Habits of Healthy Disciples (Part One): “Basics Values of a Healthy Jesus Follower” – Romans 12:1-3

For decades, Americans have been talking about health care. We have been searching for answers as to how best to utilize the medical brain trust that we have in our country to aid everyday Americans when they become ill or incapacitated. The discussion can be heard from Main Street to Wall Street, at kitchen tables and in the halls of Congress. We are still working to find solutions to this complex set of problems.

Some have tried to address it from legislating nutrition. They have taught the food pyramid, but that wasn’t enough. They sought ways to penalize those who would not practice healthy selections, and chose to harm their bodies with large amounts of calories and sugars, etc. In New York City, they have tried to regulate “sugared drinks” for instance. Yet, even that isn’t really stemming the unhealthy trends in modern life.

For this series, we would like to look at another kind of health – the spiritual health and maintenance of individual followers of Jesus – in order to grasp what we should be doing, and how we should conduct ourselves in a manner pleasing to our Savior. In doing so, we will hit some of the same snares we encounter when addressing physical health:

Healthy habits are individually attained. No one can monitor your intake like you can, and no one can force you to take the stairs instead of the elevator should you choose to ignore your need for regular exercise.

Making rules on healthy habits doesn’t produce as much health as it does guilt. A guilty heart hides behind the bushes when God shows up in the Garden. Since that isn’t what we desire to produce, we need to find another way forward than to simply list laws of health and send you out feeling like failures.

Here is the key to what we will study together:

Key Principle: God has not only told us how we can be rescued from sin, He has told us how we can accomplish in this life the mission He gave each of us.

Since there are timeless truths God has entrusted to us in His Word about how to walk in healthy ways as a Jesus follower, here is our plan. We want to explore the patterns of health He made clear we need. Each of us will be encouraged to consider three parts to our spitirual health, just as we would our physical health.

First, we will be encouraged to be careful about what we allow into our hearts just as we would be encouraged in the area of nutrition in our body. We will need to spend some time focusing on the choices we make in consumption.

Second, we will be encouraged to forthrightly look at how we use what we know to follow and serve Jesus. Here we can explore both the basic disciplines of the faith, and the use of every gift God has bestowed on us.

Third, we will be encouraged to reflect on what we choose to keep inside our lives – what we retain. This area is often neglected, but it is a critical part of a healthy walk.

Let’s open to the last part of the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman believers of the first century. Take a moment and try to put on their sandals and understand the problems and conditions under which they found themselves, so you can more accurately grasp what the Apostle told them.

There are four things you should know about this letter to really understand it.

First, the letter is in the written form of an Epistle, so it was understood from its reception to be a publicly read instruction for the whole body of those who claimed to follow Jesus. We know that, because it was addressed in Romans 1:7 to “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints…” The form of the letter as an Epistle was a known literary form in the New Testament period. That means this isn’t a personal note, but an address that every believer needed to heed.

Second, the people of the church at Rome included both returned Jews and Gentiles. (Many Jews had been evicted from Rome under Emperor Caligula and again under Emperor Claudius, as refernced in Acts 18:2 in the case of Priscilla and Aquila). The letter includes a way forward for both Messianic Jews and former Gentiles who have come to Jesus. Everyone, regardless of their background, could find help in the pages of this Epistle.

Third, the letter was probably drafted by Paul during his third mission journey (cp. Acts 18:23-21:16) likely while Paul was re-visiting the church for about three months in Corinth. Paul instructed the church in Achaia by letter, but needed to come to those churches and encourage believers. During that trip, Paul took the time to address the Roman church about his desire to come to them. The letter includes a warm desire of Paul to engage people lovingly, not some loose tossing of platitudes and flippantly “judgment loaded” standards. Everyone who listens will hear an inviting voice in its words.

The letter was designed to answer five big questions:

What happened to mankind? Why is sin rampant and why is the world full of troubles. Paul answered with essentially one word: mutiny. Man’s rebellion caused his troubles (cp. Romans 1-3).

What did God do about man’s rebellious and languishing state? The second question was answered by a single word as well: gift. God gave His Son to remedy sin’s hold on man (cp. Romans 4-5).

