Solid Ground for Shaky Times (part 2)

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:1-2

Grace changes us. In these verses Paul describes a before and an after reality. Before, we conformed to the pattern of this world. Now we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Before, (it is implied) we could not discern what God’s will was. Now, we can. The question is, before what? What is the fulcrum on which this change happens? It is found in verse one – “by the mercies of God.” The “mercies of God’ are the means by which we change. That is what the all-important word, “Therefore,” means at the beginning of the sentence.

“Therefore,” Paul is saying, “because of the mercies of God I have outlined in the first 11 chapters of this letter, you have an obligation. And the obligation is nothing short of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever – in every aspect of your life. He is, after all, a good Father and you are now in his family (see Romans 8:12-17). We no longer call the shots. And we no longer need to be influenced by the patterns of this world. And this is good news. Human history is the wreckage of what happens when we call the shots.

Here we have one of the most difficult ideas for people to wrap their mind around. Obedience to God and freedom and joy and delight are not opposing ideas but the same thing. I came across this quote from Sinclair Ferguson this morning. “In Christ we catch a glimpse of the blessedness that accompanies living in wholehearted and unreserved devotion to the heavenly Father. In him we see God’s law in human form…At no point did Jesus find the law irritating; nor did it diminish his joy.” Isn’t that a great line? At no point did Jesus find the law irritating; nor did it diminish his joy. Have you ever thought about Jesus and the law in that way?

It is often believed that Jesus came to say that laws and rules were bad and that God is really all about love. After all, as we have seen in Matthew, Jesus is constantly butting heads with the Pharisees, who were pretty persnickety about rules. But, Jesus followed God’s law perfectly; he dotted every “I” and crossed every “t.” The difference is he lived God’s law as it was always meant to be lived – with love as the motivation. Jesus’ life and teaching, his interaction with everyone he came across, is God’s will lived out fully. Grace then, Paul is saying here, does not free us from obedience to God; rather grace frees us for obedience to God – we can now actually see what His good, pleasing and perfect will is.

This is God’s change agenda. The Christian life is a from-to process; from self-protection and self-promotion to selfless service, from harboring bitterness from past wrongs done against us to pursing forgiveness, from envy of other people’s talents and lives to celebrating with them. It is not entirely accurate to say that God accepts us as we are. He does, of course, as we saw in part 1, give grace freely in spite of who we are. Our adoption into the family is a gift. He does, of course, accept us freely and fully in Jesus. But, he also is making us into new people. Paul says it rather bluntly in chapter 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (6:3-4). What we were needed to die in order for us to become what He is making us to be.

Tomorrow we will start looking at the implications Paul lays out starting in verse 3. But, for today think about this. What “patterns of this world” do you see popping up during this crisis – on the news, in the grocery store, on social media? In what ways are you tempted to conform to those same patterns of thought and behavior? What would it look like for you to be transformed by the renewing of your minds in light of Jesus?

Prayer – Gracious God we thank you for your incredible patience with us. As our world’s get smaller this week as heightened restrictions begin tomorrow, as the number of people infected grows, and the pressure on medical supplies and medical staff increases, as the space in our homes feel like they are closing in on us, we ask that you would enlarge our capacity for trust, compassion, and contentment. Give us new eyes to see your bounty and your beauty around us. May your amazing grace shine brighter than all the other noise around us so that gratitude fills our hearts. We pray for those who will have to stop working this week. Lord, may they not feel alone in this. And show us ways to step out in faith and love to support them. Give us generous hearts in Christ, Amen.

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