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September 3, 2023 Speaker: Jim Davis Series: Romans

Passage: Romans 12

Romans 12. We have worked through a lot of theology and now Paul is going to show us what living out Romans 1 through 11 looks like. What it looks like to live as a Christian. This is why Paul says I appeal to you ‘therefore.’ He’s starting a new part of this letter that is based on everything that he has been saying throughout this whole thing.


This is an important question. In Paul’s day, if you were a Jew, you knew how to be a ‘good Jew.’ You observed the food laws, you sacrificed, you observed the Sabbath, you knew the boxes to check that made you a faithful Jewish person. If you were a pagan, you knew what was required of you to be a good pagan. It sounds weird to say a good pagan, but there was such a thing. It didn’t matter so much how you lived, but you abided by Roman laws and customs and you made the sacrifices in the pagan temple to the pagan gods. 


Today, things are the same. If you are a Muslim, you observe the five pillars of Islam. If you are spiritual, but unreligious, you follow your heart and be true to yourself. But, what does it look like to be a Christian? If you follow Paul’s argument in the first eleven chapters, you know that all the boxes have already been checked! God has already done what we can’t in Christ, so where does that leave us? That is what Paul is going to tell us going forward. 


In this chapter, he does three things. He tells us 1) how we should live, 2) how this plays out in the church, and then, 3) how this plays out with our unbelieving neighbors. He gives us the principle and then applies it in the sphere of the church, then moves out to the sphere of our neighbors, and next week we will see him move out one more sphere to the world at large. 


  1. How we should live


One critique I’ve heard about Christianity is that while some ethical standards are clear, much of it can seem vague. These other worldviews have their checklists to know if they are doing right or not, but in Christianity, there isn’t always a checklist. Do we eat certain things or not? Do we drink alcohol? Do we observe certain religious holidays or not? Do we boycott some particular business or not? Do we wear masks or not? Do we send our kids to public school or private school or homeschool? Paul’s answer? Live in unity and don’t judge. It’s not a checklist because it actually deals with our hearts and that is going to lead some people to certain decisions and other people to other decisions. This does open the door to moral ambiguity in SOME places which is why we have chapters 14 and 15. But we’ll get there. 


In the first eleven chapters of Romans, there were hardly any ethical commands outside of confessing, believing, and not being arrogant. Then, we get to this passage and it is a fire hydrant of ethical commands and they start with offering our bodies as a living sacrifice. And to understand that command, we have to see what it’s built on or it can sound like just another way to earn our way to God. We have to see that Paul gives this command after having said, “Therefore, by the mercies of God.”


Because of the first eleven chapters. Because God has accomplished everything for us and declared us righteous already in Christ. Because he has cleaned up the mess of Adam. Because he gives us his Spirit. Because he has brought in the gentiles. And because he has not finished his plan for Israel, we respond in a certain way. 


We have to remember that Islam has no ‘therefore.’ Hinduism has no ‘therefore.’ ‘Follow your heart’ secularism has no ‘therefore.’ Only Christianity does and that is what makes Christianity unique. This command to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice isn’t a way to earn God’s love, but a way to experience it. If we continually see that by the mercies of God, Jesus was exiled, reviled, sacrificed, and resurrected for you…for me…if we constantly remember that, it drastically affects the way we live our lives. 


Paul says as Christians we should make our whole bodies a living sacrifice. This can sound odd out of context, but in light of what Paul has already said, it makes so much sense. Think about the problems unbelieving humanity experienced in chapter one. They dishonored their bodies (1:23,26), they worshiped the creature rather than the creator (1:23,25), and God gave them up to a debased mind (1:21,28). Paul has all this in mind and so should we when we read I appeal to you therefore, brothers,1 by the mercies of God, ato present your bodies bas a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.2 2 cDo not be conformed to this world,3 but be transformed by dthe renewal of your mind, that by testing you may ediscern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Rom 12:1-3


Instead of dishonoring our bodies, we now present our bodies. Instead of worshiping the created, we offer God our spiritual worship. Instead of having debased minds, our minds are renewed. It isn’t that we are getting smarter, it’s that we are thinking more and more in line with the gospel. Offering ourselves as spiritual sacrifices isn’t a checklist to get in, it’s how we live now that Christ has done everything necessary to bring us in. He has freed us from our old selves and allowed us to worship properly which involves the mind, body, and spirit.


Many of you know that we have created a whole new structure for how we understand discipleship at OGC and it is directly connected to what Paul is saying here. We are people with heads, hearts, and hands and we need to have discipleship objectives that ministers to our whole selves. In Equipping Hour, we are going to look at the heart and the hands through the lens of the head. In community groups, we are going to look at the head and the hands through the primary lens of the heart. As we serve in this church, we will be looking at the heart and the head through the lens of the hands. To present our whole selves as living sacrifices of worship is based on the transformation and renewal that Christ accomplishes for us that reverses the effects of the curse and that is the lens through which we want to look at the whole of discipleship in this church. 


