Transformed in a COVID-19 World

Transformed in a COVID-19 World

Romans 12:1-2

Do you know what the number one complaint among millennials is according to Tess Brigham, a millennial therapist?  After more than five years of meeting with patients between the ages of 23 and 38, the reason most of them keep coming back for help is because they said: “I have too many choices and I can’t decide what to do.” The fear that brought them into Brigham’s practice had to do with making the wrong choice.  Brigham has diagnosed this phenomena as “Decision Fatigue.”

My guess is that you have experienced some level of decision fatigue, as I have during certain seasons of life.  Maybe you experienced it while searching for a new job or the stress that comes in deciding what job offer to accept.  Maybe you experienced decision fatigue while shopping for a house.  Maybe you are experiencing decision fatigue right now while trying to figure out what is false, what is true, and what is noble in our world right now.  Maybe you are asking the very real question: What should I do, what can I do, or what must I do right now? 

When the Apostle Paul wrote Romans, he wrote it during a time when the government was corrupt and seemed fragile.  Also, when this epistle was written, there was rampant sexual immorality everywhere, justice was hoped for but rarely experienced, and the life of a human being was not valued much at all.  The only real difference between the world of Paul’s day and the world of our day is the dress: same problems, but different dress.  Romans 12:1-2 is Paul’s antidote for how to live your life and how to know the will of God for your life. 

Live Sacrificially 

Paul begins: “I appeal to you therefore…”. What the apostle is about to say in chapter 12 was written in light of chapters 1-11.  Romans 12 is the antithesis of Romans 1.    What does Romans 1 say?  For starters, it states the following about our world, and what we see reported through the media: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (v. 18).  Paul continues to observe that even though the evidence of God’s existence is all around us, most people continue to ignore him; Paul, in his own words, writes: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools…” (vv. 21-22).  So what did God do, and what is he doing today?  In Romans 1:26, Paul tells us: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.”  That was Paul’s world and it is also our world today.  Listen to how Paul concludes the first chapter regarding the evil, idolatry, and gross immorality of our world: “…they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (v. 32b).

But not you Christian!  You have been called by the living God out of the world.  Even though you were unrighteous, Jesus died for your sins to provide you with his righteousness (Romans 3). When you were an enemy of God, he loved you anyway and sent his Son to die for the purpose of reconciling you (Ch. 5-6).  When you were far off, God called you, predestined you, justified you, and will one day glorify you, and in doing all of that you can know that nothing will ever be able to separate you from his love and faithfulness (Ch. 8-9).  You who were not considered the people of God, are now the people of God; you who were once not beloved by God, are now loved by him; you who were once a child of his wrath, are now sons and daughters of the living God (Ch. 10).

In light of everything Paul wrote in Romans 1-11 that is true of the Christian today, we are to live differently because we are no longer dead, but alive to Christ.  So, in light of the mercy you have experienced by the God who had every right to pour out his wrath upon you, Paul wrote: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God” (12:1).  Worship, since the beginning, involved a sacrifice that was not based on paying God back for his grace and mercy, but served three primary purposes: 

  1. A sin offering. This was a living animal that was required to be without any defects and served as a sacrifice to be offered for the purpose of atoning for the sins of the person sacrificing the animal.  This type of sacrifice ultimately served as a metaphor of the type of sacrifice Jesus would make in our place upon a cross (see Lev. 4; Heb. 9:22).  
  2. A Thank offering. There was also the type of sacrifice that acknowledged the goodness of God in one’s life, which is known in the Old Testament as a Thank Offering.  The Thank Offering could come in all forms, shapes, and sizes (see Psalm 107:21-22).
  3. The Tithe offering.  The third type of sacrifice given in the Old Testament was the tithe offering which served as a way to acknowledge that all a person had was provided by God.  Giving back a portion or “tithe” was and continues to be a way of acknowledging the goodness of God (see Mal. 3:8-10).