How can I cast off sin’s hold on my life as a follower of Jesus? Through Paul’s quill, God instructed Jesus followers that the prison doors of sinful behavior have been unlocked by God, and we can be free to walk in God’s Spirit (cp. Romans 6-8).

Is God really trustworthy in keeping His promises? A large part of the Epistle deals specifically with the history of God and His promises to Israel, as a case study in Hi trustworthiness (cp. Romans 9-11).

What should a healthy walk with Jesus look like in practical and daily lifestyle? This is the section we begin in our study today.

My frame was given to me by God, and I am therefore called to do what He told me with what He gave me. I completely grasp that some part of my physical health is genetic. To some extent, then, each of God’s directives must be personalized because we are not all the same. On the other hand, some principles aren’t very personal at all. For instance, I understand that what I eat and drink (my daily diet) plays a significant role in my physical health. Though it plays out differently in each of us, the overall principle is still at work. In addition to that, I recognize the amount I move, push and work out my body and its muscles has much to do with my physical health. Exercise isn’t everything, but it is a component of health.

In the spiritual world, then, let’s ask the question Paul seems to be answering in the last part of the Epistle to the Romans: “What are the practices of a Jesus follower who truly wants to be healthy in their walk?”

Let’s unpack Paul’s response to that question by looking over the whole list found in Romans 12, and then doing a “deeper dive” on the first three items on the list. We will pick up the others next time.

In Romans 12, Paul enumerated seven important attributes of a healthy Jesus follower. He made clear that a healthy follower:

1. Sought regular heart inspections from the Lord (12:1).
2. Was openly being transformed in thinking from their old views (12:2).
3. Had a proper measure of their life and influence (12:3).
4. Had a deepening appreciation of the other believers in the body (12:4-6a).
5. Possesses a hunger to discern their function in the body (12:6b-8).
6. Builds different kinds of relationships because of their faith (12:9-20).
7. Draws on sustaining power from Jesus, not self (12:21).

Remember our key principle? It included the words: “He has told us how we can accomplish in this life the mission He gave each of us.”

As you look more intently, don’t forget, that is God’s purpose. He is working to change you to get you prepared to accomplish the purpose for which you were designed. He is your Coach, your Personal trainer, and your Guide through the changes that must come to get you ready for what is ahead. Start with where the passage begins… start with the work that must be done on our heart. Paul made clear:

First, a healthy Christian regularly seeks a heart inspection.

Romans 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Most all of us know this verse! Don’t pass off the familiar and bypass the importance of its rich content. Paul urged them, based on the argument he had already made concerning the “mutiny of mankind” together with God’s costly liberation of those who choose to follow Jesus, to place themselves in a deliberate place of inspection before God.

The active verb of the sentence is “to present your bodies.” The term parístēmi is a compound word from pará which means “from close-beside” and hístēmi, which means “to stand.”

The term means to stand close beside, and in this form it is likely to be understood as “ready to exhibit inner traits.” The point is that every believer must learn to habitually recall they live each moment with Jesus watching. Recalling His personal and painful self-sacrifice for us is part of our daily desire to be inspected by Him. Jesus sacrificed Himself for our eternal life, and we must be prepared to live as one who demonstrates sincere gratitude.

Back in 1998, Tom Hanks played a starring role in the hit classic movie “Saving Private Ryan.” There is an ending scene in that movie that illustrates this sense very well. For the unenlightened, the movie chronicled how a man whose family name was “Ryan” was sought out and saved (to be brought home to his family) at the great expense of others who died keeping the order from command to locate and return him. The last scene finds an old man, Ryan in his later years, kneeling at the graves of the men who perished to get him to safety years before. Ryan was engaged in a vivid memory of one of the men who was shot and slipping away. His dying words (the actor played by Hanks) whispered to Ryan: “Earn this!” A man offered those words with his last breath. Ryan understood the depth of that request. In effect, the dying man said: “We died to get you home. We died to follow our orders because someone thinks you are worth saving at all costs. Don’t let our life be wasted! Live yours like what we did mattered.” As the elderly Ryan wept, his wife approached him kneeling at those graves. He looked up and said to his wife and said: “Tell me I am a good man.” He wanted an inspection on his life to verify he did what he was asked to do.

Don’t overplay the illustration, but don’t ignore it.

