11 Apr 2021
Don’t Be Conformed, Be Transformed
Passage Romans 12:1-2
Speaker Chris Haley
Series Romans: Unashamed
Which are more likely to change your life: simple ideas or complicated ones? I think we’d agree, when we stop and think about it it’s often the simple ideas that often have a more profound effect on our lives. It’s simple ideas properly taken on board which have most potential to transform our lives. Companies like apple spend millions trying to make their designs as simple as possible. Simplicity is a virtue to them, not a lack of sophistication.
This morning is nothing complicated. It’s simple, but simplicity shouldn’t be confused with shallowness. The ideas we’re going to look at this morning are truly lifechanging in their scope and profoundness. What we have here is no less than a roadmap for the Christian life in just two verses; a roadmap that if we follow it will be nothing short of transformational for our lives. The details of the map are sketched out in the chapters to come which we’ll look at in some depth over the coming weeks, but this is the overview, the flyover. This shows us where we’re going; what it means and why we’re doing it. Firstly then, why we’re doing it:
Because of Mercy v1a
Romans 12:1a ESV 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…
Paul sums up his whole message so far in one word, ‘mercy’ or more ‘mercies’ because there are many of them. Mercy, as we said last week, is when we don’t receive the bad things we deserve. And that so well sums up the message so far. Romans 1-3 told us what we deserve. We see how humankind has turned against God. How we swapped God for lesser things. How we swapped the truth of God for a lie. How we are guilty before a holy God. So, Paul tells us, God has handed us over to our sin, letting us get on with destroying ourselves and others. God doesn’t have to step in to make things worse, we’re quite capable of doing that ourselves. God simply hands us over to ourselves- and we find ourselves slaves to our own passions and desires. Ultimately though God will step in, judgement will come and Hell will follow. It’s not pleasant, it’s not nice, but that is what the Bible says we deserve.
But mercy is not getting the bad things we deserve. God steps in in a different way as he comes to our world as Jesus to deal with our problem, to pay the price for our sin, to declare us ‘not guilty in his sight’, to be a sacrifice on our behalf, to free us from our slavery to sin. He has fixed all that we broke. He has shown us mercy when we deserved judgement. And this gift of mercy comes to us not as something we earn by good works. A gift that earned is not a gift is it, it’s a wage! Mercy that is deserved is not mercy by definition! No, this gift comes to us by merely putting our trust in the giver, having faith in Him. So Paul writes at the end of Romans 3:
Romans 3:23 ESV 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
This gift comes to us by faith alone. The same faith that Abraham had (chapter 4). It’s a gift that brings us peace with God and hope in the midst of suffering (chapter 5). It’s not a gift that promotes or excuses sin (chapter 6) - the same gift that releases us from the penalty of sin, releases us from the power of sin. It’s a gift that sets us at war against our sinful old selves (chapter 7). But it’s a gift that comes with the Spirit’s help in the battle (chapter 8) - and a God that is working everything for our good. It’s a gift that pays no regard to race or religiosity (chapters 9-11) - being part of God’s people being is down to God’s mercy and kindness towards us. Paul sums it up quite nicely in Romans 9:16.
Romans 9:16 ESV 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
We are now beloved children of God; welcomed into God’s family, freed from our judgement, given his Spirit, loved by God. And it’s not down to us and our efforts, however good or bad. It’s all down to his mercy - His many mercies! And in light of that Paul appeals to us, not as an apostle, not as an overruling authority, but as a brother, a vessel of God’s mercy himself. He exhorts us, encourages us, urges us, challenges us even- as an older brother might do, to do what he says. It’s that word we keep meeting, “parakaleō”, “to call alongside of”. What we’re to do to one another daily in Hebrews 3. What we’re to when we gather in Hebrews 10. It’s what the Holy Spirit does with us internally in John’s Gospel. Paul does that as our older brother in the faith, pushing us on, spurring us on, like in a race- telling us the direction. He wants to show us what we do in response to the kindness and mercy God has shown us. What is the direction he wants us to go? Second point:
Be a Sacrifice v1b
Romans 12:1 ESV 1 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.
Paul says offer your body as a sacrifice. Consider yourself as dead to self, as no longer yours. He’s not talking about blowing yourself up as a martyr, God forbid! He’s talking about living as a martyr; a living sacrifice, a daily sacrifice. Daily laying down your life for Him. It’s the idea of dying to self and living for Him. As the old hymn goes “self on the cross and Christ upon the throne”. Does that sum up your life? “Self on the cross, Christ upon the throne?” We’re to lay our lives down daily- a living sacrifice
This is not a new idea. Jesus presented his body as a sacrifice on the cross. Think then about what Jesus says in Luke 9: Luke 9:23 ESV 23And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
What Jesus did, in some way we do. In Hebrews Jesus is the great high priest who presents his own body as a sacrifice. Now we as priests under Him we present our own bodies as sacrifices. Not as sacrifices that take away the penalty of sin- that was for Jesus alone! But as sacrifices that apply the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to the reign of sin in our bodies! We choose not to give the members of our body to Christ. Paul’s already said this in Romans:
Romans 6:13 ESV 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
Imagine yourself as an Old Testament priest approaching the altar, but in your hands in not a lamb, but your own body, your own self. What this calls you to do is lay down your self on the altar, to give yourself as a sacrifice to the Lord. Your life is over, you now belong to the Lord. You are now holy- set apart for his use alone. You are now pleasing to God- your sacrifice is a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Is that how you view yourself and your life? Not a life lived for self, but a life devoted entirely to God- there’s no half measures here.
