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East Lincoln Alliance Church

Be Transformed!

Be Transformed!
Romans 12:2

It was 17 years ago in September when I asked Amy to marry me. We were finishing up our last semester at Crown College and after graduating in December I moved out here and began full time ministry. The big day finally came and on April 28 Amy and I got married. Besides the day I became a Christian, it was the best day of my life! All our friends and family came together at the church in Maple Plain, MN and we said our vows and had a wonderful celebration. The next morning, before heading out on our honeymoon, we got together with our parents and other family members at our apartment to open all the gifts and cards we received at the wedding. We got all kinds of stuff – big things, little things, gifts of money – most of what we needed and wanted to begin our married lives together. And with every gift there was a card in which people had taken the time to wish us a blessed and happy marriage. It was such a blessing to experience such kindness and generosity from so many people.

Now the appropriate thing to do after you get back from your honeymoon is to send a personal thank you to all the people who blessed you on that day. Everyone knows that sending a small thank you card is a fitting response for the generous gifts you received. You don’t have to do it to keep the gifts, and it certainly isn’t to try to repay people for their gift, it’s just a simple and appropriate way to express your gratitude. But let’s say you get back from your honeymoon and you get busy setting up your apartment or house and then you both go to work and you get all caught up in living your new lives together, and you forget to write the thank you cards. A month goes by and you realize, “We have to do that!” And you get by with it for a while because everyone knows you’re busy, but there comes a time when you really need to get it done. But you received so many gifts and there are so many cards to write and you’ve got so much stuff going on! You feel bad, but you just can’t seem to find time for it and you just never do it. You let it slide; hoping that people won’t get too upset and you keep plugging away in life.

Is that ok? Some of us might think it’s not a big deal, but it really is. To not respond in the appropriate way is to express ingratitude and to disregard the kindness and generosity you were shown. So, we write the thank you notes… It’s the obvious and reasonable thing to do.

Last week we talked about the riches of God’s mercy that he’s shown us through Jesus Christ – things we focused on all summer as we studied through the book of Galatians. And we saw last week in Romans 12:1 that the obvious and reasonable thing to do in response to all that God has done for us is to offer our lives in service to him. Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (or reasonable service).” We don’t serve the Lord to keep our salvation or to try to repay him for what he’s done; we do it because it’s a reasonable response of gratitude.

But the reality is that many Christians struggle to do it. Most of us go to church and serve in a church ministry in some way – and that’s fantastic. But the kind of serving that Paul calls us to in Rom. 12:1 is a way of life – it’s a mindset that says, “I’m all yours Lord. Show me how I can serve you in whatever I do today.” It’s a life laid down in joyful surrender to the Lord, where the agenda and priorities are based on what God values – he’s in the driver’s seat. I think most of us would admit – this is a real struggle. We’ve seen and probably agree that is the reasonable thing to do, but if we’re honest, most of us would have to admit that’s not how we’re actually living. So living a life of service to God becomes like a stack of unwritten wedding gift Thank You’s.

So what’s our problem? Why do we struggle with this and how do we change? That’s what Paul addresses in our passage today. This is week 2 of our fall series in which we are studying through Romans chapter 12. This summer, in Galatians we rejoiced in the beauty of God’s gift of salvation and now in Romans 12 we look at how we should respond to it. We saw last week in verse 1 that we are to offer our lives in service to him and now in vs. 2 we look at why that’s so hard for us to do.

Romans 12:2
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The main barrier that keeps people from joyfully offering their lives in service to God is that they have conformed to this world. You will never offer your life in service to God if you’re conformed to this world. The definition of the original word for “conformed” is: “to pattern yourself after,” and the idea of a chameleon comes to mind – people take on the same characteristics as the fallen world around us, and it has a toxic effect on their ability and willingness to serve the Lord.

Paul talks a lot about the fallen world in Rom. 1:21-25: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” So fallen humanity knows God, but rejects him – they don’t honor or praise him for what he’s done, rather they turn to idols. They have been given over to impurity of all kinds because they refuse to worship the Creator. In Romans 1:29-31 he gives a more thorough description: “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” This is the fallen world we live in.

But I would guess that most of us would probably say, “That doesn’t sound like me anymore.” We trust and worship the one true God and live moral and upright lives – we aren’t murderers, drunkards, or sexually immoral people. We’re not perfect, but we no longer resemble the world like Paul describes in Romans 1… Yet we still struggle to offer our lives fully in service to God. We give a decent effort, but we know we’re not the “living sacrifices” that he writes about in Romans 12:1. So what’s the problem?

Let me read a quote about the world we live in. This was written by an author named William Herberg in 1955, but as you will see, it seems to describe our world perfectly today. “The American Way of life is individualistic, dynamic, and pragmatic. It affirms the supreme value and dignity of the individual; it stresses incessant activity on his part, for he is never to rest but is always to be striving to "get ahead"; it defines an ethic of self-reliance, merit, and character, and judges by achievement: "deeds, not creeds" are what count.”