Jesus didn’t tell you to live in such a way as to earn your salvation. You can’t; He died for you and He alone has the power to forgive you. The Bible is clear on that. He did, however, stress on a number of occasions in His Word that you “walk worthy” of the price paid for you (as in Ephesians 4:1ff). You can’t earn your walk with God, but you can live in such a way that you gratefully show you recognize the incredible cost He paid. Your other choice is to live thoughtlessly, as one “entitled.”

A healthy Christian is one who daily considers the fact that Jesus paid dearly for us, and that He is daily watching our lives. A healthy Christian longs for the inspection to produce a smile on the Master’s face. Paul simply asserted it is reasonable for God to expect us to live for His approval, since He paid dearly for our freedom.

Say it again and again in your heart: “Jesus, You paid dearly for me. Look with piercing eyes into my walk. Try my thoughts. Measure my desires. Convict me of selfish thinking. I need Your inspection!” Yet, there is much more…

Second, a healthy Christian learns to think differently than the fallen world from which they emerge.

John’s Gospel recorded that Jesus prayed for His disciples only hours before His arrest and eventual Crucifixion, and God preserved the prayer for us in John 17. Jesus said to the Father:

John 17:14″I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15″I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one]. 16″They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17″Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18″As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19″For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

Hang out in any church for very long and you will hear these verses summarized as “We live IN the world, but are not OF the world.” Though that is catchy, it probably leaves many people with the wrong impression. Jesus didn’t leave you here so you could live in a permanent state of discomfort and protest over the wickedness in the world. Read the words carefully. They reveal:

1. Jesus is not of this world and neither are we – because we have believed the Word of God (John 17:14 and again in 17:16).

2. Jesus didn’t want us REMOVED from the world, but rather removed from the imprisonment of the fallen world’s temporary ruler (John 17:15).

3. What must set the believer apart from the world is a God- initiated separation revealed through God making His Word clear to us (John 17:17).

4. The destination of the believer isn’t FROM the world, but INTO THE WORLD – but it must be on mission.

We all agree Jesus doesn’t want His followers to be “of the world” in their thinking and in their choices. At the same time, notice that when Jesus says we are “not of the world” He isn’t making escape our destination to some holy huddle in disassociation from the active mutiny in this world.

No, this was no offer of an “escape hatch” from the world, but a confident assertion that by learning to firmly trust His Word, His followers would be truly prepared to walk boldly into the fallen world, changed by His teaching and not easily wooed by their beckoning.

Look at the way Paul addressed the same notion in Romans 12:2. He wrote these words:

Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, 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.

Essentially, Paul wrote three compelling truths in the verse we just read.

He told them (based on living a conscious and inspected life in verse one) they are to intentionally block the influence of the world’s powerful stamping machine that would press us into a certain “mold” of the world.

We live in a conflicted world that both demands freedom of choice for every individual and then, in turn, increasingly punishes those who don’t choose as the culture dictates. You are completely free to choose, as long as your choice agrees with the ever-shifting moral value system of our times.

When Paul wrote “do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) the text literally reads “don’t let the world press you into its mold.” That deserves a close look if we are going to be sure and avoid this trap.

This makes plain the notion the world has a constructed mold, and they want you to follow their pressures to become what they are. Conversely, it reminds you that, as a believer under the power of a transforming Savior, you need not buckle. God never commands you to resist what you cannot resist. This is a call to firmly stand without acquiescing to the re-shaping pressures, and you CAN do it. He has given you the power.

I love that Paul didn’t just offer a negative of what NOT to do, but offset it with a positive. He didn’t just offer a “brace yourself for the coming powerful pummeling of the world” but rather he said, “open yourself to God in order to move forward!” When he wrote “be transformed” he referred to the “renewed mind.” Part of this call addresses the intentional work of the believer, while another part of the call is the result of that work.

Paul instructed the believer to invest time focusing their mind on grasping His Word, intentionally allowing it to rush in like a flood and rearrange our thinking within.

As I learn and yield to God’s Word, it will retire my old way of thinking and give me a new look at life. The transformation (the Greek word from which we take “metamorphosis”) isn’t something I do (God does it in me), but rather the effect of something I do. When I open to the flood stream, the rushing stream does its work.

