Romans: A Transformed Heart

We’re going to start today by taking a little tour of the beautiful changes that occur in the fall.  Don’t you love the colors of the fall?  We used to live in New England for a few years and we took for granted I think the unreal beauty of the colors.  And so – I thought – let’s take a tour – four pictures that are before and after pictures that I ran across and thought were really beautiful pics.

This valley in Utah, I believe. 

This garden in Japan. 

This house in Wales. 

This castle in Scotland. 

You know what they all have in common?  They are all child’s play to the transformation that is ongoing in you – and me – and anyone who places their faith in Jesus.  If God can make something moving from life to death so beautiful – how much more beautiful to go from death to life.

It is God’s desire to transform us from the inside out into new kinds of human beings.  And this morning we are going to read Romans 12 – and we’ll begin to read how Jesus is going about transforming us from the inside out in four ways –

  1. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we think about reality.
  2. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we use our bodies.
  3. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we view ourselves.
  4. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we view others.

Now before we read Romans 12 – I want to take a moment to explain why we are skipping ahead – last week we read Romans 8 – today we are in Romans 12.

Today I am going to press the fast-forward button on this study and skip ahead to chapter 12 in the letter that the early church leader named Paul wrote to Christians living in Rome in about 55ad.

And now I’m skipping Romans chapters 9-11 and moving to chapter 12 of Romans.  Why?  Because chapters 9-11 is Paul attempt to answer the question – what is God’s plan for Israel?

After all – he made a promise that they would be his people?  And so – what is God’s plan for those Israelites – and Paul’s answer is – it is God’s desire that all Jewish people come to recognize that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  And that they would place their faith in Jesus.

You can hear Paul’s anguish about his people – and his wish that they would come to faith in Jesus.  I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race…

Paul includes his people in the list along with the rest of humanity, who need to be rescued by grace, through faith in Jesus.

And then he goes on to say that God still has plans for Israel someday in the future – but really doesn’t tell us what those plans are or how God is going to pull it all off.

But Paul is in anguish because he understands that the good news that Jesus came to bring us about the right now Kingdom of heaven, changes life today.  It’s nice to know that someday when we die we will be with God.  But Jesus came to bring us life, today.

And that life is marked by transformation.  We are in the process of becoming the kind of people we always hoped we could become.  Here’s Romans 12 NLT

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

It is God’s plan to utterly transform us into new kinds of human being.  It’s his plan.  And it doesn’t matter where your starting point is – Faith in Jesus changes everything for the better. 

Let’s take a look at four areas of our lives that are transformed through our faith in Jesus.

  1. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we think about reality.
  2. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we use our bodies.
  3. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we view ourselves.
  4. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we view others.
  5. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we think about reality.

Romans 12:2  Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Do you that when Jesus shows up and begins to preach in the sermon on the mount, for instance, he starts his sermons the same way?  He tells them to repent.  What does repent mean?

Contrary to what you might think – repent does not mean to say you’re sorry.  Jesus didn’t show up and begin his sermons with “Everyone gather around and say you’re sorry!  God’s really ticked and he wants an apology!”  Would you rip the roof off a house to hear that message?

Repent means literally – to change the way you think. To repent means to change your thinking and as a result, change the way you live.  It’s a change in thinking that leads to a change in action.

Jesus begins his sermons with the words – I have come with good news.  It’s time to change the way you think about reality itself – why?  Because the Kingdom of God is now at hand.  It’s right here. God doesn’t live on the far side of the moon.  He is here as close to you as the breath on the back of your hand.  And that changes everything.

Reality itself has changed.  This is why – whenever I meet with people to do some spiritual mentoring, the first thing I ask them to do is to memorize Psalm 23 and pray through it at least twice a day.  Why?  Because it begins with a declaration of the new reality.  The Lord is my shepherd – he is near and He is good – The Lor dis my shepherd today and therefore, I lack no good thing.  He leads me to green grass and quiet waters and restores my soul.  And even when I walk into dark valleys – He is with me.

You’ve heard me say it so often here – haven’t you?  I feel like Paul – I urge you brethren.  I plead with you brothers and sister.  Our minds need to be rewired.

Because we were born into a world that told us -if it is to be it is up to me. A world where only the strong survive.  Eat or be eaten.

By memorizing Psalm 23 we remind our soul that we serve a good shepherd who cares deeply about us – and so – even when we endure difficulties, trials, suffering and pain, we are still safe because God has shown us that he can be trusted, Jesus has shown us that pain is sometimes part of the journey that leads to freedom and life.

