Gospel Living: 101
Preached at Main Street Church on July 7th 2019
The book of Romans was written by the Apostle Paul somewhere around 60 AD to the church that had formed in Rome following the resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is the longest letter to any church in the entire New Testament and most scholars agree that the book of Romans contains the clearest and most thorough systematic explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ found in the Bible.
Romans 12 marks a major shift in the letter, at which point Paul switches from explanation to application. In Romans 1-11 Paul gave explanation of the gospel, and Romans 12-15 is Paul’s application of the gospel—where Paul lays out how to apply the gospel to everyday life. We have spent the last two months doing out best to give explanation of the gospel in preparation for our brand new series that starts today on the application of the gospel from Romans 12-15. Because of the really practical instruction that Paul gives in Romans 12-15, we have entitled this series: “Gospel Living: 101.”
Today is our introduction to that series from the first two verses of Romans 12.
Romans 12:1-2 “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. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
I have something of a confession to make. Almost ten years ago, I preached this very text, but I preached it wrong. I preached it like this: “Verse 2 is saying that you need to get new information into your mind about how to live according to God’s will, and not the world. You need to get your mind renewed with god gospel information. And verse 1 is saying that if you fix your eyes on the mercies of God, that will give you the inspiration to actually live out that gospel information. So verse 1 is the inspiration, and verse 2 is the information.” And I want to say to you today that when I preached it that way I got it wrong. I want to ask God to forgive me for my error, and I also pray that he will use his word that I did preach in spite of my many failings and shortcomings in handling it. And I pray that God’s strength will be made perfect in my weakness in attempting to preach it again today. I want to share a short story that I believe will shed light on my failing ten years ago.
My very first semester at Covenant seminary I took a class called “Communicating the Scriptures.” It was an intro to preaching class. They could have called it, “Preaching: 101.” My Professor was Dr. Bryan Chapell who wrote a famous book used in seminaries and colleges around the world called “Christ-Centered Preaching.”
Every semester Covenant would host a Lecture Series where they would invite a guest speaker in to give a series of lectures on preaching and all of the students who were training to be pastors were required to attend these lectures. The first one I went to during that first semester turned out to be a bit controversial because the guest lecturer said this: “You have to make the decision when you preach of whether you want to give people information or inspiration.”
And over the weekend following that lecture series, I spent time pondering what kind of preacher I would be. Information or inspiration. But I wasn’t happy with either those options, and was simply left unsettled until the following Tuesday at my preaching class with Dr. Chapell when he settled it for me. He said: “Gentlemen, the point of preaching is not simply to give people information, or to give people inspiration. The point of preaching is transformation!”
The error I made ten years ago when preaching this text was the error of thinking that it was teaching that all we need to live the Christian life is information and inspiration.
- Modern society believes we can achieve utopia simply through information and inspiration.
- What do modern institutions do nowadays if there is some issue in society? “Let’s raise awareness to inform people of this problem. Let’s start a conversation to get people information about this. Let’s have a seminar on sensitivity to this, let’s add this to the curriculum. Let’s start an education program to fix this issue. People just need the right information, and that will change them.” As Maya Angelou said, if you “know better, do better.”
- But we know that information doesn’t completely change people by itself, it has to be coupled with inspiration. We need to inspire people to actually do the right thing. So we tell inspirational stories about bullying, or inequality, or work ethic, or environmental issues that inspire people to change the way they live.
- Many of us approach Christianity the same way. We think if we get all the right biblical information, and pair that with some spiritual inspiration, we will be able to live the right way.
- And when you look at Romans 12:1-2 it almost looks like that is what it’s saying. “Learn the right information in your mind, and get the right inspiration live it out.”
- But we don’t just need information and inspiration; we need transformation!
What Paul is actually saying in these two verses, is since you have been transformed into the image of Jesus, act like Jesus.
- In V. 1 he is saying, since you have been transformed into the image of Jesus, live like Jesus lived,
- And in V. 2 he says, since you have been transformed into the image of Jesus, love like Jesus loved.
So the key to the Christian life is not information about Jesus or inspiration from Jesus, but transformation into the image of Jesus. God has transformed us to look like Jesus, so that we’ll love like Jesus, so that we’ll live like Jesus. That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
1. Live like Jesus Lived
- Look at verse 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.”
- The word ‘therefore’ points back to the first 11 chapters in which Paul diligently laid out the mercies of God, aka, the gospel.
- The gospel is the power of God to transform us into the image of Jesus.
