************ Sermon on Romans 12:2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 26, 2009
"Making an Impression"
Christian Education Sunday
"The council shall diligently encourage the members of the congregation to establish and maintain good Christian schools in which the biblical, Reformed vision of Christ's lordship over all creation is clearly taught. The council shall also urge parents to have their children educated in harmony with this vision according to the demands of the covenant." Article 71, Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church.
"The duties belonging to the office of elder consists of continuing in prayer and ruling the church of Christ ... They are to maintain the purity of the Word and Sacraments, assist in catechizing the youth, promote God-centered schooling ..." Article 14, Church Order of the United Reformed Church.
Notice, whether we are Christian Reformed or United Reformed, we believe in the importance of Christian education.
Why is Christian education, God-centered schooling, so important? To use the theme of Christian Education week as we find it on our bulletin covers, we want to guide our children and youth to "Make an Impression."
I Do Not Conform
A There are some verses in the Bible that are enriched when we read them in several translations. Romans 12:2 is one of them:
(Rom 12:2 NIV) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.
(Rom 12:2 NLT) Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world.
(Rom 12:2 The Message) Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
(Rom 12:2 TJB) Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you.
(Rom 12:2 Phillips) Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.
Why do we have Christian education and God-centered schooling? So our children and youth do not conform to the pattern of this world. We want our children and youth to be different.
B Christian parents, grandparents, teachers, youth leaders, and pastors all share a common goal: we want to warn our children and youth against conforming to worldliness. However, we need to be very clear in what we mean by worldliness. The denomination that we came from – the Christian Reformed Church – had very clear ideas about worldliness in its early years; you were worldly if you watched movies, played cards, or danced. Among some Baptists, worldliness is defined by smoking, drinking, dancing, and card playing. This is not what Romans 12:2 is speaking about, however, when it tells us not to conform to the pattern of this world. Our text is speaking about something far more serious and far greater.
What does Paul have in mind? Well, notice that Paul tells us to be "transformed" rather than "conformed." And, notice that Paul tells us to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." This tells us that Paul is concerned about a way of thinking rather than mere behaving. In other words, the pattern of this world we are not to conform to has to do with a mindset, a world view, an underlying perspective. We are not to be worldly in our way of thinking. We are to break out of, or break away from, the world's categories of thinking. We give our children and youth Christian education and God-centered schooling so they are not worldly in their way of thinking.
C "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." What is the worldliness we are fighting against? What is the worldliness we do not want our children and youth to conform to?
In my senior Catechism class this year we have been studying different world views. Each one of the world views is opposed to Christianity. Paul warns us against conforming to any and all of them. My Catechism students don't know this, but this year we actually have been studying Romans 12:2.
Do you remember Carl Sagan, the astronomer? In the TV series, "Cosmos," he is pictured standing before a spectacular view of the star-filled night with its many swirling galaxies. He says in a hushed, almost reverential voice, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." In other words, there is no eternal; the only time is the present. We know this mindset as secularism. This is one of the patterns of the world Paul warns us against. At home, at church, and at school, we need to keep letting our children and youth know there is more to life than the here and now.
Do you remember the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon? One day he was on the roof of his palace, looking at his splendid hanging gardens (one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World) and all the greatness of Babylon. He was so impressed with himself and his handiwork that he said,
(Dan 4:30) "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"Man is the center. Man is the focus. Man is the object of worship. We know this mindset as humanism. The only thing we can tell our children and youth, "Do not conform any longer ..."
"Who am I to judge?" I heard that again this past week. A mother said that about the sinful behavior of her own son. In her mind, each person gets to decide for him or herself what is right or wrong. We know this mindset as relativism. "Do not conform any longer ..."
Or, how about toleration? As I have said before, the concept of toleration has changed in our country. It used to be that toleration meant we allowed someone the freedom to believe and to say certain things. Today, toleration means all views are equally valid, it means we cannot disagree with someone, and it even means we need to accept their beliefs. We saw a clear instance of this at the Miss USA pageant.
Last Sunday, an openly gay judge in the Miss USA contest asked Miss California if she believed in gay marriage."Do not conform any longer ..."
Miss California, as a Christian, answered, "I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman." The audience booed her and her answer probably cost her first place.
Back in 1995 I was a delegate to Synod. We were discussing women in Church Office. I knew the church was in trouble when delegate after delegate stood up and started their comments with, "I feel." You hear that all the time today, don't you?! "I feel ..." The final authority for all issues is how someone feels. Not what the Scripture says. Not what the Creeds & Confessions say. Not what the church has historically said. But how I feel about something. "Do not conform any longer ..."
Materialism is another pattern of this world. The materialist lives for things, for wealth, for what you can buy. "Do not conform any longer ..."
I am sure you can come up with many more, but let me mention one more pattern of this world: hedonism. The pursuit of pleasure. "Let us eat and drink and do drugs and have sex, for tomorrow we die." "Do not conform any longer ..."
D "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." Conformation is the easiest and most natural thing in the world. Think of Daniel and his three friends. All the other noble sons and daughters of Israel ate and drank from King Nebuchadnezzar's table, but not Daniel and his friends. Everyone who was anyone in the Babylonian Empire bowed before Nebuchadnezzar's statue, but not Daniel's three friends.
