Unity In Times of DisagreementIt has taken us 57 lessons to get through the first eleven chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. I hope that you have taken advantage of these 57 lessons, all of which are on our website at brittonchurch.com. You can read them online, print them off, study them on your own, and meditate on the great lessons Paul has given us about the most important subjects that we can learn in life.
Through these lessons we have learned about God–His revelation of Himself through His creation, His dealing with our waywardness and sin, His provision of His Son Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sin, and His rich mercies that have been demonstrated in every age, and in every possible way. We’ve also learned about God’s wrath and the purpose of God’s judgment throughout history. We’ve learned about us, about humanity. We’ve learned about our sin nature and our deliberate, willful turning away from God. We’ve learned that justification has never come by the law or by works, but only by grace. We’ve learned about the Holy Spirit’s role in making us aware of our sinfulness and our need for God’s forgiveness and grace found in Jesus alone. We’ve learned about how God has worked, and continues to work among all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. We’ve learned that for those who are in Christ there is absolutely nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God found in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Many would say that what we have studied in Romans 1-11 is pure theology, nothing really practical at all. The word “theology” comes from two Greek words that put together means “the study of God.” “Theology,” to many people, is a tiresome word, a boring word. They want the nuts and bolts, the “how to,” not abstract ideas and lofty thoughts. Far from abstract ideas, theology, our understanding of God, is the nuts of bolts of life. What you “think” you will live out. Our thoughts shape our actions. What we believe, truly believe, will be witnessed in our everyday life. What we believe about God, or better yet, what God says about Himself and about us is of greatest importance.
Christian theology is an attempt to study God’s Word so that we can understand God and how He relates to his creation. Fully understanding God is an impossibility for us mere mortals because we are finite creatures attempting to understand an infinite God, but through the study of God’s Word we can know so much more about God than we ever could trying to figure God out on our own.
As I said, we have spent 57 lessons learning about God. What a study it has been! I can’t think of any study I’ve ever done that has been more rewarding, or challenging, than our study of Romans 1-11.
Now we turn to Romans 12-16. Some say this is the “practical” section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. I would say that Romans 12-16 is the “application” of Romans 1-11. In the next five chapters of Romans we will learn about how to live out the lessons we have learned in Romans 1-11. James Montgomery Boice outlines the next five chapters into seven categories:
1. Applied Christianity (12:1-2).
2. The Christian and other people (12:3-21).
3. Church and state (13:1-7).
4. The law of love (13:8-14).
5. Christian liberty (14:1-15:13).
6. Paul’s personal ministry and plans (15:14-33).
7. Final greetings (16:1-27).
This is a very good outline in that it gives you and me a good grasp of the broad scope of the topics that Paul will tackle during our upcoming studies. If we were oblivious to Romans 1-11, and the lessons that Paul has taught us about God and His relationship to all of His creation and creatures, then we would not know how to even begin to answer the questions that are before us. Questions like, “What does the Christian life look like?” “How are we, the followers of Jesus, to relate to those around us?” “As Christians, how are we to relate to those in positions of leadership in government?” “How far do you take ‘the law of love’ before you throw in the towel and try something else?” “In Christ we are ‘free,’ but free to do what? Free from what?” Those are such important questions, incredibly important questions, and Romans 1-11 lays a foundation for us so that we have the answers to each of the above questions. Charles Hodge wrote,
All the doctrines of justification, grace, election, and final salvation, taught in the preceding part of the epistle, are made the foundation for the practical duties enjoined to this. (Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans. Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA. The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972. pg. 393)
Studying Romans 12-16 without the benefit of first having studied Romans 1-11 would be like me building a home with no prior experience and no plan other than what I think would be right. It would be like going to visit a doctor who loves medicine, but has never been to medical school. It would be like taking someone who plays the role of a Wall Street stockbroker in a movie and trusting their advice about maximizing your investments for the greatest yield. But with Romans 1-11 under our belt we are well prepared to launch into the study of these every day topics with a biblical understanding and therefore a biblical answer as to how we should live. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Romans 12:1-2.
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, 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 NIV)
You probably noticed, the very first word of Romans 12:1 is, “therefore.” “Therefore” reminds us to look back. Someone once said that whenever you come to a “therefore” in the Bible you should always pay attention because it is “there for” a purpose. There is a world of purpose in this one little word located at the beginning of Romans 12:1. Because of the lessons we have learned in Romans 1-11 we are “therefore” to follow the urging of what comes next.
We’ve witnessed Paul use this powerful little word already in our study of Romans. At the end of Romans 1, Paul described how people have gone astray, all people. Then, in the beginning of Romans 2, Paul writes,
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1 NIV)
Because of the truths of Romans 1, the sinfulness of all of humanity, the truth of Romans 2:1 is made all the more apparent. We who judge others are without excuse because we are as guilty as those we are pointing a long finger of condemnation towards.
In Romans 12:1, Paul tells us that because of the truths of Romans 1-11 we are therefore to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Paul sums up the lessons of Romans 1-11 by saying, “in view of God’s mercy.” This little phrase is not only the summary of all that we have learned so far, but it is the motivation for how we are now called to live our lives.
