************ Sermon on Romans 12:1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 4, 2003
"Do Not Conform ..."
Young People, you have been learning this year about having a Christian character. Through our text for this evening I want to further develop that theme – not just for you, but for the entire congregation.
I Respond to God's Mercy
A In Romans 12:1 there is a word which is the key to understanding what is in front of us this evening. In the Greek it is only 3 letters long ( ); we translate it in the English as "therefore." "Therefore," says Paul, "I urge you ..." "Therefore" refers to "God's mercy" which Paul has told us about in the previous 8 chapters. "Therefore" refers to all the blessings of salvation that are ours in Christ. Let me name these blessings:
-in Christ we are justified by faith (4:1f)
-in Christ we have peace with God (5:1f)
-in Christ we are made righteous (5:12f)
-in Christ we are dead to sin and raised to new life (6:1f)
-in Christ we are set free from sin and misery and are able to follow the Spirit (7:1f)
-in Christ there is no condemnation (8:1f)
-in Christ we are free not to walk after the flesh but after the Spirit (8:5f)
-in Christ we are daughters/sons and heirs of God (8:12f)
-in Christ we have a glorious future hope (8:18f)
-in Christ our prayers are heard (8:26f)
-in Christ God works everything for our ultimate good (8:28)
-in Christ we are elect (8:29)
-in Christ no charges are laid against us (8:33)
-in Christ we are conquerors (8:37)
-in Christ nothing can separate us from God's love (8:38f)
-in Christ we are grafted into the tree of Israel and are now part of the people of God (11:11f)
Because of "God's mercy," because of these blessings, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to ..."
We see here that people who are saved are expected to act in a certain way, they are expected to live a certain kind of life.
B During the course of the year you young people have also been taught about the character of God. One characteristic of God that stands out, as far as we are concerned, is His holiness. So, I turn to a passage like Leviticus 19 – which is an alternate form of God's Ten Commandments – and we read there "Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy" (Lev 19:2). In fact, seven times in this passage God reminds us and Israel of His being and character. He says, "I am the Lord" (vs 2,4,10,12,14,16,18). He reminds us that He is the Holy One and that we are to be as He is.
This evening, Paul tells you to do two things because of the riches of God's mercy towards us in Christ Jesus. He calls us to reflect God's holiness by doing two things. First of all, you are to offer your bodies as living sacrifices. Second, you are not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but transformed.
II Offer Your Bodies as Living Sacrifices
A In view of God's mercy, you are to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices." As Paul puts it elsewhere, we are to glorify God in our body (1 Cor 6:20). Our body is to be used to give thanks to God for His wondrous mercy in Christ.
I am sure that Paul's Gentile or Greek audience was astonished by these words. You see, in Greek thought and philosophy the body was viewed as the prison-house of the soul. The body was depreciated and frowned upon. The aim of the Greek religions was to free man from the body and its degrading influences. Salvation meant freedom from the body. Heaven, for the Greeks, was a place where pure souls congregated; it was not a place for bodies. Eternal life was meant for the mind, the soul, the spirit – not for the body.
With their negative view of the body, it is little wonder that Gentile believers would be astonished by Paul's declaration. That the body plays an important role in the salvation process was completely foreign to their way of thinking. That the body is to be included in our response to God's mercy must have sounded alien to them.
B I am sure that many young people today are equally astonished by these words. When we look at TV and movies and advertisements and the culture we live in, the message that young people get is that the body is something to flaunt. Instead of using your body to praise God, you are to use your body to lead someone on, to entice, to entrap and entangle The body is put on display for others to ogle and leer at. So girls go out into public or even come to church with dresses and skirts that are far too skimpy and that expose way too much skin. And, guys give approving glances and grunts when they see this – which is also totally inappropriate. Do we think, for even a moment, that we are praising God with our body when we dress like this? I notice that all sorts of young people appear in public today with rings in places I could not begin to imagine even 15 years ago. I notice tattoos that make me blush as to their message or symbolism. Do we think, for even a moment, that we are praising God with our body when we appear like this?
C What does it mean to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices"? Right away we can discount the obvious. Paul is not telling us to become blood offerings, to kill or be killed like the sheep offered at the Temple each day. We know that with the one sacrifice of Christ good for all times, no further blood offering is necessary (Heb 10).
What Paul means becomes clear when we look at the following words. Paul tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, "holy and pleasing to God." It is clear what God wants: on the negative side, He doesn't want us to use our bodies for sin; on the positive side, He wants us to use our bodies only for what is good, pleasing, and perfect; in other words, He wants us to engage in holy living.
I want you to listen very carefully to what Paul says about this earlier in Romans:
(Rom 6:12-13) ... do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (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.
Did you hear that? "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness ..." What is Paul talking about here? Paul lived in a world filled with sexual immorality: premarital sex, homosexual and lesbian sex, adultery, sexual abuse of minors. Parties in which guests drank themselves into an alcoholic stupor were very common. Men and women dressed in such a way that could only be described as immodest. "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God." In other words, keep away from such sins.