Conformation is so easy and so natural. Why? Because our minds are darkened. Because our minds are fallen. Because our minds are entangled in the snares of sin. Because our minds are so carnal, so worldly, so secular. Our minds are desperately wicked, hopelessly confused, and unspeakably foolish. So, conformation is too easy and too natural.
Of course, we cannot look just at our children and youth; it is not only teens who receive "peer pressure" to conform. From the day we are born until the day we die, we all feel pressure to go along with the standards and styles of the world. "Do not conform any longer ..."
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." We give our children and youth Christian education and God-centered schooling so they do not conform to the worldly ways of thinking.
Do you know what happens when we do conform? To use the theme on our bulletin covers, we are "making an impression" – but it is the wrong impression!
II But Be Transformed
A "Do not conform any longer ..." That is our first point. So, now the second point, "but be transformed ..." Not conformation but transformation!
Transformation to what? Transformation in what? Transformation in our mind. Transformation to the mind of Christ. Instead of going along with the patterns of the world, "test and approve what God's will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Rom 12:2). We need to think in heavenly categories rather than worldly categories. We need to have a God-ward way of looking at things. We need to have a Christian perspective on things and life.
A transformed mind does not mean what most people think it means. I have a family member who only talks about Christian subjects: church, evangelism, spiritual issues, preaching, and so on. Conversations with him are rather boring. Now, we do need to think about Christian subjects. But having a transformed mind does not mean we think and talk only about Christian subjects; rather, it means we think and talk in a Christian way about everything.
Let me make a start in showing you a renewed mind as compared to a worldly mind.
-The world says "The cosmos is an accident." The renewed mind says "God created the world and everything in it."
-The world says "I matter most. Whatever satisfies me is most important." The renewed mind says, "God matters most. Whatever satisfies God is most important."
-The world says "I am happy if I earn enough money." The renewed mind says "I am happy when I serve God and His kingdom."
-The world says, "Anything is acceptable as long as it doesn't hurt anyone." The renewed mind says, "What is in God's will is acceptable."
-The world says every point-of-view is equally valid. The renewed mind knows not every point-of-view is equally valid.
-The world says "My feelings determine what is right and wrong." The renewed mind says "God's Word is the final authority for doctrine and life."
Christian education and God-centered schooling, of course, teach from the perspective of the renewed mind rather than the worldly mind.
B Not conformation but transformation! Notice what this means. This means we are not to stay as we are. We are expected to change and to make changes. Which means we are in a battle. To conform means to go along, to go with the flow, to bow to peer pressure. But to transform means to be different, to stand out, to resist, to oppose. Conformation is peace with the world but transformation means battle with the world. Constantly, in fact, there is this battle: "Do not conform ... but be transformed."
Now, battles are never easy. They are never to be taken lightly. Battles mean injury, bloodshed, mayhem, death. They are messy. Likewise, this battle to be transformed rather than conformed is messy. We are in a struggle. We are in a struggle for the souls and minds of our children and youth. Do we let them submit to the peer pressure of the world? Or, do we hold them to a higher standard?
C "Do not conform ... but be transformed." Is this possible? Is not the world and its attractions too powerful to be overcome? Is not the pattern of this world all around us, so pervasive in its presence that it is impossible to escape? Are we not in the world? Must we not live with the world? Must we not eat and drink and work? Is not the task superhuman, impossible, absurd? Would it not require us to leave the world, seclude ourselves, let the boat of our life drift to some quiet bay, where we would be outside of the river of life?
Yet, the Word of God comes to us and says, "Do not conform ... but be transformed." So, it must be possible. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is a struggle. Yes, it is demanding. But it must be possible.
D "Do not conform ... but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." How? What do we do? Where is the source that can supply us with the power to struggle upstream against the flow? How do we go about having mind renewal?
In Romans 12:1, the apostle reminded the Christians of Rome about the mercies of God: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy ..." (Rom 12:1). For the previous 8 chapters, Paul spoke of God's mercies (Rom 3:21 - 11:36). He has told us how we, like Abraham, are justified through faith because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus so that all boasting is excluded. He has told us of the first Adam and the second Adam – just as there is death through the first Adam, so there is life through the second Adam (Who is Christ). He has told us that we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection so we are dead to sin and raised to new life. He has told us of the new life through the Spirit. He has taught us about God's eternal decree of election in Christ to save undeserving sinners wholly by grace and through faith apart from any works they may do. All of this – and more – is in mind when Paul reminds us in Romans 12:1 of "God's mercy."
Now, look at what God's mercy does. God's mercy makes it possible for you "to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" (Rom 12:1). Your body. Your body which lives in this present world of darkness. Your body which – like the mind – is fallen and darkened. Your body which dumbly follows the world in the same way as lemmings follow one another off a cliff.
That same mercy renews the sin-darkened mind so that it is transformed rather than conformed. Mind renewal is not something we can do. Mind renewal is something that must be worked in us. Mind renewal is possible only because of the cross and grave of Christ.
Everyone follows a pattern. Everyone makes an impression. Paul tells us, on this Christian Education Sunday, that we either follow the pattern of the world or the pattern of the renewed mind. We either conform to the pattern of this world or, by the grace of God, we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds. So, I pray that in our homes, our church, and our schooling we follow the pattern of God.
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