SI:† This fall and winter weíre looking in detail at one chapter in the Bibleó
†† Romans 12.† As I told you last week, I chose this chapter because of
†† conversations over past months several members have talked to me about their
†† burden to be more generous, hospitable, and compassionateó
†† that whole area of Christian service that we usually refer to as mercy ministry.†
Meeting the needs of people, particularly physical needs, in the name of Christ.
†† What does the Lord call us to do, and how are we to do it?†
Several members have also told me they want to know more about spiritual gifts.
†† What they are and how they can be used in the church.
So as I began to mull over those concerns and burdens, I found myself coming back
†† again and again to Romans 12.† This is a great passage on mercy and gifts.
†† Iím excited about how the Holy Spirit is going to teach us and guide us.
†† I know I need to be stretched and challenged in these areas.
INTRO:† There was a chain-link fence behind the garage of my childhood home
†† that was covered with milkweed.†
And certain times of year, there would be fat black and yellow striped caterpillars
†† munching on the milkweed.† They were rubbery and gross to feel, but my sister
†† and I would catch them, put them in a mason jar, and in time something amazing
†† would happen.
The caterpillar would attach itself to the lid of the jar and form a translucent
†† green chrysalis.† Then, after a few weeks, the chrysalis would become clear,
†† and from it would emerge a Monarch butterfly.
It was delightful to let the newly hatched butterfly sit on your fingeró
†† and to see itís delicate wings and bright colors.† To look at that slender curved
†† tongue that sips nectar from flowers.† A butterfly is not a caterpillar with wings.
Itís not just something that has gotten bigger, or grown extra appendages.†
†† Itís the very same living creature you put in the jar,
†† and yet itís transformed into something completely different.
Do you remember the name of that process?†
†† You learned the word in junior high science classómetamorphosis.
In biology, metamorphosis is ďa profound change in form from one state to the next
†† in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the
†† pupa to the adult butterfly.Ē
Metamorphosis is a Greek word.† And Paul uses it here.
†† He uses a form of the Greek verb metamorphao.†
†† Itís the word our English Bibles translate ďbe transformed.Ē†
Donít be conformed to this world, but be transformed, undergo a metamorphosis.
How does this metamorphosis happen?† Thatís whatís fascinating.
†† Paul doesnít say:† Transform yourself.† Metamorphasize yourself.
The caterpillar doesnít transform itself into a butterfly.
†† There are biological forces that bring about the transformation.
†† And yet, there are things that the caterpillar does to cooperate with that change.
It eats, it climbs up to the top of the jar, it breaks out of the chrysalis and
†† flexes itís new wings.†
And the same is true in the spiritual realm.† You canít transform yourself
†† and Paul doesnít tell you to.† He saysóBe transformed.†
†† Thatís the work of the Holy Spirit and the new life planted in you.
And yet, there is a part that you play.† There is something that you must do.
†† Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
What does that mean?† How do you go about renewing your mind?†
†† Paul says that you renew your mind by consciously, deliberately thinking
†† in two different directions, two different ways.
First, a renewed mind is one that does not conform to this world.
†† Itís a mind that doesnít think the way the world thinks.
Second, a renewed mind is one that can test and approve Godís will.
†† Itís a mind that can discern, appreciate, and determine to follow Godís will.
And as you give attention to your thinking, as you work on renewing your
†† mind, both negatively away from the world and positively toward the
†† will of God, then you will yourself in a position where transformation occurs.
Paul is not talking about being born again.†
†† Thatís not the transformation heís describing.†
†† Heís addressing believers who have already been regenerated.†
The transformation he is talking about is your sanctification.
†† Thatís the radical change that takes place in the born again person,
†† over a lifetime, making that man or woman into a more holy, obedient Christian.
Itís this cooperation with the Holy Spiritís sanctifying work that is one of the
†† fundamental ways you show gratitude to God for his mercies to you in Christ.
Remember the set up for Romans chapter 12.
For the first eleven chapters of Paulís letter to Romans, he has explains the Gospel.
†† He tells of everything God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
†† How we didnít understand God or even seek God.
But he sought us and united us to Christ by working faith in us.
†† He forgave us and gave us new hearts and heís keeping us safe so that nothing
†† will separate us from his love, and heís preparing a future glory for us
†† that will outshine our sufferings.
Then after all of that, Paul says, ďTherefore, brothers, in view of Godís mercy . . .Ē
†† In light of all that God has done for you, this is how you show your gratitude.
And before he gets down to brass tacks, he paints with a broad brush.†
†† Give yourself to God body and mind.† Offer body as living sacrificeólast week..
†† Be transformed by the renewing of your mindsóour focus today.† Two points.
