Sunday, October 27, 2013

New Life in Christ

Romans 12: 1-8
 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

In this passage, St. Paul begins to lay out the morality that every Christian should aim for in this life in order to imitate Jesus Christ.  Having just threatened the Romans with the possibility that God may cut them off, he commands them to be obedient to God.  He begins in verse one by telling them that their bodies must be a living sacrifice offered in spiritual worship to God.  St. Chrysostom (Chris sis tum) said that in order to do this we must let the eye abstain from sinful looks and glances, the tongue abstain from speaking ill, the hand do no lawless deed.  Instead, the hands must do alms, the mouth must bless, and the ears should rejoice in hearing the scriptures.  There is no other reasonable worship then men offering their bodies and souls to serve God.  We, too, must dedicate ourselves, bodies and souls, to God---all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do.
In verse two, St. Paul tells them not to be conformed to worldly customs and desires of the flesh.  This is the enemy of the renewal of our bodies as a living sacrifice.  He is urging them to transform themselves into new men who despise those things the world admires.  A renewing of the mind leads to a conversion that causes a change in the quality of the soul. St. Paul then tells them that once they are transformed they will be able to discern what is most pleasing and acceptable to God.  This is the verse that changed my life and ultimately led me to this very moment.  For a good part of my life, I was living for the world.  I wanted to have what everyone else had.  I wanted to keep up with the latest “fashions” and trends even those that I really didn’t care for.  I was always trying to fit in somewhere, yet, I always stayed just far enough out not to get sucked in too far.  Thank, God, for the conscience I had early on.
But as I got older and began our family, I realized how crazy this world really was.  I begin to see how rude and selfish our society was.  This was not what I wanted to teach my children.  Travis and I strived to put God first in our lives and not to fall into the temptations of the world, but as our kids grew older we began to fall into the trap of the enemy.  We began to stray from living totally for Christ.  We were offering incomplete sacrifices to God---not offering our whole bodies, just giving him parts.
One day this verse popped up in our path.  We had heard it before, but this time we felt convicted to stop and re-examine our life.  We began to “renew our minds” by taking in account all of our thoughts, actions, purchases, etc.  Then through prayer and scripture we began to discern God’s will for our family.  The more we sought out God’s will the more our lives began to transform eventually leading us to completely give up everything to follow His call to become full time missionaries.  This wasn’t an over night transformation and one that won’t be completed until we are in heaven.  The type of transformation that St. Paul is calling for is ongoing, one that must practiced daily.  Each time we sin, we must renew our minds and seek conversion and repent, always seeking what is pleasing to God.
These first two verses seem to be the most familiar verses of this chapter and the rest of the chapter tends to be overlooked.  I know that when I first began my transformation I did not go any further than verse two.  After ridding our lives of things we thought were “not of God”, we thought we were living holy and righteous lives and began to think more highly of ourselves and less of others who in our eyes were still living “for the world.”
Had we read further at that time, we would have read that the very next verse cautions against the sin of pride. Pride is that feeling of happiness we have when we do something good, but it can lead us to think that we are better than others or deserve respect from others for our accomplishments. Pride is considered one of the seven deadly sins.  It is often referred to as the “key” to all other sins, because once we believe we are better than others we begin to treat others poorly.  Pride fools us into thinking that we are the source of our own greatness.
But St. Paul continues on in verse 3, reminding us that even “our measure of faith” is assigned by God.  How humbling is that!  Humility is what this verse is calling for, and St. Paul even acknowledges in the opening words of this verse that the words he is speaking is dependent on the grace given to him by God.  We too must continually remind ourselves that we are only where we are by the grace of God not by anything of our own doing.      
After calling us to renounce our pride and increase our humility, St. Paul calls us to unity in verses four and five.  He compares the physical human body to the body of Christ in order to show the importance of our relationship with other believers.  He tells us that we each belong to Him and that each of us is important not only to Him, but to each other.  Not only does the body depend on each part, but each part depends on the other parts.  Verses six through eight explain how this unity works for the good of all.
St. Paul explains how each of us are given different gifts through the grace of God.  Each of these gifts is to be used to build up the body.  Each one is ultimately designed and given to bring glory to God alone.  While we cannot be prideful of our gift as we heard in verse 3, we cannot become slothful in using our gifts for the good of others.  This is another one of the traps of the enemy I fell into during my transformation.  Once I began to renounce my pride in the gifts that God gave me, I was afraid to use my gifts and share them with others for fear of becoming prideful once again.  I quietly kept them to myself and to my family and didn’t share them with the other members of the body of Christ.  But St. Paul tells us that we should humbly, generously, diligently, and cheerfully use our gifts for the good of the rest of the body.  Only when we do this will we begin to see the transformation Paul is calling for in this passage.
So, how do we begin this renewing of our mind in order to completely transform our bodies into living sacrifices?  We first begin by looking at our day's thoughts each night before going to bed.  I once read a meditation that explain that the crown of thorns were due to our thoughts of sin and pride.  After meditating on this, I really began to try to understand how dangerous our thoughts can be to our souls.  Our thoughts eventually lead and guide our actions and how we treat others.

Here are a few questions to get you started on your examination of thoughts: Were they all acceptable to God?  Were they thoughts that Christ would have had? Did you try to stop the thought at any time? Did all your thoughts revolve around you?  Or did you think of others?  Were you prideful in your thoughts?  Did you think ill of others? Were you jealous or envious of others?  With each thought, think about how you  could have and should have been more Christ-like in your thinking.  

If we faithfully examine our thoughts each night and truly think about how to make them more holy, we will soon find ourselves examining them throughout the day without much effort and changing our train of thought immediately.  And once we begin to retrain our minds to think thoughts that are pure and holy and acceptable to God, then we will see our actions begin to be more pure and holy and acceptable to God.  And only then will we begin to truly discern God will for us and begin to use the gifts He gave us according to His plan.  So, that’s my challenge to you:  Begin to examine your thoughts each night, so that your mind can be renewed, your bodies can be transformed, and your will become God’s will.

1 comment:

  1. Sunday, Oct. 27: The Word Among Us tells us of St. Paul with a 'strong ego' vs a more common 'large ego'. The conclusion that our confidence should be grounded in humility, not self-glory, is the secret to a 'strong ego'. Pride is definitely a trap & focusing on our thoughts with prayer will defeat it. Revelation begets Inspiration, Inspiration begets Motivation, Motivation begets Action, and Action begets successful results of God’s will. May the Spirit be with you always.