Don’t miss the term “prove what the will of God is.” This comes from a term that means “what passes the necessary scrutiny and is found acceptable because it is genuine and verified.” What a truth!

Paul argued those who were pressed into the mold of the world were living unacceptably to God, not engaging Him at all. They lived a life largely absent of the scrutiny and validation of their Creator.

Ask one who does not yet know Jesus and they will tell you “I hope I’ll get to Heaven. I HOPE God will be happy with my life.” Yet, they have no assurance because they haven’t addressed the fact that God has made known His desires in His Word. They live a life unproven, uncertain, untested and unresolved.

A believer is called to live differently. Each is called to live with an eye keenly fixed on what God has said about life. He will use those words to transform their values, convert their ethics and (as they mature) empower new choices.

Third, a healthy Christian thinks accurately about self.

How we see ourselves has a dramatic effect on how we treat others, and how we navigate life. Paul wrote:

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.

The world’s “thinking mold” impressed deep into us a false standard by which to measure ourselves – the yard stick of me against another person. It works in every way – from “fashion conformity” to our modern expression of values. As the world changes, our vocabulary changes and our fashion is “updated.” Not all of that change is a bad thing, since I cannot reach people if I grudgingly cling to speaking Chaucer’s English while the world moves on. I don’t want to be a distracting oddity. As the world changes how they address issues, I will need to keep apace in order to effectively communicate timeless values. At the same time, this constant change can be a danger, if I find my identity in it.

Look at what Paul wrote closely. He offered words seasoned with grace to the Roman believers, calling them to measure themselves properly and with “sound judgment.” He called them to make the “yard stick” the “measure of faith.” We have often said it: “Faith is God glasses.” It is “seeing things the way God says they are, not the way my eye would see things without looking through His revealed truths.”

Here, Paul made clear we are to see ourselves through the Word’s measure, not the world’s measure.

With a transformed mind, I measure my life’s success by a singular standard. “Did I deliberately commit to allowing God’s Word to do its work in and through me?”

That is the big third commitment of the text. Paul made clear that transformation by God comes from my intentional yielding of heart to God’s Word.

Let’s stop with these three for this lesson. Let’s rehearse the truths with these three desires:

• I want a regular and piercing heart inspection of Jesus.
• I want the Word to flood in and rearrange my thinking.
• I want to see myself properly.

God has not only told us how we can be rescued from sin, He has told us how we can accomplish in this life the mission He gave each of us.

Step into the workshop of a blacksmith, and you can discern three kinds of tools.

In the dark corner, on an old bench, lay a pile of tools that are in disuse. They appear outdated, broken, dull, rusty. They sit among the cobwebs, covered by a layer of dust and dirt. They appear to be useless to their master, oblivious to their purpose. They may have once been used, but they haven’t been called upon for quite some time. They are comfortable, but they are essentially unworkable.

In the shop’s center there are other tools positioned on or near the anvil. They have heated and often made molten hot. They have become repeatedly fashioned, each time closer to their final look. They are often changed by the blacksmiths hammer. They aren’t DONE, but they are BECOMING as they accept their purpose.

In the hands of the blacksmith, there are his chief tools. They are of greatest usefulness because they have allowed molding. They have submitted to the grind of sharpening. They have been filed, pounded and defined. They are ready for the blacksmith’s use. They are effective because he can count on them to do what he calls on them to accomplish.

In God’s church, there are three kinds of believers. Some wish to be used, but only if God will submit to their terms. They live broken lives, self choices – with talents wasting and time slipping away. Alive in their own purposes and dreams, they don’t seek the Master’s shaping. They run from the fire, push back at the filing and flee the pound of re-shaping. They want to be used, but they don’t seem to be willing to submit to the Master’s purpose.

Others believers are mid-shaping. They are open and hungry to change, accepting the file to peel off wounds of the past. They want to know the Master’s touch, be it comfortable or not. They want to be used even if it means giving up their dreams, their shape, their plan – all to be shaped by the Master. They have learned to welcome the painful pounding of the hammer, but they still long to be remade and repurposed.

Still others are well placed in their Master’s powerful and creative hands. They demand nothing, but surrender all.

What you can become is up to His shaping. How you get there is up to your willingness.