Dr. John B. MacDonald

 

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

 

With these words the book of Acts is brought to a close. “He” is the apostle Paul, and Paul was proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus Christ. “There” is Rome, and Rome was the capital city of the dominant culture of that time.

Earlier Paul had written a letter to the Christians living in Rome. In the next few blogs I want to explore Romans 12-13 with you. Listening to this ancient and holy text will lead us toward living more fully in that place of wholesome tension between faithfulness to our God and relevance to our Culture.   

Today we’ll identify three enduring and empowering stances for living more fully in that place of wholesome tension.

 

First, is the stance of glorifying God.  

The word ‘glory’ translates the Hebrew word for weight (kabod). Thus when we are glorifying God we are recognizing his ‘weight’ or worthiness. The opposite attitude is to treat God ‘lightly’ – as having no ‘weight’, being irrelevant or insignificant. 

The Greek word translated ‘glory’ (doxa) has the sense of shining or being bright. One person defined glory as the outward manifestation of inherent worth. An illustration of ‘glory’ is the occasion when Jesus “was transfigured before [Peter, James, and John], and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2). 

Paul flows from thick theology to a crescendo of glorifying God as he concludes Romans 11 (11:33-36): 

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!

            How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?

            Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?

For from him and through him and to him are all things.

            To him be glory forever. Amen. 

We need to be people who glorify God. If our theology does not flow into doxology (i.e., glory to God) is that theology true or good? 

Gordon Fee makes the point well when he writes: “I begin with a singular and passionate conviction: that the proper aim of all true theology is doxology. Theology that does not begin and end in worship is not biblical at all, but is rather the product of western philosophy.”[1]

 

Reflection: Does my theology lead me to glorify God? Lord, make the necessary changes to my theology so that it inflames my mind, heart, and voice to praise you. 

 

Second, is the stance of worshiping God. 

Paul’s praise at the conclusion of Romans 11 is the perfect segue to call us to deep personal action (12:1-2 ESV):

I appeal to you therefore, brothers [and sisters], 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. 

Paul describes our act of “spiritual worship.” It is to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. What does this mean?

 

Imagine a priest of Israel offering an animal as a sacrifice to God. It is a costly act of repentance or of thankfulness to God on the part of the person for whom the priest is presenting the sacrifice. The animal is killed and the carcass placed on the altar to be consumed in flames. 

Paul builds on this image and adjusts it. He paints a powerful metaphor that is personal and immediate. 

You are the priest and the sacrifice. You make the intentional, irretrievable, costly act of offering your body as a “living sacrifice.” 

Here are a few observations.

 

First, it is our bodies – your body – that is offered. Here I understand "body" to refer to the entire person – after all, when you give your body, everything is included. 

Second, it is a “living sacrifice.” This person has experienced the new life received through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:8-13). 

Vance Havner comments that “the trouble with a ‘living’ sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” I suppose his point is that once we have offered ourselves to God we need to be aware of the danger of crawling back from that commitment. 

Third, the sacrifice is also “holy and acceptable to God.” This means that your living body is being set apart for living to God and for God. He is well-pleased by your commitment. 

Fourth, it is “your spiritual worship.” This act of worship is a God-honoring and informed response to God’s great love. The great British athlete C. T. Studd said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.” Isaac Watts’ great hymn puts it this way: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my life, my all.”[2]

 

Reflection: Have I offered my body – all that I am – as my spiritual service of worship? How is this impacting my life as I move more fully into that place of wholesome tension?

  

Third, is the stance of being transformed by God. 

Elsewhere we have explored God’s purpose and process for transforming the lives of followers of Jesus (see Christ and Christians).

 

J. B. Phillips renders Romans 12:2a as: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.”

The “world” is active in attempting to squeeze you into its mold. We all experience this pressure to conform to the dominant culture’s way of thinking and acting. You will feel no tension if you just let it happen – but what is the result?

 

On the other hand, God is active in re-making you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. This divine activity in the life of a Christian will mean a wholesome tension. What does this mean?

Douglas Moo writes:
 

Christians are to adjust their way of thinking about everything in accordance with the “newness” of their life in the Spirit (cf. 7:6). This “re-programming” of the mind does not take place overnight but is a lifelong process by which our way of thinking is to resemble more and more the way God wants us to think.[3] 

It is this “inside-out” transformation that causes us to “learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (12:2b NLT) – in other words, we discern the way God wants us to think, and speak, and behave within our culture.

 

Reflection: How is my cultural world squeezing me into its mold? How is God re-making how I think? How can I avoid the world’s squeeze and participate more actively in God’s transforming activity?

 

Glorifying God – worshiping God – being transformed by God: three empowering stances for living more fully in that place of wholesome tension between faithfulness to our God and relevance to our Culture. Next week we’ll move forward with Paul. 

 

Until next Friday,  

 

John, a brother 

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[1] Gordon D. Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2000), 5.

[2] William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary: New Testament (Wichita, KS: A&O Press, 1989), 544

[3] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1996), 756-7.

 

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