Renewed and Transformed Romans 12:1-8         August 24, 2008

Last week we learned that God's gifts and calling are irrevocable. This week we consider that, though God's gifts are irrevocable, they are not static. God's gifts are not unchanging "possessions" that we hold on to. They are constantly being renewed and transformed (or at least, they should be).
 
(Verse 2, Amplified Bible) . . . be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].
 
We are transformed by the word of God: the Scriptures. Read them, learn them, know them, apply them, and live them. Giving our bodies as a living sacrifice means taking time to read God's word to get to know God, his character, and God’s expectations of his people. Unless we know God, and know his word, we cannot know if we are living right.
 
It is as we grow in Christ, that we are transformed. However, this does not happen automatically or haphazardly. We DO belong to God; we ARE filled with the Spirit of God, but it is our choice, daily, whether or not to live in God's light. Our living sacrifice is when we choose God's way over our way. Following Christ doesn't just happen—daily we must choose, sometimes hourly.
 
To set the context of today's reading, let's take another glance at the general outline of the Book of Romans. If you remember, Chapters 1-3 cover the universal condemnation of humankind; 3-5 explain justification by faith; 6-8 detail sanctification through the Holy Spirit; 9-11 illustrate God's faithfulness to Israel; and now chapters 12-16 demonstrate God's righteousness lived out in daily practice.
 
Today's reading is based on all that went before (chapters 1-11). As is Paul's pattern in his writings, the first part of this epistle explains Christian doctrine-what it is and what it means; the second part explains Christian practice-how we are to respond and live it out in our lives. Chapter 8 challenges us to 'live in the Spirit,' Chapter 12 tells us how.
 
First doctrine, then deeds. First, beliefs and then behaviors. First grace, then goodness. First Christ and then character. First reasons, then the results. Behaviors are always rooted in beliefs. Goodness grows from grace. Character grows from Christ.
 
Historically, there had always been a large community of Jews in Rome--but they had never been gathered under a single jurisdictional authority. Each synagogue maintained its own independent identity. Furthermore, these various faith communities had enjoyed a history of preferential treatment under the rules of both Julius and Augustus Caesar.
 
It is this combination that nurtured strong-minded, self-oriented congregations within the large Jewish community. As Gentiles and God-fearers (Gentiles who followed the Jewish law and teachings) began to join Jewish believers in the early church, there was plenty of room for jealousies, competition and self-interest to be generated within these new "Christian" communities.
 
Just as fragmentation and independence had been the hallmark of the pre-Christian, Roman Jewish communities, these characteristics and attitudes threatened to put their mark on the newly formed Christian communities as well.

It is no wonder that Paul begins this section of chapter 12 with sacrificial language and a call to harmony. In verse 1, Paul calls these Roman Christians "to present" themselves to God--a purposive use of traditional Old Testament sacrificial language that calls for placing all of oneself on the altar as a proper offering to God.
 
The presentation of the self as a sacrifice involves the totality of the individual--mind and body, will and spirit. Indeed, to make such an offering involves a decisive act of one's own will--a positive involvement in becoming part of God's plan toward holiness for each Christian.

The "spiritual worship" Paul invites these Roman Christians to participate in so completely is the kind of worship God has always demanded of all human beings. It is an attitude, a personal posture that goes far beyond any peripheral, "Sunday-only" acknowledgment of God's work and presence in our lives.
 
Rom. 12:1 (Therefore) I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

  • “Sacrifice” is all about life now, in the present
  • “Sacrifice” used to signify death: Old Testament sacrifices; Jesus’ crucifixion
  • “Sacrifice” now signifies life: New Testament; new creatures in Christ; living sacrifices; Jesus transformed death into life

 
"The death of the one "Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world," has swept all dead victims from off the altar of God, to make room for the redeemed themselves as "living sacrifices" to Him who made "Him to be sin for us."" (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, 1871).
 

The People's New Testament, reads:
"But a new order of sacrifice has come in. We should give ourselves."
Instead of being conformed ("squeezed into a mold"), Paul calls Christians to "be transformed." This term is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe Jesus' moment of "transfiguration" (in Mark 9:2) and a believer's ability to be "transformed" in God's likeness (by beholding God's glory) (in 2 Corinthians 3:18). In both these cases, this "transformation" involves a complete, radical, re-centering of the self.

"Paul’s words here not only compare the Christian’s commitment to serve God to the Old Testament sacrifices, they contrast it with their former lifestyle." ("The Road to Renewal (Romans 12:1-2)," by Robert Deffinbaugh at the Biblical Studies Foundation.)

 

 
·        “Sacrifice” since Christ’s is to: “lay down life for friends"
·        "Love covers a multitude of sins;” good overcomes evil
·        HOW? By sacrificial transforming Love of Christ through us.
 
(Verse 3) For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
The first step in this transformation, Paul notes, is a call to humility. Amid all the variety and independence of the Roman Christian communities, Paul calls all members to recognize the basic equality they share as members of one body--the body of Christ. Unity through diversity is the underlying theme. The single experience of grace shared by all Christians comes to fruition in many various forms that Paul calls "gifts."

Paul urges his Roman Christian brothers and sisters to "be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (verse 2). The transformative power of a renewed mind--of a mind freed from the old restraining conformities of our past--is the power that opens us up to the presence of all God's gifts already at hand in our lives.
 
This is a gift we can take home to our families every day. It is the ability to rise above the behaviors and attitudes that are forced upon us by the demands of the world and to allow ourselves to be transformed by the unpredictable power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

If the divinely ordained presence of a genuinely spiritual gift comes from having a "renewed mind," then these gifts themselves must be a constantly recyclable resource--taking on different forms and fulfilling different tasks in every new incarnation. Spiritual gifts are not unchanging "things," possessions that are ours "forever and ever, amen." Spiritual gifts--like the minds they take shape in--are constantly renewed and transformed. God's gifts to us are always surprise packages.

Right now, each one of us is nurturing a profound spiritual gift within ourselves--and we don't even know it. Most of us are just plain too scared to try out what we think our "gift" might be. Often we are conscientiously avoiding situations where our gift might inadvertently slip to the surface. Even Moses tried to avoid the reality of his spiritual gifts but God filled his mind with the transformative Spirit of God as Moses obeyed God’s commands.

Sometimes the spiritual gifts God gives us may not be what we think we are any good at. Sometimes God has need of us.
 
Alexander Irvine wrote a novel called My Lady of the Chimney Corner. The heroine of the novel goes to a mourning neighbor, and comforting her, puts her hand on her head and says:


God takes a hand whenever he can find it and just does what he likes with it. Sometimes he takes a bishop's hand and lays it on a child's head in benediction. And then he takes the hand of a doctor to relieve the pain, the hand of a mother to guide a child. And sometimes he takes the hand of a poor old creature like me to give comfort to a neighbor. But they're all hands touched by his Spirit, and his Spirit's everywhere lookin' for hands to use. (Alexander Irvine, My Lady of the Chimney Corner (New York: Century Press, 1913).
 
As Christians, we can rest assured that we are constantly receiving God's gifts in our lives. Even during spiritual "dry spells," our potential for "giftedness" is still there.When we try on new possible roles that might enable us to find and claim new spiritual gifts for ourselves, we are renewed. We are transformed and we grow. God bless you all.

Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
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