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July 2, 2017
Today we continue our series called What If. And the “what” we want to talk about comes from Romans 12. And I want to read Romans 12:1-2 first from the New International Version and then from The Message translation.
Romans 12:1-2 (NIV), Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind.
That’s how Romans 12 reads in the NIV. And now here is how it reads in The Message.
Romans 12:1-2 (The Message), So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your SLEEPING …
Your EATING …
GOING TO WORK …
(TRAFFIC JAM PICTURE)
and your WALKING-AROUND LIFE …
and place it before God as an OFFERING ...
(HANDS UP PICTURE)
Embracing what God does for you is the BEST THING you can do for him. 2Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
The what is transformation. If we believe … then we are being transformed.
This is often referred to as the process of spiritual transformation. Romans chapters 1-11 talk about God’s crazy mercy and kindness to all of us. So now, chapters 12-16 tell us how to live because of his crazy mercy.
To some these verses are familiar to our ears, to others they are like a fresh potato chip from Trader Joe’s, organically grown. The first taste is amazing and it gets more “interesting” with each chip. Our prayer is that no matter who you are, you will open your heart, mind, soul, hands, and feet to whatever God has for you this morning.
We’re going to do our best to clarify spiritual transformation by being renewed while living life. These two words can sound intimidating … to me anyway … too much, too spiritual. What does spiritual transformation even mean?
What does it mean? Well, it’s nothing like a potato chip! In preparing for today, Jen and I came across an insightful article written by Ruth Haley Barton that was a tremendous help in organizing our thoughts on spiritual transformation. And the definition she gives is this.
“Spiritual transformation is the ongoing, incremental process of Christ’s life being formed in us …
… for the glory of God
… for the abundance of our own lives
… for the sake of others."
Ruth Haley Barton, What We Believe About Spiritual Transformation, transformingcenter.org.
Let’s unpack that for a minute. It’s the process of Christ’s life being formed in us. In other words, it’s becoming more and more like Jesus not so that we lose our identity as individuals. Absolutely not. But so that we become true to our identity as followers of Jesus and become everything God created us to be. It’s for God’s sake. It’s for our sakes and for the sake of others.
And this transformation is an ongoing, incremental process. It doesn’t happen all at once. It’s like three steps forward and two steps backwards. Or some days or some seasons of life, it’s two steps forward and three steps backwards. Christ’s life formed in us doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over time and it can get messy.
The Greek word for “transform” is metamorphosis. It’s the same word used for the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. That’s called metamorphosis.
God wants to transform us, to morph us, into new, beautiful people by forming his life in ours. It’s Jesus’ life in us that makes us beautiful. And that begins by renewing our minds.
Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Transformation starts in our minds. God wants to give us a new way of thinking about him, about ourselves, about others. This renewing is also a process that God does in us. The word renew means “to make like new.” The dictionary illustrates it with getting renewed strength by sleeping.
That’s a good example because we’re always in need of sleep to get new physical strength, just like we’re always in need of Christ to renew us with spiritual strength.
The word “mind” is the Greek word nous and goes beyond our intellect to include our conscience, our ability to trust, our false-self patterns, and any obstacle that hinders us from becoming like Jesus.
These obstacles can be negative memories or fears, mental distractions that keep us from our present reality. We can become over focused on things out of our control from the past or in the future.
Let me give you a personal example. For me I can get caught up in fear. My mind works over time. I tend to think of situations that are coming up that over concern me and then I go into negative thinking of the situation, especially when it comes to our kids.
One of them might be planning a trip and already I have them getting a flat tire in a place where they don’t have cell service in the middle of a blizzard in July! Or if something has happened, like when our son had a car accident going home from church a few weeks ago, I got caught up into thinking what “could have happened” if he went another way or if the car rolled over. I can obsess about that.
It can be weird things, like a few weeks ago we went away to support our oldest daughter who was presenting a paper she wrote. And I was struggling with some health issues and in my mind I thought what if something happens to me and I won’t be near a good hospital and then what would I do.
I know we all have our own thinking patterns. My point is recognizing the negative hold they can have and really going to God in prayer. For me that means asking Bruce and some of my friends to pray for me with my negative junk.
I read a good quote this week that said, “Negative thoughts steal mental space in our minds. They divert us from what God wants us to think about.” – Christina Patterson
And not just to get rid of negative thoughts, but to replace them with God’s truth. My “go to” Scripture is Philippians 4:8 that tells us to think on what is true, and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable. It’s not magic, but it is part of this ongoing, incremental process of spiritual transformation. And it all starts with the renewing of our minds.
So spiritual transformation starts in our minds because what we think about triggers our feelings, our attitudes, and our responses. But how does this process work? How does Christ form his life in us? Does it come by keeping a set of rules? Does it come by trying harder to be good? Or through self-help techniques? No. They may change our outward behavior, but God wants to go deeper than that, he wants to change our hearts. He wants to change us from the inside out. We can’t become like Jesus by just trying harder. We can’t transform ourselves. This is spiritual transformation.
This is supernatural stuff, church. This is a mystery, just as profound as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Can we explain that? Or an embryo turning into a little baby boy or girl. Can we explain that? Or an eight-foot stalk of corn springing up from a tiny seed. Can we explain that? A farmer can’t make that happen. A farmer can only prepare the soil for the seed to grow, but God makes it happen. It’s mysterious and so is spiritual transformation. We need to allow for the mystery.
A few weeks ago we looked at John 15 and the illustration Jesus used to show how his life gets formed in us. It’s called the vine and branches.
Jesus is the vine who gives life through his Spirit and he wants us to bear fruit. We are the branches, he says, and our job is to remain in Jesus, to stay connected to the vine. We can’t produce the fruit on our own. Jesus produces the fruit. And as we stay connected to the vine his life flows into our lives and transformation happens.
And how do we stay connected to Jesus? We put ourselves in places where Jesus is. Jesus pours his life into us in worship, in prayer, in solitude, through Scripture, through confession, through serving, through helping the poor. They are different for each of us. These are called spiritual disciplines that transform us into disciples. They make space in our lives for Christ to form his life in us.
Richard Foster puts it this way, “Spiritual disciplines are the main way we offer our bodies up to God as a living sacrifice ... God then takes this simple offering of ourselves and does with it what we cannot do, producing within us deeply ingrained habits of love and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Jennifer mentioned four spiritual disciplines in her story. To overcome her negative thoughts she realized that she needed to confess them, to bring them out of the darkness into the light. That’s where healing happens. She needed the reminder of Scripture to refocus her thoughts on things that are positive. She needed community and others to be aware of her struggle. And she needed prayer. Those are all places that allow Jesus to pour his life and his thoughts into us. So we need to stay connected to Christ.
Looking back again at that quote … And all this is for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own life, and for the sake of others.
I love how this passage ends in The Message. Romans 12:2, You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Friends, God is maturing us. He wants the best for us. But sometimes stuff gets in the way. So I’d like to close
by giving us a chance to have some quiet right now, just like last week, to confess anything that may be hindering Jesus life from flowing through us. So take some time right now and then I’ll close our gathering with prayer.