How Shall We Then Live? Back to all sermons
Date: October 26, 2012
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Romans 12:2–12:2
Today we are entering into our study of the last major section in the Book of Romans. In the 1970’s, a well-known Christian thinker/writer/speaker by the name of Francis Schaeffer wrote a book and produced a video series with the title: How Shall We Then Live? I have borrowed that title for my message this morning. Actually, it makes an excellent title for the entire last section of Romans (Romans 12-16).
I remember many years ago sitting in an adult Sunday School class that was going through Romans. When we finally reached chapter 12, the teacher heaved a great sigh of relief and said something to the effect of: “I am so glad that we have finished with all the theoretical and theological sections of Romans and we have finally gotten to the practical section.”
I think I understand what he was feeling, but I still believe there is something drastically wrong with his thinking. We may refer to Romans 12-16 as the practical section of Romans, but let me tell you what is utterly impractical. That is any attempt we may make to apply and live by the teachings of Romans 12-16 that is not firmly and squarely built upon the teaching and theological truths of the first 11 chapters.
Let me once again apply some theological terms to why I say that. The two terms are “justification” and “sanctification”. Justification is a legal term which means “to declare righteous before a court of law.” The first 7 chapters of Romans dealt almost exclusively with this great doctrine. We are all sinners who deserve the wrath of God. That is the first 3 chapters of Romans. Because of his great love and mercy, God sent his own Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins and to satisfy the demands of his righteousness and justice. Because of that act of atonement, God now offers to declare us righteous before his court as a free gift of his grace when we put our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. That is a very quick summary of chapters 4-7. It is all about justification. Justification is God’s work. It is something he has done for us. We can only receive it as a free gift by faith.
In Romans 8, Paul began to address the subject of sanctification. Sanctification is something that grows out of our justification. Sanctification is a process by which we are made righteous in thought, word and action. While these two great truths should never be separated, we must always keep in mind which is cause and which is effect. Justification is the cause. Sanctification is the effect. Justification must come first and sanctification must flow from it. We are not justified before God because we live in certain way. We are to live in a certain way because we have been justified in God’s sight.
In Romans 8, Paul presented a great spiritual truth, a great spiritual reality that makes sanctification possible. That is the reality that everyone who places true faith in Jesus Christ and is justified is immediately indwelt by the Spirit of God, who is also referred to as the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of God now lives in me and in you if we have been justified. He is the active agent who leads us and helps us to live as God desires us to live. That is why I say that any attempt to follow the teachings of Romans 12-16 that is not built on a proper understanding of Romans 1-11 will ultimately result in failure. Any attempt to be sanctified which is not built on the foundation of justification by faith will be futile. Any attempt to be sanctified which is not based on daily reliance on the indwelling Spirit of God is simply a waste of time and effort.
I have said this before and I will no doubt say it again. These “practical” sections of the Book of Romans are only practical if they are grounded in the theological realities of our justification by faith and the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God.
Which brings us again to the title for this sermon. How shall we then live? Since these things are true, what difference should that make in the way we live? That is the question that Paul will be addressing in these final chapters in Romans. Romans 12:1-2 is a key “hinge” section of the letter.
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. 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.
Before getting into the details, Paul is laying down some fundamental, core truths of our sanctification. We actually looked at Romans 12:1 last April in one of my concluding messages before we broke off the series for the summer. At the conclusion of Romans 8, I jumped ahead to this verse in a message entitled “Therefore”. This is the response that is called for in light of our justification by faith. Because of God’s mercies, shown to us in our justification, we are called to present our bodies, our lives to him in service and obedience. This is the true act of worship that God is calling for. I am not going to repeat what I said in that message, but you may want to go back and listen to it or read it on the church website.
Today I want to focus on verse 2. It is a powerful verse which contains a wonderful description of both the process of sanctification as well as its goal or promised result. The process of sanctification is summarized in two commands; a negative one and a positive one.
Negatively, we are told: Do not be conformed to this world. We can actually strengthen this translation a bit. The grammatical form of the original text is that used to stop an action or behavior that is currently going on. We could accurately translate it: Stop being conformed to this world. Or, as the NIV translates it, “Do not conform any longer...” This is the assumption of the old life; the person we were before we came to Christ, or the person we would be if we had never trusted Christ. We belonged to the world. “The world” here is used to describe the practices and standards of those without God; the whole system of secular values, standards, ethics and patterns of interpersonal behavior. That is how we used to live. But now that we have been justified, now that we are indwelt by the Spirit of God, now that we have presented our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, that must stop. There is to be a radical change. We must stop being conformed to this world. We must stop letting the world be our standard. We must stop allowing society and “everybody’s doing it” set our agenda. We can’t go on being like everyone else.