1.† Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world.
2.† Test and approve Godís will.† This world vs. Godís will.† Look at examples.
MP#1† Do not conform to the pattern of this world.
My parents sent me to a Christian school 4th through 8th grade that was connected
†† to a church and a denomination that talked a lot about the dangers of worldliness.†
Very often our chapel speakers would warn us not to be conformed to this world.
†† There were five, specific activities they listed as the epitome of worldlinessó
†† drinking, smoking, dancing, movies, and rock music.†
Now, those five activities might be many things, but they are not what Paul is
†† talking about when he tells us not to be conformed to this world.
Let me read you this sentence from some other Bible translations
†† Donít copy the behavior and customs of this world.
†† Donít let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.
†† Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you.
†† Do not conform yourselves to this age.
†† Do not let the age in which you live force you into its scheme of thinking and behaving.†
A couple things you might have noticedóthis idea of a model, scheme, pattern.
†† Comes from the verb ďdo not conform.Ē†
†† Itís a compound word built around the root of a scheme or model or pattern.†
The idea is that the world has its model for how people should think and act,
†† and it is exerting pressure on Christians to conform to that model.
†† It certainly includes behavior, but it starts with thinking and values.
And then you might have noticed that some of these other Bible translations said:
†† Do not be conformed to this age (instead of this world.)
This is a little detail that is very helpful.† Paul uses the word aion.†
†† Thatís another one of those Greek words, like metamorphao, that we have taken
†† straight from Greek and plugged into English.† We have the English word eon.†
Which means an age, a long period of time.
†† That is very helpful in understanding this command.†
Being conformed to the world is being bound and caught up in this age.†
†† Itís thinking that this life, this present time is all that is and all that matters.†
†† Itís confining your vision to the here and now and giving no thought to eternity.†
The Bible often speaks of this age and the age to come.†
†† As Christians we understand that way of dividing life. †
This age is our brief years here on earth, our 60, 70, 80, years.
†† This age is human historyówhich seems like a long time, thousands of years,
†† but itís very brief compared to the countless ages of eternity.
We live in this age, but we keep our minds on the age to come.
Not being conformed to this world starts by resisting with all your might
†† any way of thinking that looks at life in terms of this age only, values.
It means deliberately thinking about eternity.† Not limiting your planning to
†† your retirement, but thinking about eternal heritage, about advancing the
†† kingdom of God, about passing faith to future generations.
I was once talking to my parents about a man we knew who had left his wife.
†† They had been married for several decades, but he found someone who was
†† younger or prettier or more excitingóI canít remember the dreary details.
But I do remember what my mother said, because it made me laugh.
My mother has an opinion about everything and a unique way of expression:
†† She said:† Well, you know what they say:† Thereís no fool like an old fool.†
†† Heís going to be dead in a few years and wonít his decision seem foolish then?†
†† Heíll wish he had stayed with his wife even if she was a battleaxe.†
Perhaps that could have been stated with a little more theological sophistication.
†† But my motherís point was well-made.† This age is brief and eternity is forever.
†† What a fool to make your decisions based on this life only.
But thatís exactly most people believe.† Itís just this life and itís my life.†
†† Most people build their values, plans and behavior on this age.
†† Most make their decisions, sexual or political or financial, on this worldview.
If you have the good luck of finding your soul-mate, and that means leaving the
†† wife of your youth, you would be a fool not to grab that passing happiness.
There is not a thought that this life is training and investment for the life to come.
Remember Jesusí parable in Luke 12:
†† The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.† He thought to himself, ďWhat shall I do? †I have no place to store my crops.Ē† Then he said, ďThis is what Iíll do. †I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.† And Iíll say to myself, ĎYou have plenty of good things laid up for many years. †Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.íĒ† But God said to him, ďYou fool! †This very night your life will be demanded from you. †Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?Ē† This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.
Thatís the pattern of this age and the values of the world.†
These years are going to last forever.† Not a thought to the fact that every single
†† thing you plan and do will be judged in the light of the age to come.
In view of Godís mercies to you in Jesus,
†† Think, renew your mind, do not be conformed to the pattern of this age.†
But there has to be something to replace the pattern of this world.†
MP#2† Test and approve Godís will.
Paul says that a renewed mind is one able to test and approve what Godís will is.†
†† Test and approve means that you discover Godís will, you put it into practice
†† in your life, you test it so to speak, you prove it to be right in your experience.
Itís a Christian saying:† Iíve found Godís will in this situation or this question
†† of values or morality or purposeóand Iíve followed that will and proved it good.
The question that comes to mind is:† How do I find Godís will?
The thickest fog I have ever seen is on Lookout Mountain.