In the Greek New Testament the word “mercy” is plural and it means, “compassion, pity, or mercy.” It is a beautiful word that Paul was well familiar with in his own life. It was Paul who wrote to the church in Corinth,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)
In verse 3, in the NIV, we read that God is “the Father of compassion,” but in Greek it is the same word that we find in Romans 12:1, “mercy.” God is the Father of all compassion; He is the Father of all mercy. We can urge people to be compassionate or to show others mercy, but we have no idea what those words really mean until we understand the compassion and mercy of God.
In Luke 6, Jesus was speaking to His followers about how to relate to others, especially how to relate to those who oppose us, persecute us, and mistreat us. Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36 NIV)
The Greek word that we’ve been talking about is used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, to translate the Hebrew word, “racham” which literally means, “womb or compassion.”
One of the greatest illustrations of the mercy of God is found in Psalm 51. David had committed adultery. It wasn’t a sin he had accidentally committed; he had willfully taken advantage of Bathsheba and strategically planned the elimination of her husband, Uriah. When David’s sin was exposed, he knew he couldn’t appeal to the priest at the temple because he had willfully sinned against God so what was he to do? Who was he to turn to? Turn to Psalm 51 and read with me.
1 For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1 NIV)
David, unable to turn to the priest because of the heinous nature of his sin, turned directly to God. He said, “Lord, because of Your unfailing love, because of Your great compassion, blot out, remove my transgression.”
We have many reasons why we do what we do don’t we? There are people who work tirelessly. They put in long, long hours at the office. Why? Well, there are many reasons. Some want to gain a promotion. They want to make it to the top and they believe that by working harder than anyone else they will get noticed. Others work so diligently because they want to make more money. They believe that if they will sacrifice their time now they will reap financial rewards later. I know a young man here in Oklahoma City who, while he was growing up, was homeless, and when he wasn’t homeless he was passed around to relatives and foster homes. He has graduated from college, gone to Law School and is working hard. Why? Because he never wants his children to experience what he experienced as a child.
I heard this past week about an ex-con who came to know Christ in prison. Once he got out he devoted the last 10 years of his life to working with troubled kids in the Dallas area? Why, because he was a troubled kid and he didn’t want the kids in Dallas to follow his footsteps through the prison doors.
I know a young man who, when he was in high school, worked harder than any young athlete I’d ever known. He could have not even practiced and been better than anyone on his team, but he worked harder than them all. Why? Because he had a goal of making it to the NBA one day. He has achieved his goal.
There are a million and one reasons why people do what they do, but for the Christian there is one reason that motivates us for all of life–God’s mercies. Because of God’s mercies we do what we do. Because God has showered His mercy upon us and given us life we want to live for Him. Because God, who is rich in mercy, has rescued us from destruction and claimed us as His very own, we have hope not only for this life, but for all of eternity. Because of God’s great mercy we have the assurance that we are not alone, even as we suffer the trials of this life. In 1 Peter 1:3-6, Peter writes,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6 NIV)
Mercy. Mercy. You can cry out for justice all you want, but I will take mercy any day. God’s mercy is sweeter than honey. God’s mercy is hope to the hopeless. God’s mercy gives peace to the tormented. It is mercy that we need and it is mercy that we have been given. Once understood, it is mercy that moves us from being self-absorbed to giving our lives in service to others as an offering to God.
Now that we have the mercy of God in view, Paul tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. This is the language of the temple and the sacrificial system of the priest presenting, or offering, the sacrifice for the people. If you are familiar with the temple sacrifices then you know that an animal would be offered and then killed by the priest because, as the writer of Hebrews tells us,
22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22 NIV)
The priests in the temple offered living sacrifices, but they were to be killed. We are to offer our bodies to God as an act of worship. It is interesting that Paul called his readers to offer their bodies to God. The majority of Paul’s readers in Rome were gentiles, heavily influenced by the Greek mindset that it was the spirit and not the body that was important. John MacArthur writes,
It is helpful to understand that dualistic Greek philosophy still dominated the Roman world in New Testament times. This pagan ideology considered the spirit, or soul, to be inherently good and the body to be inherently evil. And because the body was deemed worthless and would eventually die anyway, what was done to it or with it did not matter. For obvious reasons, that view opened the door to every sort of immorality. Tragically, many believers in the early church, who have many counterparts in the church today, found it easy to fall back into the immoral practices of their former lives, justifying their sin by the false and heretical idea that what the body did could not harm the soul and had no spiritual or eternal significance. Much as in our own day, because immorality was so pervasive, many Christians who did not themselves lead immoral lives became tolerant of sin in fellow believers, thinking it merely was the flesh doing what it naturally did, completely apart from the soul’s influence or responsibility. Yet Paul clearly taught that the body can be controlled by the redeemed soul. He told the sinful Corinthians that the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. (1 Cor. 6:11-13). (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. 1994)
Sad to say, this mindset is still with us today. Many followers of Jesus confess with their mouths one thing, they say they love Jesus, they quote the Bible as the source of Truth for their lives, but their lives betray their words. They live as if Jesus had never said a word. Studies have shown that for the majority of those who call themselves “Christians,” there is little to no difference in their lifestyle and the lifestyles of those who claim no allegiance to Jesus at all.
