This is a message I preached on April 17, 2016. The text is Romans 12:1-2. Thanks for reading.
Income Tax Day is tomorrow, April 18. Why not last Friday, April 15? Because Emancipation Day was last Friday. The day commemorates the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. It is a legal holiday for city workers in Washington, D.C. It is celebrated on April 16. But that fell on Saturday this year, so Emancipation Day was Friday. As a result, Income Tax Day is Monday.
What an ironic juxtaposition: emancipation and taxation.
Friday was Emancipation Day; Monday is Income Tax Day. And today is Tax Freedom Day in Texas. If all our income to today was devoted solely to paying taxes, the rest of the year's income would be ours. As a nation, we will pay $5 trillion in tax, thirty-one percent of our total income. We will spend more on taxes than on food, clothing, and housing combined.
I'd like to use this unusual day as a metaphor for a very important spiritual principle. Many of us approach our relationship with God like people who pay their taxes. They pay what they must, but hope there will be money left over to do with as they wish.
I was the same way. When I became a Christian, I thought that the Christian life consisted of going to church services and Sunday school, then trying to be a good person. I didn't look forward to going to church—it was like dues paid for services received. In a way, I thought I was paying God back for saving my soul. And so I missed the joy and abundant life Jesus wants us all to have.
Jesus said he came that we "might have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Would you say you are experiencing the abundant life of Christ today? The joy of Jesus? The miraculous power of the Spirit? When last were you awed by God? When last was Jesus a real and living Person in your life?
The Bible says that we are "more than conquerors" in Christ (Romans 8:37). How can that promise be true for you every day this week?
Here's our text:
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 what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
Put God on your throne (v. 1b).
Let's walk through the word of God together. Here we find three priorities our loving Father intends for us today.
First, put God on the throne of your life (v. 1b).
Paul "urges" all who are his "brothers," those who have made Christ their Savior, to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices." "Offer" is the technical term for presenting a sacrifice. "Bodies" means the entire life. Not just Sunday, but Monday; not just a tenth of our money, but all of it obedient to his will; not just our ethics at church, but at work and school also.
Do this as a "living sacrifice"—a daily, regular commitment. In other words, put God on the throne of your life. There's room for only one person there. Write a blank check to God—promise that you will do whatever he wills you to do. God will not reveal his will until we are willing to obey it.
Jesus could not have been more blunt: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:23-25).
Paul could not have been more transparent: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
With God, success requires surrender. It has been noted that every heart contains a cross and a crown. When I am wearing the crown, Jesus is wearing the cross. When I am wearing the cross, Jesus is wearing the crown. Which is true for you today?
Refuse the world's influence (v. 2a).
You cannot be right with God and right with our fallen culture at the same time. Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters; either he will hate the first and love the second, or be devoted to the first and despise the second" (Matthew 6.24). You must choose.
To "conform" means to be "molded by." Paul's Greek could be translated literally, "Stop living by the pattern of the world." So, how are we to refuse the "pattern of this world"? Three decisions are crucial.
One: Choose people over possessions. The t-shirt says, "The one who dies with the most toys wins." Our culture judges the worth of people by their possessions and appearance. Not God.
Two: Choose principle over popularity. If "everybody's doing it," it's probably not pleasing to God. Our culture says that premarital and extramarital sex are expected and normal, that alcohol and illegal drugs are safe and exciting, that families and marriage are outdated. What's popular is what's right, in the pattern of the world. But it's usually wrong with God.
Three: Choose the eternal over the present. "Just do it"; "If it feels good, do it"—these are the slogans of our day. Live for today, for the eternal is irrelevant. We're all God's children anyway; only two percent of us are afraid we might go to hell. The different religions are just roads up the same mountain. Eternity's secure, so live for today, or so the world says.
"Do not conform any longer" indicates that these Roman Christians are already conforming to the world's pattern. Apparently, so are most American Christians. By every ethical standard, those who say they are Christians are not statistically different from the rest of the population. Divorce, abortion, and substance abuse rates are all the same. Issues like sexuality, basic integrity, and values don't appear to be different inside the church.
What about you? Does the world know you're a Christian? Can they tell you're different by your life? Or are you conformed to their mold? In the words of the old question, if you were tried for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence from your lifestyle to convict you?
I found a quote the other day and put where I could see it: "The great challenge of life is to decide what's important and to ignore everything else."
Seek the mind of God (v. 2b).
The only way to stay out of the world's mold and live surrendered to God is to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." How do we do this?
"Transformed" refers to your inner nature. It's the same Greek word used for Jesus' transformation at the Mount of Transfiguration, where he was completely changed. So are we to be completely changed into his image.
This happens when we "renew our minds"—the phrase refers to our thoughts, attitudes, and basic character. This happens when we immerse ourselves in the word of God, think its thoughts, and ask before every decision, What does Scripture say? When we pray regularly with God, talk with him through the day, and listen to him. When we worship God on Sunday and on Monday, publicly and privately. The closer we are to God, the better we sense his Spirit, hear his voice, and can know his will.
Paul's exhortation requires a daily, lifestyle commitment. Paul could testify, "We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). Is this your experience? When did you last spend the day with God? Are your thoughts and attitudes being transformed into the image of Jesus? This is his will for you.
And when you put God in charge, refuse the world's standards, and seek his mind, you will experience his "good and acceptable and perfect" will (2c). "Good" means that which works well in practical experience. "Acceptable" means that which brings delight and joy in emotional experience. "Perfect" means that which brings complete fulfillment of your purpose in personal experience.
God's will works every day; it brings joy every day; it leads to complete fulfillment every day. This can be your experience, every day.
To live a life God can bless, put him on your throne. Refuse the world's influence. Seek his mind. And you will experience his good, acceptable, and perfect will—every day.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis has an extended section that makes today's point better than I can. I'll close by reading it to you. Then we will decide together how to respond.
The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as a starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else – call it “morality” or “decent behaviour,” or “the good of society” – has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by “being good” is giving in to these claims. Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call “wrong:” well, we must give them up. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call “right:” well, we shall have to do them.
But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point.
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.” We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centred on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this to behave honestly and chastely and humbly.
And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As he said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.
Will you "hand over your whole self" to Jesus today?