†† Clouds will envelop the top of the mountain for days.†
Driving at night during those legendary fogs is a unique challenge.
†† You can only see two things reflected in your low beamsó
†† the stripe on the right side of the road, and the center line.
As long as you keep your eyes on those two lines, you can stay on the road.
Often times living in this present age is like living in a fog.
†† We are surrounded by this dense mist of the values and morals of the world.
The particular challenge of our time is that we are inundated by entertainment
†† and mediaóthousands of hours a year of TV, and movies, and internet
†† flickering into our eyes and minds, and those of our children.†
And there is very definitely in that media and entertainment pattern and scheme
†† advanced.† Just take note of the values expressed in sit-com previews.
In that worldly fog God has established two boundaries for us to know his will,
†† to follow it, and to prove it good and acceptable in our lives.
They are the boundary of righteousness and the boundary of wisdom.†
†† Keep your low beams focused on them, and your mind will be renewed.
The boundary of righteousness is a very solid lineóGodís authority and law.
To know Godís will you must honor his authority over all other claims.
†† Heís more authoritative than your personal priorities or feelings or values,
†† more authoritative than the demands your children make of you,
†† more authoritative than what you friends think is important,
†† more authoritative than what culture says is good, right, acceptable.
It might feel uncomfortable, out of step, embarrassing, old fashioned, un-cooló
†† but you must honor the authority of the Lord Jesus,
†† and be prepared to do what He tells you to do.
And because you accept Godís authority, you also obey his law.
Godís law is his most fundamental and clear will for your life.†
†† Donít have to wonder if it is Godís will to be sexually pure.
†† Donít have to wonder if it is Godís will for you to be ethical in business.
†† Donít have to wonder if it is Godís will for you to speak words that build others†
††††† up rather than words that tear them down.
†† Donít have to wonder if it is Godís will for you to teach children His Word.
†† Donít have to wonder if it is Godís will for you to cheerfully give regular portion
††††† of your income to His church..
†† Donít have to wonder if a decision is Godís will if it is motivated by greed, envy,
†† lust, pride, self-pity, or maliceóitís not.† Godís will is clear because his law clear.†
It is this clear line, reflected in the fog that keeps you on the road.†
ButóWhat if a specific instruction has not been given in Bible?
†† What if, within a matter of righteousness, seem to be number of choices?
Know itís Godís will to train children in nurture and admonition of the Lord.
†† But how do I decide which movies to let them watch, which music to listen to,
†† when to let go on a date, how to encourage them in Bible reading?
Know righteous to be generous and unrighteous to be stingy.
†† Needy person, how much should I give?† What is Godís will?
Know that certain values of our culture are wrong, but how do you address
†† those as a Christian in a winsome and Christ-honoring way?† Articulate?
This is the other boundary that keeps us in Godís will, the boundary of wisdom.
Wisdom is a biblical mind evaluating choices and circumstances.†
An old hymn describes it this way:
†† A mind to blend with outward life While keeping at Thy side.
Wisdom is evaluating choices in light of all that God has revealed about His
†† character, His priorities, about my sinful nature, about the new life in Christ,
†† about the various callings He has placed upon me.† And then, making a decision.†
Wisdom is not simplistic.† Look how comprehensive and nuanced Proverbs is.
Wisdom grows through a lifetime of walking with Christ and meditating on His
†† Word, prayer, obedience.† You grow in wisdom like the boy Jesus did.
Because wisdom is not simplistic, because it grows in Christian life,
†† seeking godly counsel is an essential part of wisdom.
We are finite creatures, affected by biasesóneed circle of wise men and women,
†† with more objectivity and clarity than we have.
Much more that could be said about wisdom and seeking Godís will.
But this is the summary of Paulís instruction.
You show your gratitude to God for all his mercies to you in Christ by giving your
†† mind to him.† He doesnít want you to mindlessly, thoughtlessly adopt the pattern
†† and scheme of this age.† He doesnít want you to think like the world.
On the contrary, he wants you to push back against the worldó
†† and at the same time he wants you to use your mind to the fullest to seek
†† and prove his will.
MP#3† An example
I want to give you one example of a believer practicing this.
Certainly one of the issues of our time is the strong push in Western culture
†† for the full acceptance and affirmation of homosexuality.† Condemnation.
A few years ago the California State Assembly passed a bill that would change
†† K-12 textbooks, instructional materials, and school-sponsored activities to refer
†† positively to transsexuality, transvestitism, bisexuality, and homosexuality
† including homosexual marriage.†
Fabian Nunez, the sponsor of the bill, said openly that the real purpose of the bill
†† was to outlaw traditional perspectives on marriage and family in the state
†† school system.† He said, ďThe way you correct a wrong is by outlawing it.Ē
Iím not telling you anything you donít know.†
†† There are ferocious attacks by the cultural elite on anyone who publically
†† expresses biblical judgment against homosexuality, no matter how gently stated.