Chuck Colson said, “Culture is religion incarnate. If you have a sick culture then you have a sick Church.” I’ve thought so much about Chuck’s statement. There is no debating that our society is sick and getting sicker. Divorce, abuse, abortion, alternative lifestyles, addiction to pornography, drugs, and alcohol, murder, lying, apathy, stealing, vulgarity, and the list goes on and on and on. Alongside of these symptoms of our sick society is the startling fact that there are approximately 350,000 churches in America. That is about 7,000 churches for each state! Pollsters say that on any given Sunday about 40% of our population is in church somewhere. There are 305,000,000 Americans. That means that about 120,000,000 are in church on any given Sunday. Wouldn’t you think that 120,000,000 people who are living out the call of God on their life, focused on being a blessing to those around them and honoring God by the way they live their lives would make a difference in a society, even a society as sick as ours?
Our problem is not quantity, but conviction. The vast majority of those who call themselves “Christians” do so in name only. Paul, in Romans 12, says, “present your bodies to God.” He really means the totality of who we are. We are to give our all, every fiber of our being, to God, to be used for His purposes and His glory. In another place, earlier in Romans, Paul wrote,
13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:13 NIV)
We are to lay ourselves on the altar in service to God. Every minute of every day, in His service, for His glory. Holy and pleasing to God. Paul says, “…this is your spiritual act of worship.” I want us to understand the word translated, “spiritual,” in this verse. The Greek word, “logikos” means, “pertaining to reason or logic” or “spiritual, pertaining to the soul.” The word is an adjective which modifies the noun, “worship.”
When you hear the word, “worship,” what comes to mind? Is it a building with a stained glass window adorning the front wall? Is it heavenly music being sung by a sea of adoring souls? Or is it going to visit someone in the hospital, cooking a meal for someone, praying for someone who is troubled, or changing a flat for someone stuck on the side of the road? Worship is all of these things and much more. The word that Paul used for worship is the Greek word, “latreia” which means, “any service of God” or “the service and worship of God.” The NIV translates the phrase, “this is your spiritual act of worship,” but we could just as easily read it, “this is the logical service you offer to God.” Makes sense doesn’t it? After all that God has done for us, the mercies He has showered upon us, could we give anything less than every fiber of being, our every thought and action, to His service, for His glory?
For the last eleven chapters Paul has laid out before us theology, an understanding of who God is, what God does, and how God relates to His creation and creatures. Now that the foundation has been laid Paul turns his attention to the issue at hand–living life in light of what we know to be true.
There is a difference between those who know Jesus, those who have been claimed by God and called to be His ambassadors in this broken world, and those who do not know the Lord and are living life however they see fit. When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he said,
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. (Ephesians 4:17 NIV)
Paul doesn’t “urge” them not to live like unbelievers, he “insists” that they not live like unbelievers. Paul wants them to live a counter-cultural lifestyle. What does this mean? I’m so glad you have asked! There are some characteristics of modern-day life that are embraced by our culture. I can’t give you an exhaustive list, but let me list just a couple.
The most prominent characteristic is that “I” am what matters most in the Universe. What I want is what is most important. If someone else has to suffer for me to get what I want then that is perfectly fine with me, even though I would never admit to it. Everything in our culture nudges us towards this philosophy. Do what you have to do to get what you want to get. Jesus was far more astute with understanding culture than we will ever be and to this He said,
24 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 NIV)
In the words of the wild man who never owned a Gucci or Valentino business suit, but instead wore clothes made out of camel’s hair while eating locusts and honey instead of caviar and called people to repentance, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30 NIV)
A second characteristic of our culture is the pleasure principle. We deserve to be happy, to explore the outer limits of whatever promises to bring us pleasure in life. Just watch television for an evening and you will find 1,000 pitches to try and get you to try their product. These pitchmen are peddling the things that are legal. Then there are those who hang out on the street corner or entice you at the office or seek to lure you through the internet. Is it wrong? Is it destructive? Will it lead to harm in your own life or in the lives of those who love you? Will it bring dishonor to God? Doesn’t matter as long as it brings you pleasure. There is no one who has ever had the means to explore the vast frontiers of pleasure like Solomon. Solomon kept a diary and I just happen to have it, so do you. It is called Ecclesiastes and you can find it tucked in God’s Word right after Proverbs. After all of Solomon’s exploits he wrote,
1 I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly–my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. 4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NIV)
Our society is sick because we have pursued that which is of no value and neglected that which is of greater worth than gold. Offer your life to the Lord to be used as He sees fit. Offer your life to the Lord to be used as an instrument of peace, healing, reconciliation, encouragement, and inspiration to those around you. Offer yourself to God and forget about pursuing the things that this world says are so important. Before you and I can ever offer ourselves to God for His purposes we must confess our sin and ask for His healing, saving hands to draw us to Himself. This begins at the foot of the cross where Jesus died so that you and I might live a brand new life. Won’t you invite Him into your heart this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 8, 2014