I want you to think for a moment about the ways God pursued you. Each person who has placed their faith and trust in Jesus has been wooed into salvation by a loving God who has pursued you until the day you surrendered through faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Before surrendering to the unrelenting love of God, the Bible says that your name was a collection of adjectives:
- Spiritually Dead (Eph. 2:1)
- Follower of the Prince of the Power of the Air (Eph. 2:2)
- Child of Wrath (Eph. 2:3)
- An Enemy of God (Rom. 5:10)
- Unrighteous (Rom. 3:10)
- Blind (2 Cor. 4:4)
But, through Jesus Christ, you received a name change that reflects a new identity. Now you are:
- Alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4)
- A Disciple of Jesus (Matt. 28:19-20)
- A Child of God (1 John 3:1)
- A Friend of God (John 15:15)
- Righteous (2 Cor. 5:21)
- Seeing (2 Cor. 4:6)
God has given you a new name; that new name is Christian, which means Christ-within. When you placed your faith and trust in Jesus, the Bible says something happened; it says that you went from being an enemy of God to being reconciled to him. What happened the moment you became a Christians is that you were redeemed from your sins by the blood of Jesus (Rom. 3:21-26)? You were justified before a holy God and made righteous through faith in Jesus (Rom. 4:13-25). You who were once an enemy of God were reconciled to God (Rom. 5:6-11). You were liberated from the slavery of your sin to the Lordship of Christ (Rom. 6:15-23). What happened was that you, who were once far from God, were brought near to God because Christ is now in you (Rom. 8:9-11), this is why the apostle wrote:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:11–15, ESV)
In Romans 12:9-21, we are provided with five marks of a Christian. I believe that what we are told in this passage is God’s wisdom for following Jesus in COVID-19 world.
We Were Redeemed to Love (v. 9)
The word that is used in verse 9 is the Greek word agape, which is an unconditional love. It is the kind of love that says and practices: “I am going to love you no matter what.” Our English translations make love into a verb, when, in this case, it is really an adjective. Verse nine should begin with the phrase: “Authentic love,” but that would make no sense in English, so it has been made into a verb: “let love be genuine.” I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that really is not a big deal, but the point is simply this: Genuine love abhors what is evil and it clings to what is good.
We were once spiritually dead, but now we have been made alive in Christ. We once followed the devil, but now we follow Jesus. We were once children of wrath, but now we are children of the living God. We were once an enemy of God, but now we are a friend of God. We were once unrighteous, but now we are covered under the righteousness of Christ. We were once blind as we walked in darkness, but now we are seeing as we have been called into the light! Why? Because “God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). The result is that we can now love as we were made to love; we abhor evil and cling to what is good.
We Were Justified to Care (vv. 10-11)
The next word that is used for love in this passage is philio, which is a brotherly love. The point to consider is that if we have been transformed by the grace of God, we now share a common bond as Christians. That common bond is that we are not only sons and daughters of the living God, but we are also brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Because we are brothers and sisters in Christ, we ought to outdo one another in the way we honor one another. I believe the point here is identical to what Paul wrote about in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
How do we remain devoted to one another? Well, the cross of Jesus is a perfect illustration of love that is both self-sacrificing and committed to the wellbeing of others. Our love for one another must not be idle, but diligent; not uninterested, but invested; not indifferent, but devoted. This kind of “brotherly love” happens because we are the only people on planet earth who truly have a hope that transcends death, disease, and pandemics, we can be patient in the midst of suffering because we know the One who defeated death and has promised us the same (1 Cor. 15:3-4, 50-58).
We Were Reconciled to Serve (vv. 12-13)
Genuine love is first, rejoices in hope and is devoted to one another in prayer. Because we have experienced the great mercy of God, we are attentive to the needs of others. We share a bond that is stronger than our DNA because we are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because God pursued us and made us alive in Jesus, we must act when one of our own is in need in the same way that God met us in our hour of need by dying for us.
However, our love should not stop with our fellow Christian; it must bleed out into our ability to bless when persecuted by a world that is blinded by dark forces (2 Cor. 4:4). The reason the world is a mess today is because it needs the same reconciliation we experienced in Christ. So how do we bless when persecuted? We give them a taste of heaven with our presence by what we do and what we say; we do this even when we are not persecuted. If there was any time to bless those who do not yet know Jesus, it is now, and it is amid a pandemic. We can meet the fear of our nation with the hope of the gospel.