The recent attacks on Chick-Fil-A by public officials is just one more example.
†† Almost all of the mainline Protestant denominations in America have fully
†† embraced homosexuality and equated its support with the Civil Rights Movement.
And even within American evangelical churchesówhatever that means anymoreó
†† there are more and more prominent figures adopting the pattern of the age when
†† it comes to homosexualityóJoel Osteen is one example.
It is hard to respond to the pattern of the age in a biblical way on this topic.
†† Homosexuality is promoted heavily by the entertainment industry.
†† The cultural elite advocate for it for political advantage and the media shapes
†† the way the argument is presented.† How can you be opposed to gay marriage?
Why are you against people who love each other getting married?†
So when you run across a Christian who has not conformed to the pattern of the
†† age and has tested and approved Godís willóyou sit up and take notice.
There is a good book titled Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth
†† by Dr. Jeffrey Satinover.† He was a professor of psychiatry at Yale and Harvard.
†† The book was written 15 years ago, but it is still very relevant.
You canít help being impressed by the way that he absolutely refuses to be
†† conformed to the pattern of this world and his his unapologetic and thoughtful
†† application of Scripture and the biblical world view to homosexuality.
Itís impossible for me to summarize all that Dr. Satinover saysó
†† but just a few points that Iíve found helpful for clarifying my own thinking:
Dr. Satinover shows that after removing politics and looking clearly
†† at all the studies, there is no gay gene.† There is no biological factor
†† that compels people to have same-sex attractions.†
The most we can say is that homosexuality is the result of a complex mixture of
†† biological, family, and social factors as well as repeatedly reinforced choices and
†† behaviors that shape the brain and create sexual compulsion.
When it comes to specific individuals, itís hard to know why attracted to same sex.
And whatís interesting is that the Bible doesnít tell us either.
The Bible doesnít encourage us to place great importance on why this or that
†† person has to bear a particular affliction in this world.
Jesus didnít tell the disciples why the man was born blind.
†† Jesus never said why this man had leprosy, or was paralyzed or demon possessed.
The only cause the Bible really cares about is the big causeóthe will of God.
†† How did Jesus put it about the man born blind?†
†† So that the works of God could be demonstrated in him.
And that has to be tremendously encouraging to every Christian who
†† is struggling with a life-long temptation.† Concealed in your struggle for holiness
†† is a way of serving God and giving him glory.†
Dr. Satinover also says that homosexual behavior is difficult to change, because it is
†† compulsive behavior.† It involves innate impulses and reinforced choices by
†† which sinful activities have become embedded in the brain, engraved on the heart.
In fact, all of Dr. Satinoverís conclusions are completely in line with what the
†† Bible teaches us about the mysterious roots of enslaving sins.
He says that because deeply engraved behaviors are so difficult to change,
†† homosexuals, like all people, have two choices:† They can capitulate to the
†† behavior and its consequences, or depend on other people and on God for help.
He says that the cure for homosexuality is a cure of the soul that unfolds over
†† a lifetime.† And it is more than just behavior, but growing more closely to the
†† divine pattern that God intends for human life.
And that the struggle to conform yourself to the biblical pattern feels unnatural
†† and hard no matter what particular area of life you are dealing with.
And once again, that sounds exactly like what the Bible says about sanctification.
†† The great struggle we have to become more like Christ.† The constant failures.
†† Paul in Romans 7óWhat I want to do I do not do, what I hate I do.
But the Lord began a good work and will carry it on to completion.
That brief summary doesnít answer all the questions, but I just wanted to show
†† you that as Christians, we have to think about these things.†
†† Work out in own minds, so that we donít conform to the world.†
This is what the Lord wants from you as a grateful response to is merciesó
†† love him with your mind.† Donít be conformed to this age, and to know his will.
Parents, your children are being inundated with the world.
†† You are going to have to help them learn to think as Christians.
John Stott says:†
ďWe human beings seem to be imitative by nature.† We need a model to copy, and ultimately there are only two.† There is this world, literally Ďthis age,í which is passing away, and there is Godís will which is good, pleasing, and perfect . . .
These two values systems (this world and Godís will) are incompatible, even in direct collision with one another.† Whether we are thinking about the purpose of life or the meaning of life, now to measure greatness or how to respond to evil, about ambition, sex, honesty, money, community, religion or anything else, the two sets of standards diverge so completely that there is no possibility of compromise.Ē†