I’m always struck when people give their testimonies, their stories of how they became believers, that this is sorely lacking. You know how it goes: “I used to be like this and now and like this”. You either have the dramatic ones: “I used to be a drug dealer now I’m a model citizen” But in one sense it would be the same if they had become a Buddhist or a Muslim. Or the ‘nothing much has changed’ ones. Trying to find sins they committed at six to try and explain how their life is different! How many of us can say this though: “I used to live for myself, and now I live entirely for God. The incredible truth of the Gospel means I’ve given up on myself entirely. On April 3 1995 I died! The person you now see before you belongs to God.” That’s basically how Paul describes his life in Galatians:
Galatians 2:20a ESV 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Paul is dead, says Paul, and he goes on: Galatians 2:20b ESV And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I live for Jesus now. There’s a sense in which I need to get up every morning and say to myself “Chris Haley is dead, what he wants doesn’t count anymore, my life is a sacrifice to God. What does God want me to do today?” As Jesus models in the Garden of Gethsemane as he approaches the cross “Not my will, but yours be done.” That wasn’t a fatalistic prayer- it was a decision. It was a decision to go to the cross. Have you decided to go to the cross? Or have you settled for the easy route? “Not your will, but mine be done!”, “Not your will, but what everyone else is doing!”, “Not your will, but feels comfortable to me!” Oh, we can wrap it up in religious language: “I don’t feel called to do this,” “I’ve prayed about it and I don’t think I should,” “I don’t feel led to sacrifice in this way.” But the heart is deceitful above all things. The flesh calls us to self-preservation. But Jesus calls us to lay down our lives: Mark 8:35 ESV 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
The flesh speaks religion-ese, the devil definitely does! If you’re saying one thing and Jesus is saying something else, then who do you think should be trusted? We need to think, not what is best for me in this situation, but what is best for God, what is best for the Gospel. We put Him first. And that will often mean we don’t get everything we want. We won’t find things as easy as the world around us, but that is what it means to live as a living sacrifice: dying to self and living for Christ.
This sounds pretty extreme doesn’t it? But is it? Paul says this is our ‘spiritual worship.’ The word ‘spiritual’ is the word ‘logikos.’ It’s notoriously difficult to translate. It has to do with the mind and logic and reason. It’s where we get our word logic from. It’s translated spiritual in contrast to the word ‘body’ earlier in the verse- it’s your ‘internal’ worship. But I think other translations have it right when they translate it ‘reasonable’, ‘logical’, ‘rational’. Given all that God has done for us, this is not extreme, it’s rational, it’s logical, it’s reasonable! It’s like the Old Young Life Campaign Motto taken from the words of Victorian Cricketer CT Studd: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” He then went on to give away his fortune of millions of pounds in todays money, and go as one of the first missionaries to China- that’s practicing what you preach!
It’s like that section of Pride and Prejudice when the Mr Bennett the father believes his brother-in-law has paid a tremendous amount of money to ensure his daughter is married and so avoid a scandal. He has seemingly cancelled debts, paid off the groom, and paid for the wedding. What do you do in the face of such generosity? Mr Bennett asks the question “How can I ever repay him?” But in both cases it’s not a question of repayment- it is a gift. To attempt to repay is an insult to the generosity of the giver. But how do you respond to a God who sacrifices his very self for you? The answer as we’ve seen is in sacrificing your very self to him. That’s not extreme, it’s only logical in the face of such incredible, gob-smacking, Earth shattering mercy! But how do we do that in practice? What does it mean to live as a living sacrifice? Well in once sense that is what the whole of Romans 12-15 is about and we’re going to pick it apart over the coming weeks, but here as I said he give us the first part- the general direction we are heading- we see it in verse 2 and our final heading…
Be Transformed v2
Romans 12:2 ESV 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.
I’m going to deal with this verse backwards. The whole verse hangs on the meaning of that word ‘discern’ towards the end of the verse. “Do this,” says Paul, ”and you’ll be able to ‘discern’ God’s will.” When I was younger, I always read this as a sort of supernatural guidance verse: “Do this and you’ll know whether God wants you to marry Rebekah or Rachel, whether you should be a baker or a banker”- God will give you some insight into his secret plan. But that’s not really what the word means. The translators have tried to get the meaning across by adding ‘by testing’, but elsewhere in Romans the word is nearly always translated “approve” and then one time “see fit”:
Romans 14:22b ESV …Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.
