Friday, September 5, 2008

Transformed.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, 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. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We must first ask why there is a big "therefore" at the beginning of chapter 12. As I have mentioned previously, there were no chapters and verses when the people of God put these letters on paper(!)
Chapter 11 is Paul's discussion of the fact that God allowed the Gentiles (Gentiles=people who are not Jews, I always hated when people used church words and I didn't have a working definition of what they meant) to be "grafted" into His plan of redemption. He didn't have to allow this but out of His mercy He opened salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Paul encourages us as Gentiles not to forget this act of mercy, because God could have just rescued the Hebrew people, but He has brought us into this great plan as well, and Christ's sacrifice is for us too! That is a big deal, and Paul tells his audience to be thankful for that in chapter 11. This is part of Paul constructing a case for how the Christians should live. For the first 11 chapters, he is telling us WHY God is worthy of our worship. Then Paul makes a turn in focus beginning with chapter 12 (hinging on the first 2 verses).

Now here's where the "therefore" comes into play. Once we have counted the cost and accepted the finished work of Christ as our only righteousness, He demands that we give our all.

12:1 says that in view of this ridiculous thing that the God of the universe did for US, we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Whoa. We don't have the right imagery when we read that. The Roman Christians reading this letter would have had a slightly different picture in their heads than trotting down to the altar to pray with the preacher. First of all, in this time period in the Jewish culture, some were still sacrificing animals to atone for their sins. We also know that some types of pagan worship practices would have involved a human sacrifice on the altar. For Paul to talk about a living sacrifice would blow their ever-loving minds!

Rick Warren once said that the problem with a living sacrifice is the tendency it has to crawl off the altar. I would reckon that these Roman Christians (a lot of them former pagans) had never seen anything put on the altar that lived to tell about it. For Paul to use imagery like this, he meant business. However, the image of sacrifice is a little different when we consider that it's the love of Christ that compels us to DAILY take our place on the altar of sacrifice. Lambs taken to atone for the sins of the Jews could not have any marks or blemishes. They had to be purely white--spotless, if you will. God's sacrifice on our behalf, the Spotless Lamb, was a worthy sacrifice. God is now asking us to respond to the finished work of Christ by obedience, so that we can be holy and acceptable to Him as we daily deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. This is what God deserves, isn't it? Will we do it "in view of God's mercy..."?

That act alone, however, isn't enough. Verse 2 reminds us that we must not allow ourselves to conform. The Roman Christians saw lots of debauchery and pagan acts daily. Paul had to remind them not to start looking like the pagans. The same goes for us, because it's hard to prove that you are being transformed if you think, speak, and act the same as everyone else. Nobody would believe a caterpillar was a butterfly if he still looked like a fuzzy little worm. C'mon now. Let's get real about this. If we are trying to convince ourselves that we are allowing God to transform us daily, but see no proof, then are we really being transformed?
Mark reminded us last night that if we allow Him to, Jesus will take that offering at His altar and transform it. It's not like you are doing all the work here. But there is a constant decision not to be conformed to the images we see on TV or read in books or view in magazines, but to allow God to transform us into the image He had in mind WHEN HE CREATED US.
You wanna know what God's will is? Yeah, me too. In the college women's ministry I direct, if I had a nickel for every time one of the girls asked what God's will was for her, I'd quit my job and be a professional friend (my dream job). That's a lot of nickels!! One thing that if we could latch onto in the Body of Christ, it would shake this world to its' core: if we allow God to change the thoughts in our minds, we will no longer be deceived by the lies of our adversary and can then have the Mind of Christ.
My friend Rachael just walked in the door. She is a wise 21 year-old that I have the great pleasure of discipling for a while. She now helps teach our women's study. I said, "Rach, what do you think about this passage?" She reminded me of her favorite verse, Psalm 37:4 --"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." We have talked about this verse before but I really loved that Rach brought that to my attention (I'm like a proud mama, I frequently tell her) because she said, "Lauren, when I delight in Jesus, the whole of my desires change into the desires that He has for me." She right about that transformation. But it takes laying (lying? I don't know!) the whole of yourself on that altar for the transformation to begin.
Rachael is learning that "in real time" as she has had a desire to get married to her fiancee, but circumstances and the opinion of her parents has kept them from it thus far. But I have seen God transform Rachael's desires into His, and she is learning what His good, pleasing, and perfect will is, because she is choosing to honor her parents and take her place on the altar of God as His living sacrifice. The Lord whispered to my heart just now, "How much sweeter will it be for her to stand at that altar one day after she has sacrificed herself on it?!"

Praise God that He never wastes a moment we spend sprawled out on that altar, waiting for the Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) to divide us in order that we might be transformed...Hallelujah!

2 comments:

Elle MD said...

Lauren, thanks for the lesson. Beautiful insight.

Bobbi Sue said...

WOW! You are right on here. God is so good, all the time. Love ya