Putting it positively, we are told; But be transformed… This is an interesting word. It is used to describe a change from the inside out. The Greek word used is metamorpheo. It is a word that has come over into English as the word “metamorphosis” which we use to describe one of the most dramatic changes in nature. A caterpillar spins itself into a cocoon or a chrysalis and emerges a few weeks later as a beautiful butterfly. It is changed from the inside out so that the outer appearance now matches the inner reality of its essential “butterfly nature.”
This is a beautiful metaphor for the truth of sanctification. We are now children of God. That is our new and essential, inner identity and nature. Sanctification is a change that occurs so that our outside, visible behavior now matches the inner reality. It is becoming on the outside what we already are on the inside. This is a present imperative, which means this is a continuous, ongoing process. It is not a once for all transaction like justification, but a process which will take a life time. We are called to present our bodies to God, lay ourselves on the altar and then be progressively transformed into the men and women, boys and girls God wants us to be.
How does this transformation take place? Paul is quick to address this question; by the renewal of your mind. The process of sanctification begins in the mind. Before we act in new ways, we must begin to think in new ways. Here, Paul is actually picking up on something he said earlier in Romans chapter 6. Let me elaborate here with a slight detour. In the entire first 11 chapters of Romans, there are almost no imperative verbs; there are almost no commands given to us as followers of Christ. Romans 1-11 is about what God has done for us. God is the active agent in our justification. But there is one exception. There is one little cluster of commands found in Romans 6. The very first one is found in Romans 6:11, but let me remind you of the context.
In Romans 6, Paul is addressing the question of whether the doctrine of justification by faith encourages people to continue in a life of sin. To address that question, Paul calls us back to the realities of our justification and certain things we now know: We know that we are now united with Christ. He died for sin and we died with him so that we are now dead to sin. He rose from the dead and we rose with him, so we now share in the power of that new, resurrected life. This is our new spiritual reality.
Now comes this command in verse 11: So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. We must reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. Where does that reckoning occur? It occurs in our minds. We must deliberately remember, calculate and reckon our new spiritual identity. We are dead to sin and we are alive to God. We must allow the Spirit of God to renew our minds with the new spiritual realities of our new identity as the children of God. Allow the doctrinal and theological truths of Romans 1-11 to shape your thinking and your self-perception. Then live out that new reality by the Spirit’s help and transforming power. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. One great way to do that is by memorizing Scripture – especially powerful doctrinal passages like Romans 6 and Romans 8.
If I can venture into the world of IT for a metaphor – we have been operating off an old, defective operating system or software program. Our minds need to be reprogrammed. As we allow our minds to be reprogrammed to reflect our new identity in Christ, our entire lives will be transformed. This is the process of sanctification; transformation from the inside out.
What is the promised result? I would like to answer that question in two ways, based on the rest of this verse. The rest of the verse reads: that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
First of all, we will fulfill the will of God. The will of God is an intriguing subject. Sermons have been preached and many books written on what the will of God is and how we can know the will of God. Simply put, God’s will is that which God desires or that which God wants. When we ask, “What is God’s will?” we are asking, “What does God want me to do in this particular situation?”
Fundamental to the whole issue of Christian living and sanctification, then, is the relationship between my will and God’s will. Which one will reign and rule and direct the path of my life? To explore this matter further, I would like to highlight some significant Scriptures that talk about Jesus and his relationship to the will of his Father.
In John 4:34 we read: Jesus said to them,“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
In John 6:38, Jesus said, For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus wrestled in prayer with his Father before he went to the cross. His prayer concluded with these words of submission: Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.
So let us be clear; when God asks us to live according to his will, he is not asking anything of us that Christ himself did not fulfill. But just what is the will of God for us? When we think of God’s will, we often think of the big decisions of life: where to live, what job to take, whether to marry and whom to marry, and so on. These are the times when we become concerned about knowing the will of God. I certainly do not wish to diminish the significance of those decisions or of seeking God’s will in those decisions. But when we turn to the Scripture, this is not the emphasis we find.
Let’s consider some Scriptures together. Ephesians 3:17-21:
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is...be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
I Thessalonians 4:3 tells us:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.
Are you beginning to get the picture? Let’s try 1 Peter 2:15-17:
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Peter summarizes it this way in 1 Peter 4:2: so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
I like this quote I jotted in my journal many years ago. I am not sure of its source: “In Scripture, God’s will is presented, not as something cleverly concealed which we are to discover, but as something clearly revealed which we are to obey.”
