Developing A Focus For The Future - Romans 12:1,2
All the Y2K hysteria is now over. The world hasn't ended. It's time to focus on a new year. The real value of "New Years" is that it gives us a marker by which we can measure and evaluate our lives. For the Christian it is productive to take time at the beginning of the New Year to measure and examine our spiritual growth and development. This is a time time to get focused and in some cases, to "get back on track". How did you do in 1999?
did you read through the Bible in a year?
did worship consistently and regularly?
did you honor God in your giving and serving?
did you read well?
did you dare to trust God in your living?
did you grow to love Him more?
I'm not fanatical but I do try to set some goals at the beginning of a new year. I make goals about the things I want to learn, the disciplines I'd like to develop, and the problems I'd like to correct. And it is to this end that I take you to the first two verses of Romans 12 where the Apostle Paul gives us some principles that will not only help us to begin a new year . . . they will help us to live faithfully all our lives.
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—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1,2)
DETERMINE WHO OR WHAT YOU ARE LIVING FOR
In these classic words from the Apostle Paul we see a first principle for living . . . Paul tells us "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." Paul tells us that we should live our lives for the Lord. We should give ourselves to him wholeheartedly and sacrificially. Paul is telling us what the Westminster Shorter Catechism stated so succinctly, "what is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy him fully."
This is the preeminent question of life: "What is our chief end?" What are we living for? Many have never considered that question. They are living only for the moment. Only for today. Others say they are living,
for more money
for a better job
for a new car
for a good time
for a meaningful relationship
for success (whatever that means)
Stop for a moment and ask yourself . . . what is it that you are pursuing? Where are you headed? You're moving quickly . . . but where are you going? How will you know when you get there? Let's be honest, most people live basically for themselves.
Paul argues for a different approach to life. He says we should honor God in our living because it is our "spiritual service". The word for "spiritual" in the Greek is "logikos". In other words, Paul is telling us that giving ourselves to the Lord is the logical thing to do.
It's logical after all Paul has been writing. In this letter, Paul has systematically explained the gospel.
People turned from God not the other way around (Romans 1)
People are rebellious at heart. They do not know God, love God, or seek God (Romans 3)
Yet God loves us and has made it possible for us to have a new relationship with Him through faith. (Romans 4)
We are to have faith in what God did for us. He gave Christ as a substitute for us. His death was reckoned for our sin and His righteousness and goodness was applied to our account. Christ was our representative just as Adam was originally. (Romans 5)
As a result of this we don't "have" to sin anymore . . . living contrary to God is foolish in light of such love. (Romans 6)
Yet, we continue to struggle (Romans 7)
But we are not left alone in our struggle. God has given us His Spirit to guide us, to intercede for us, to assure us. God will not allow us to fall from Him. (Romans 8)
In fact, salvation is all of God because we would never have "chosen" Him if God had not first as a result of His own sovereign choice changed us. (Romans 9)
God has allowed us the privilege of being the messengers of His Gospel (Romans 10)
His wisdom is unsearchable. He ways are overwhelming. His love is enduring. (Romans 11)
It is in view of these things that Paul says should lead us logically to serve God and to follow God in our lives. Paul argues that if we understand what our predicament was (we were rebels heading for eternal destruction) and what God has done on our behalf and how He has awakened us to His love . . . we will want to serve Him wholeheartedly. When was the last time you really thought about what God had done for you?
Think about the greatest thing someone could do for you. Maybe they could donate a kidney or give you one of their eyes. Maybe they could push you from harm's way. Whatever you imagine someone doing for you . . . . God has done more. He has done far more for us than any individual (no matter how magnanimous) could ever do. We owe Him our lives. We owe Him our allegiance. Our desire should be to honor Him and to reveal His goodness to everyone we meet. After what God has done for us our allegiance and trust should be unwavering, no matter what circumstance we face. It is a logical thing that we should want to honor God with every breath we take this year.
