Third in the “Marks of a Disciple” Series,
Delivered January 23, 2005 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: Growth – Christ followers participate in the transformation of their minds, character, actions, and influence through intentional life-long interaction with Jesus.

Sermon Text:
Romans 12:1-2

I would like to shift our gears here a little bit and kind of get out of winter for a moment and think about the summer Olympics just for a few minutes together. You know, Michael Phelps, a famous person; you know we are particularly excited because it’s a native son and he has won all of these medals and it must have been a really cool day when he got the telephone call that said that he was going to be on the Olympic Swimming Team. Now he knew about this way in advance because what a competitor this guy is, but finally one day it was no longer ah, I think so. One day it was absolutely clear that he was going to be on that team. It was all official. It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine that. Now, I am going to ask you to stretch your imagination a little bit. Imagine that that phone calls comes, but it comes to me instead of to Michael Phelps, okay? “Is this John Schmidt?” “Yes, it is.” “John, we want you to be on the Olympic Swim Team in Athens. Your tickets are in the mail.” I had two thoughts, only two thoughts, because my mind is blown away by this. My first thought is, will they let me wear one of those 1920 sort of full body outfits? That’s important. The second thing is, is there something new in the Olympics? Is there a 10-meter freestyle, because that is all I can swim.

Now, if I go to the Olympics and I try my absolute hardest, if I am dead serious about winning everything I compete in, I will still lose every time. Trying isn’t enough. Did Michael Phelps win so many times at the Olympics because he tried hard? No. It’s because he trained hard. Trying is what we do when we are actually in the moment, in the race, in the conflict. We want to do our best. That’s what trying hard is. But, what we bring to that moment is what we have trained for and training requires discipline and it requires time. It’s a whole lifestyle that under-girds those moments that we really hit the contest. And so, anybody who is serious about swimming is going to have to have a certain discipline in their lives. You are going to have to give up some things that other people do, like sleep. My wife talks about the fact that in high school she would get up a 5:30 in the morning and have to go dive in a pool, even in April, to be ready for swim meets. You are working out with weights while other people are sitting around watching TV. You are watching films and learning about positions, you know, for your arms and muscles and things like that, when other people are playing on the X-box. You make a sacrifice. There is a different pattern to your life. You give time to something because you are in training.

Now, people are confused about Christian growth, because so many of us think the way we grow as a Christian is we learn to try harder and so, oh you get angry at somebody and you say something inappropriate and you apologize to them and then you think to yourself oh, I have got to try harder. “Man, the way to be like Jesus is that I have to try harder.” Or maybe you go to a website that you know you shouldn’t go to and you confess that to God and you say next time I have got to try harder. We will never live the life that God wants us to live by trying harder. It’s not going to happen that way. We need to learn instead what it means to be in spiritual training. This is how we are really going to grow and growth is one of the key things about what it means to really be a disciple of Jesus Christ. So, today’s passage, a passage in the Book of Romans, Chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 is a passage that doesn’t talk about trying harder. It talks about a whole lifestyle of growth and I would like to read to you the first two verses. Next week we are going to read the next few verses as we talk about what it means to be gifted in the body. Let me read to you now these two verses:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, 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 any longer 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- good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Let’s pray. God, we thank you for this word and we pray now that you root your word in our minds and then as we reflect on it together we pray that any other thing that’s of value, that too will be planted in our lives. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. We are a church that takes worship seriously. On Sunday’s when other churches close we are fairly resolved that we are going to stay open. They even make sure the pastor is close enough, that way I can walk if I can’t drive here. It’s part of the contract. And yet, when we think about worship it’s so often to think about the wrong things. You know, because when we think about worship we start to think that what’s really important about worship is the music we sing and also how about the sermon. Is the sermon going to be Biblical? Is it going to be interesting? These are the important things. Is the building going to be warm? Is it going to be clean? But, that’s not the important thing about worship. What Paul says here is what’s important about worship is who we are and what we bring when we bring ourselves and our hearts in worship. This is the core of worship in God’s eyes. Our hearts make an enormous amount of difference. It says countless times in the Old Testament but let me read to you one. It comes from Isaiah 29, verse 13, the Lord says:

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

You can go to the right place and you can say the right things and if your heart is not close to God your worship is not acceptable. And so when I pray for us as a congregation, I am often praying about the lives and hearts that we bring to worship and not just about will my message be good and will the music be good. Those are important things, but will we be the offering to God that God wants? And that is what it says in this passage here,is that we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Paul chooses his words very carefully because it has got to work itself out in our bodies. It’s got to work itself out in life. It can’t be just that we think a little bit differently and have a lot of thoughts about God. There has to be a life that changes. And so what this means is that worship is not just what we do on Sunday. Worship is every day life. And so that means that worship is what we do when we wake up in the morning, what we do in our commute, board meetings, what we do as we study, what we do in the classroom, what we do in the board room, what we do in the kitchen. All of these things are worship. And so, it’s great to say Oh, I am going to church on Sunday to worship, but it’s just as right Biblically to say I am going to work today to worship God, because we are to be offering our bodies as living sacrifices. For this is our spiritual act of worship and the word that is used here for this spiritual act of worship is a word that is just used about God and it has to do with service, but it also has to do with worship. It’s one of those words that you can translate either way. You could say your service to God. You could say your worship to God. The point is, is that worship and service, the offering of ourselves in daily life is critical to our understanding of worship and we will never live a life like this by trying hard. It’s not just going to happen. And so we need to learn what does it mean to live in such a way that this can be a reality that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices.

And so Paul goes on to describe a lifestyle of what it means to grow as a Christian and to become more Christ like, and he says it very succinctly, he says there is something we need to resist and there is something that we need to invite into our lives. So he tells us, do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world. There is something we need to resist. Everybody grows up in a culture and culture affects us. Culture pushes us into a mold to make us all think and speak and dress and all in similar ways. And so there is a constant pressure to conform us to a certain image in any culture. And so that shows itself in a number of different ways. In our culture it is absolutely right to eat french fries with your fingers, because we know they taste better that way. Okay? Now everybody does that in McDonald’s, but look around and we do it at steak houses too. We know that is part of, but if we get rice we know you are supposed to eat that with a fork. But if we lived in Malaysia, in certain parts of Malaysia we would be eating rice with our fingers, because they know that rice is supposed to be eaten with your fingers. This is what culture does to us. And when it does its job well, we do it reflectively. So I don’t go to dinner and think oh, oh, I’ve got rice today. Do I use a spoon, a fork, my fingers? You know, I don’t have to think about it. I just automatically reach, well in our house I would automatically reach for the chop sticks first or a fork if there are none there. But I am never going to use my fingers.

So culture has a certain innoculus affect on us to help us all live together well, so we know what to wear to funerals and we know what to give to people if they are sick in the hospital. There are certain things that we hardly have to think about. But there are some pressures in that molding of our lives that culture does. There are some things that are evil, because our culture and every culture is hostile to God in some way. And so some of the pressure on us starts to affect us even in the church. So for example, the way we think about lying. You know, lying and cheating, the attitudes of our culture start to affect our life in the church. Attitudes towards sexuality, towards divorce, the way we handle money, how we handle people who disagree with us. There are certain cultural American, western ways of dealing with all of these things. A lot of my attitude about how we should deal with terrorists is shaped more by the last diehard movie I have seen than by the New Testament. You know, I want somebody to crawl through the ducts and blow them up. Culture affects us, and some of that affect is for evil.

