Christian Living and Relationships (Part One)
© C. O. Bishop 5/5/16; THCF 5/8/16
We have been studying through the book of Romans, fairly rapidly…one could spend years going through this book verse by verse, word by word, and never exhaust the material…but I want to get whole contexts, not just a microscopic examination of each phrase. So we have been travelling fast enough to appreciate the “landscape”, and stopping often enough to appreciate the key passages. In chapters 9-11, Paul addressed “What is going on with Israel.” Now, however, he turns his attention to “What is going on with YOU.” How should we live, as Christian people, whether Jew or Gentile?
Most of the content of the epistles, by volume, address this issue. Much is said, of course, about our position in Christ…all those things that are true of all believers whether they are alive or dead. But, remember that the majority of the Church is already with Christ…there have already been 2000 years’ worth of believers who have lived and died. However: all the portions of the epistles telling believers how to live are addressed to living believers. All the warnings about the enemies who desire to enslave the souls of believers are to living believers. All the admonitions regarding sin are to living believers; we are the only ones who need the warnings, commands, admonitions, etc. Those who have died in Christ have no sin nature with which to contend, and are forever beyond the reach of all enemies. That is our hope; to join them in that happy eternity.
But for now, we have the present realities of the Christian life with which to contend: We have three enemies, one of which actually lives within us: the Adamic nature, completely unrepentant and completely unsalvageable. We also have to deal with other believers who are in the same boat. They have the same enemies, including a sin-nature, just as we do. The problem is that we tend to be confused as to who our enemies really are. We begin to view with animosity our own brothers and sisters, whenever they offend us or hurt us; and then we are in trouble. Jesus said that we would be recognized as believers by the (Agapé) love we express toward one another. But we don’t always live that way. Paul addresses that point, here in Romans 12, as well as other passages. He points out that we no longer have the right to simply serve ourselves. He reminds us who the enemies are, and begs us to not join forces with the Enemy.
A Living Sacrifice: Our Reasonable Service
1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
“Beseech” means to plead—to beg. This is not a harsh command, but an appeal, by the mercies of God, from God, through Paul. He asks that we reconsider who we are, and not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. In fact, he says that we should willingly present our bodies to God, as living sacrifices. We are to make ourselves physically available to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this life. To serve Him, and not ourselves. To choose His will and not our own. It is OK for me to be uncomfortable.
Paul says, “I beg you, therefore, brothers…” Is it still a command? I think so. This is God’s Word, and this is in the imperative form, a command form. Paul pleads with us, as believers, on the basis of the already established Mercies of God, to offer ourselves, our bodies, as living sacrifices. One of the problems with a living sacrifice is that it tends to “crawl off the altar”. But we have a command to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice”.
The point is that our lives are to be holy so that God can use us as a vessel for His Grace. The contrast is given, here as well. It seems that, like so many other arenas in the Christian life, there are essentially only two choices. We can either be transformed by God, or we will inevitably be conformed to the World.
So how does all of that equate to a “living sacrifice”? A dead sacrifice no longer has choices. The deed is done, so to speak. A living sacrifice, voluntarily on the altar of God’s service, has to continually make the choice to continue serving…or quit. If we decide, even for the moment, to quit serving God (Peter said “I go a fishing.”) then we immediately begin to be conformed to the World. The choice for self-will is the most consistent thing present in the sin nature.
Be Transformed: not Conformed
But how does God say that we are to be transformed? By the renewing of our minds, which happens as we feed on God’s Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us. Remember that you have a new nature, created in you the moment you first trusted Christ as your savior. That new nature needs to be fed. How? Here are five practices that will contribute to feeding the new nature.
- A regular practice of confession of sin, as it happens, (not “saved up ‘til Sunday”)
- That’s how we maintain fellowship with God, so that we can be renewed.
- Feeding in and on the Word of God,
- We have to be in the Word to feed, and the Word is the food.
- Prayer (both private and corporate),
- This is something we are exhorted to do constantly.
- Fellowship with other believers,
- This means partnership: “having in common”. It means being in agreement with, and in partnership with, other believers in our obedience to Christ. It does not mean “chatting at church.”
- Willing service to God.
- One could say we are all “draftees”—called to service by a holy God…and that is true. But He wants our service to be voluntary. Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His Work.” That is our example.
I believe that these practices, carried out in conscious submission to God, will produce a constant “renewing of the mind” as is described here, and will prevent our being “squeezed into the mold of the World.” (That is what “conformed” means.)
Please bear in mind, too, that the World is one of your three deadly enemies: why would you even want to be like the World in any way? And yet, because of our indwelling sin nature, we do have a constant desire to be like those around us. This is not peculiar to us: Israel had the same problem: Remember when they demanded that Samuel choose for them a king, they specifically stated that they wanted to be like all the nations around them. They did not like being different, in spite of the fact that all those nations were their deadly enemies, desiring their destruction. 1st Samuel 8:19, 20 says they refused to obey Samuel when he pleaded with them to not demand a king. They said “We will have a king over us that we may be like all the nations…” They wanted to be like the World…just like us. Notice that the use of the word “will” is in keeping with the root problem. Our will is so frequently in conflict with the will of God.
Prove the Perfect Will of God
We use the word “prove”, in science, math and law, to indicate “positive demonstration of truth against all argument.” In some ways that makes sense, here, too, because the best proof of God’s Word is to live it, and demonstrate the truth of His promises, and His presence. But the other use of the word means to “test” something or someone. In industry, one form of quality inspection (also used for safety inspection) is called a “proof test”. We deliberately load a structure beyond its rated capacity by a specified amount, and measure the deflection of the structure under that load. If the deflection does not exceed a pre-specified range, then the structure has passed the inspection by “proof”: it has been “proof-tested”.
We cannot know the extent of God’s Grace and strength in our lives if we never “load the structure”…if we never step outside our fleshly “comfort zone” to see His supply. If we step out in obedience to do what we know to be His good and acceptable, and perfect will, then we will have “proved” it by testing. He says that we are to “prove” the perfect will of God.
I knew a missionary couple, Vernon and Joyce Bartlett, who had come from Yuba City, California and ended up serving in harsh circumstances in Brazil, on the upper reaches of the headwaters of the Amazon jungle, on the Tototobí River. Before they left California (he told me), if a June-bug was in the garage, Joyce could not bring herself to enter the garage until Vernon had gone in and squashed it. But, within six months of their arrival in Brazil, she was swatting tarantulas with her slipper, and considering them a minor annoyance. She had tested God’s grace by “loading the structure”…she had gone far outside her comfort zone, and was rewarded with strength beyond her expectations.
He told ne of a later example when a Fer-de-Lance viper was in their yard, and, knowing how deadly they were, he was trying to keep it corralled by throwing sticks at it, while she ran to get his shotgun. By the time she got back, the snake was angry, and was chasing him in circles around the yard, so, as he ran past the porch, she handed him the shotgun, and, as he said, “then I turned and dispatched him.” (So much for the viper.)
Both Vernon and Joyce had grown since leaving Yuba City. And God used them in that environment for 25 years before taking them elsewhere. But do you know what Vernon Bartlett said about his status as a veteran Missionary? Whenever he spoke in churches, he said very plainly, “I’m nobody!” God is the one who does the work, and chooses his tools with which to do it. Mr. Bartlett did not become vain, nor overly impressed with his own piety. He simply chose to serve.
Don’t Get Big-headed
As Mr. Bartlett demonstrated, we must not become enamored with our own virtuosity. The fact is, we are nothing special. Paul agrees.
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
Paul says that none of us are anything special…we are to learn to think soberly about ourselves; neither more highly nor more critically than is appropriate. We are not to grovel in the dirt whining about our unworthiness; frankly, that is a “given,” and God does not need us to remind him of it.
But we should be clear that God has equipped us in certain ways, and not in others. We should know what our gifting inclines us toward, and choose to serve faithfully in any area to which He calls us. By the way, choosing to serve is how we find out our gifting, as well. I remember hearing about a missionary who had left home as a single man, and he never found a wife, but served faithfully for many years in Venezuela, ultimately completing singlehandedly, an excellent translation of the New Testament into one of the many tribal languages there. Later, some academic folk, linguists by training, were examining the translation, and pronounced it superb. They then asked him “Where did you get your linguistic training?” He looked at them for a moment and simply said, “I never finished high school.”
God had gifted him in that area, and he simply chose to serve. But he never would have known of his gifting, unless he had stepped out to serve. God said “Whom shall I send”, and he answered “Here am I, send me!” He didn’t claim any special ability or talent, or credentials…he simply chose to serve, and made himself available to an almighty God. That is how you present your body a living sacrifice to God, daily. There is no way to predict the results. You have to walk with God to see where he will take you.
But, What about Today?
How does this affect life on a daily basis? How would it affect your relationships with other people if you lived this way? There is another place where Paul uses nearly exactly the same phrase: “I beseech you therefore…” In both cases, the “therefore” referred to what went before: the mercy and grace of God manifested in the lives of the hearers. The passage I am thinking of, of course, is Ephesians 4:1-6, 29-32 (read it.) There, Paul urges the believers to get along with one another: he says they have a responsibility before God to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. They do not have the right to squabble. They do not have the right to continue in anger, even if another believer hurts them.
In the first part of that chapter, he says that I am to “walk worthy of the vocation” (the calling) to which I am called: I am called to be God’s holy vessel. I am to live in accordance with that calling, in all lowliness and meekness. I do not have the right to think that I am always right, or that my needs should always be met. He says I am to serve with utmost patience; longsuffering; and to forbear (put up with: tolerate) those around me in love. (Not gritting my teeth in frustration and hanging on by sheer determination.) We are to Love one another.
He lists seven foundations for the Unity of the Spirit, in verses 4-6, and the implication seems to be that as long as those foundational unities are in place, I have no right to break fellowship with another believer.
Further, in Ephesians 4:29-32, he states that my words and behavior are also to reflect my calling: he says “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good for the use of edifying, that it may minister Grace to the hearers.” If I were to consider my words by those standards before speaking, how likely would I be to hurt feelings or cause offense? How likely would I be to say things I ought not? This passage is not limited to cursing, by the way: it includes cruel humor, snide comments, harsh accusations, and gossip. None of those things minister Grace to the hearers.
He goes on to say that I no longer have the right to be angry…or at least to continue in anger: He says, “Let ALL bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice…” That pretty well wraps up all the “righteous indignation” I might claim to have, or “justifiable resentment”: God says I am to put it away. All of it.
Paul completes his comments by saying that we are to “be kind to one another; tenderhearted; forgiving one another as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.” If you think that it is OK for you to limit your forgiveness to others to only apply when you feel like it, then you must think it would be OK for God to treat you that way…to only keep forgiving your sins when you are in obedience to Him, somehow earning His approval. That is the core belief of legalism: the idea that I can earn God’s favor. Remember that Grace is “unearned favor.” If we know that God is not offering us a conditional forgiveness, then we need to follow His example, and offer that same unconditional forgiveness and love to those around us.
Minister Grace to those around you. They need it as much as you do. Present yourself daily as a vessel of God’s Grace…a living sacrifice, daily choosing to serve. Allow God to transform your life, and re-shape you to the image of Christ.
Lord Jesus, by your Spirit, please transform us to your own image, by the daily renewal of our minds, through your Word, by your Grace. Make us able ministers of your Love to the World around us, not only to our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.