“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”
A couple of weeks ago we looked at Romans 12 as a church family. Paul describes in that chapter what life looks like for those who have been gripped by the amazing grace of Jesus. As in his other letters Paul makes it clear in the structure of Romans that the gospel changes people. The first eleven chapters describe what God has done for us in Christ. Romans 4:4-5 sums it up nicely, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Grace is a gift not an obligation. God didn’t owe us anything but freely gives to us out of love.
You know the difference between something you work for and something you are given as a gift. If you work 3 hours for your boss and your boss agreed beforehand to pay you $20/hour, she has an obligation to pay you $60. If on the other hand you receive $60 in the mail with an unsigned card saying: “Happy Birthday, go do something fun,” whoever gave you the gift was under no obligation, she simply sent it out of kindness.
Paul takes 11 chapters of Romans to carefully describe how God’s grace to us through the atoning life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not an obligation but a gift. A gift given not because of how great we are but in spite of how bad we are – “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
God’s gift is multifaceted. This gift is nothing less than Jesus himself. And all the blessings that belong to Jesus now belong to those who are in Christ. But, if I could summarize this gift it has two main elements: (1) we immediately have a new identity and (2) we are becoming new people. Those who are in Christ have been adopted, with full inheritance rights by God Himself. We are God’s children. This identity is both legal and relational.
A good friend of mine is scheduled to have a court case today to finalize the adoption of a boy they have been foster parents for over the last two years. There was some concern as to if the hearing would happen because of the Coronavirus, but assuming it does Johnny will be declared by law a member of the Philips family today. And he will immediately have all the rights associated with being Jeff and Holly’s son. He doesn’t have to prove himself worthy of the name over the next few years. It is a legal declaration. But Jeff and Holly also love Johnny. He is not just a legal dependent to them on a tax return - he is their son whom they love. He calls them mom and dad. They provide for him, care for him, protect him and are nurturing him. That is similar to our new identity in Christ. We are declared in Christ now to be one of God’s children. And we immediately receive all the benefits therein – both legally and relationally. And as Jesus teaches in Matthew 7, He is a good, good Father. He does not adopt us begrudgingly, under obligation, but out of sheer generosity. As Moses puts it in Deuteronomy 7, God loves us because he loves us.
The gift does not end there though. We are adopted. That is already finalized. But, we are also becoming new people. We are, over the course of our life-time, often in fits and starts, learning to live into our new identity, to bear the family resemblance as it were. We are becoming like our elder brother Jesus. And that is what Romans 12 begins to describe. The first 11 chapters describe our new identity as adopted children in Christ. Romans 12 describes the kind of people into which we are being transformed. The order is also important. We don’t have to become new people in order to be adopted (unfortunately this is what most people think Christianity is about…be good and God will then accept you) – the adoption is sheer gift, but because of our new identity we will, inevitably, become new people. It’s part of the package.
Why am I writing about this now? Why a lesson on doctrine when we are all stuck at home during a pandemic? Because now, as always, we need more than fluffy feel good sound-bites. We need solid ground to stand on. We have seen in the last 5 days how fragile the normal things we put our trust in are and how quickly they can change. We need truth that lasts.
I want to encourage you with two things.
(1) Those who are in Christ are already adopted. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Look at the list of things that Paul lays out at the end of Romans 8 – “What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (including COVID19) will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:31-39).
Hopefully things will get back to normal sooner rather than later. We are praying for those who are sick to get well, for the curve of the spread to be flattened, for mass production of tests and vaccinations, for those most affected financially to find relief and support. But, if “normal” doesn’t come back any time soon and things continue to get more challenging before they get better that doesn’t change our status as God’s children. It’s a done deal.
And how do you know if you belong to Christ? Paul makes it clear in the verse I quoted above – you trust in Jesus and not yourself. You trust in Jesus and not the market. You trust in Jesus and not your health. You trust in Jesus and not the government. You trust in Jesus and not the comfortable standard of life in which most of us have always lived. We are not adopted because we trust – it’s a gift given remember, not a wage earned – but because we are adopted we trust. Again, Paul in Romans 8, “if God is for us who could be against us?”
(2) Secondly, be encouraged that we are becoming new people for times such as this. God has equipped us with gifts to share with one another. God is shaping us into people who exhibit a unique character, a unique sense of poise in the face of trial, a unique ability to mourn with those who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to bless those who persecute and who live at peace with others, and who do not seek revenge, and who contribute to those in need and show hospitality and patience and hope. I was talking with one of the elders last week (before the social distancing was recommended) about Romans 12 and he made the insight that if you take Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 13 you have a pretty good picture of the characteristics of the new people that God is shaping us to be.
So, here is what I’m thinking. Because we want to respond well in each and every situation we find ourselves in, including the crazy times we face today, I am going to slowly walk through Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 13 over the next couple of weeks on this blog. These posts will be much shorter than this one, I promise. And, I’ll finish each one with a prayer.
Heavenly Father, we need today, and every day, to know that we are yours and that you truly do hold us fast. We pray for our church family as we adapt to new information every day. Give us flexibility and creativity to use this time to learn new ways of following and trusting in you. Show us where you are at work amongst us. We pray today for the doctors and nurses and medical staff that are feeling overwhelmed. Lord God would you renew their strength. We pray for those who are at home but want to be to work and are restless and confused as to what they are supposed to be doing these days. Give them wisdom and peace. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen