The Gospel Applied: “The Look From Above” (Romans 12, Part Two)

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The Gospel Applied: “The Look From Above” (Romans 12, Part Two)

Unhappy EmployeeIn a Harris Interactive poll taken in several job sectors in the US throughout 2013, undefined work expectations topped the list of five work stress factors. The most unhappy employees on the record were NOT those who were the least paid by their companies, but rather those who felt that a loose work structure, the lack of a formal job description and generally poor leadership left them uncertain when they were doing their job well. Psychologists remarked that affirmation and acceptance are important, but they are meaningless without real measurements. It seems that people need to know what your expectations are as an employer or you will frustrate them in their work.

What is true in our work lives can also be said of other parts of our life as well. Even in our spiritual journey, we will be frustrated if we don’t know whether we are following Jesus well. Fortunately, the Master outlines His expectations clearly, so there should be little surprise when we stand before Him for inspection at the end of all things.

Before I get too far along, let’s step back for a moment…In our last lesson we made the note that the view from above is a different view. The Bible makes clear that from God’s lofty perspective, human history appears much differently than it does to us as we pass through life. He both designed and observed the end from the beginning in the text and He alone sees it all from the Creator’s unique perspective. Part of the understanding of the “Holiness” of God is recognizing His uniqueness.

From His lofty position, God has not remained silent. He has told us that in our fallen state, we cannot work our way to Him. He has made plain how one can have a relationship with Him. He has even told us what to do after we have invited Him to take our lives and use them for His glory…Let’s say it this way: God knows what He intends for us, as well as what He expects from those of us who claim to follow Him. In Romans 12, Paul appeared to cite five specific expectations of God for each person who calls themselves a follower of Jesus. All of them help me recall…

Key Principle: God knows what He wants from me, and (thank God!) He took the time to explain it.

Of course, there are those who disagree. They believe God has not been clear about what He wants from a follower. More often than not, when I meet them, they are either people who invest little in the study of the Word, or they do not take the text of Scripture seriously. Because you are engaging this lesson willingly, let me assume that is not you’re your approach. Let’s challenge that thinking with Scripture… Let’s boldly ask the question:

“What does God want from my life?”

In Romans 12, we find five expectations that are clear and require something of us as followers…

First, we found that God’s expectation is a “right to inspect” my life.

Romans 12:1 “… present your bodies … to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship.”

Second, God articulated in the text that He held the “right to expect” every follower to present active resistance from becoming like the world.

Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world….”

Third, God clearly reserved the “right to remake” my thinking.

Romans 12:2b: ”…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Each of these three points we spent significant time unpacking in our last lesson. We also introduced the next two, but took much less time to really make them clear. Let’s look at them now…

The fourth expectation God expressed was His “right to connect” each follower with other followers to tell His story for His glory.

Scan the New Testament and it will become immediately clear that when I was “born again” it was into an identifiable body – not simply an individual thing. Add to that , it is clear in Romans that God called us to DO SOMETHING with our new life in Him. Yet our ACTIONS begin with, and are founded on, our CONNECTION to other believers. Consider God’s instruction…

Romans 12:3 “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Paul chided: “Christian, Know Thyself!” We aren’t good enough to save ourselves, and we aren’t clever enough to figure out what a life in Christ is to look like. If we were, we would not need God’s Word and the indwelling of God’s Spirit.

At the heart of the teaching, Paul claimed something important about the SOURCE of the truth he was about to express. He wrote: “For through the grace given to me”… which was a way of expressing: “Based on my own gifts…” In other words, Paul’s apostleship gift set helped him to see clearly this truth: some believers think they are too good for the body. Some people think the flock holds them back from being what God wants them to be – and they are WRONG. Paul made clear:

Romans 12:4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, [each of us is to exercise them accordingly]: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let us not waver in this truth: Each believer’s salvation can only be obediently worked out in the context of relationship to the rest of the body.

It is sheer silliness to believe that individual body parts can thrive without the whole of the body. One who believes this is wrong, and one who acts on a belief that the “body connection” is somehow “incidental” is disobedient to revealed Scripture. The sad truth is that amounts to literally millions of people who claim to follow Jesus. Biblically speaking, we must recognize that just as salvation and giftedness were dispensed from God’s hand, so our walk has been outfitted with our place in the body of Christ in mind.” The church is the body of Christ active and alive in the world today, and we have not been gifted to stand apart from the body. We were designed to be challenged together, grow together and be moved by His hand together.

I appreciated Ed Stetzer’s recent column about the Christian Church in America. He wrote an article published in Christianity Today called: “The State of the Church in America: Hint: It’s Not Dying!”

He noted that in 2009, the results of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) caused some to predict the coming and swift demise of Christianity in America. The media across America quickly bought in. The poll showed that from 1990-2009, Americans who “self-identified” as “Christians” fell from 86 percent to 76 percent. It indicated Americans who claimed no religious affiliation rose between 8 and 15 percent in the same time period.