On the positive side, our bodies are to be "instruments of righteousness." This means our lifestyle is to show that we are a member of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit. It means that everyone ought to recognize you as a Christian by the way you live. It means that you serve God in daily life. It means you use your body to do good and loving deeds.
III Transformed Instead of Conformed
A In view of God's mercy, Paul also says:
(Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
I have two things up here with me: a thermometer and a thermostat (HOLD THEM UP). They almost sound the same. They are both concerned with temperature. Yet, there is a big difference between them. A thermometer merely registers the temperature. A thermostat, on the other hand, controls the temperature, either raising or lowering it to the desired level.
Some Christian young people, I'm afraid, are thermometers. They merely register or reflect what is going on in the world around them. The world participates in ungodly sex before or after marriage; so do they. The world pursues things and money; so do they. The world puts self first; so do they. Like all the worldly and godless people around them, these Christian young people pursue a materialistic and hedonistic vision of life. They are but thermometers.
Other Christian young people are thermostats. These believers do not blindly follow or reflect what is going on in the godless world around them. Instead, they dare to be different, they dare to stand out and be counted. They dare to impact the world around them for Christ. They dare to go against the flow. That's the message of the tie I am wearing. On the bottom it says, "Go against the flow. Roman 12:2." It shows all these fish going in one direction and one fish going in the opposite direction.
Young People, are you a thermometer or a thermostat? Do you conform to this world or are you transformed? Do you merely register and reflect the ways of the world or do you dare to stand out and be different?
B Paul says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." You know what this pattern is:
-glorifying possessions and money
-living only for the present – let us eat, drink, and party, for tomorrow we die (Is 22:13; 1 Cor 15:22)
-being pushy and boastful
-self-centeredness, looking after number one
-rip-offs, con jobs, grabbing while the grabbing is good
-revenge and getting even
-impurity and evil
-acts of aggression and violence
-arguments and quarrels
-flaunting and displaying your body
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." In other words, we are not to be like a thermometer which merely registers or reflects what is going on around it.
C This is not easy. It is so easy to conform, to go along with the crowd, to do what everyone else is doing. At one time or another every parent hears it: "But everybody is doing it!" "But everyone has one!" "I'm the only one who can't" "I'm the only one who has to be home by 11." Even though the whole world may do something, that does not make it right for the Christian. It's difficult for parents and teenagers not to conform to the pattern of this world. Yet, in response to God's mercy, we must be different. I told you once before about an experiment done with "processional caterpillars."
Topic: WorldlinessThis is a parable of human behavior. Too many people are reluctant to break away from the pattern of this world. They don't want to be different. They want to be thermometers. The only result can be their own misery and destruction.
Subtopic: Conformity to the World
Title: Processional Caterpillars
On the rim of a clay pot that held a plant, a biologist lined up processional caterpillars. He lined them up so that the leader was head-to-tail with the last caterpillar. The tiny creatures circled the rim of the pot for a full week. Not once did any one of them break away to go over to the plant and eat. Eventually, all the caterpillars died from exhaustion and starvation.
D Paul also tells us how this transformation is to take place: "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." It is a well-known fact that everything we do and say starts off with a thought. If we clean all wrong thoughts out of our minds, our total behavior will also be changed, so that all is pleasing to God.
As most of you realize, I do a lot of my work on a computer. When it comes to doing work on a computer, a simple rule applies: garbage in, garbage out. If someone programs garbage in, the computer can process it, and publish it, and give it a neat appearance, but the end product is still only garbage. Our minds are the same way. If our minds are fed garbage, filth, pollution, junk, the end product can only be garbage. To be transformed, then, our minds have to be programmed with the right sort of material.
What is this right kind of material? Paul calls it the "will of God." It includes such things as the preaching, reading, and studying of God's Word; Christian books, magazines, music, and radio; prayer; worship; Christian fellowship around the Word in youth group; the sacraments.
Renewal of hearts and minds is the work of the Spirit. But the Spirit does not work in a vacuum. To bring about renewal, the Spirit uses the principal of garbage in, garbage out. Our minds must be fed and nourished on the right kinds of material, on the will of God, for the Spirit to bring about the renewal which allows us to be transformed rather than conformed.
It isn't easy to lead and live the transformed life. In fact, it is something we have to work at all of our life. When you first start a job, everything seems so new and different. You have to think carefully before you do anything. It doesn't come naturally to you yet. Over time, though, you are able to do your job automatically, seemingly without thinking about it. It becomes second nature to you.
The same thing happens with the will of God. At first it seems new, different, and strange. You have to think twice about anything and ask, "Now what does God want me to do here?" Over time, however, as you live and practice the redeemed life, God's will becomes second nature to you. It becomes part of your being and existence.
(Rom 12:1-2) Therefore, I urge you, brothers (and sisters and young people), 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.Let me ask you, young people, how do you respond to God's mercy and holiness:
-have you offered your body as a living sacrifice?
-are you conformed or transformed; are you a thermometer or a thermostat; do you go against the flow?
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