Then, after giving us this principle foundation, he applies it in the tightest of concentric circles…to the sphere we find ourselves in the deepest relationships: the church. 


  1. How this plays out in the church


I think it’s really unfortunate how the ESV breaks this passage up. It actually breaks it up between verse 8 and 9 which is in the middle of one long sentence in Greek. You can feel the tone in 3-12 is gentle and referring to how Christians should interact with each other. The tone and scope changes dramatically starting in verse 13. I think it’s also unfortunate that this section has been named the marks of a true Christian. Well, what if I don’t measure up? It can sound like another checklist. I mean, the marks of a true human are breathing, eating, and drinking, but you don’t become a human by doing those things. You get born first which we don’t have any say in, and then we do those things as a result. He’s not giving us a checklist, but an explanation of how verses one and two should play out in the church. 


Paul begins by using a familiar metaphor: members of the same body. Paul is communicating that just by being a Christian, we are called into and baptized into a body that we need and a body that needs us. We have gifts that the church needs and we need the church to be able to discern and exercise these gifts. These gifts are not about value. They don’t make someone more valuable in the church. They aren’t a price tag in the body like some NFL player who is worth more because he performs at a higher level. It’s just the way in which God has chosen to use us in the body of Christ. 


And today we have the tendency to put spiritual gifts in one category and practical gifts in another, but Paul intersperses them all here. Gifts are activities that we enjoy and are fruitful in that build up the church. Things like evangelism, teaching, service, or hospitality. Now, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t to do those things if it isn’t our gifting. That’s why Paul tells the whole church to seek out hospitality. But, some of us are just going to enjoy it more and be more fruitful in it and we need to see that. 


So what is the way we discern what our gifts? By going to church! By being a part of the body and having open hearts and minds to the ways God might use you. As we do interviews related to The Great Dechurching, one thing we are often asked is, “Why is going to church necessary? Why can’t I just be a Christian and read my bible and pray and call it a day?” Because you can’t fully realize what Paul is commanding outside the church. The one anothers in the Bible are given to the church and if we are not a real part of the church, we will never be able to fully realize what Paul is saying. Paul has no category for a private Christianity. He has no category for a Christian not participating in the life of the church. 


I can remember being in my 20’s both as a missionary and campus minister and I felt like I didn’t need the church. I felt like I was on the front lines and, sure the church was a good thing, but I was where the action was and didn’t need the church. But, over the past 20 years, I can see the way the church has made me more humble, has encouraged me, has challenged me, and has developed my gifts. That would not have happened if I remained a lone ranger. 


And I know that in our busy lives it’s hard to make Sunday morning a priority. I do! A couple years ago I had a sweet Christian woman ask me if we would ever have a Saturday evening service. My first thought was that if I preach a Saturday evening service and Sunday morning services with four kids still at home, I’m disqualified to be leading that Saturday evening service because I’d never be home. But, I just asked her why Saturday works so much better for her. She said, “Well, I have three kids in seven travel sports teams and Sunday isn’t available. But, about once a month, Saturday evening is.” I get the kids sports thing, I really do, but we have to make hard decisions about what is important for our families and not be surprised when children who don’t grow up going to church don’t start once they move out of the home. 


I also want to say that church attendance is particularly hard for single parents. Becoming a single parent, however that happens, is a huge factor in dechurching. It’s hard to raise kids without the help of a spouse. Often this causes someone to have to work longer hours or more unusual hours and I just want to say that if that’s you, the church should be helping you more. Church, if you know single parents, we have a responsibility to use our gifts to help them use theirs. They need the church and the church needs them. 


And this is important because Paul is breaking down the cultural divisions in his day. Roman culture had a clear hierarchy. Freeborn were better than freed. Freed were better than slaves. Men were better than woman. Rich were better than poor. For the head of a household to show honor to a slave, a homeless person, an immigrant, or anyone else beneath their social status would have eroded his own social capital and made him seem like less in the eyes of his peers. In Rome you didn’t use your resources on those who society saw as less than you or undeserving. But the kingdom of God works in a very different way. There is no class system in the church. 


Imagine this church in Rome who likely had all those categories of people and Paul is saying you are all members of the same body and you all have equal value and you all contribute in different ways. Some of you are hands, some eyes, some mouths and the church is better off with each of you there and you are better off for being there. And the same is true today. We strive for harmony in the church knowing that there will be Christians who are different from us, whose families look different, who vote differently, who school differently, who dress differently. We are all a part of the same body with the same value. 