For this to happen we will need to establish an eternal perspective to everyday living. How many things would seem far less significant if we viewed them from the perspective of heaven? And how many things would take on a whole new importance? The new car, the Sunday getaway, the extra hour of sleep, the few moments of pleasure seem like foolish pursuits in light of eternity. However, that hour of prayer, the time reading the Bible, loving in a Christlike way, making time to talk with a troubled friend, giving to a ministry that in involved in sharing eternal truth, daring to trust God for the seeming impossible . . . all of a sudden these things take on a whole new perspective.
Did you watch the New Years Eve celebration In Sydney, Australia. After the magnificent fireworks display as a grand finale the Harbour Bridge was lit up with fireworks and when the smoke cleared the word "Eternity" was written on the bridge. There is a story behind that word. It was a tribute to a colorful local Sydney man of yesteryear, named Arthur Stace. He was converted to Christ back in 1930 from a life of alcoholism. He became a street evangelist, and he also embarked on a career of writing the one word sermon "Eternity" in chalk in beautiful writing on footpaths and walls all over Sydney. He wanted to remind people of their ultimate destiny and make them think about where they would spend eternity. It was not until 1950 that his identity was discovered.
That's what we need to do this year . . . we need to write "eternity" on our hearts and on everything we do. We need to remember where we are going and who we belong to. Johann Sebastian Bach used to right the letters S.D.G. on every piece of music he wrote. It meant Soli Deo Gloria . . . to God alone be the glory! Bach wrote every piece of music for an audience of one. You and I need to strive to write: "S.D.G." on every day of our lives.
Can you imagine how different our life would be if we really applied ourselves to living for an audience of one.
We would spend our money differently: more on the Kingdom, less on ourselves
We would waste less time in meaningless pursuits
We would be less sensitive to public opinion, less jealous of the victories of others, and we would rejoice more when the Kingdom advanced (and less concerned over who was advancing it)
We would be less "territorial"
We would care less about things and stuff and more about people.
We would spend less time waiting for someone to "do something" and we would "do something" to help another.
But Paul adds a second challenge.
ESTABLISH AN UNSHAKABLE REFERENCE POINT
Paul's warning is stunningly relevant: "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
First there is a warning. Paul warns us about becoming conformed to the world. The dangerous thing about this conformity is that we don't have to do anything to bring it to pass. It will happen unless we stand against it. With television, the Internet, CD's, talk radio, and books, books, books. We are constantly being bombarded with information and viewpoints that can easily turn us from the Lord.
The best example of this is the media. Look at how movies and television have changed. In the past modesty was protected, language was pure, plot was emphasized, morality was assumed. Today language is becoming more and more profane, nothing is left to the imagination, morality is scorned, plot has given way to special effects. But the staggering thing is to notice how little this seems to affect us. For many, you barely notice these changes . . . it's because the "world is squeezing you into it's mold". And for those who do notice, our reaction is getting weaker and weaker because we feel we can't fight it . . . so we might as well accept it. And when we do we have become conformed to the world.
Our culture teaches is this:
science is objective, the Bible is biased
how something is presented is more important than the content of what is presented
the value of a person lies not in their "being" but in their productivity consequently people can become disposable.
historical records are unreliable because they are biased . . . history must be rewritten (deconstruction)
pleasure is the measure of morality
truth is privately arrived at . . . there is no objective standard.
These philosophies are skewed . . . but they are all around us. It is presented in subtle ways and in not so subtle ways. If we are not "on guard" we will find the world "pressing us into its mold."
Second, there is a prescription. Paul tells us that to avoid this push for compromise we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The word for "transformed" is the word "metamorphis". It's a word that reminds us of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. We must be transformed in our thinking.
How do we keep from being swept downstream by every new fad or crisis? The answer is that we need an anchor. A boat keeps from drifting in the current by anchoring to something solid and unshakable. We have such an anchor in God's Word.
The Bible is not meant just to simply give us information . . . .it is meant to hold us steady and to help us to live a life that has an eye toward eternity. The Bible is meant to be practiced not just memorized. The Bible is meant to change our thinking. Here's some suggestions for building a strong anchor into your life.
