There are certain realities at work in the world in which we live. One of those is the lingering impact of sin on humanity. We are not, any one of us, near the kind of person that we ought to be. When you assemble us together, we are much more like the Avengers in the first part of the movie, when they are more interested in fighting each other than they are in dealing with the enemy.
If you then take that tendency and put us in large groups, we form societies, and those rarely turn out perfectly either. The end result being that we cannot simply assume that every thing that is publicly acceptable is also acceptable for Christians to do. How do we shake out the difference?
Romans 12 gives us some insight into how we as Christians ought to live amid societies that are not driven by Christian teaching. (Which, by the way, is every society ever…some closer than others, but none perfect.)
First, we see this: our minds are not automatically what they ought to be. Otherwise, Paul would not have admonished the Romans to have their minds transformed. And if Roman society could have accomplished this for them, the call would not be to remain unconformed to the patterns of the world. Enlightenment cannot make us into the image of Christ.
So, what can?
That is what we see second in this passage. A list of some of the gifts of transformers for our mind, given by the grace of God through His spirit.
What are these?
First, there is the diversity of the body. We learn by being part of a community made up of people that are different from us. This is true whether the differences are in giftings, backgrounds, ethnicity, age, or gender. A church community that becomes one-dimensional on any of these weakens itself.
Second, there are the functions of members. People are gifted to help the church, and they are gifted in different ways. We are strengthened by learning from each other in those areas and manners. We are transformed to be more generous by knowing the ones who are gifted in giving. We are transformed to know the Word by the teachers, and become capable ourselves. We are transformed from inactivity by those who lead us to act!
Third, there are the fundamental acts and attitudes that we ought to have. Love without hypocrisy, devotion to one another, commitment to prayer. Returning good for evil, even when evil has been meted out to you in abundance. These are not the behaviors of worldly society. These are often not even the behaviors of nearly-Christian society.
And we wonder why our influence wanes. We strive to overcome evil with politics, to repay insults with insults. We want the power back to repay the abuse of power that we have seen. Within our own churches, we fail to give preference to one another or take diligent action to grow in faith.
What, then, do we expect?
Fellow believers, the reason we are losing ground in our churches is that we do not work through the life-transforming implications of the Gospel. Jesus died, rose again, and ascended that we could be alive in the Spirit—and then we take our cues from death about how to live.
While we will see society around us move in ever-varying directions, our own internal behavior is what we can and should control. Why would the spiritually dead seek life when our life looks just like their death? The current state of much of what we call the Western World is the result of the living looking dead so long that the dead think they’re alive.
This is no easy task, but we are not alone in it. Take a look back at Romans 12:1-3. We are given the grace and faith necessary.
Let’s put it to work.
Today’s Nerd Note: Notice the mood shift from Romans 1-11 to Romans 12 (and following). The Epistle hinges on the “therefore” in 12:1 and pivots from expressing general ideas to practical applications. That is not to say there is no practicality in Paul’s initial section and no ideas in the latter portion, but that is the general pattern.
It is important that we also seek a similar balance in our teaching methods. People need to understand the why as much as they need the what.