To present your body as a living sacrifice is to present yourself to God both as a thank offering, and a tithe offering, as a way of acknowledging his goodness to you and what really belongs to him in the first place.  In addressing the sexual immorality that was present in the Corinthian Church, Paul reminded the Christians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

So what kind of sacrifice are we to present to God?  Our living selves on his altar.  In the Old Testament the sacrifice was to be the best you had to offer, and if offering an animal, it was to be without blemish.  God does not accept second best; he wants the best we have to offer out of the expression of a heart dedicated to him and in love with him.  This is what it means to offer a sacrifice that is holy and acceptable.  Listen to what God told Israel when they took worship of him for granted and thought that he was okay with being second best in their lives:

When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts….  Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.” (Malachi 1:6–10) 

Now, we are assured in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  But, when it comes to offering our living selves to God, what are we really placing upon his altar?  How much of you does God really have and how seriously do you take your own sin?  God requires that we offer ourselves reverently, humbly, and in repentance to him as a living sacrifice.  Listen, God takes your sin seriously and loves you too much to leave you to your sin.  Hebrews 10:30-31 was written to Christians: “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30–31). 

If you want to know how to live in a COVID-19 world, this is the first step to discerning and knowing the will of God for your life.  This, Paul says, “is your spiritual worship.”  Literally, the word “spiritual” is the Greek word for “rational.”  To present your body “as a living sacrifice that is “holy and acceptable to God” is the rational thing to do in an irrational world. 

Live Wisely 

If you are presenting your body as a living sacrifice on the altar of God out of a love for him then you will live in nonconformity with the world of Romans 1.  The closer you draw to God the more like Jesus and less like the world you will become.  Paul’s statement: “Do not be conformed to this world…” is not a suggestion for the Christian, but a command.  How does one resist conformity to the world?  By the “renewal of your mind.”  

Listen, the less that you have your nose in God’s book and the less you allow yourself to be around other Christ-followers who can speak into your life, the more you will look like the world, and the less you will be able to discern what the will of God is for your life.  I read somewhere that Federal agents do not learn to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeit money; they learn by studying genuine money.  There are certain characteristics of genuine money that is almost impossible to mimic with counterfeit money that is obvious to those who are trained in handling the real stuff, that is what exposes the counterfeit stuff.  To know the will of God, you need to listen more to the real stuff and less to the phony stuff.  

If you want to know what the will of God is for your life, you need to be listening to him through his word.  However, it will not do to just listen to his word, you must listen to it and do it.  You need to put into practice what the word of God says.  If God is perfect in every way, then his words are good and perfect to apply to our lives.  The Bible says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25).

If you are not reading the Bible, if you are not regularly gathering with other Christians, and if you are not humbly and repentantly placing yourself as a living sacrifice before God, then not only will you be unable to discern what the will of God is for your life, but you will be like a leaf blown in the wind.  There are different types of wind that can carry you into places that God does not want for you: there are the winds of your feelings, there are the winds of what is politically correct, there are the winds of what society thinks is right or wrong.  If you are not being transformed by the renewal of your mind, you will be carried by every wind that blows the strongest and you will miss out on what is, “good and acceptable, and perfect” that God wants for your life.  

Conclusion

So how do you discern the will of God for your life?  Let me give you four steps in discerning the will of God for your life as a way of avoiding decision fatigue: 

  1. The first question you must ask is if the decision you are facing will cause you to sin or violate the word of God.  If it does, then guess what?  It is not the will of God for your life.  Sinning against God or another person is NEVER the will of God for your life. 
  2. If the decision you need to make does not violate the word of God, then you need to bring that decision(s) you are faced with before God in prayer.  
  3. Seek advice from a godly and older Christian who has a solid track record for following Jesus.  Present the decisions you are facing to that person to get their godly counsel and wisdom.  Also, ask that person to be praying for you.
  4. Finally, after taking the first three steps, move forward in faith and dependence upon God to lead you in the right direction. Trust that he is big enough to prevent you from moving forward by closing and opening opportunities for your future. 

Do you know what happens when you humbly and repentantly place yourself upon the altar of God’s sovereign will for your life out of a devotion to follow him?  You will genuinely desire to know what he wants for your life.  As you seek his will for your life as he has revealed it through His word, do you know what will begin to happen?  You will find yourself loving the things God loves and hating the things God hates.  You will discover that your life will begin to look more and more like Romans 12:9-21.  What does Romans 12:1-2 look like in action?  It looks like this:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:9–21).