Read the Bible systematically during the year. Make it your goal to read the whole Bible or perhaps to read through the entire New Testament. Haphazard reading places your anchor in shallow ground. You need to see the flow and context of God's direction. Nothing replaces a consistent exposure to God's Word.
Interact as you read. I write notes and questions in the margin. I like to underline verses. I also like to record my thoughts and interaction with the Scriptures on paper. Mind you, I can do a much better job than I do . . . but I encourage you to do something that helps you do more than read words on a paper. Ask yourself about the implications of the Bible's words. What are the implications of the words, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength?" How will that affect how I approach the mountains ahead.
Begin and end your reading with prayer. Ask God to speak and to help you listen. Then take what you hear and discuss it with Him. Talk to Him about your resistance to forgiving, or your lust, or your sharp tongue or hunger for more. Ask Him to help you love Him more.
Do what God tells you to do. We've talked about it almost every week in our Wednesday morning Bible study: God seldom gives you a direction without also giving you a laboratory in which to apply the lesson. God wants us to act and will always put us in positions where we can obey Him. So . . . practice what you hear. Test God and you will find Him faithful.
Study with others. You can do this in many different ways.
You can join a Sunday School class . . each week most of our classes are looking at a particular passage of scripture.
You can attend a Bible Study. We have studies throughout the week. We will be starting a Sunday Night group that will allow us to get better acquainted and to interact more than we can on Sunday morning.
You should be faithful in worship. We always seek to explain and apply God's Word as we are doing today.
You can read well. Look for books that carefully seek to reflect on Scripture. Now you have to be careful. There are a lot of books that seek to use scripture to validate their philosophies. This takes a discerning eye. If in doubt, try reading some of the books in our church library. Or ask Jon or someone with a solid faith what books have enriched them. There are books designed to help you study the Bible. There are books filled with sermons on scripture. In fact we have a web site filled with four years of sermons!
Times are crazy! You will hear all kinds of nonsense spoken in the world. People will talk about spirituality and mean nothing more than feeling good. On any given day you will hear people defining "good" in dozens of different ways. We need an anchor that will hold. And we have one.
FIND GOD'S WILL AND EMBRACE IT FULLY
One final thing we see in Paul's words: If we give ourselves to God and continually renew our minds with His Word, "then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Paul assumes that we want to live in the will of God. And for most of us this is a valid assumption.
What Paul is telling us is that we don't have to find God's will . . . . it will find us! Our job is to live for God's glory, and to renew our minds by a constant exposure to His Word bathed in prayer. And as we begin to learn about God's ways and to distinguish His voice from all the other voices around us, we will begin to see more clearly.
Suddenly we will know what God wants us to do. We will be able to hear His gentle whisper and experience His awesome work in our lives. And as we dare to obey, as we learn to trust God and to act on that direction He gives us, something wonderful happens. We see that God's will is good. We discover that the pleasure that comes from living in God's will is superior to any shallow pleasure the world offers.
This is just the opposite of what the world tells us. The culture we live in tells us that we need to enjoy ourselves and forget the God stuff because it only gets in the way. We need to live fast, hard, and without regard for others. And these same people go from marriage to marriage. They run faster but are still miserable. They become angry, withdrawn and lonely. Some begin to live recklessly. It's all because they have missed the point. We can't enjoy life . . . .until we understand what life is all about and where it is headed.
So at the beginning of this new year, I encourage you to sharpen your focus. Take advantage of this "reference point" in your life and make some changes. Determine that you will live this year maintaining an eternal perspective. Every morning set out to live for His glory. Every Sunday, exalt Him for what He has done in you. And during the course of this year establish that unshakable reference point in your life. Become friends, intimate friends with your Bible. Make what you read the focus of your prayers and the basis of your behavior. And if you do, then this year, you will live for His glory, you will listen for and hear His direction, and yes, you will enjoy the journey. To God be the Glory!