October 2, 2011

In View of God's Mercy - Oct 2, 2011

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Since the end of June we’ve been using our sermon time on Sunday morning to examine the book of Romans. Romans was a letter written by the apostle Paul in the first century AD. He wrote this letter to his fellow Christians who lived and worshipped in the city of Rome.

To this point we’ve worked our way through eleven chapters. The main point in these eleven chapters has been pretty simple. The central message has been sin and grace.

Paul has talked about how each and every one of us is born into this world with a big problem. We’re sinners. Our words, thoughts and actions are not what God wants them to be. We lie, steal, cheat, lust, covet, judge others unfairly, make excuses for our own bad behavior, and generally make a horrific mess of our lives when judged by God’s standards.

What we deserve for all this sin is punishment, death and eternal separation from God in hell. But in Romans, Paul reminds his friends that because of Jesus, we will not get what we deserve.

The eternal Son of God became human for us. He lived a brilliant perfectly sinless life in our place. He voluntarily suffered our hell on the cross. He died so that we will never have to experience the wrath of God over our sins. God then raised Him from the dead to show the whole world that the sacrifice for our sins was accepted in full. Because Jesus now lives, we can know that our sins have been completely forgiven. All who trust in Jesus, and what He did on the cross, are declared “not guilty” by the eternal God. Like it says in Romans 6:23
“…the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV).
God didn’t have to do this. We’ve chosen to sin. It’s on us. The Father didn’t have to send His one and only Son into the world. The Son didn’t have to go. The Holy Spirit didn’t have to search us out and tell us about it. But God had mercy. He did all this so that sinners like you and me have forgiveness, peace and eternal life through our connection to Jesus.

Today we read from Romans 12. There Paul tells his friends in Christ what comes AFTER God’s mercy.

Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

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. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In view of God’s mercy. That’s where Paul starts. He’s going to talk about how a follower of Christ should live, but in order to have a Christian life, first you have to have a Christian.

So, when does a person become a Christian? Some say it happens with a special inner feeling. Others say that it comes with a giving-yourself-to-Jesus. But Paul, and the rest of the Bible, say that it comes at the point of faith. When a sinner hears the Good News about Jesus dying in their place, and believes it to be true – that person becomes a Christian.

It doesn’t come after a person has cleaned up a certain amount of their life. It doesn’t come after a person has changed enough of their sinful habits. During Jesus’ ministry, the religious elite of Jerusalem made a big deal about the fact Jesus actually hung out with sinners. With prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus responded by saying…“
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17 NIV).
When Jesus suffered on the cross, He did all the work for us. That’s mercy. We couldn’t save ourselves, so God did it for us. That’s the mercy Paul is talking about in our text today..

Let me read that first verse again…
“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. (Romans 12:1 NIV).
Paul says that after God’s mercy has come to us, we should offer God an on-going life of joyful and thanksgiving. That’s what it means to offer a “living sacrifice”.

There are two ways a person can offer their life to someone else. One is the one-time, solitary, self-less act. Throwing yourself on a grenade. Jumping in front of someone to take a bullet. Pushing someone out of the way of a speeding car.

The second way of giving your life for someone is through daily, on-going acts of love, service, care and forgiveness. This is the type of relationship that God has always wanted with human beings. An on-going relationship of total devotion, communication, love and worship.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following…
“…if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).
God loves it when we come here to this place to this place of worship. But this isn’t the only place He lives. And this isn’t the only place He wants us to worship Him. He wants us to be praying to Him constantly. He wants us to constantly be depending on Him. Asking Him for help. Thanking Him for the good things we experience. Putting His words into practice in our daily interactions with each other. He wants us to worship Him full time, not just on Sunday and in this building.

Paul calls this kind of life, a “living sacrifice” kind of life. Where everything is lived to God. In Colossians Paul says it like this…
“…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17 NIV).

Now, living a Christian life doesn’t all just happen. We have to learn it. Our old habits have to be broken. Our sinful nature denied. That takes time. In verse 2 of our text, Paul says…
“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” (Romans 12:2 NIV).
When I was in high school, a friend of mine gave me a mixed tape of some of his favorite music. I still remember listening to that tape before going to sleep one night. The song was by R. Kelly. The chorus went, “I don’t see nothin’ wrong with a little bump and grind”.

I remember being shocked. This song wasn’t okay. It was about getting all sexual on the dance floor, and there being nothing wrong with that. But I didn’t stop listening to the tape. And before long, that lyric didn’t seem so bad. And I started listening to all kinds of music that carried messages that were simply dead wrong.

The world conditions us to accept things as “okay” that really aren’t. With every commercial, every new comedy, every blockbuster movie, every new hit song, the world is molding us. Impressing its morals, or lack of morals onto us.

