Our Bodies a Sacrifice

Our Bodies a Sacrifice
Central Church
Sunday Morning, December 16, 2007
McGarvey Ice

Text: Romans 12.1-21

One of the strategies for reading an occasional letter like Romans is mirror-reading. That is, since Romans is written out of an occasion in the life of its author and its recipients, then it naturally follows that the content of the letter addresses that particular situation. As a mirror reflects the image of what is before it, so the Biblical text reflects the situation of its author and recipients. For example, Romans chapters 9-11 are roughly 20% of the book and are all about Jew/Gentile issues in the larger plan of God. There must have been some sort of significant Jew/Gentile issue in those house churches in Rome for Paul to have spent the time and ink he did.
In Romans 12 we have a situation where there may be any number of people who would really appreciate church better if everyone else were a lot more like them. And we have a church struggling with how to embody the gospel in their daily lives. So, it seems a fair generalization to say that in Rome we have a church troubled within and a church troubled in the marketplace.
Illus. from Randy Harris[1] about the Thinkers. Servers. Worshippers. Justice/Mercy. Contemplatives. There is great diversity in personality, temperament, and tendency to various kinds and styles of ministry. Every church has these sorts of folks. Such is the great blessing for every church and a potential source of great conflict as well. We normalize for others what comes naturally for us. What is easy and natural and so very sensible to us can easily become much more than simply our disposition or preference. We are tempted to trace an outline of our personalities and preferences and manufacture a pattern out of our own image. We then mandate to others that to really live and serve as a faithful Christian, you must look like, think like and act like me.
Given what Paul says in 12.3-13, it appears that there is trouble in Rome. We’ve got church folks who live as church by the ways of the world. When we live life as church by the ways of the world we will have hypocrisy, preference, and selfishness, and jockeying for position, power plays and manipulation. We’ve got Christians in Rome who say my gift matters and yours doesn’t. My gift is special and yours isn’t, and if you were really spiritual you’d be a thinker/server/worshipper/activist/contemplative like me. And if that is the situation in church imagine how they live out in the marketplace. Imagine how powerful the pressure is to conform to the ways of the world, where life is lived by looking out for number one, by exploiting the other person’s weakness for your gain, by demanding your rights and paying back evil with evil.
That’s the situation in Rome, and all too often for us as well. But Paul writes to Rome, and we are reading it. It is scripture for them and it is scripture for us. Paul’s task in Romans is a pastoral task.
[2] He writes to Christians in Rome to shape them more and more and more into the image of Christ. Paul’s task is a shepherd’s task: to lead and guide the church along the way of Christ. Paul’s task is a leader’s task: to cast a vision for the church and to lead the charge. Paul’s task is a teacher’s task: to show the better way of Christ and make it plain. By way of this letter, Paul is at once teacher, leader and pastor. He is shepherd, visionary and guide.
Often when preachers and teachers get to Romans 12 they see the gears shift in Paul’s rhetoric. Then they often say something like Romans 1-11 is ‘doctrinal’ and chs. 12-5/16 is ‘practical.’ And in a sense they are right. In 1-11 Paul gives emphasis to theology; in 12-16 he gives emphasis to practical teaching. Unfortunately the distinction between doctrine and practice is often overplayed. Paul doesn’t separate the two nearly as far as some preachers do. Paul doesn’t section off doctrine over here and practice over there. It is a false dichotomy, a false separation, to put doctrine over here as if it is all about thinking and reasoning and understanding and over there is daily life where we all live out the moments and events and ins and outs of our lives.
For Paul the two are integrated. Paul doesn’t write two letters to Rome: one a theological treatise and the other a how-to manual for Christian living. He writes one letter that integrates the teaching about what God has done and therefore what our lives should look like if we embrace the gospel. For Paul doctrine and practice are integrated and if they’re not integrated for us, they ought to be. If Paul doesn’t separate them like this, why should we? If we desire spirituality we will seek to integrate the two; and where they are not integrated, we need to be corrected and formed and shaped and taught.
Paul’s task as preacher, teacher, pastor, shepherd, leader, guide in Romans is to lead the Christian churches in Rome to bring their lives more and more in line with what they say they believe about the gospel. The good news of the gospel is that God has demonstrated his faithfulness to us in Christ. The implication for those who believe the gospel is to offer to him our life of faith.
If we believe the good news of Christ crucified then we will present ourselves to God a living sacrifice conformed not to the world but transformed by the renewing of our minds. Thus Paul can begin to explain how there is a better way to live as the Body of Christ.
First of all it is absurd to boast of a gift. Note the Greek of vs. 6: gift is from the same term as grace. In 12.3-13 Paul anchors life as church in the gracious gifts of God. We did not earn them, do not deserve them, and do not exercise them in our own power. Rather, each has a gift by God’s grace to exercise for the blessing of all, just as God’s grace is for all. God’s intent for the church is to be the people of a transformed mind whose life together reflects the rich variety and diversity of his grace. The church ought to be gracious because God is gracious. They embody his grace in their life together. So when life together as church looks more like the world and less like the grace of God, something is wrong. When we say that your gift is special, or prized, or more worthy, we reveal that what really matters are the values of the world. When we turn the gifts of God’s grace into instruments of pride and boasting we reveal that our lives are not nearly as attuned to the values of the gospel as we would think.
God intends for the life of the church to be a reflection of his grace not only to each other as Christians, but a declaration of his grace to the larger culture. So vss. 14-21 show how the grace of God ought to be made real in the ordinary moments of life.
Do we believe the gospel story: that love triumphs over hate, that grace triumphs over sin, and life overcomes death? If we do, then we will live what we say we believe. If we confess that true doctrine, then our lives must conform to that doctrine. If the gospel is the announcement of good news of the righteousness of God: that while we were still sinners Christ died for the ungodly, then we will seek sinners with a fervor and grace that mirrors God’s toward us. If we say that the gospel story is true, then we will seek peace and blessing for those who persecute us. If when we were enemies of God, Christ laid down his life for us, then we ought to embrace a life of grace and feed our hungry enemies and give drink to our thirsty enemies. If when we were hostile to God, the grace of Christ initiated reconciliation, then we ought to initiate reconciliation with our enemies by rejoicing with them when they rejoice and weeping with them when they weep. If the reign of God’s peace has been made real in our own hearts, then as followers in the way of Christ we must interrupt the escalation of violence by implementing a life of peace.
The way of the world is to kick your enemy in his teeth. It is to step on his neck in order to get ahead. It is to stab her in the back as you push your way to the front of the line. The way of the world is by all means and at any cost and in every way to look out for number one. But the way of Jesus is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not to be conformed to this world. The way of Jesus is not to think of yourself more highly than you ought, but to let love be without hypocrisy. The way of Jesus is to hate what is evil, to cling to what is good and to overcome evil with good.
The way of the world is to curse your enemies, but the way of Jesus is to rejoice with your enemy when he rejoices. It is to weep with her when she weeps. The way of Jesus is to seek out the lowly and associate with them.
The way of Jesus is not something in addition to true doctrine; it is the embodiment of true doctrine. In the life of faith, theology and doctrine are not over here somewhere while daily life is over there. The life of faith is the embodiment of what we say we believe, and the living out of the story we say is true. As Christians, we have pledged our allegiance to the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have confessed that that is the true story by which we will live our lives. We have embraced the grace of God in the death of Jesus at our baptism. And at our baptism we have pledged ourselves to God in faith to pursue new life through the resurrection of Jesus. In our baptism we have pledged to carry out the way of Jesus on the stage of our lives. If the story is true then we will honor God not merely by striving for pure doctrine in some abstract sense, but we will integrate true doctrine into our lives and offer to God our bodies a living and holy sacrifice. Amen.

[1] Randall J. Harris, Instructor of Bible, Abilene Christian University, used this illustration on numerous occasions.
[2] See James W. Thompson, Pastoral Ministry According to Paul. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006, 85ff.

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