take the measure of faith that you have and use the gift.
You don’t need anything else to put the gift to use. You have the faith. You have the gift. Use it!
What if I don’t know what my gift is? Find out!
I will go a little further here. You already know what your gift is or gifts are. God’s Spirit that resides within you has been telling you. If you don’t know then take some Be still time. Start listening.
Stop listening to the expectations set by the patterns of the world and listen to the Spirit that lives within you. Then take the measure of faith you have been given and put the gift to work.
I left one off of Paul’s list: mercy. I don’t know that I have the spiritual gift of mercy but I am called to practice mercy several times a week, and Paul’s note on mercy hit home. Do it cheerfully.
There has to be a Burns Flat exception to that counsel. Time and time again I talk with people when their lives have become unmanageable because of a series of bad decisions and they need help. After some conversation, I find that they don’t really want to change the way they live they just need someone to help pay their bill.
You might think that a semester or two at the school of hard knocks might be the best course of action but what about the 3 or 4 or 8 kids in the household that will be taking cold baths at least until the water is cut off too.
Sometimes, I just have to pray to God to help me fake being cheerful. He doesn’t grant that request.
Love must be sincere. It must be genuine. I am permitted no dissonance between mercy and joy. I can’t grit my teeth and be cheerful at the same time.
Does that mean that I don’t speak the truth in love?
Absolutely not. I am to hate evil and hold tightly to what is good. In me that translates to passion towards God’s ways.
Some probably put me in the permanent nut case category after I spent a year preaching the Proverbs. I did not get this classification because I preached proverbs but because they brought out a passion in me.
There is God’s way and there is everything else!
How can I be cheerful in being merciful to someone who surely doesn’t deserve anything? It’s God’s way and that’s how I want to live. That’s discipleship.
That’s responding to God’s great love that we did not deserve. Now as followers of Jesus—disciples—we look out for each other in every way. We honor and value and respect each other more than we have ever done before.
Here’s one that I want you to put in your lexicon of oxymorons: Lukewarm disciple. You might think that there are a lot of those, but such a person should not exist.
In response to God’s great love and mercy, we are to respond passionately—with zeal. We are on fire for Christ.
Here’s a term for you—On fire Christian. It is not an oxymoron. It should be a redundant term—on fire and Christian. Some people think that being on fire for Christ means jumping up and down with your hands raised high and they don’t’ want any part of it.
That’s exactly what being on fire for Christ is for those people. For me, I am equally combustible for Christ with both feet on the ground. My passion for him often manifests itself in my writing, my preaching, and my service.
What are some symptoms of being an on fire and zealous follower of Christ?
· Being joyful in hope
· Patient in affliction
· Faithful in prayer
· Caring and sharing with fellow believers
Once upon a time I wrote an article called Metrics for Christians. I had a little fun postulating how we could measure our discipleship. You have to have metrics, right?
How about attendance? Surely that had to be one. I even offered that people out to get extra credit for staying awake during the sermon.
Knowing the words to the songs. That has to count.
Keeping both eyes closed during the prayer.
Of course the tithe. Yes, it is 10% off the top. Max points for strict adherence. Extra points for giving beyond the tithe.
The list went on. I don’t remember how many I put out there to bait the reader. Those who did not know me probably wondered if I was serious or not. Then out of the blue, I added: Love you enemy.
Love your enemy. Now there’s a truth teller. What’s the point of having an enemy if you can’t hate them? Note that Jesus was not telling his disciples to love “the enemy”, but those people who just don’t like us.
So Paul throws in a little graduate level discipleship here in this 12th chapter as well. Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.
I can get motivated about being a living sacrifice. I can sing All to Jesus I surrender. All to him I freely give. I can sing it.
I love the thought and process of renewing my mind. Digging into God’s word, listening to what he has to say when I convince my whole being to be still, and taking my faith and my gifts and getting after it is just cool beans.
But this bless those who persecute you—there should be other options. How about I wring your neck and throw your funeral in for free as an act of compassion? That could work.
But what I want—or think that I want in my mind still conforms to the patterns of this world—and is not the good and pleasing and perfect will of God.
My whole life is given as a sacrifice to God. I willing surrender my will to his, especially in view of the undeserved mercy that I have received and now live in. So as joyfully as I share with the body of believers, I need to want my enemies to know that same joy.
I have decided to follow Jesus. I will not repay evil for evil.
I will even go so far as to consider the thoughts and opinions of others who do not believe and probably don’t like me very much and do my best to live in harmony with them.
I will not compromise being a living sacrifice and re-plowing my mind to receive the mind God has for me, so I will fully trust God to deal with the wicked. If he wanted me to do it, he would have put it in my commission.
Maybe, just maybe, in being God’s love by meeting some basic needs in those who pretty much hate me, they won’t be able to sleep until they figure out what is going on with this crazy Jesus follower.
Maybe, somewhere in the discord that my mercy and compassion creates in their world-ordered life, their hearts will break and they will receive the Holy Spirit.
That’s knowing God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will and letting it have its way in my life.
And we come to the end of this very packed chapter on discipleship and this final statement.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
So what do we say?
It’s all yours. My life is yours. My mind is yours. Plow my field. I will take my gifts and leverage them with the measure of faith that you have given and produce good fruit.
I live for and in your will—your good, pleasing, and perfect will; and in so doing I will overcome evil with good.