Notice some of the key words: “incessant activity,” “never to rest,” “always to be striving to get ahead,” “self-reliance,” “judges by achievement.” Do those things sound familiar to you? They sound familiar to me, because they describe the way that I live and the way of life I see all around me. It’s the pattern of the world we live in. And I think without really knowing it – because we swim in it every day, we have conformed to it. We’re so busy running back and forth, on to the next thing that needs our attention. We pile on the work and responsibilities to the point where we can’t even come close to keeping up. And on top of that we pack in hobbies and entertainment. We buy more stuff and become consumed by our things. We give our attention to finances, health, diet, media, entertainment. We have full agendas, full schedules, never-ending to-do lists, busy, busy, busy. We are the “land of opportunity” and we pursue every opportunity that interests us even if it kills us. We call it the “rat race” and that’s the way we often feel – like rats racing around an obstacle course.

When I state it blatantly like that it sounds bad, but because this is the culture we’re living in, we don’t realize it or how much we’ve conformed to all the craziness. It just seems normal to us and without knowing it we have quietly slipped into it. And our conformity with the world in this way makes it almost impossible for us to actually offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. That may be our reasonable service to God, but it seems impossible. We’re too busy and focused on too many other things. And I think it’s been one of Satan’s most effective schemes in keeping American Christians and churches ineffective.

So what hope do we have? Is there any way we can break free from this impossible situation? I think there is. Paul writes this in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” The problem is in our minds – the way that we think about life. We think the same way other people think in our culture – we value the same things. We think we have to take hold of every opportunity in front of us because that’s what we see everyone else doing and it feels like a waste if we don’t – like we’re missing out, or our kids are missing out. So we try to do everything like everyone else so we don’t miss out – but we do miss out. We miss out on the most important things – we miss out on living our lives in joyful service to God. We miss out on making an eternal impact for Christ in people’s lives. We miss out on heavenly things in our efforts to not miss out on earthly things.

I’m right in the middle of this struggle myself. With all kinds of interests and opportunities available to me and with 4 kids who have their own interests and opportunities available to them – I’m preaching to myself. This is like an exposé on Eric Danielson this morning. I know how difficult this is. But I think we have hope and what needs to happen is transformation – the renewal of our minds.

Paul’s command to “be transformed” is interesting because it’s imperative, but it’s passive. That means we have to do it, but it’s a passive “doing.” The main “transformer” of our minds isn’t actually ourselves, it’s the Holy Spirit. He does the transforming and renewing and our role is to surrender, submit, and obey. We need the mind of Christ and that’s already in us because the Holy Spirit is in us, so the right way of thinking about life is already inside us – I think we just need to learn how to ask, listen and obey. And I think that’s what Paul is getting at in the last part of the verse: “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I think the Holy Spirit will transform us and renew our minds if we learn to ask, listen and obey. Paul says that by testing we will be able to discern what is the will of God – the good, acceptable and perfect things he wants us to do. So I think what Paul is getting at here is that we need to ask God what he wants us to do in our lives. When one of the million opportunities comes up, rather than doing it because everyone else is doing it and it sounds interesting and good to us, we ought to ask God first: “Would it be your will for me to do this today?” And then we need to listen to what he says and obey. In this way we submit to him and the Holy Spirit transforms us by the renewing of our minds. And bit by bit, decision by decision, day after day we will become less and less conformed to the world we live in and able and willing to joyfully offer our lives in service to God. Ask, listen, and obey.

Think about the things you did this past weekend – why did you do them? How would your weekend have looked different if you asked God what his will was and then listened and obeyed? How would your life begin to change if you made this your practice? I know my life would change. And that’s how transformation happens – it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens one decision at a time.

So now again, to help us put hands and feet to what we’re learning in this series, we have this community service event coming up on October 14 called “Helping Hands Day.” We will be offering a free pancake breakfast to the people in our community during which we will also offer a variety of other services to meet people’s needs based on your gifts, abilities and resources. I’m asking you to consider helping serve the meal, or offering another service during that time, or setting up a table or booth to offer a service at a later date that people who attend the breakfast can sign up for. I encourage you to serve with your family, friends, or small group, or on your own if that works best. This is a great opportunity for you to offer yourselves in service to God for a few hours that Saturday, so that you can see that God can use you to make an impact in this world for him.

Now, after hearing the sermon today it would be easy for you to let guilt and obligation drive you to serve on that day. I mean, how can’t you serve at a church event after hearing a sermon like that? But you can conform to the world by getting involved in church events too! A lot of people do. This opportunity is no different than any other decision we need to make in life – We need to ask, listen and obey, and if the Holy Spirit is telling you to serve on that day, then do it. But if he tells you he wants you to do something else, then do that!

If you have tested this decision by asking God, and discern that God’s will is that you serve on that day, I’d like to ask you to fill out the bottom of that flyer in your bulletin and turn it in to me or my church mailbox, or the church office.

 

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