In our sermon mediation last Sunday we examined the first few verses of Romans chapter 12. There the apostle Paul wrote…
Romans 12:1-2a (NIV)
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. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
“Renewal of mind” is becoming conscious of God’s ways. This renewal begins when we learn God’s way of saving sinners from hell. We were all born into this world sinners. Year after year we have added sin after sin to our record. This disqualifies us for citizenship in heaven.
But God wants us to live with Him forever, so He sent His eternal Son to become human. Jesus lived a sinless life in our place. Jesus suffered the full punishment for our sins when He suffered and died on the cross. And then God raised Him from the dead so that we know for sure that His sacrifice was accepted, and our sins now stand forgiven.
First and foremost, renewal of mind means that when Christians sin, we bring our sins to Jesus, trusting that we have forgiveness in Him.
The second part of having our minds renewed is what Paul is going to talk about in our reading for today. Renewal of mind also means training in good Christian form.
Two or three times a week I get to take the school kids out for recess. One of the things I like to do is expose them to different games.
Recently we’ve been having some baseball practice. As in all sports, in baseball you have to have good form in order to be successful.
It’s a lot of fun to teach kids how to hit. You get to show them where to stand, how to hold the bat, where to watch for the ball. You get all the structure in place, and then you throw them a ball and POW! They hit a nice hard line drive for the first time. That’s fun.
In baseball, good form leads to success. And that principle holds true in living the Christian life. Good form leads to success.
As we read from Romans today, I want you think about it in this way. The apostle Paul is the coach. He’s teaching us what to do in order to successfully live our lives to God’s glory.
Romans 12:9-12 (NIV)
9 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. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
A kid who’s never played baseball will sometimes walk up and stand facing the pitcher, right on top of the plate. So, when you teach hitting, you have to start with where you stand. Since the pitcher in going to throw the ball over the plate, you have to stand on either side of the plate with your shoulders parallel to the pitcher.
In verses 9-12, Paul starts his coaching with where the Christian stands. We stand on the grace of the Lord Jesus. It is Jesus our Savior whom we are serving. Because He loved us, we now love Him. And one of the ways we express our love to Christ is by loving others. The apostle John wrote…
“19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:19-21 NASB).Knowing that God has forgiven our sins through Jesus, enables us to forget about ourselves and pour everything into loving others. Because we know that GOD will continue to watch over us, we can be joyful even when we don’t have what we’d like. We can be patient when we’re under a heavy burden, knowing that God won’t let it crush us. We can keep on praying, knowing that God hears our prayers because of what Jesus did for us, and He will send the perfect answer to our prayers at just the right time.
Standing on the forgiveness of Christ, we are ready for any pitch the world throws.
Standing beside the plate is pretty crucial to good hitting in baseball. But there’s more. After you get the kid standing next to the plate you have to tell them: put your feet about shoulder width apart and parallel with the plate. Bend your knees a little bit. Keep your hands together on the bat, front hand on the bottom. Hold the bat back, with your back elbow up, and twist your body a little so you get some power into your swing.
When you have good hitting form, the whole body is enabled to work in harmony to produce a powerful, level swing. Eventually your muscles will remember all these points of form and you’ll just do it instinctively. But until then, you need a coach to remind you what good form looks like.
Through faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven and our place in heaven secure. But the Christian life doesn’t end there. And in order to succeed in living the kind of life God wants for us, we also have to learn good form. Paul describes some of the elements of good Christian form in verses 13-16.
Romans 12:13-16a (NIV)
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another.
I’m going to step away from the baseball analogy for a second here. Paul says, “live in harmony with one another”.
In music, harmony is all about playing the right notes and chords together. If you play the right ones together, the sound is pleasant. If you play the wrong ones, everyone knows, and cringes.
In life, people play different notes and chords to us by their words and actions. Then we have the opportunity to respond, adding our own notes. We can either play notes that clash and ruin, or notes that blend and send a song of praise up to God.
When the note of NEED is played, Paul says, add a note of sharing and the chord of hospitality.
When PERSCUTION is played, Paul says, save the sound of that ugly chord with a few notes of blessing.
When those high and strong notes of REJOICING are heard, add your own and make the rejoicing swell.
When the low chords of MOURNING are played, don’t play the chipper notes of “it’s-not-so-bad”. Instead play the gentle chord of “I know, I know” and support the mourning one with compassion and empathy.
Living in harmony with one another isn’t about what others say and do to us, it’s about what notes we play in response.
Back to baseball.
One of the most important things in hitting well is your mindset. Young hitters sometimes gets all wrapped up in head games. This can paralyze a young batter at the plate. Am I supposed to swing at this one, or not? What if I swing and miss? What if I hit a fly ball? Maybe I should watch the pitch go by and hope for a walk. All this doubting, worrying and questioning isn’t a good way to approach hitting.
I like to tell young hitters, “You want to hit EVERY pitch, but just let the bad ones go by”. This aggressive, but smart way of thinking makes for good hitting.
The Christian also has to have the right mindset when approaching other people in life. In verses 16-18, Paul talks about what kind of mindset a Christian should have.
Romans 12:16b-18 (NIV)
…Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Arrogant pride has no place in the Christian mindset. Pride leads us to make exceptions for ourselves, and to excuse our bad treatment of others.