Romans 2:18 ESV 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law;
Rom 14:18 ESV 18Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
If you make this word negative in Greek it becomes ‘reject’, so you could translate it as: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may ‘not reject’ what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” or “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may approve of what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The goal then is not special insight into things God has not revealed, but that we would test out and approve of what God has revealed; take God’s will for a spin and see that it’s good, acceptable and perfect; taste and see that the Lord is good; try it out and confirm that it’s the right choice! JB Phillips translated this part of the verse as “so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good…” He wants us to live out an approve of God’s plan as his revealed it to us. What is that? Well from context it is the offering of ourselves as living sacrifices. That is God’s will for our lives.
But how is it then that we come to, not only do, but approve of something so radical as living a living sacrifice? Answer: By having our minds renewed, by having our attitude changed: Romans 12:2b ESV "…but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." How does that happen? It’s something Spiritual. The only other time this word ‘renewal’ is used in Scripture it has do with the work of the Spirit.
Tit 3:5 ESV he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit restores and refreshes our minds to make them what they were supposed to be. If you were with us think back to Romans 1 or if not look back.
Romans 1:28-32 ESV 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 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. 32 Though they know God's decree that those who practise such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practise them.
The mind there was broken. The consequence that followed was that torrent of sin and destruction. And not only their practice of it, but their ‘approval’ of it- same word as before. A broken mind leads to the approval of sin, so a renewed mind should lead to the approval of God’s will. God is putting right what went wrong, putting things back as they should be. God has a man on the inside, a mind being renewed by the Spirit.
How does that help? Well, when we put our renewed mind to work it will transform our lives! It will change us from within: real change, lasting change, genuine transformation. What form does that transformation take? It’s a transformation from being in the image of the world, to being the image of Christ. It’s a transformation that includes all of us, mind soul and body. Not that we bodily start to look like Jesus! But that we begin to use our bodies as Jesus used his body: hands that care for needy, ears that listen to the vulnerable, feet ready to take out the Gospel to end of the Earth. How different from how we used our bodies in Romans 3! Do you remember that shocking description?
Romans 3:13-18 ESV
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
But we are to conform to the ways of the world no longer. We are not to live a ‘normal’ life anymore. Why would life be normal for a living sacrifice? Why would life be normal if Romans 1-11 is true? So often we’re out to prove that Christians are just like everybody else, and in many ways we are aren’t we? We’re not superior to the world around us. We don’t have two heads. We don’t all go live in monasteries and shave our heads. But we’re not normal- we’re rational people who believe a man rose from the dead and that that event changed everything! We’re people who live for the praise of a man that most of the rest of the world thinks is dead or never existed in the first place! That’s not normal! But that’s ok! One thing our society has got right is that there’s no virtue in being normal! Who wants to be normal?
And I don’t think the world is surprised that we’re not normal, I think it’s surprised that given what we believe, we’re not more abnormal! And they might be right! What would a life truly lived along the lines of the one described here look like? How would my life be different if I really applied this to the big picture of my life? I suspect we won’t all do a CT Studd: sell our house and move to China. But in one sense, why not? Would that be too radical a thing for God to ask? Would that be too much to ask, in view of God’s mercy towards you? And if that would not be too big what about the smaller sacrifices he asks us to make? Is it too much to ask you to devote some time to him daily? Is it too much to ask you to speak for Him in your workplace, in your street, in your school? Is it too much to ask you to serve your brothers and sisters in church? To love them and see to their needs?
What God asks isn’t complicated, it’s simple, but simple, as we said at the beginning, isn’t shallow. Actually, if we applied this truth in many ways it would turn our lives upside down! And I suspect the reason that we don’t is not that we don’t understand it, it’s that we’ve forgotten that we were never remade to conform. We’ve become too sold on being normal. Which if you think about it is just another way of saying “conform to the world around you.”
Will you resolve to be abnormal? Whatever the cost? To be a sacrifice? To be transformed? To be the way Jesus wants you to be, rather than what you’ve just fallen into being? To be a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God? I’m going to pray now a prayer of dedication, we don’t do this kind of thing very often, but it seems fitting at this point, but I’m going to put some words up on the screen and if you want to you can pray them along with me as we close. I’m going to be praying them for myself that God would take me, transform me, and use me in whatever way He sees fit. Here are the words: Father God, thank You for Your sacrifice for me. Thank You for the mercy You have shown me in Christ. Transform my life that I might live for You alone as a living sacrifice. Help me to fight the urge to be ‘normal’, and instead to live radically for you with every fibre of my being. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let’s pray that God would give us the strength to be living sacrifices this week.