When we cross the line of faith we are assured that nothing can separate us from God’s loving guidance.

But many people have only come to see God as the person who solves their sin problem.  They see God as the expert in life after death, but live this life as though God has little to offer in this life today.

But what sense does it make to trust God for the next life while leaving him largely excluded from life today.  November 4th.  2018?

Our body follows our brain, usually.  In other words we will naturally act out on what we believe to be true about reality.  Why don’t people give money away?  Because their mind hasn’t been transformed.  They think that it’s up to them to gather.  Why are people given to worry and fear?  Because their minds haven’t yet been fully transformed and brought into the new reality of the Kingdom among us.

Why do people struggle with anger?  Well, they haven’t come to see that life is better when they cede control of the universe to someone more qualified then them to run it.

Now – it takes time.  It takes some miles on the faith journey to be able to se that God will keep his word and that I’m safe trusting him.  That life will not fall apart if I don’t get my way.  So don’t be hard on yourself if you struggle to trust.

But I want to encourage you to receive from the Holy Spirit a vision of what God is turning you into as you submit to disciplines along the way to help your mind be renewed.  Including scripture memory and prayerful meditation on that scripture.

Allow what we know about God’s mercy to transform the way we think about reality.  I’d plead with you to continue to memorize and meditate upon these rich portions of scripture, like Psalm 23 and the Lord’s prayer.

The Affirmation class that the students go through?  We ask them to memorize and pray through Psalm 23 – that’s what they are being tasked with today – if you have a student in the class – maybe it’s something you do as a family together.

  1. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we think about reality. You are not left to fend for yourself. You have a loving God – and if he was willing to give up his own son to save you, what will he withhold from you that you need today?
  2. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we use our bodies.

12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. NIV

When I was going to college in Georgia I attended a Baptist church.  Ebenezer Baptist Church.  And every Sunday Pastor Fred would invite people to come forward to the altar to “pray to receive Jesus into your heart.”  Sing with me now – Jut as I am without one plea…  Come on now… Invite Jesus into your heart.

Great message actually – nothing wrong with that – after all – we use heart to stand for the innermost part of us – we use it almost interchangeably for soul.

But Paul here makes a pretty interesting insight.  You might have given Jesus your heart but let me ask – Have you ever given him your body?  You might have dedicated your life to him but have you ever dedicated your body to him? You might have invited him into your heart – have you ever invited him into your body?

What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?  Well, in the day Paul was writing this sacrifices became dead sacrifices.  And most often they were guilt offerings, or offerings for sin.  But when Jesus died – he died once for all the sins of whosoever believes in Him.  And so – there are no more dead sacrifices.

Instead we are asked to be living sacrifices.  And that’s much more intense, really.  Because we have a tendency to crawl off the alter – and head for the exit when the going gets rough!

Being a living sacrifice means we daily, continually, offer our bodies to God for him to do with us as he wishes to accomplish his ends on this earth.

It means I will go where God asks me to go. I’ll go where he asks me to go – I’ve given it to him.  My hands will serve where he asks me to serve.  My feet will go wherever He asks me to go.

This is a picture of our friends Brett and Sheri MacLean. Brett is a doctor and Sherri is a nurse and they moved – with their children – from Virginia to Mali Africa in order to over see these health centers that you all have built out there.

Why did they go?  Don’t they know it’s dangerous?  They went because they offered their bodies to God as a living sacrifice and so – they left the potentially lucrative medical field here in the US to live in Africa.  Sherri – pack up your four kids and move to one of the poorest countries in the world.

And maybe you think – oh man – “See! That’s why I don’t want to offer myself up!  Think of what I’ll be missing!”  And I believe the MacLean’s would say – think of what you’d be missing if you say no to God’s purpose and plans for you.

Ask Jan – living in Haiti – caring for orphans in Gonaives – if she regrets offering her life – body and all – to God.

Most of us will not end up in a place like that as we ask Jesus into our bodies.  But if He does we willingly go, right?

But what if God has asked you to teach a group of particularly difficult students?  Dedicate your body to God – and remember that your mission field in that classroom is every bit as important as Jan’s.  Or the MacLeans.  And perhaps, every bit as difficult.

Offering our bodies as living sacrifices means we will go – as salt and light of the world – to wherever he sends us.