- So Paul is saying, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, since God has transformed you into the image of Jesus through the power of the gospel, live like Jesus lived, because that reflects his glory.”
- In Romans 1 Paul demonstrates how we exchanged the glory of God for images resembling ourselves (Rom. 1:23). Then in Romans 8 he explains how the gospel transforms us into the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). Now, in chapter 12 he is saying, since you have been transformed into the image of Jesus (through the power of the gospel), live like Jesus lived.
A hobby of mine is powerlifting. Powerlifting is very simple: the goal is squat, bench press, and deadlift as much weight as you can in a single lift. And in competitions you get three attempts at each lift. Powerlifting competitions are kind of a funny thing, because for the most part everyone knows how much weight they can lift before they get there, so there’s usually not a lot of suspense during the competition regarding who is going to win.
But every competition I’ve gone to, there is usually that one guy who is at his first competition, and he thinks that somehow, in the inspiration of the moment he is going to be able to lift more than he ever has in his life. Even though he’s only ever bench pressed 200 pounds in the gym, he’s going to try 300 pounds on his first attempt today. Or in the middle of the competition he got a valuable piece of information on how to tweak his deadlift form that he thinks is going to help him magically lift 50 more pounds. And he’ll see other people who have been training for years lifting huge amounts of weight, and it will make him think that the magic of the competition will somehow enable him to as well. The result is he will fail his first lift and get disqualified from the rest of the competition.
Just knowing information about how to do the lift, and getting some inspiration won’t help you to lift what other people lifts. You’ve got to transform your body in order to do that. There is a process of change that has to happen to your body; quite literally a physical transformation. In the same way, just getting some information about Jesus and inspiration from Jesus won’t enable you to live how Jesus lived. You need to be transformed into his image.
Verse 1 is saying, since you have been transformed into the image of Jesus, live like Jesus lived. “Because of the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” Live like Jesus lived. What did Jesus do?
- Jesus presented his body as a sacrifice for sin that was holy and acceptable to God, (why did he do that?) for the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. So if the gospel has transformed you into the image of Christ, Paul is saying, therefore, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, and do it as an act of worship to God because you desire nothing more than for God to be glorified.
- Living like Jesus lived means giving every part of your life to God. Paul says, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice”
- When I was a kid I heard a pastor joke that sometimes the last part of someone to get saved was their back pocket. Now that I’m older I know that for most Christians it seems like the last part of their body to get saved is their tongue. James said it’s the most powerful part of the human body, and Jesus said that it shows what’s in your heart.
- Since we have been transformed into the image of Jesus, through the power of the gospel, we are to live as Jesus lived, and that means giving ourselves to God in every way for his glory.
2. Love Like Jesus Loved
Look at verse 2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
- This verse in some ways is an explanation of verse 1. Verse 1 says present your bodies as a living sacrifice, and now verse 2 is telling you how to do that.
- If we’re not careful, we can take this verse to mean, “get the right information in your mind, so you will be inspired to live the right way, instead of living like the world.” But that is a dangerous path.
- Here’s why: you can make a list of things that God says are good, and then memorize that list and get it in your mind, and then live that way so you’re not conforming to the world, and you will become an expert, top level, Pharisee.
- You can train yourself to live differently than the world. We can train our children to live differently than the world and even to do things that the Bible says to do, but that is hinging your entire existence on the information of what to do and then getting the inspiration to do it. And if we focus on that, we will be missing the entire point of non-conformity to the world.
- Look at the verse again, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, (SO) that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
- The point of living like Jesus lived, is so that we will love what Jesus loved.
- What do I mean? The key here is the word translated ‘discern’ in my Bible.
- This word contains two ideas in it: The first is the concept of testing, and the second is the idea of approving. It’s the idea of testing with the expectation of approval, so the NIV actually translates the one Greek word with two English words as “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” And the ESV which I’m using also uses two words, “that by testing you may discern the will of God.”
- That means that if you have been transformed into the image of Jesus, and you live like Jesus lived, then you will be able to test and approve, or discern, God’s will. And approving God’s will means loving God’s will. Someone who has been transformed into the image of Jesus loves the will of God, because of the will of God glorifies God, and no one loves the glory of God more than Jesus, so if you look like Jesus you’ll love God’s glory as much as Jesus did. Allow me to illustrate:
Dredging for gold with Grandpa
- You can train someone to be able to identify gold without them having an appreciation for it’s value. In the same way, you can train people to be able to identify God’s will without them actually loving God’s will. Without them actually appreciating the true value of God’s will. And Paul is saying here, be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you might LOVE the will of God!
