Romans 12 - Living a Transformed Life

Romans 12:1-8    I appeal [3870 – urge, exhort, see verse 8] to you therefore [3767], brothers,  by the mercies [3628 pity, compassion] of God,  to present [3036 - yield, bring before] your bodies  as a living sacrifice [slaughter for any purpose], holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [3050 – logikos reasonable, of the word] worship [2999 – ministration of God, service].  2  Do not be conformed [4964 – to fashion alike to the same pattern) to this world,  but be transformed [3339 - metamorphose, change, transfigure] by  the renewal [0342 - renovation] of your mind, that by testing  you may  discern [1381 – prove by testing] what is the will[desire] of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect [5046].
3   For  by the grace [5485 – the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life, including gratitude] given to me I say to everyone among you  not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment [1519, 4993 = intent, purposeful, in the right mind],  each according to  the measure of faith that God has assigned.  4 For  as in one body we have many members,  and the members do not all have the same function,  5 so we,  though many,  are one body in Christ, and individually  members one of another.  6  Having gifts [5486 charisma, divine gratuity or endowment) that differ according to the grace [5485} given to us, let us use them: if  prophecy [4394 – speak forth the word],  in proportion to our faith;  7 if  service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  8 the one who exhorts [3870 – call near to invite, comfort, intreat], in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity;  the one who leads,  with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy [1653 – to compassionate by word or deed specifically by divine grace], with  cheerfulness[2432 -  merry, willing].
Romans 12:9 -21    Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  10  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.  11 Do not be slothful in zeal,  be fervent in spirit,   serve the Lord.  12  Rejoice in hope,  be patient in tribulation,  be constant in prayer.  13  Contribute to the needs of the saints and  seek to show hospitality.
14    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  15  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  16  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.   Never be wise in your own sight.  17  Repay no one evil for evil, but  give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  18 If possible, so far as it depends on you,  live peaceably with all.  19 Beloved,  never avenge yourselves, but leave it  to the wrath of God, for it is written,  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  20 To the contrary,  “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Living a Life Transformed by the Power of the Gospel
The first time I did a study of the book of Romans, I gave a huge sigh of relief when we finally came to chapter 12.  At last, I thought, we are finally at the practical part where He gives me something I can do!
I don’t know if you are like me but I tend to read Scripture looking for myself.  What has He promised me?  What does He want me to do?  I get to those things and go to work.  When I do this, do you know what I miss?  I miss God and I miss His grace. When I thought Romans 12 was about me I missed the main point - what God says He will do in me. 
As we look at verse one of Romans 12 we see a word that marks a transition that moves us from what has been said to what he is about to say.  It is the word ‘therefore.”  This word does not dismiss what has already been said but instead if places a great importance on the foundation that was laid in the first eleven chapters. Lets stop and remember what came before, the truths that these next verses are going to hinge on.
In the first eleven chapters, Paul laid the foundation of the gospel.  In his thesis statement in 1:16-17 he said, “For  I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is  the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew  first and also to  the Greek.  For in it (the gospel)  the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith,   as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”   In the first 11 chapters we see the gospel clearly. Whether we are Jews or Gentiles, it is by faith that we receive that Jesus paid fully for our sins and that we are declared righteous.  Now in chapter 12 he transitions to the second half of the key verse – It is the gospel that reveals God’s righteousness from faith for faith.  What we are now going to see is how the righteous live by faith in the transforming power of the gospel. 
God calls us to live by the transforming power of the gospel in two ways in Romans 12:1-8. The first is by our minds being renewed and the second is by living in and for the body of Christ.
“Therefore.”  Based on all that has been said about the gospel, about His love, about His grace and about the Spirit working in us, we can now hear how this applies to our daily life.   “Therefore.” With brotherly concern, Paul starts this transition with a strong appeal that we,  “by the mercies of God present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual (reasonable) worship. Not being conformed to the world, but instead transformed by the renewal of our minds.”
The first two verses answers the question - How does God’s transforming power renew our mind?
It starts with God’s mercies.  At the end of chapter 11, we caught a glimpse of how God poured out His mercy on all, from the depths of His riches and wisdom. How everything is from Him and to Him and through Him. And now we see that He continues to offer His mercies so that we may offer ourselves to Him, as living sacrifices, no longer thinking in the mold of the worldly reason but instead transformed by a renewed mind.
He calls us to not be conformed to the world.  Conformed means to be fashioned alike, patterned after something.  Patterns are like well-worn paths of thoughts and motives that we easily fall into. I grew up in the Rocky Mountains where many of the roads going to the top of a mountain are dirt roads.  When it rains, the water immediately flows into the ruts that had been formed by cars that have passed along this road.  The water doesn’t make a new path of its own or spread out evenly on the road.  Instead it moves quickly to fill the paths already there and with each rain, the ruts get deeper.   In the same way we have thoughts and motives that follow the deep ruts that move us away from God.
Along with offering His mercy, God gives two thing to bring transformation to our minds He gives His truth and He gives the power of His Spirit to change our minds to reflect His.
Let’s look at truth first.  Where are we going to see the truth about who God is?  It’s in the love letter that He wrote to us, describing Himself – all of Scripture.  In this Bible study we have been looking at Romans together.  Hasn’t it been wonderful to see depths of God that we never knew before? And to learn about His unfolding plan for our salvation?  His whole Word is full of even more amazing things that He wants us to know about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, our triune God. 