Asking Jesus into your body means that you’re committing your body to go where He asks – AND you are committing your body NOT to go where you know he doesn’t want you to go.  And sometimes – our feet have a way of walking us into places we know are going to be trouble for us.

Is the Holy Spirit speaking to you about dedicating a part of your body to God?

Will we not dedicate our tongues to God – and ask him to use our words to build up instead of tearing down?  Will we not dedicate our eyes to God and refrain from indulging in degrading images?

The transformation that comes to us from the mercies of God is wholistic.  It’s all of us.  To be a living sacrifice means we offer our body to Him as well as our mind.  And we pray daily, thy will be done.

  1. Faith in Jesus transforms the way we view ourselves.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…

I’ve mentioned before that the gospel of Jesus – the message he brings – is the great equalizer – the great leveler of all humanity.  Romans 1-3 teaches that all of us sinned – that there are none who are righteous in their own strength or goodness.

And so the gospel of Jesus levels all of mankind.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  And yet – the gospel of Jesus – after leveling us – elevates us equally.  I mean – what are we worth to God?  The life of his own son.

So what does it mean?  Well, none of us are above anyone else.  We were bought with a price.  They were bought with the same price.  But what a price it was!  So we may not think too highly of ourselves, but then we can’t think too lowly of ourselves either.

The good news of Jesus teaches us the preciousness of human beings.  And so why would we treat one another in any way that degrades them?  Or effort in any way to make ourselves look better than we should?

We are God’s son or daughter – His beloved – in whom He is well pleased.  And that means we don’t have to feel dejected when faced with the rejection of other people.  If God accepts us, then we have no need to absorb the rejection of others.

Our very identity is transformed.  And it makes us rejoice in our status as a child of God, and it humbles us because it’s by God’s grace that it’s so.

Funny story to illustrate this.  Last Saturday I heard a pastor tell this story – and it really struck me.  He said that one Sunday he preached and it didn’t go really well – and so he went home and was just sulking – and he went for a walk and stated praying and telling God – God I didn’t do good at all today.  And this pastor said that at that moment he heard the voice of Jesus in his mind – and Jesus said to the pastor.  “How do you think I did?”

Jesus was joking with this pastor like, hey how about you stop feeling like your performance is what makes you special.  Or that you are accepted only if you perform?  Well that was last Saturday and then Sunday I came in and preached and after the first hour I went to the front row and Matt Hrynkow looked over at me and said – “Your shirt is unbuttoned.”  And this shirt covering my six-pack was undone.  And all I could think about was – did I just preach with my six pack hanging out for all the world to see?

I do have a six pack in there – I emptied all the cans into a grocery sack and shoved it in there, but there’s at least a six pack in there.  And anyway, and all I could think of was Jesus saying, “How do you think I did?  Did I do okay?”

See – we aren’t thinking too highly of ourselves.  Because we realize where we would be without God.  And we don’t think lowly of ourselves, because it is God at work in us.  In Him we live and move and breathe.

Lastly, 4.  Faith in Jesus transforms the way we view others.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 

Faith in Jesus transforms the way we view others.  We recognize our gifts and use them to edify and build up others in their faith journey.  Do you know how God has gifted you?  Use your gifts to serve others.

Why?  Well, one of the most powerful moments that we read about Jesus life happens in John 13.  Where it talks about a meal – the final meal Jesus was having with his disciples before he was to be betrayed and tried and crucified.  And Luke tells us that the disciples were bickering amongst themselves about who was the greatest among them.

John tells us that Jesus knew this was the last time he would be with them before the crucifixion, and he stands up and takes a basin full of water and he puts a towel around him and John says that Jesus, having loved thee disciples – loved them to the end – and he washed his disciples feet.

He loved people to the end – and showed it by serving.  See, when you have a gift or ability and don’t use it to bless others – you are hindering the family – we are like a body – Paul tells us – and we each have a part to play.

True transformation of our souls cannot be a strictly internal thing.  It will inevitably spill over into the lives of your brothers and sisters here and around the world.

Be devoted to one another in love.  Because of our confidence on God we don’t try to manipulate or manage others.  We can live without condemning others.  We love others deeply, sincerely, and with God’s Spirit empowering us, we live a life is loving service to others effortlessly.

Ending thought?  We don’t come with a progress bar – 24 percent complete.  Thankfully.  So let’s be patient with one another – and let’s be intentional with our own spiritual Journey.  And let’s see what God through you in this kind of world.