Pundits couldn’t contain themselves. No word on the mass immigration of Near Eastern people into the country during that time. No context… just a “tongue in cheek” sad anthem for the demise of the Christian message. Newsweek ran on its cover: “The End of Christian America” while the internet buzzed with word of “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”. No one dug deeper, for the numbers obviously meant Christianity was in precipitous decline.

On to the Pew Research Study from 2012, where the number of “unaffiliated” increased another five percent in the previous five years alone. Some concluded that Christians were leaving the faith in droves. Ed posited something with more depth than a funerary dirge: Nominal Christians of yesteryear found that it was no longer to their public advantage to claim that faith to which they were tenuously attached. It didn’t get votes or promotions anymore, so they stopped checking the box that had, to them, little meaning anyway.

Today, around 75 percent of Americans call themselves Christians—regardless of how others might define them. Ed made the helpful distinction of separating those who profess Christianity into three categories: cultural, congregational and convictional.

• Cultural Christians are those who believe themselves to be Christians simply because their culture tells them they are. They are Christian by heritage. They are not practicing a vibrant faith. This group appears to make up around about one-third of the 75 percent who self-identify as Christians—a quarter of all Americans.

• Congregational Christians are also marginal about their personal practice, but have some connection to congregational life. They have a “home church” they grew up in and perhaps where they were married. They might even visit occasionally. Again, we wouldn’t observe them in what would be normally called “vibrant faith”. They are occasional attendees. They appear to comprise another third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.

• Convictional Christians are those who would openly say that they have met Jesus, and He changed their lives. They appear to also make up the final third of the 75 percent—or about a quarter of all Americans.

In essence, he argued that the Church is not dying – it is just being more clearly defined.

Why the media hype, then? Stetzer wisely quipped: “Crises sell books but usually don’t fix problems.” (I have leaned heavily on the article, but there is much more meat to it. I encourage you to read it at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/october/state-of-american-church.html.)

Though I agree that the church is being clarified (and I invite that action in these days), I do think Christians need to get off the page of how the church is the problem. Jesus isn’t feeding the press the negative stories – they are coming from another direction. Let’s be clear: Just as God demanded our recognition of CONNECTION to Him – so He demanded our connection to the Body of Christ. Both are essential for effective Christian living. Based on this passage, I am forced to conclude two things:

• God expects us to see ourselves first as connected to the head of the Body – to Jesus Christ. Without a deep understanding of both our union with Christ, and the headship of Christ, we will inevitably end up in harsh Christian legalism or woeful Christian license. The only proper and delicately balanced fix for both of these sinful states is intimacy with the Savior, allowing His mind to flow in us.

• After we have decided to yield ourselves to His thoughts as our “head”, we must, in turn, acknowledge the rest of the body to which we are attached. We should give PRIORITY to the body as we serve and follow the Savior.

Look again at Romans 12…

Romans 12:4 “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function…”

It is clear that parts of the body function differently, and each part has a specific role in the body of Messiah. We are uniquely created to work as one body.

May I kindly ask you: “Have you discerned what role you play?” It seems that would be a very important foundation beneath our obedience in the rest of the passage. It appears we would need to learn what that role is (by carefully examining the Divinely-appointed gifts placed in us), and then measure where we are to expend our energies “serving Jesus by serving His body.”

If the work of the Shepherd is, in part, to “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry,” it seems I am responsible to actively encourage you to find a place for those gifts to be at work in this community. We are going to enlist you to help move the body forward in the areas where you are gifted and growing. We need to grow, but we need to serve in order to develop spiritual “muscles” properly tuned to accomplish our Master’s desires. If we choose not to – even the prime purposes of the church will be subverted in our lives.

This is a truth we must recognize: “No team takes the field without each one knowing their positions and the requisite responsibilities of that position.” You and I both have one, and you must actively seek understanding of that role. Look again at our text…

Romans 12:5 “…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

God has a goal that many believers in our culture simply do not seem to be grasping. It appears they haven’t “bought in” to God’s plan. His goal isn’t simply about salvation – that is CONNECTING PEOPLE to Him. It is equally about “body life” where each believer recognizes their connection to EACH OTHER.

I cannot let this pass. I must make sure this is clear: If you go to church because you like the messages, but you have no interest in connection to the people, something is wrong inside. You need to talk to Jesus about it.

Since Paul finished his thought on the body a few verses later, it is important we see the two final thoughts:

After he made clear in 12:6 that an obedient believer exercises his or her individual gifts according to what God placed in their lives, he said something you may have missed. Paul said the limitation for their operation and effectiveness is “according to the proportion of his faith”. What does that mean? If “faith” is “seeing it the way God says it is in His Word” or “a Biblical world view”, then it is clear that one’s gifts are only PART of the equation of one’s ability to be used effectively. The other part of the equation is how much we know and understand of God’s Word.

That means, that a believer is not hindered by “not being gifted” but may be stunted in their effectiveness by “not being diligent” to learn and live out God’s Word! In 12;7-8 it is clear that whatever our gift area, we are to perform it with all our might. What stops effective service, it appears, may be our unwillingness to work hard at knowing God’s Word and at giving our best to God’s people. When Sunday becomes the END of the week – we are missing the point of what God wants in connection. The body isn’t to get “what we have left” – but the first fruits of our labors.

The balance of the passage seems like a shopping list of behaviors, but they all come together at a singular expectation of our Father in Heaven…

Expectation Five: God expressed that He alone sets the rules of life for His followers.

In other places, God said things like “You are not your own” and “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Here, Paul specified by the Spirit some straightforward behaviors:

God is the Engineer Who has specified our behaviors in five areas:

In relationship to other believers:

The Spirit of God spoke through Paul and instructed us to get along with one another by being REAL, by deliberately working to HELP ONE ANOTHER in whatever way we can, by laying down our rights to our preferences on behalf of one another and serving one another as best we can. Look at the verses:

Believers should be authentic: 12:9a: “[Let] love [be] without hypocrisy. (an-oo-pok’-ree-tos – without pretending) – We are called to be REAL PEOPLE…Our action to meet needs must be done without pretending that we care. Many a church could finish the sermon there. People come to GET, but not to CARE.

Believers should hold other believers in high regard: 12:10a “[Be] devoted to one another in brotherly love;

Believers should yield our preferences to other believers wherever possible: 12:10b “…give preference to one another in honor;

Believers should serve one another with enthusiasm: 12:11 “not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit. We are called to build WITH PROFOUND EAGERNESS AND ENERGY. It is easy to let the body come a distant second. We must not be lulled into thinking that my attendance is optional and self-oriented – I will come if there is ‘SOMETHING FOR ME”. That isn’t Biblical thinking and does not reflect the eagerness God wants. I will not settle in my life for a cool and self-interested life – I want Jesus to keep the fire HOT.

What should our service to each other look like?

First, believers should view their service to each other as service to the Savior: 12:11b “serving the Lord.” Second, they should keep it practical – Believers should show practical love: 12:13 “contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” Third, they should serve with a goal – Believers should strive for unity: 12:16 “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Fourth, we should be relational in our service. We aren’t waiters or slaves – we are brothers. Believers should rejoice with compassion but without jealousy: 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Let me be as clear as I know how. If you find a believer that lives for Jesus apart from any local body of believers, if they criticize the Christian community but do not live connected to it – they are walking in disobedience. There is no way they can take seriously God’s commands for how we are to walk together in that state.

In relation to the world:

God didn’t only speak about how we should live with each other as believers – He instructed us on the fine art of living in the lost world. Can anyone use some instruction on dealing with the lost world right now?

Here is what God said. Take it in slowly:

Believers should respond graciously to the world: 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Later, he added: 12:17a “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Later he wrote: 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath [of God], for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”

Stop and consider what we just read from our Father in Heaven. We are to BLESS and we are to WITHHOLD what seems just. We are to patiently respond to attacks that are illogical, unwarranted and harsh. People will insult you and angrily curse at you – all in the name of YOUR intolerance. It won’t seem illogical to them – because they are living in a world with its feet planted firmly in the air.

There is no logical basis for morality in the context of a naturally developing and evolving planet that had no Creator and no particular purpose. None! If you are looking for fairness, you are looking in the wrong generation and belief system.

Though you should not anticipate fairness, believers should walk circumspectly and deliberately: 12:17b “Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. We aren’t supposed to look for ways to aggravate those around us! Not only that, believers should walk victoriously! We need to keep our head up and do right no matter how much it is criticized Romans 12:21 explains: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Let me take a moment here…

We believe is an Eternal, All powerful, All knowing, Loving, Gracious, Holy, Unchanging, Matchless God Who made a million angels, threw the stars into place, created man from the dust of the ground and woman from man. We believe He has flooded the planet, and saved a man’s life in a fish. We believe He raised His Son from the dead, and rolled the stone from the tomb. We believe He called His Son up to Heaven and Jesus left the earth in front of His followers. I don’t know another way to break this to you… God is not overwhelmed by the powers of evil on this tiny third rock from the star we call the sun. Satan and his ilk operate until the Father says they cannot. In that moment, right will conquer wrong. Don’t forget that. Don’t get worn down with evil. God isn’t … and He has told us not to allow it to happen to us.