And so, Paul says wake up and notice what is going on. Resist this. Do not be conformed any longer. And then Paul goes on and says there is something we can invite in our lives, but he doesn’t replace this molding process with another push and pressure to be conformed a new way. Instead, he says no, instead of that be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The word he uses here is the same word that in English we connect with the word metamorphosis. The inner transformation that ultimately has an expression in the entirety of what we are dealing with, of a living being and so we are transformed in the inner life, in the way we think, in the way we view reality and the way we view God. And this transformation then expresses itself in all of our lives. So this is something that we are supposed to invite in. This is very real because God is at work in us through his Spirit and so now we actually have a fellowship with God and a power from God that can actually begin to transform our lives; not to just push us into a new mold, the way we are going to dress better than most folks on Sunday, maybe;or we might add a religious activity or two to our schedules, but the change is deeper than that.

Now, a change like this, a change that’s going to change our minds, is going to renew our minds to the point that actually in action we will be able to test and approve what the will of God is; that we are actually going to be living this out, and we are going to be seeing it. Yes, this works. The will of God is good, it’s perfect and I am living it out. To have this sort of change happen in our lives. It will never happen by us trying hard. It’s not going to happen. There is an underlying lifestyle here, a life of spiritual training. We are dealing with lifestyle, habit, growth. It doesn’t happen in a moment. It’s not a one-time decision. And so, this whole idea of do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, this is not something that we get into some kind of situation where we are about ready to get angry at somebody and we say, “Oh, oh, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” and try at that moment to have that change effective in your life. It’s not going to happen. There has to be something that happened the week before or a month before or maybe in the 20 years prior to that, that when you finally get to that moment where it is really tested out. Are you like Jesus Christ or not? And at that moment, it’s all of the training, all of that experience, all of that inner transformation that comes to fruit in that moment.

Michael Phelps doesn’t get in shape during his races. Okay, the first 15 meters I am going to work on upper body strength, the second 15 meters I will work on lower body strength. It’s not going to happen. All that work is done ahead of time and when he gets into the race he is ready. The upper body strength is there. The lower body strength is there. The mental strength is there. And we need to be the same way spiritually. So, it starts by developing a new way of thinking. The renewing of our minds. It starts by looking into the Bible to see what reality is like from God’s perspective and to see what God is really like because we are carrying around so many lies, so many ways our culture is trying to push us into a mold. Look at God this way and God says, “No, look at what I have said about myself and be transformed.” And then we have to look at ourselves as well and then to take what we know about God, what we know about ourselves and the world and pray about those things and to ask God to affect changes in our lives. This is all a part of that spiritual training.

And then when we finally get in to some kind of situation where we are tempted to lie to protect ourselves. At that moment if all of this has happened, then instead of going into it the old way, we go into it a new way, because we have been transformed and at that moment we recognize that God loves us, that God understands everything that is happening, that God will protect us in that it is this God who says, “Tell the truth and I will be in that to bless.” And at that moment we test and we approve the will of God; his good and pleasing and perfect will. But it takes spiritual training.

And so that means that to renew our minds is going to require some time. It’s not going to happen with a one-sentence prayer. We are going to have to take time to read and think carefully about what God says. We need to pray. We need to be alone and have some time in solitude, to let God really speak to who we are. We need time to get to know some other Christians better, because as we get to know Christians, one of the ways that the culture puts pressure on us is to make us too individualistic, and so as we are transformed, one of the things that we realize is how much we need one another and so we commit ourselves to other Christians and to fellowship in small groups. And then when the time comes to think and live differently we will be ready. We will be different. Transformed from the inside out. And so this is what it means when we talk about discipleship and we have one of the things about the marks of being a follower of Christ, being a disciple. One of the marks is the mark of growth and this is one of the ways that we express that as a church. Christ followers participate in the transformation of their minds, character, actions and influence through intentional lifelong interaction with Jesus. One of the marks of discipleship is growth. So that means all of us, let’s be serious about our spiritual training.

Let’s pray. Lord, you know the struggles we have. You also have a desire for us to be like Jesus Christ in all that we think and do, all that we say. And so now we hold ourselves before you as part of our spiritual act of worship. We now pray that you work in our lives so that what we do every day might be worship just like as we gather today, we worship you. For we ask these things in Jesus name. Amen.