You can divide the world up into a million different groups. Christians. Non-Christians. People without a Lutheran background. People with different pet sins than our own. Rich people. Poor people. Jocks. Nerds. Smart people. Slow people. People of a different ethnic background than your own. People with big families. People with small families. Married people. Single people.
From within these groups we can look down at the other groups and say, I’m better than them. Paul says, BAD FORM! I think I remember Jesus associating with every group because they’re all sinners. I think I remember Jesus going to the cross for every group, because they all need salvation.
When we hold an I’m-better-than-you attitude, we’re basically saying, Jesus, that’s fine if you want to hang out with THOSE kind of people, but I’m a little better than you.
Even if we steer clear looking down on others who aren’t like us, we still have pitfalls of pride that we can fall into. Sometimes we let the BAD ACTIONS of others push us into a prideful attitude. We know that it’s wrong to hit, but if someone hits us, we somehow feel it’s a little more okay to hit back. We know it’s wrong to gossip, but if someone gossips about us, our mouths become a little more loose in saying things that we shouldn’t.
Paul says, NO, NO, NO! Don’t repay ANYONE evil for evil.
My dad once told me that when we repay evil for evil, we are letting other people determine our actions. Why let the sins of others make us sin too? Why let the devil control us in such an easy way? Instead of going with our knee-jerk response, we need to flip our natural response upside down and respond God’s way instead. In Proverbs 15 it says…
“A gentle answer turns away wrath,Through faith in Jesus, we have PEACE WITH GOD. In Christ we are called to live a life of peace with each other. An I’m-better-than-you attitude stirs up anger and makes things worse than they were! Humble, forgiving thoughtfulness leads to peace with others instead. This is the type of attitude God would have us learn.
but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).
In baseball, a hitter can have perfect form, but still miss the ball. This happens when the hitter is focusing on something other than the ball when the pitch comes.
Coaches call this “pulling your head”. You can see it when a big slugger swings extra hard and misses the ball. He’s looking for the fence while the ball is thumping the catcher’s mitt. “Keep your head down and your eyes on the ball!” the coach yells from the dugout.
In verses 19-21 Paul coaches Christians to keep their head UP, and their eyes looking to GOD in trusting faith.
Romans 12:19-21 (NIV)
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Revenge is a way of saying, “I don’t trust you to set things right God, so I’ll have to do it myself”. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the “little” revenges we take with rude remarks, or if we’re talking about the “big” revenges we take by keying someone’s car, taking a swing at someone or retelling some long-past story that makes someone look bad.
Paul says, instead trying to take things out of God’s hands, let’s exercise some TRUST that He knows what He’s doing and will take the necessary action in His own time.
Not taking revenge when someone hurts us is a way of expressing our faith in God.
In Exodus 23 it says…
“4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it” (Exodus 23:4-5 NIV).Whatever pitch life throws our way, let’s keep our eyes on God. When God repays someone for evil, it’s called justice. When we do it, it’s called revenge.
I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Love your enemies, it messes with their heads”. When we respond with good Christian form, repaying evil with good, we ARE messing with people’s heads – but in a good way.
When Jesus was crucified, men pounded long, sharp nails through His hands and into the wood of His cross. His response to this injustice was to PRAY for the people who were doing it. Jesus’ GOOD response to an EVIL act made an impact on those around Him. One of the robbers crucified beside Jesus came to faith that day, and left this a forgiven sinner bound for the shores of heaven.
When we respond to people’s sins against us in the same way, we give the Holy Spirit some room to work on one more sinner’s heart.
Whatever pitch people throw our way, let’s take care not to respond in whatever way our emotions tell us to. Instead let’s respond in the way the Word of God teaches us to, overcoming evil with good.
When I first read through this part of Romans, I thought, Man how am I going to preach about all these things? I fail at each one of them sooo much. In other words, I saw my own sins, and was reminded how much I need the forgiveness that Jesus won for me.
In baseball, hitting well is hard to do. The three greatest hitters of all time (Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Joe Jackson) all had lifetime batting averages well under .400. That means the three greatest hitters of all time failed seven times out of ten. Yet, they’re considered great because they hit the ball better than anyone else in the game.
When it comes to living the Christian life, we succeed for a completely different reason.
With the game on the line, God the Father sent Jesus in to bat for us. At every opportunity, Jesus hit the ball out of the park. Each time Jesus had the chance to do the right thing, He did. Each time Jesus was tempted to do the wrong thing, Jesus let that pitch go by. And in the bottom of the ninth, when it all came down to Jesus, He won us salvation with a solo shot that went out of the park. He suffered our full punishment and died in our place.
When our little game of our life is over, we’ll walk off this field the champions. Not because of how good we hit the ball in our Christian lives, but because Jesus was our designated hitter.
When the game is over, and the lights dim down, we’ll look to the bleachers and see our heavenly Father sitting there with a smile on His face. A smiles that says, C’mon son, let’s go home.
Having good form matters for living a successful Christian life that brings glory to God. But it’s the PERFECT form of Christ Jesus that has clinched our forgiveness and eternal life.
With this in mind, let’s go out there and put Paul’s coaching into practice. And with good form let’s step, and drive it.
And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.