This is how we are to live. The same way Jesus did: “Not my will but yours be done.”
You might still ask: But what about those big decisions of life? How can I know God’s will in those times? I do not have the time to answer that question this morning, but I can tell you this. If you are living in obedience to the known and revealed will of God and fulfilling his will in all the many moral and ethical choices you make day after day, you won’t have to worry about missing God’s will in the big decisions. On the other hand, if you are not living according to the will of God in the daily choices, you will be out of the will of God no matter where you are. After all, what is the point in asking God to lead you to the right college if you are not prepared to be the right person in college? What is the point in asking God to lead you to the right woman to be your wife if you are not ready to fulfill God’s will by being a godly man who will make a good husband?
One promised result of being transformed by the renewing of our minds is that we will fulfill the will of God. But I think there is another promise here. We will find fulfillment in the will of God. I believe we find this promise in the rest of verse 2. It is a phrase that is translated differently in different versions of the Bible and it grows out of the original Greek text which is grammatically ambiguous. The English Standard Version which we’ve been using translates this way: that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. According to this rendering, we will discern that the will of God is made up of that which is good, acceptable and perfect. In other words, by doing good, and acceptable and perfect things, we are doing the will of God.
That is certainly one possible translation and interpretation. But there is another possible way to interpret the text. This one is captured by the New International Version: Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. I prefer this interpretation. We are promised that as our lives are transformed, we will experience the will of God. We will test if for ourselves. We will find out what it is like to live as God intends us to live. As we do, we will not only discern the will of God, but we will approve it. We will be filled with a deep and abiding fulfillment and satisfaction as we discover the will of God to be good, pleasing and perfect. We will find fulfillment in the will of God.
People all over the world are seeking for meaning and fulfillment in life. They are looking for life that is good, pleasing and perfect (in the sense of completeness and wholeness). But they are seeking for it outside the will of God. They are making up their own recipes for fulfillment, but the results never satisfy. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve did? They tried to find their fulfillment and to become “like God” by doing what God told them not to do! The sons and daughters of Adam and Eve continue to rush down that same path of disappointment and disillusionment. But now, as the children of God, we have been set upon a different path – a life lived according the will of God. As we follow his path, we will discover life as God intended us to know it. We will test it, taste it, experience it and we will find it good, pleasing and perfect. The only source of true and lasting fulfillment and joy is to be found within the will of God as he transforms us from the inside out.
Let’s come back to the call Paul makes in verse 1. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice! Put yourself on the altar of obedience and service to God.” Why do we hesitate to answer that call? Why is that a scary thing to do? I think we hesitate, because we are afraid that we will miss out on the best life has to offer. We’ll miss out on all the fun. We’re afraid our lives will become boring, drab, and dreary. That’s what the devil wants us to think. But the reality is just the opposite. Jesus told us that he came so that we could have life and have it abundantly. He told us that when we lose our life for his sake that is when we actually find it.
How shall we than live? There is a simple answer to that question: live for the rest of your time here on earth no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
1. This message takes us back to some important theological terms. What is “justification”? What is “sanctification”? Why is it important to keep the distinction between these two words and concepts clear? Pastor Cam states that is important to remember which is cause and which is effect. Can you remember which is which? What happens when we get this confused?
2. What is the great spiritual truth Paul presents in Romans 8 which makes sanctification possible? What happens when we forgot this and try to forge ahead on our own?
3. Romans 12:1-2 is an important logical hinge point in Paul’s thought. What is the sacrifice God wants us to make? Discuss what you think this means and why it is a logical thing to do (in light of the first 11 chapters of Romans).
4. “Stop being conformed to this world!” What changes have you made in your lifestyle since becoming a follower of Christ? Discuss some ways that the world pressures us to conform to its standards and values.
5. “Be transformed!” How is the metaphor of “metamorphosis” helpful in understanding the process of sanctification?
6. What is the role of our minds in the process of sanctification? Read Romans 6:1-11 and note the references to “know” and “consider”. What do we know? How does this knowledge relate to the renewal of our minds?
7. Review the following verses which refer to the will of God: John 4:34, John 6:38, Ephesians 3:17-21, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, 1 Peter 2:15-17, and 1 Peter 4:2. Based on these verses, what is the will of God? What does it mean to “live for the will of God”?
8. Why are some Christians hesitant to put their lives on the altar of service for God? How might the concluding phrase of Romans 12:2 help them address their fears?