- Since you have been transformed into the image of Jesus, love what Jesus loved, namely, the glory of God that comes about by the will of God.
So Gospel Living isn’t simply learning about how good little Christians are supposed to act. Gospel Living is being transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to love what Jesus loved.
- Consider this: What does it ultimately mean to be like Jesus? Would it mean primarily to know all the information that Jesus knows? Would it mean to be as inspirational as Jesus was? It would mean this: to love the glory of God as much as Jesus does.
- So the point of God transforming us into the image of Jesus is so that we love the glory of God as much as Jesus does, and if you love the glory of God as much as Jesus does you will live for the glory of God as much as Jesus does, and if we live for the glory of God as much as Jesus does then we will fill the earth with the glory of God as God intended from the very beginning in Genesis 1!
- So the question is: have you been transformed into the image of Jesus? Here’s how it happens.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image.”
- Beholding the glory of Jesus, transformed you into the image Jesus. Looking at the glory of Jesus makes you look like Jesus. You become what you behold.
- So friends, what do you spend most of your time beholding? Yourself? What you see on a screen? You become what you behold.
- So search for the glory of God in Scripture, in prayer, and in his people.
- Through the power of the gospel God has transformed us into the image of Jesus so that we will look like Jesus, live like Jesus, and love like Jesus. Gospel Living is living like Jesus, and that is what we’re going to spend the next 10 weeks talking about. How to look, live, and love like Jesus.
In the movie Beauty and the Beast there is prince, who due to his self-centeredness is placed under a curse. And the curse falls not just upon him, but upon everyone in his household. Because of the curse he no longer looks like a glorious prince, but is transformed into a hideous beast, which exacerbates his selfishness and cruelty. Everyone in his household is transformed as well, their humanity is removed, and they are turned into objects. Only true love can reverse the curse, and transform the members of the kingdom back into what they originally were, true humans.
At the end of the movie the Beast faces an epic battle with his ultimate enemy, Gaston. Gaston tries to kill the Beast and in his final attempt he shoots him, but as he does he falls to his own death. Surprisingly, the Beast also dies. All of his household members become dead, inanimate objects. It appears that the curse has won. The only thing that can save them now is not information, or inspiration. They are dead. They are inanimate. They need the curse to be broken, and they need transformation.
When it is seemingly too late, Belle tearfully professes her true love for the Beast. And it is through her love, that the curse is undone, the castle and kingdom are repaired, the beast and his household and transformed into their true human forms once again and even all of the villagers have their memories of the kingdom transformed. The Prince is now King, and he holds a great wedding banquet in his kingdom to celebrate the removal of the curse, and the love that broke it.
The true love of Jesus is shown in the cross of Christ, where he defeated the curse of sin and our ultimate enemy by dying on the cross in our place. And the news of that event is the power of God to transform us from death to life. To transform us into the image of Jesus, into the image of our true humanity that we were meant to be. Because God has transformed us into the image of Jesus, we should live and love like him.
the transformation of their life! That’s what Paul plainly said at the very beginning of this letter in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation.” It transforms dead people into living people. It transformers sinners into saints. It transforms hearts of stones into hearts of flesh, and it transforms a valley of dry bones into a living, breathing army. The point of the gospel and the point of preaching the gospel is transformation and it is quite literally in the middle of verse 2, “be transformed.”
So friends, gospel living isn’t about getting the right information on how to live a good little Christian life and then getting enough inspiration to actually live it out. Gospel living is about being transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ! And that’s what the next ten week journey together is going to be about, and we’re going to start right now.
- Here is where the transforming nature of the gospel is so critical for us to understand:
- The gospel causes sinners who bear the image of sinful Adam, to be transformed into the image of Christ.
- Paul said that just a couple chapters earlier in Romans 8:29 “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,”
- And that’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:49 “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
- So in Genesis 1 God made man in his image, **that is SO important.** Sin shattered that image, and the result that Paul tells us in Romans 1:23 is this: people “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.” So instead of mankind reflecting the glory of God by bearing his image, mankind seeks to reflect the glory of ourselves.
- But then, Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) came to us. The word became flesh and we have seen his glory (John 1:14).
- And on the cross, Jesus ransomed the world from the curse of sin by sacrificially taking the curse on himself, and by rising from the dead he achieved the redemption of sinners.
- And now, when the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit transforms people who were dead in their sin, and makes them alive by restoring the image of God in them and making them look like Jesus.
- So in v. 1 Paul is saying, looking like Jesus means acting like Jesus: