Good morning! How many people are excited about the New Year? Did you make some New Year’s Resolutions this year? It’s time to make new goals about getting in shape, getting your finances in order, and spending more time with your family. The Kalamazoo Gazette had that for a headline yesterday: Fitness, Finances, and Family: the three F’s of New Year’s resolutions. I added a 4th: Floss. I resolve to floss every day this year until my next dentist appointment. So far I am 2-for-2. I just need to keep up this record for four more days!
I am excited today because it’s the start of a new year and who knows what God has in plan for us this year. God did some amazing things here at LEMC in 2010; and we can only expect more of His working in 2011. I am also excited because I get the chance to lead us into a new series from the book of Romans. More specifically, we are focusing on Romans 12. I hope that you start the New Year off on the right foot by making a resolution to become an R-12 Christian. We are going to dive into Romans 12 and figure out what that means, but first, let’s start with prayer.
As we get started, you can turn to Romans 12:1-2 in the Bible in front of you. It’s on page 803, but before we start to unpack these two verses I need to give you some background information first.
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to church in Rome in the first century. Today, Rome is a city in the country of Italy. At the time this letter was written, “Rome” had expanded into an Empire made up of regions and cities. After Jesus rose from the grave in the first half of the first century, Christianity began to spread throughout the region of Judea into other parts of the Roman Empire. This spread was compounded by the day of Pentecost that we read about in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples there and many people gave their lives to the Lord. Most people theorize that in the crowd that day there were Jews and Gentiles from Rome. These people gave their lives to Christ and then took Christianity back to the city of Rome with them. If we fast-forward a few years, we see Paul taking the gospel (the good news about Jesus) throughout the Roman Empire planting churches and rising up leaders as he went. It was on his third missionary journey that Paul wrote this letter to the church. Usually the letters we have from Paul are letters to churches that he had established. This letter is unique because when Paul wrote this, he had never been to Rome. It was his desire to go there so wrote this letter to introduce himself to the church. He also wanted to give them some solid theological training because he wanted Rome to be his next base of operations before taking the gospel into Spain, which was the furthest western part of the known world.
So Paul sits down and begins this letter explaining the gospel of Jesus. It turns into the longest and most theologically significant letters of Paul. Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, called the book of Romans “the very purest gospel.” In Romans 1-11, Paul explains how it’s possible for sinful humans to have a personal relationship with a holy God. You might have heard an abbreviated version of Romans 1-11 called the “Romans Road.”
1. Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned…”
2. Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were…”
3. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death…”
4. Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe…”
One thing to keep in mind, though, Paul didn’t write the book of Romans for non-Christians to get saved, he wrote the book to Christians. It was important to Paul that people know and understand what they believe.
And so, Paul gets to Romans 12 and begins with the word, “Therefore.” He used 11 chapters to explain what you believe and 6 chapters in application to your life. I see these two verses as the hinge on which the whole book of Romans turns.
Let’s look at these two very important verses: Therefore, I urge you…”
The BIG IDEA that Paul is getting across in these two verses, and therefore the BIG Idea for us this morning, is that an R-12 disciple is a living sacrifice. We don’t have animal sacrifices today so this doesn’t sound as absurd to us as it would to Paul’s audience. You see, in those times, the priests would take an animal and slaughter it for the sins of the people. The blood would symbolically cover the people’s sins and God’s wrath would be turned away from the people.
I grew up on a farm and so I’ve seen animals slaughtered before. It’s not a very pretty picture and the thought of one of them being alive after going through that process is not very pleasant, and it’s not what Paul had in mind. Paul was talking about a spiritual act of worship. He knew from Psalm 51 that God does not delight in burnt offerings, but in a broken and contrite heart. We are to be a living sacrifice to God. There are three ways that we can do this.
1. Sacrifice your body. Offer your body for God’s work. Paul says to the Corinthians not to use your body for sinful acts, but use them to honor God. The reason for this is because of God’s mercy. Paul could have played the authority card but he didn’t. He strongly urged, but he didn’t say, “By the authority invested me as an apostle by the word of Jesus Christ, you must do this!” He could have, but he didn’t. It’s probably a good thing, too. Don’t you hate it when someone makes you do something you don’t want to do? You might do it but you hold resentment because of them. I grew up with older brothers so I know what this is like. The reason he gave is because of God’s mercy, His kindness. There’s a verse that says, “It’s your kindness Lord that leads us to repentance.” -Romans 2:4
It’s also this kindness that should be driving force in our daily living. We need to live our ordinary life for Him. Eugene Peterson in the Message translates it like this: “your sleeping, your eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—place it before God as an offering.”
2. Sacrifice your mind. Make your mind a living sacrifice to God. We do this in two ways:
1) Do not conform to the pattern of this world. There is a pattern to this world that you need to get out of it. I can think of a couple thought patterns to avoid. 1. Might makes right. Whoever is strongest is right. The weaker people in society don’t have a say. 2. Majority rule: we’ve got 51% so we will do whatever we want. That’s not true, because if they Bible calls something a sin it is still a sin. How about this pattern of thinking: 3. Look out for number one. I’m the most important person.
2) Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Change your mind, change your life. Now do you understand why Paul spent the first 11 chapters explaining his belief system? What you believe determines how you act. If you believe gravity will pull you to the ground at a rate of acceleration of 32 feet/sec2 then you will not jump off of a tall building. If you believe that God can only save you from your sins because of Jesus’ death on the cross then you will stop trying to earn your salvation. This doesn’t happen suddenly either. It takes time to adjust your thinking. My brother and sister-in-law are adopting a baby this week. He’s 18-months old and they know that there will be a time of adjustment for him as he goes into his new home. He will cry a lot until he realizes that he’s not in another foster home but that he has a new mommy and a new daddy. His mind will be renewed to this new way of thinking about a family and then his life will be transformed to becoming a Baldwin. You can renew your mind by studying God’s word. We are going to be offering a Sunday school class starting next week that I hope will help you renew your mind on God.
-Offer your mind as a living sacrifice to God and be transformed into the image of God’s son, Jesus.
3. Finally, sacrifice your will. Make your will a living sacrifice to God.
a. I am not saying this is self-willed power. You know how we always fail when we try to do things on our own power. It’s why New Year’s resolutions only last until January 20th. We don’t have the power to do it on our own. We start an exercise program and then quit. People vow to quit smoking but can’t. AA is popular because you go through it with others and you start by admitting you are helpless on your own. Whenever we try to rely on will power we usually fail. This happens in our Christian life, too. We want to show God how devoted we are so we make great plans to demonstrate to Him what we can do.
b. It’s not my will, but God’s will. I know I’ve tried to do things on my own before and it doesn’t work out. Jesus prayed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” We want God’s will for our life. His will is good, pleasing, and perfect.
How is your life going to be different this year? Will you resolve to take the first step in becoming an R-12 Christian by becoming a living sacrifice? If so, what is God telling you to do? It’s time to sacrifice your will for His. It’s time to renew your mind by His Word. Today is when you resolve to daily offer your life to him as a spiritual act of worship.