This week marks the start of Lent & all the congregations in Llanasa, Ffynnongroyw & Gronant will be looking at Romans 12 for the whole of Lent. Romans 12 is a turning point in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The whole chapter is concerned with the way that we live, in the light of everything that Paul has expressed about our salvation in the previous 11 chapters. Today we are looking at Romans 12 verses 1-2
There’s a real danger of feeling overwhelmed when reading passages like Romans 12, wondering how we can live up to it all. However, our salvation has got nothing to do with what we ‘do’ but is all about what Jesus has achieved for us through his death and therefore we need to believe that, and start living our lives in the knowledge of that.
When God looks at believers, it is a bit like we are standing right behind Jesus and our heavenly Father can’t see us, because Jesus is hiding us… There is nothing we can do to change or affect that!! Indeed why would we want God to see our thoughts, attitudes that are not holy, when He can see His son who is pure and holy.
This is a chance to step back and reassess our motivations for living a Christian life.
When we lose focus on the gospel, it’s easy for other motives to slip in; for example, trying to gain approval with our busyness and activity, from God, or from other people. We might need to step back and consider what our personal motives have become. These two verses show that God is concerned with our hearts – we have been assured in Romans 8 that we cannot lose our salvation, so any good that we do for him must come from a place of thanksgiving and love for him, rather than fear that we have to somehow prove ourselves worthy or avoid punishment. A busy life of service may look good to people from the outside, but God is concerned with our inner transformation (v. 2). And so, we need to examine our hearts. Do we really get what God has done through Jesus for each of us? Do we really understand that Jesus is the very best gift we could receive?
If we do then we need to be careful with how we live our lives and what it is that motivates us. Seemingly good actions can come out of a bitter heart in any number of aspects: through competition, vanity, perfectionism, resentment, worry… A true understanding of the character of God is the root of a devoted life, acknowledging that all we have comes from him – it’s all about grace. Worship & prayer, is number 1 priory, 2nd is reading God’s word and studying it and then out of that comes action, which is what God is calling us to do. Works without faith is nothing and the way we build up our faith is through the worship and prayer and then reading the Scriptures with the help of other study aids.
The language that Paul uses in verse 1 is in reference to the Jewish practice of temple sacrifice. The ‘burnt offering’, was a ‘free’ offering of the very best animal, pure and unmarked, burnt as a sign of dedication to God. This is different from the ‘sin offering’ that represented full atonement for even unknown sins. The differentiation is important because Paul has already described Jesus as our sin offering in Romans 8:3.
We know that our sin and death are dealt with because of Romans 8:3 which says ‘He didn’t deal with the problem of sin as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. Jesus died and then rose again for you and me and everyone else.
And so our choice is whether we will give our very best in our living. Paul urges us to commit to an ongoing, daily putting-to-death of our old selves.
The Jews believed that worship could only happen at a certain times and places, but Paul says that is no longer the case because of Jesus.
He emphasizes that true worship is in our daily living – not just what we do on a Sunday in church. It’s just as important to think about how we live the other six days of the week. God is concerned with the details of our daily lives and something like this study can help to kick-start us or remind us that if we start with small actions eventually those behaviours becomes habitual. Worship is something we do with our bodies – it can be very practical work! It’s not just about our inner thought-life (although that’s where it starts); it involves our whole bodies and therefore our whole lives. Do we give God our very best or are we tempted to put off following Him completely? Are we waiting for a time when we’re more settled, more financially secure, more advanced in our careers? Waiting for the kids to move out, or our retirement, or our parents no longer to need our care?
Jesus deserves our very best: our youth, our health, our time. ‘True and proper worship’ translates more directly as ‘rational worship’: this is not a senseless, blind obedience to a demanding God, but a reasonable response to Jesus’ pure and sacrificial love for us.
What this could mean for us… How can we achieve this life of service to God without burning out? The answer is found in Colossians 1:29, where Paul describes the strenuousness involved in his ministry. He does not strive on his own but with ALL the energy Christ so powerfully works in him.
Most of us know that attempting to improve ourselves is a often a failure-ridden task, whether that’s trying to give something up like a lot of people do in Lent, or begin a new routine. It’s the power of God that brings about true change – our faith gives us not just the motivation to do what is right but the power to do so ( as it is written in Romans 8:11; Ephesians 1:19–20).
Although we might be saved, if we don’t allow God to change our minds, we will still be drawn to imitate the world that surrounds us.
There might be things that we even consider to be good which we need to change to live distinctively for God. For example, what has become something you can’t live without, has it become an false idol and distracting you from following God with your whole heart?
It’s often easy to identify where we see others conforming to the world, but more difficult to identify where we might be in danger of blending in with the rest of the world. It’s good for us all to take a look at our current habits and inclinations and ask God to reveal any way in which idolatry has crept into our lives. This isn’t a one-time procedure – the act of renewing is continual, just as we need to be repeatedly filled with the Holy Spirit. To renew is to give fresh life to something, or to replace it
So how do we go about renewing our minds? The mind can be an instrument for good or for evil, depending on what it has been fed. Our minds need to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and by the truth, and this is not purely an intellectual process. As we meditate on God’s Word, our minds will start to change. This is what began change in the lives of the disciples – they were affected by the time they spent with Jesus and by observing his perfect life. They each became confident in the gospel and did amazing work for the kingdom. The same transformation can happen to us when we begin to really worship & follow Jesus. The incredible and unique truth about the Christian life is that this is not just an academic inputting of facts into our heads, but the result of a relationship with him where we listen, speak, ask and receive and grow to be more like him in the process. If we are continually renewing our minds, we are in the best position to know where God is leading us and how to act day to day.
When Paul says to test and approve (v. 2), this doesn’t just mean pondering and praying inside our heads but experimenting and testing by action.
God is in the business of transformation: take Paul who wrote this letter, converted from religious terrorist to an apostle of Jesus, teaching about God’s grace. Contrary to what we might believe, it is possible for every one of us to live for Jesus. We might think we don’t need to change, but we all need to repent – stop doing what we are doing and turn from the things that stop us focusing on Jesus. We might not have murdered anyone, or stolen from anyone but we have all thought things that aren’t good, behaved in wrong ways, and we need our minds to be constantly renewed. When we reflect on God’s Word, and our minds are renewed, we are able to accept his calling on our lives. Philippians 4:8– 9 tells us to think on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely… and to put God’s teachings into practice. Challenge for the week… If you are able, start reading the book of Romans this week, feeding and enriching your mind with the goodness of the Word ready for the start of Lent and a new challenge to put love into action.