A new way of living

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform 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.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though we are many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if your gift is serving, then serve; if it’s teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12

Even if you’ve never read this chapter of Romans before, there shouldn’t be too many surprises here. Paul tells us to do a lot of things we know about already.

  • Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to. Nobody likes a Christian who’s arrogant or stuck up.
  • We’re not independent; we all need to work together to be a church.
  • Paul says we’re like a human body; all the different parts have a different function. We’ve got preachers and prophets. We’ve got people who get things done quietly, and we’ve got people who give generously so that the work can get done
  • We’ve got people who encourage everyone else, and we’ve got folks who help people pick themselves up off the floor when they make mistakes, and help them know that it’s all right and they’re forgiven.
  • In a passage that’s almost like a prayer, Paul says, “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

So, Paul isn’t telling us anything new here. We’ve heard all this before.

But Paul isn’t talking about a list of things to do, where you check things off, one by one.

  • “Yep, I managed to do my fair share of loving this week.
  • Well, I wasn’t too humble last Tuesday, but I made up for it later in the week.”
  • “Yep, I put my contribution in the plate, and I didn’t go over and shoot my neighbor when he stayed up late last night playing loud music till midnight. . . .”

It’s not a check list Paul is talking about. He’s trying to give us an idea about a whole new way of living, a new life style for being a Christian, a whole new attitude or mind set.

Paul didn’t care about lists. He knew that to-do lists are never finished. We’re always behind, and there’s always more to do. Christianity isn’t a to-do list. It’s a new way of living.

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Paul says. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . .”

To transform literally means to change the shape – trans, change, and form, shape. “Do not be conformed to this world” – don’t let yourself be squeezed into shape by the society you live in – but let your hearts and minds be transformed and shaped and renewed by the love and teaching of Christ.

You see, Paul and Jesus made a clear distinction. They saw a difference, between lives that are lived with God, and lived that are lived without God. When Paul talks about being “conformed to this world,” he means that many people who are Christians try to live without God. They try to live as if God isn’t really here, and a whole lifestyle and mindset and attitude and everything else, builds from that.

Indulge in my bad temper? It doesn’t matter, God isn’t really here. Cheat the cashier who made a mistake at the checkout? Doesn’t matter, God isn’t really here. Pass on a story that I know isn’t true? God probably isn’t listening. Skip giving thanks for a meal? In a hundred ways, every day, we can act as if God isn’t really here.

On the other hand, we can live with God – we can walk with God every day, we can talk with God all the time, since God is always nearby. God is actually in our hearts and minds. We can live with God – in our homes, at our work, in our families, in our school, in our recreation, you name it. God can be there.

This business of living with God, says Paul, is transformation. No one can live with God, and not be changed. It changes the shape of our minds, it changes the shape of our hearts, it changes the shape of what we do every day.

Paul says that our lives need to be a gift that we give back to God, every day. Because that’s how Jesus lived. Jesus gave his whole life to redeem and reclaim and re-shape the world that we live in.

Jesus didn’t conform to the way of this world. He showed compassion to people who couldn’t afford medical treatment. He welcomed people who were outcast by the society around him. He gave a free lunch to a big crowd of people who were hungry – he took one kid’s lunch box and he multiplied it to feed a crowd. That’s the new way of living that Paul is talking about. Jesus didn’t conform to the world – he showed us how to try and change the world by the way we live.

Living as a Christian means changing every day. It means turning back. It means reaching out. It means kneeling down. It means asking for forgiveness. It means listening when people are crying. It means telling the truth when you’re surrounded by lies. It means refusing to return evil for evil.

Being a Christian means being different from the world. Being the same as everybody is more comfortable. Nobody wants to get in trouble. Nobody wants to speak out and stick their head up. But once in a while, that’s what we need to do.

I’ve got just two more things to say.

The first thing is, that most of us do try, a lot of the time. We try to live better, we try to love more, we try to give, we try to get along with people. And yet, most of us don’t feel that we’re living quite the spirit-filled life that Paul and Jesus talk about there in the brochure. We’re living at 50%, or 75%, or sometimes just 10 or 15%, of what we know in our hearts we want to be as Christians.

I think that one of the things Paul is challenging us to do here today, is to live more. Walk with God, and let God change us a little bit.

I may not know everything. In fact, the longer I live, the less I think I know! But do I work with the full measure of the knowledge of God that I possess? Do I study what Jesus said, and really try to understand it? I may not love my enemies as much as Jesus did. But do I even try to love them? I may not have the faith to move mountains. But do I use the faith that I do have, to try and move molehills?

The early Quakers had a saying. They said, “Live up to the Light that you have, and more will be given to you.”

“Use your talents,” Jesus said one time. “Whether you have one, or two, or five – but use them. Don’t worry if you can’t solve every problem or answer every question in the world. Just deal with the ones that you can. Don’t be terrified about speaking in front of thousands of people. Just speak to the people you meet, as honestly as you can, as much as you know, without holding back.”

“Live up to the Light that you have, and more will be given to you.” That’s the first thing I wanted to say.

The second is a proverb you hear people say all the time – “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. . .” We may think that where we are in our Christian life, is where we’re always going to be. We don’t think we can grow any more. We don’t think we can change.

The truth is, that we’re constantly learning new tricks. At every stage of life, we learn new skills. When our kids were first born, we didn’t know what to do. We had to learn along the way. When cell phones came along, nobody knew how to use them. We all learned.

We are learning stuff all the time – technology, work skills, sports, hobbies, gadgets, recipes. We learn new stuff every day. It takes a lot to learn how to let your children grow up and move out into the world. It takes a lot to figure out how to have a meaningful life once you’ve retired.

My point is, that all of us learn new things, all the time. And if we can learn something as complicated as how to use a new TV remote, then you know what? We can learn to live more deeply and learn new things in our daily walk with Jesus. It’s true. Learning a new way of life with Jesus is not that different from learning anything else. And living with God is one area of life where age, or gender, or physical strength, or skill, doesn’t matter.

So, even if we aren’t headed back over to Allen Jay Elementary this week, we’re always heading back to school. If we’re not asleep at our desk, Jesus has new stuff to teach us, every week.

So, let me close now, and we’ll have a couple of minutes of quiet together. But remember what Paul said – don’t let the world squeeze you into its own shape. Be transformed – let the shape of your heart and mind be changed – by Jesus.

If you’re only living at 30% or 50%, don’t be ashamed. Use the gifts you’ve got. If it feels like you’re only living at 10% or 15%, don’t give up. Live up to the Light that you have. God will shine more into you.

Let your living be giving – but don’t feel bad when you don’t have any more to give. God doesn’t expect that. Just share what you have. Your love, your time, your care, your faith. Share what you have. God can take a little, and turn it into a lot.

Remember what Paul said – let the shape of your heart and mind be changed, by walking with Jesus.

And remember Jesus, who came to show us how to live, and who was so filled by living with God, that he still lives today.

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