It's a beautiful, summer day and you decide to take your boat down to the lake. Once you arrive, what will you do? Will you put the boat into the lake or will you put the lake into the boat?
Now Stephen, that's not much of a question! Obviously, if we put the lake into the boat, we'll sink! Spiritually speaking, the world is the lake, and individual Christians are the boats. The goal is to float in the lake, not sink to the bottom. While we are alive physically we cannot escape the world; we will always be in it. Jesus said as much in John 17:15 - "I do not pray that You [Father] should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one." Our goal must be to stay pure and to radiate a godly influence upon the world around us, and accomplishing such is not easy.
Why isn't it easy? According to I John 5:19 - "The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." The world is ungodly and immoral and we can't, while in the flesh, isolate ourselves from the world's wickedness. It surrounds us on a daily basis, and if we're not careful it will influence us, little by little. If we're not sober-minded and continually growing in grace and knowledge, the world will penetrate our hull, so to speak, and before long we'll be sinking spiritually. Although we can't isolate ourselves from the danger, we can insulate ourselves from it.
And that's what the lesson is all about. It's about how we can successfully live as Christians in a very unchristian world. In a nutshell, we're going to consider how we can live in the world without letting the world live in us. As Christians we're boats out in the water, but we don't want the water to get in and spiritually sink us.
Let's begin by reading Romans 12:1,2 - "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Friends, if you want to live as a Christian in a perverse and ungodly world, then it is critically important that you develop the right attitude. We will examine three vital aspects of our attitudes at this time.
1. WE MUST CULTIVATE A PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD GOD (Rom. 12:1).
The key in developing and maintaining the proper attitude toward God is in realizing and then remembering who He is and who we are. He is the Creator; we're the creation. He's the Potter; we're the clay. He's the Master; we're the servants. Do you think of yourself as God's creation? Do you honestly view your life as clay in His hands to be molded as He sees fit? Do you believe that you are alive to serve God and not to please yourself?
The phrase in Romans 12:1 that ties all of these ideas together is the one that declares that Christians should present their bodies as living sacrifices to God. In other words, we're nothing without God and we ought to be nothing but a sacrifice for Him! This type of thinking will help us develop and maintain a proper attitude toward the Almighty.
We are to be living sacrifices in the sense that we are to offer ourselves to God completely and then continue to live faithfully for Him. As living sacrifices we are to be active, motivated, and productive for the Lord. The Old Testament animal sacrifices only lasted until the animal was consumed upon the altar. Our sacrifice is to be of a continual nature--day in and day out. There is no such thing as a vacation from serving God.
I cannot overemphasize the extent of our sacrifice. It is to be absolute and complete; we aren't to hold anything back in our service to God. The New Testament contains this same idea elsewhere:
The bottom line is that to be a living sacrifice, we must completely surrender our lives to God. We must allow Him, through His Scriptures, to direct every aspect of our lives. This is our reasonable or logical service to God in response to what He has abundantly given to us! Serving God should be our obsession! Unfortunately, many Christians don't seem to understand this or perhaps they simply won't accept it. It is a shame that many of God's people have such a limited concept of personal sacrifice. It's not a matter of giving a certain amount of time or money to God. It's about giving yourself to Him! (as the Macedonian Christians did in II Cor. 8:5).
Earlier in the book of Romans (chapter 6, to be specific), Paul wrote about the subject of baptism. However, that chapter is much more than a thesis on the proper mode of baptism and the essentiality of it. Certainly those aspects are important, but we must never lose sight of the main point about baptism that Paul was making; namely, that when a person is baptized into Christ his old way of living is gone! Such a one has put to death the old way of life and has been set free from sin in order to become a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:6,18). Essentially, the lake has been sucked out of the new convert's boat and now his boat is on the lake, not vice versa.
Make sure that your life is a living sacrifice to God so that the waves of sin will not prevent you from living as a Christian in this unchristian world.
2. WE MUST CULTIVATE A PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD THE WORLD (Rom. 12:2).
A proper attitude toward the world is not one that is conformed but transformed - "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
Let's focus on conformity first. Teenagers hear a lot about peer pressure (i.e., conformity), and I don't doubt that peer pressure is most difficult to deal with as an adolescent. Of course, peer pressure is a problem at any stage in life, whether you're 16 or 60! The world is like a mold; unless we strongly resist, it will gradually form us to its ideals, philosophies, and vanities. It's not enough to know right from wrong, but we must have the courage to stand for what we know is right and stand against what is wrong. Often teenagers allow others to put the squeeze on them, so to speak. They know a certain behavior is wrong, but, in an effort to fit in and seek approval, they allow themselves to be conformed to worldliness (e.g., illegal drug use, sex, etc.). Peer pressure affects adults in much the same way (although the issues are sometimes different).