He not only gives His Word, He also has given us the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and to remind us of who God is.  In Romans 5 and again in Romans 8 we see His mercy in giving us His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts with love, declaring that we are sons of God.  It is the Spirit who helps us in our weaknesses; He intercedes for us and prays for us according to God’s desires.  In the gospel of John we also learn that Jesus left His Spirit with us to teach us all things and to bring His words to our mind. 
Remember what we saw in chapter 10 as we were pondering the question, “how can people hear the gospel unless someone preaches it?”   His conclusion was that faith comes in hearing the word of God. (10:17). It is the Holy Spirit that ministers God’s word to our hearts in a way that we can hear it and believe it.  Our minds are renewed through the transforming power of His Spirit, through His word  - by God influencing our hearts on the inside.
Here’s something that happened last week that may help illustrates this process.  One of my ruts is my strong desire to eat what I want, when my body wants it. It is Girl Scout cookie time and I really like thin mints.  I only ordered two boxes in my attempt to control myself, not knowing that my husband also ordered some.  When five boxes appeared, I began trying all my schemes to outsmart my desire to eat more than I should. First I tried to hide the cookies from myself.  Then I decided I could eat just a few if I set up some rules – I will only eat three cookies, then I will offer the rest to everyone else and they will be gone.  Maybe you can identify or maybe you can’t but there is a rebellion inside me that says, “Why can’t I have more?”  Then I tell myself I don’t have to live by the law and before I know it, I have eaten the whole sleeve of cookies by myself.  After I repeat this every afternoon for three days, I berate myself.  And then I just resign to my failure and decide the only solution is to just get it over with.  I will finish them off and never buy anymore.
Do you see the patterns of the world that I have resorted to; the strategies I use to try to save myself from myself?  I make rules, try to keep them, beat myself up, keep it out of sight, tell myself I just need self-discipline.  So what would it look like if by the mercies of God I offer my body as a living sacrifice?  What will the transformation of my mind look like?
This desire of wanting to eat what I want, when I want it, keeps me from moving toward God.  What is it about God’s character that I am resisting?  What is it that I think He is holding back from me?  When I reach for that sleeve of cookies, what do I desire more than God?  My first answer might be – cookies! But it is really something deeper.  When I take the time to examine my thoughts and motives I see all kinds of wrong thinking about God underlying my actions.  I can see that I don’t believe that God wants to give me good gifts.  I start questioning if God’s desire for me is really good and acceptable and perfect.
What was the truth about God I learned in Romans 8?  NOTHING, not even my overwhelming desire for Girl Scout cookies can separate me from the love of God.  8:31 reminds me, “What then shall I say to these things?  If God is for me, who can be against me?   He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give me all things?” (personalized)  If God gave me His very best gift in Christ, how will He not continue to give me good things?
These truths are where “the power of God for salvation” can renew my mind.  As I repent that I have not trusted His love and His goodness, I can receive that Jesus has already paid in full for this sin.  I can ask for His power to change my thinking - I want to believe Your love, Lord, and that Your desire for good extends to me.  Help me with my unbelief. As I recognize the truth about His love and how He wants to give me all good things, my heart is filled with gratitude.  Now, I can eat three or four cookies being thankful to Him for the taste of His goodness. Do you see how God exchanged my desire for more and  my rebellion for gratitude and movement toward Him?  What an amazing exchange!
In verses 3-8, we see another avenue that God uses to transform us.  He places us in a community that really needs and depends on each other.  He doesn’t say we are just part of a big group, he says it is more intimate than that.  We are actually members of one another. 
As he begins to turn our minds to this important place God has put us –in His body, he starts with an exhortation to everyone to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. He calls us to sober judgment, which literally means to be purposefully thought out in our mind. Do you remember what He has provided for our mind to be transformed in this way?  He gave us His mercy in declaring that through Christ we are forgiven, He gave His Word to discover the truth and He gave us His Spirit to influence our heart. Change of mind happens as we move toward God in faith by His mercy and grace. When we think rightly about God and about ourselves we can enjoy the encouragement He designed to constantly surround us and worship Him together in the family of God.
Just like our body has arms, legs, eyes, elbows, a liver, each uniquely designed to serve our body in a specific way, so God has made us all in the body of Christ.   No matter what our background or differences (in the case of the Roman church, some were Jews and some Gentiles) there are no longer differing groups. I like how he says that “we are individually members one of another.”  He gives us aach gifts – special endowments for building up the body of Christ. He wants us to use the different gifts in proportion to our faith, to help each other move away from the world’s system of thinking to a mind renewal -  living by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Whether we prophesy (which means to speak forth the word of God), serve, teach, exhort, generously give, lead, do acts of mercy or any of the other gifts, by God’s power we can encourage each other to know God and to think rightly about who we are apart from Him and who we are in Christ.  What will then flow out of our lives are in the verses 9- 21 that follow – genuine love, hating evil, harmony and peace with each other, not wise in our own eyes.  And the description of His righteousness goes on. 
I hope you can see how wrong I was to think that chapter 12 now gave me something I could do.  These things are going to come as a result of transformation that God is doing in me.  From the inside He is doing the work through His mercy and through His Spirit and on the outside that transformation reflects His character. 
There is a quote from a local pastor, Dick Woodward, that I have carried it in my Bible for years and it helps me remember what this passage is saying.
I am not – but He is.  And I am in Him, and He is in me.
I can’t – but He can.  And I am in Him, and He is in me.
I don’t want to – but He wants.  And I am in Him, and He is in me.
I didn’t – but He did.  Because I was in Him and He was in me.
Verna McCrillis, 3/17/2014