In lifestyle choices:

There has perhaps never been a time when rehearsing this truth seemed so relevant as in this generation. The Scripture is absolutely clear on two points that must be emphasized in Biblical terms:

First, believers must cut some things from their lives: 12:9b: “…Abhor what is evil.” We cannot, and we must not be comfortable with the world’s choices when they violate what the Scripture teaches. We cannot support wrong to sound more reasonable, more educated or more up to date in our thinking. What God calls wrong is exactly that. Finding more palatable terms for evil will only place you on the side that argues against God.

Second, believers must deliberately add some things to our lives: 12:9b “…cling to what is good.” Our faith is about a positive relationship with a positive God. We are not to be known simply by what we are against. Remember, we are talking about lifestyle choices here! We should choose to be a part of things the Bible calls good. We should “cling” to them. They should be our first choice. How shall we gauge them? Paul left us with these words through the Spirit:

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

In attitudes:

While removing from my life evil and clinging to good is essential, there is an attitude about life which I must reflect:

Believers should be encouraging people: 12:12a “rejoicing in hope…” We aren’t supposed to be “doom and gloom” people. We should look for God’s hand in all things and celebrate His goodness in our daily walk! If you drain people with your presence, your demeanor and your words – you are NOT representing Jesus well, even if you are telling the truth about things. There is more to it than speaking the truth – there is also winsomeness and love!

Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, visited a church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, nearly a year after the devastating earthquake. The church’s building consisted of a tent made from white tarps and duct tape, pitched in the midst of a sprawling camp for thousands of people still homeless from the earthquake. In the front row of that church sat six amputees ranging in age from 6 to 60. They were clapping and smiling as they sang song after song and lifted their prayers to God. The worship was full of hope…[and] with thanksgiving to the Lord. No one was singing louder or praying more fervently than Demosi Louphine, a 32-year-old unemployed single mother of two. During the earthquake, a collapsed building crushed her right arm and left leg. After four days both limbs had to be amputated, but she was leading the choir, standing on her prosthesis and lifting her one hand high in praise to God… Following the service, Stearns met Demosi and her two daughters, ages eight and ten, who were living in a tent just five feet tall and perhaps eight feet wide. She had lost her job, her home, and two limbs, but she was deeply grateful because God spared her life on January 12th last year (2010)…”He brought me back like Lazarus, giving me the gift of life,” says Demosi…[who] believes she survived the devastating quake for two reasons: to raise her girls and to serve her Lord for a few more years. Richard Stearns comments: “It makes no sense to me as an ‘entitled American’ who grouses at the smallest inconveniences–a clogged drain or a slow wi-fi connection in my home. Yet here in this place, many people who had lost everything…expressed nothing but praise.” Then he continues, “They have so much more to offer me than I to them. I feel pity and sadness for them, but it is they who might better pity me for the shallowness of my own walk with Christ.” (Richard Stearns, Suffering and Rejoicing in a Haitian Tent Camp, www.Christianitytoday.com, 1-12-11).

Believers should be enduring people: 12:12b “persevering in tribulation…” Our discipleship should train people to withstand setbacks, to walk under the load of scathing rebuke. Early believers were lit as torches and nailed to crosses. We must be able to endure with great love the anger of social media without considering it equal to early persecution. “They could suffer defeats, we must be able to endure negative tweets.”

In our walk with God:

We would be wrong if we did not make sure that everyone understood we do not have the power to go on without God. We must seek intimacy with God: 12:12b “devoted to prayer…” God’s church is powerless unless it is DEPENDENT ON GOD. In these days we NEED God’s power. The community will not support our aims. The government will not reckon our objectives as good. The courts will increasingly be at odds with our goals. Our power doesn’t come from history. It doesn’t come from our financial strength. Our strength, our hope, our destiny comes from the Lord. We must fall before Him or we will be a people without strength.

Paul Wallace tells the story of a little church that learned to trust God:

A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smokies built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member. Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. Until the church doubled the size of the parking lot, they would not be able to use the new sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church with its undersized parking lot had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built. In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain out of the back yard. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.” They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the scheduled opening dedication service the following week. At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen.” “We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time too.” The next morning, as he was working in his study, there came a loud knock at the pastor’s door. When he called, “Come in,” a rough looking construction foreman appeared, removing his hard hat as he entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from Acme Construction Company over in the next county. We’re building a huge new shopping mall over there and we need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge, if we can have it right away. We can’t do anything else until we get the dirt in and allow it to settle properly.” The little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned and there were far more members with “mountain moving faith” on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week!

If you roll your eyes inside, cynicism has already set in. God is still God. He is still in control. Nothing is too difficult for Him.

God knows what He wants from me, and He took the time to explain it. He wants me to be inspected, resistant to the world’s mold, open to His remodeling of my mind, connected to His body (the church) and set in life to act according to His command.

The choice to allow His hand to do it is mine.