September 13, 2004

Sermon notes redux

Last year my church kicked off its fall season with a church-wide study based around Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life. In the main it went well enough that the powers-that-be decided to do something similar this fall, to get everybody on the same page for a few weeks. This time, they put together their own six-week series, titled "Better Together," a study of Romans 12. The subtitle of the accompanying study guide is "Finding Your Fit with God and Others." (Had I been in charge, I might have chosen to call it "The Scripture Driven Life," but there's probably a good reason I'm not in charge.)

Before the pastor got into the series itself, though, he started last week with some review: a whirlwind trip through the first 11 chapters of Romans.

A Panoramic View of God's Mercy: A Review of Romans 1-11

You get a breathtaking view of God's mercy . . .

  1. . . . when you see that you were hopelessly lost in sin (1:18-3:20).

    Paul's case: Everyone is born lost in sin.

    1. 1:18-32: Secular people, those who have no place for God, are lost. Not that they are ignorant of God, but they are belligerent in their unbelief.
    2. 2:1-16: Moral people - solid citizens, good neighbours - are lost. They overestimate their own goodness; they tend to see the faults in others and overlook their own. But they are still not good enough for God.
    3. 2:17-3:9: Religious people are lost. The Jews bragged about the Law, but then they went and broke the Law.

    Why does Paul tell us this? Because we can never understand the mercy fo God without first understanding ourselves. To see the mercy of God, we must first see our own misery.

  2. . . . when you see that you are considered righteous in Christ (3:21-5:21)

    Two key words to understanding God's mercy in rescuing you:

    1. justified (3:23-24): God does not hold our sin against us.
    2. credited (4:4-5): Christ's righteousness is counted as ours.

    This is done freely because of God's mercy. We are no longer lost, but found, and freely justified and credited because God is merciful.

  3. . . . when you see that you can live a new life by the Spirit (6:1-8:17)

    We don't need to live like we used to live, because we aren't who we used to be! These are some of the most important chapters of the Bible.

    Three key words to understanding new life in the Spirit:

    1. consider (6:11): Count it as true that we are made new people.
    2. choose (6:13): Say no to temptation, and yes to God.
    3. cooperate (8:12=13): With the Holy Spirit, who is more powerful than the flesh.

    When we do these things, our new life becomes evident to ourselves and others, and it is all due to the mercy of God.

  4. . . . when you see that you have a glorious future with God (8:18-11:36)

    Paul defends the faithfulness of God, arguing that he is keeping his promises, not only to the Jews, but extending them also to the Gentiles. By God's mercy, anyone who believes in Christ can get in on these promises. What can be better than this? Who is greater than God (11:33-36)?

In view of God's mercies, therefore, we give ourselves to God (12:1). Our proper response to God's mercy is gratitude.

Here is Better Together, week 1:

Making Dedication Personal: Romans 12:1-2

Paul appeals to his readers to make this decision:

  1. Make a total dedication of your body to God (1).

    This is personal, total, complete dedication.

    1. Total dedication means your whole body.

      This is evident in Paul's imagery, which is that of sacrifice. Paul's Jewish readers would have been familiar with the idea of sacrifice. They knew that it involved the whole body of the sacrificial animal.

      Likewise, Paul is asking for total commitment, not a token commitment. This means God owns our eyes and controls what we see. It means he controls our ears and controls what we hear. He owns our mouth and controls not only what we put into it, but what comes out of it. God gets us all, from head to toe.

    2. Total dedication means your whole lifetime.

      Not merely a sacrifice, but a living sacrifice - not something we do when we die, but while we live. "Living sacrifice" is seemingly an oxymoron, but there was a precedent. The Levites, who assisted the priests in offering the sacrifices in the Temple, were "living sacrifices." See Num. 8:10-11, where Aaron lifted up the Levites before God as "wave offerings" to God. They were set apart to serve God for their whole life. This commitment is now for all Christians to offer.

    3. Total dedication is motivated by God's mercy.

      God asks us to give our body to him because he has given his Son's body for us. Now he offers forgiveness, family status, and a glorious future. "Salvation is by grace; dedication is out of gratitude." Our response, out of gratitude, is to give ourselves to God.

    4. Total dedication is an act of worship.

      Worship is not just something done on Sunday morning at church. It happens wherever and whenever we are, all of our lives.

  2. Total dedication of your body leads to a gradual transformation of your life (2).

    After dedication comes transformation; we begin to see changes. Paul tells us a few things about transformation:

    1. Transformation is a process.

      God wants to change us into something better, but it takes time. But God will see it through (Phil. 1:6).

    2. Transformation is God's project.

      He does the work. We are involved, but we're not the ones in charge. The passage says "be transformed," not "transform yourselves."

    3. Transformation begins in your mind.

      We are changed from the inside out. God starts with our thinking, steering us away from wrong patterns of thought. The Word of God becomes the filter through which our thinking is changed.

    4. Transformation brings you in line with God's will.

      As God changes us we no longer conform to the world but start to live out the will of God. This is a positive change, as God's will is good, pleasing, and perfect.

Are we ready to make a decision to make a total dedication to God that will result in the total transformation of our lives?