Gosh, how bad did the church American church need this message of unity over the past three years? Love each other with brotherly affection, do acts of mercy with cheerfulness, outdo one another in honor, be patient in tribulation, seek to show hospitality to the poor. Does that mean we are not going to disagree? No. We will. But it means that when we disagree, we will believe the best in each other and we will disagree the way Christians disagree. We will have respectful one on one conversations. My wife and I disagree often, but we don’t do it on stage here. How weird would that be? Sweety come on up here and let’s talk about me not taking out the trash Thursday. That would be as crazy as, I don’t know, arguing with each other on social media:) 


Members of a body will disagree, but we disagree in the Spirit. We disagree honoring each other. We disagree believing the best in each other. We disagree while serving each other. Well, thanks be to God, we are in a peaceful time in our church, but we would be naive to think we will stay there if we don’t hear Paul’s words. Now that the political season is ramping up, I have a challenge. Whatever your views, If you disagree with what you see on social media from someone in this church, go to them instead of arguing w them in a public forum. We do that over the next year and we will look different than the world. 


And if you’re here today and you come to worship here or maybe there’s someone who just listens online, please hear Paul calling you to more. He’s not shaming you, he’s encouraging you to join the body and as you do, bless others and be blessed. And if you’re here and you want to do that, but don’t know the next step, just register for our next Discover OGC class online and we will walk you through what that looks like. 


Paul tells us that we need to lean into what we are called into. God has given us gifts and we are to go after them together and cheerfully by being a living sacrifice in the context of the local church. But, then he moves to a wider concentric circle. How do we be a living sacrifice among our unbelieving neighbors? Last part.


  1. With those outside the church

Things begin to feel a bit more hostile here. How do you deal with your neighbor, your coworker, and those outside the church? By blessing them, not cursing them. By living peaceably with them so long as it depends on you. But, what if sharing the gospel with them is what disrupts the peace? That’s not what Paul is talking about. He’s not saying to avoid conflict at all costs. He’s saying that we do have enemies, but they are spiritual enemies and because they are spiritual enemies, the weapons we use are not the weapons of the world. The world curses, the world gossips, the world slanders, the world bullies, the world manipulates, and the world avenges wrongs. We do not. The way we fight is by understanding that it is God who takes vengeance and it is God who judges. It’s not our job to make sure everyone pays for their sins and the way they wrong us. 

This is why Paul says that when we wield the tools of the kingdom, we are heaping coals on their heads. What in the world does that mean? I’ve heard lots of explanations about how burning coals wins someone to Christ. And maybe people will be won through our actions, but I don’t think that is what Paul is getting at. I don’t think he’s saying that we are to kill them with kindness although that is a good standard to live by. Think about what he’s emphasizing: God’s judgment. God will sort everything out at the end. It’s not for us to handle right now. The way burning coals are used all throughout scripture and here is God’s judgment and Paul is saying our Godly actions may actually increase their culpability. It can feel uncomfortable, but he’s reinforcing God’s judgment so we can be freed from wanting to take that role for ourselves. 

We operate differently. We rejoice when we are persecuted. We bless those who curse us. We fight with self sacrifice. This is a tension that Jesus models for us. No one in here experienced the tools of the world being wielded against them like Jesus did, but he sacrificed himself for all of us while we were still enemies so that we may be brought into the kingdom as sons and daughters. We don’t have to worry about having power in this world because Jesus modeled changing the world by giving up his power. 

Then, we will be able to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and weep with those who are weeping. We will be able to meet them where they are. I remember right after we had Turner, we had gone back to the hospital and a guy I know was there because they were expecting and they had just lost their first baby. It was terrible. I sent a text to an older, more mature pastor and asked him for a verse I could give them. He replied, “I don’t have a verse for them, but I have one for you. Weep with those who are weeping.” So we cried together and prayed together. 

But what do you think is harder? Weeping with people or rejoicing with them? It’s one thing to weep with someone who has lost a child, but a whole other to rejoice when someone else has a child and you can’t. To rejoice at a wedding when that is what you want. To rejoice in a friend being promoted when you just want a decent paying job. That’s the harder thing to do, but these are  the tools we are to wield and we can only do that if we know the mercies of God he’s given us in Jesus. Not just intellectually, but deep down inside of us. 



Jesus had every reason to disregard you and me, but he did not. He had every reason to be the older brother to stayed and followed the rules while we went off and squandered our inheritance, but he did not. Instead, he was the good older brother who went to the Father and said, “Send me after him.” And that’s what he did. He found us in our sins, brought us back to the Father, clothed us in a robe of his righteousness, and walked us home. He blessed us when we cursed him. He weeped with us and he rejoices with us. He was not haughty, but associated with the lowly. He did not repay us evil, but showed us honor we could never deserve. So that is how we live with those both in the church and outside it as well. Because, in the words of C.S. Lewis, the most offensive person in your church, in 100 years, will be transformed into a creature so glorious that if you could see them now, you would be hard pressed to resist the temptation to worship them. 


If we live like this, we will be that city on a hill. We will look so different from the world. And we will be satisfied more than we could ever be wielding the tools of the world. 

More in Romans

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The Mystery of Israel's Salvation

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Have They Not Heard?

August 13, 2023

God's Sovereign Choice