Paul says, don’t let this happen. Don’t let the world shape and form you. You belong to God now. Instead of being poked and prodded, bent and formed to what the world accepts, we want instead to be transformed from the inside out. This happens through hearing what the Word of God says. When we are in contact with the Word of God, the Holy Spirit who lives in that Word begins to restructure our hearts.

When our hearts begin to change, then our thoughts, words and actions will begin to follow.

We see examples of this good transformation happening in the Bible.

In the Old Testament Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He eventually found himself serving as a slave in the house of a man named Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph to have an affair with him. But because Joseph’s heart was restructured by God’s word his response was to say, “How could I do such a wicked thing, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 NIV).

In the New Testament, Stephen was stoned to death for telling a crowd of people the truth about Jesus. But before he died, he said a few last words. He didn’t curse the people that were stoning him even though what they were doing was murder. No, Stephen’s last words were a prayer for his murderers. He said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60 NIV).

When hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, actions follow.

After God’s mercy comes a “living sacrifice” kind of life. Let’s embrace that kind of life. After God’s mercy comes true worship. Worship from the heart, in every-day life. After God’s mercy comes change.

Let’s read some more of our text from Romans. In verses 3-8 Paul goes on to talk about what else follows God’s mercy.

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

In the verses before this section, Paul focused on the individual change that is to happen to the Christ follower. Here, he talks about how Christians are not independent entities. We are joined together in Christ. Paul even calls us the “body of Christ’.

The comparison is brilliant, and easy to grasp. We’re each very different from each other. We could easily begin to rank each other. She’s better than me, I’m better than him, etc. But Paul says, Beware of this kind of attitude. Christ Jesus calls us to humility. To recognize that our fellow Christians aren’t more or less than we are. In Christ we are on the same level: we are forgiven sinners. We aren’t more or less than each other, we are just different. And our differences are there for a reason.

Paul says that because we belong to Christ, we now also belong to our fellow Christians. We are part of a system just like the parts in the human body.

The Bible was written by many different people over hundreds of years. But the Holy Spirit was the author who gave them the exact words He wanted them to write. The technical term for this is “verbal inspiration”. When we think about this, we maybe think of a guy who goes into a trance and then just writes what the Spirit wants him to. But it wasn’t like this.

The Holy Spirit used the different abilities of each writer. He used their vocabulary, their style, their grammar, their phrases and ways of speaking. Each writer was like a different kind of pen in the hand of the Spirit. Isaiah was an educated and skilled writer. The words he wrote were lofty, exquisite poetry in the Hebrew language. Amos was as common shepherd from a little city called Tekoa. He wrote what the Spirit wanted, but in his own way. Each man wrote what the Spirit wanted written, using a skill set and a character that was his own.

The Holy Spirit does the same thing with the church today. We each have our own skill set and our own personality. Sure the Holy Spirit is molding and changing us from within, but He also uses the people that we are to build each other up in faith.

In verse 6 Paul says…
“6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:6-8 NIV).
Which gift is yours? Which gift did the Holy Spirit give you to use for the benefit of others? Don’t even start to think that you don’t have a gift, or that your gift isn’t all that special. The HOLY SPIRIT gave it to you! He doesn’t give gifts that need to be returned! Whatever you’ve been given, it’s for a needed purpose in our fellowship.

We need to start seeing our individual gifts, whatever they might be, as coming from the Holy Spirit. That’s a big deal. Let’s use these gifts with PRIDE. Obviously I don’t mean SINFUL pride. What I’m talking about is saying, Hey, this is an area where I have some talent or skill. This comes from the Holy Spirit. So, I’m going to USE this gift!

If your gift is a simple one, than use it in quantity.

If your gift is more complex, than use it with attention to detail and quality.

If your gift is something like showing mercy, a gift that will remind people of God’s mercy in Christ, than surround that gift with a cheerful attitude. That way people will know that your gift isn’t given because you have to, but because you want to.

There are plenty of things that we shouldn’t take pride in. But using the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given us one of them. We should take humble pride in being the body of Christ. We should take humble pride in using our own gifts to build that body up.

Our Lord Jesus has given us free forgiveness. Let’s rejoice in that, truly take it to heart, and share it.

The Spirit of God has given us gifts to use in serving our fellow Christians. Let’s use those gifts in a way that brings God glory and praise. Like Paul wrote in Ephesians
“…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1 NIV).
I’d like to close our meditation today with prayer.

Prayer: Father in heaven, you have shown us your mercy and love by sending Jesus to be our great Savior. Help us to never believe anyone who says we have to earn your love. You have given it to us in Christ, and you testify to that truth throughout the Bible. As we see your mercy in Christ, help us to live lives worthy of the grace we’ve been given. Help us to be transformed by Your Word, never molded to this world’s standards. When we stumble in our service to fellow Christians and to You, continually remind us of the forgiveness we have in Jesus. Help us to identify our own gifts, given by your Holy Spirit. Help us to use them with joy, with energy, and with pride that points the glory to You. Amen.

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