The New Testament teaches that we need to be conformed to the image of Jesus (cf. Rom. 8:29)! He needs to be the mold or the form that we pattern ourselves after. He is our perfect example! God wants His children to look alike in character, doctrine, and attitude. We need to develop the "mind of Christ" (Phil. 2:5). We need to imitate Christ as Paul did (cf. I Cor. 11:1). Having Jesus as your mold will enable you to live as a Christian in an unchristian world.
Now, let's talk about being transformed. Transformation is a changing from one thing into another (e.g., a larva transforms into a butterfly). Paul is writing primarily about a mental transformation in Romans 12:2, although once a person changes from a sinful way of thinking to a righteous way of thinking, his actions should correspondingly change. For instance, consider these examples of the old mindset of the world versus the new mindset of a Christian:
This mental transformation is something that must be done on an individual level--no one can do it for you. But, how does this transformation come about? Paul says that the key is renewing our minds! We've got to refresh our minds, our way of thinking. But, how is that accomplished? I believe that anytime we focus on that which is righteous, we are renewing our minds (cf. Phil. 4:8). Bible study, prayer, and self-examination are activities that renew one's mind. Constantly renewing your mind will help you live as a Christian in an unchristian world. As a person thinks, so is he (Prov. 23:7). The mind that dwells on worldly things will produce conformity to the world. The mind which thinks on that which is righteous will lead to a transformed life.
Let us be transformed by renewing our minds, and let us not forget I John 2:15-17 - "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." Did you notice that the emphasis in that passage is all upon problems of the mind. That's where any kind of lust or pride originates. The mind is the battlefield where most of Satan's attacks are focused. When we're living a transformed life for God, the question is not: What does the world say? Instead, the question is: What does God say through the Bible? Remember II Corinthians 5:7 - "For we walk by faith, not by sight."
It's been said that one who does not have a renewed mind and has not been transformed into the image of Christ is like a thermometer. Thermometers do not affect the environment they are in. They merely go up and down based on the climate they are in. On the other hand one who does have a renewed mind and has been transformed for God will be like a thermostat. A thermostat influences the environment in which it is in. A thermostat brings stability to an environment filled with change. Dear listeners, are you more like a thermometer or a thermostat? Are you letting the world mold you or are you striving to mold others in God's ways?
Our attitude toward the world should be that of avoiding conformity to unrighteousness. We can be what God wants us to be if we continually renew our minds. So, if we have a proper attitude toward God and a proper attitude toward the world, are we all set to live as Christians in an unchristian world? Not quite, for there is one more component of our attitude we must consider.
3. WE MUST CULTIVATE A PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD OURSELVES (Rom. 12:3ff).
I just want to touch briefly on this point at this time. The key thought here can be easily seen in Paul's words about not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to (Rom. 12:3). We must not be arrogant or haughty. We must realize that we all have a part to play in God's kingdom. We must use the abilities that God has blessed us with to His glory. Ultimately, if we have the proper attitude of humility toward ourselves, then we won't have so much difficulty obeying the exhortations found in the rest of this chapter. For example:
Having this aspect of our attitude correct is so important. Let us always remember that we're not Christians just because we can win doctrinal arguments; we're Christians if we imitate Christ in humility!
The question we need to ask now is: Once I have a proper attitude toward God, the world, and myself, what is going to motivate me to act? Paul mentions the most powerful motivator in Romans 12:1 - "the mercies of God." Everything that Paul has encouraged us to do in this chapter has been prefaced by "the mercies of God." This would include all of the blessings that God showers down upon us (physically and spiritually). It would also include the great love that He has manifested toward us through Jesus.
It is refreshing to think about God's tender mercies toward Christians. We don't serve the Lord in order to get His mercies--we already have them in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:3)! We serve Him as Christians out of love and appreciation for what He has done for us. There is the motivation I'm talking about!
If you only look at Christianity as a set of rules, you won't be motivated! Unless you are convinced that Jesus loves you, you will be living by a set of do's and don'ts and you'll be miserable trying to live as a Christian in an unchristian world. II Corinthians 5:14,15 teaches - "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again." The love of God is the motivation for living as Christians in an unchristian world. When you know Christ died for you, you no longer live selfishly but for the One who rose again!
Let me conclude with this pertinent illustration. It is said that Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, once had captured a prince and his family. When they came before him, the monarch asked the prisoner, "What will you give me if I release you?" "The half of my wealth," was his reply. "And if I release your children?" "Everything I possess." "And if I release your wife?" "Your Majesty, I will give myself." Cyrus was so moved by his devotion that he freed them all. As they returned home, the prince said to his wife, "Wasn't Cyrus a handsome man?" With a look of deep love for her husband, she said to him, "I didn't notice. I could only keep my eyes on you--the one who was willing to give himself for me."
Friends, Jesus was not only willing to give Himself for us--He actually did! What other response can we give Him but our undivided love and attention? How can we do anything else but fix our eyes upon Him as living sacrifices, not conformed to the world, but transformed into His likeness by the renewing of our minds!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.