When you read through the Gospel accounts on the life of Jesus, what you will discover is that Jesus’ preaching about the Kingdom of God was always in partnership with how to make the world better through His acts of service. The only way people will hear the gospel is if they hear it from your lips and see it validated through our lives.
We Were Liberated for a Mission (vv. 14-16)
As followers of Christ we are called to a different set of ethics than those of this present world by imitating the kind of servitude Jesus modeled for us. To be a Christian is to have the same mindset Jesus had by counting “others more significant than yourselves.” Jesus did not believe people were more important than himself; for Jesus to do that would have been idolatry because He was and is God, but he had an attitude that was motivated by a love that was sacrificial in nature. It is a lifestyle that understands that people’s greatest need is God and will do whatever it takes to bring God to them. Just as Jesus came and identified with humankind, we need to do the same thing because this is what genuine love does. Genuine love rejoices with those who rejoice, weeps with those who weep, seeks to live in peace with others, and never considers oneself better than others.
We are in Christ to Do Good (vv. 17-21)
Finally, genuine love does not seek to crush people who crush us. Genuine love is a peace giving and seeking love. It is a love that has been so shaped by a loving God that when we are wronged, we understand that God can turn our suffering around for our good and the good of others. Because of the love we have experienced from God, we should know that God is bigger than our loss or pain and that our salvation is for the good of the nations (Eph. 2:8-10).
When we were far from God, God pursued us. When we were dead, God made us alive in Jesus. When we followed the ethics of an evil kingdom, Jesus found us and asked us to follow him. When we were destined for hell, God purchased our forgiveness and made us a citizen of heaven. When we were enemies of God, God befriended us. When we were unrighteous, God made us righteous through His Son. When we were blind, God made us see. When we were in darkness, God brought us into His light. We were made to love because God first loved us! Because God loved us, you have a new name!
Our love for God and for one another is marked by an abhorrence of evil and a love for good. Because you are a Christian, you need not be overcome by evil, but can now overcome evil with good; this goes for death, a tanking economy, disease, and pandemics.
If COVID-19 is teaching us anything, it is teaching us that health and prosperity are not guaranteed and it is reminding us how frail we really are. If you are not a Christian, your hope is as only lasting as the breath in your lungs. We are here for such a time as this. What we do as followers of Jesus will have ripple effects for generations to come. What kind of ripples will be left by Meadowbrooke in the days, years, and decades to come?
Seasons of uncertainty come and go. We often think that death, disease, or pandemics are for others to experience, but not us. If you are a Christian, the character of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and who you are in Christ serve as an anchor to keep you from having your faith shipwrecked by the anxieties COVID-19 can bring.
On June of 1939, while safe in the United States during the rise of Nazi Germany and the looming threat of another World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both a minister and theologian, decided to leave the security of our country to enter into the danger of his own. In a letter to a friend, Bonhoeffer explained why he felt compelled to leave the States:
I have made the mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make this choice in security.
Regardless of what is happening around us, as followers of Jesus, we are called not into security, but to love. We are called to show love for one another and love for our fearful and vulnerable neighbors who do not know the security we have in God. We can do that because we are ready for heaven while the rest of the world is not.
How should we love our community? We should do it carefully and cautiously by listening and adhering to the recommendations of the CDC and our doctors by washing our hands, practicing reasonable social distancing, and to stay at home if you are not feeling well. However, we can also look for creative ways to remain connected so that we can encourage one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25). What are some ways that we are trying to do that as Meadowbrooke Church? Here are some of the ways that I believe you can participate:
- We are turning Meadowbrooke Church into a foodbank/hub so that we can help you meet the needs of your neighbors who are in need (we have already started implementing and using our foodbank). My encouragement to you is that you not only contribute to the foodbank, but that you look for ways to use it to bless your community.
- We are have not only gone completely digital with live streaming, but we are looking for ways to enable our life groups to meet by doing the same.
- We are looking for ways to resource your family to engage in family devotions and prayer regularly together.
- I will do a Wednesday live streaming video to keep you updated about what we are doing to address the needs of our community and how we can better follow Jesus in a COVID-19 world.
- Do continue to do the above, we not only need your help by volunteering to resource and use the foodbank to help our community, but also that you continue your faithful giving online or by simply mailing your regular offering to the church building (that staff will continue to use the building until we are told by our state to do otherwise).
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 16: Conspiracy and Imprisonment 1940-1945, 1.