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Called to Be Transformed
Spring Quarter: Discipleship and Mission
Unit 3: Call to Life in Christ
Sunday school lesson for the week of May 26, 2019
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson Scripture: Romans 12:1-8
Key Verse: Romans 12:1
- To commit to a life of sacrificial service to others as an obedient disciple of Jesus Christ.
- To understand the importance of spiritual gifts.
In a number of Paul’s letters, he spent the first part of the epistle addressing basic theological issues that he considered appropriate. He spent the latter part offering practical advice, usually addressing the ethical demands placed on us by the gospel. Thus, having spent the first 11 chapters of Romans seeking to explain his fundamental theological beliefs, Paul now turns in chapter 12 to the application of his theology.
Essentially, the first 11 chapters of Romans are the preamble (“Whereas…”) and chapter 12 begins the resolution (“Therefore…”). Paul’s gospel is deeply theological, but it is also practical. The good news of Jesus Christ is intended to transform a person’s life. And until individual Christians own and live out the theology, the gospel has not accomplished its purpose.
We are informed that in his other New Testament letters, Paul tended to address problems he knew existed in those congregations. He was able to do that because he knew the people involved. However, since he didn’t plant the church in Rome and had never even visited there, he didn’t have the same knowledge about the situation in that church. But, of course, he did know human nature, and he knew from his experiences in other churches what issues were likely to have arisen.
The Transformed Person
Romans 12:1, 2
The first word in verse 1, translated “Therefore” in the NIV and “So” in the CEB, marks a key transition and the last major section in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Paul began this section of his letter by exhorting the Christians in Rome to offer their “bodies as a living sacrifice.” And compliance with the desire that Paul is expressing here should be motivated “in view of God’s mercy” rather than by obligation to obey a command of one in greater authority.
The NIV’s “God’s mercy” conceals the fact that the Greek word for “mercy” is in the plural (“mercies”). Paul is reminding us of the numerous displays of God’s mercy he has touched on in chapters 1-11. Our obedience is the product of what God has done in our lives, not something we can manufacture on our own.
Next, Paul insists that we Christians offer ourselves, our bodies, as a “living sacrifice” to God. The concept of a “living sacrifice” is a contradiction in terms. The very nature of sacrifice requires its death or destruction. But what Paul “appeals” to here is “a living sacrifice,” holy, obedient servants of Jesus Christ. Paul reinforced the same thing Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 16:24-26.
As New Covenant Christians, we no longer offer animal sacrifices; we now offer ourselves as “living sacrifices.” We offer ourselves as people who have been brought from death to life (see Romans 6:13). At this place, Paul wants us to contrast ourselves with the dead animal sacrifices of the Old Testament (John 6:51).
Point! Paul is urging us to offer our lives and our bodies to God, just as Jesus did. He is using the language of the altar to demonstrate costly commitment. This sacrifice is to be “a spiritual act of worship.” And doing this will mean that we are being transformed to Jesus and not conformed to the world around us.
There are three qualities that describe the Christian’s sacrifice. First, it is living. Contrasting with the dead bodies of animal sacrifices, this quality denotes the new life that Christians possess in Christ.
Second, it is holy! God demands sacrifices that are “holy,” that is, apart from worldly matters and dedicated to his service. The Christian belongs to God and is set apart.
Third, it is well-pleasing! Sacrifices offered to God are simply not enough in themselves. Because God created our bodies, we need to bring them under God’s control. If our attitudes and actions are right, we become an offering “pleasing to God.”
Verse 2 is also significant and deep in meaning. With the coming of the Messiah, a new age has broken into the present age, Paul noted. It requires a transformation “by the renewing of your minds;” new behavior, to be sure, but also a new way of thinking.
“What is required,” N.T. Wright says, “is not for people simply to learn to live authentically, without external pressures, but for them to be renewed, so that what proceeds from the transformed mind does indeed reflect the image of God.” This mind, he says, is “able now at least to think for itself what will please God.”
So Paul’s admonition for self-sacrifice resulting in worshipful service is accomplished in two ways. First is the “renewing of your mind.” For Paul, this is a departure from conformity to the world. We are called to be renewed by being “transformed.” The word being translated is the basis for our word “metamorphosis.” It points to a complete, radical change contrasted with the patterns and desires of the world (see 1 Peter 1:14).
Second, this is not wholly of our doing, for Paul does not command us to transform ourselves. We are changed through the work of the Holy Spirit, the great sanctifier and transformer of men and women (2 Corinthians 3:18). As we find sinful ways more repugnant and God’s ways more appealing, we are being transformed.
In Romans 12:1-2, Paul has stated the gospel imperative which is honoring God at all times through a transformed life that is in keeping with his will. Paul begins by reminding us that we live out our transformed existence in community. And there can be no genuine community without a fair and sober estimate of ourselves which is in accord with the Christian faith and with the gifts God has given us.
So Paul begins by reminding his readers that God’s grace calls for our humility. There is no reason to pat ourselves on the back; salvation is God’s work, not ours.
A life of humility begins in the mind (a transformed mind). It starts with how we perceive ourselves. As someone observed, “Humility is not thinking less about ourselves; it’s thinking about ourselves less.”
And certainly, our best example of this is Jesus himself. He was born in a stable, surrounded by domestic animals. The last picture we have of Jesus is as a broken body hanging on a cross. From the beginning to the end of his earthly existence, Jesus displayed nothing else but a life of humble service.
To me, there are three things that will enable Christian humility: a realistic view of the self – our unworthiness; the vision of Christ – the standard of God’s measurement or intention; and the reality of God – the creature in the presence of the Creator.
Paul is saying that we should regard ourselves with “renewed minds” (12:2) that deliver us from the self-centeredness that characterizes some non-Christians. Consequently, we should be able to look at ourselves objectively and realistically.
This happens through “the measure of faith God has given you.” What is this standard? Possibly, it is the Christian faith in general that is the standard of measurement – a standard that is the same for all believers. Thus, Paul is asking us to look carefully to gospel faith and its requirements as we assess ourselves.
N.T. Wright helps us clarify: “The ‘measure’ here … is not a kind of measuring jug containing different amounts of faith, apportioned to different people, but a measuring-rod, the same for all, called ‘faith.’ It is up to each Christian to see where they come against that standard since it is the only one that matters.”
We read in verses 4 and 5, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
Equality in God’s eyes does not mean uniformity in service, however. Paul echoes the language of 1 Corinthians 12, a text that some Christians in Rome may be familiar with. His point in that text is the same here: we have both unity and variety in the body of Christ. We are united “as in Christ we … form one body,” and “each member” is in this one body. Even so, there is variety in “function.”
It has been suggested that the Christian body is a bit like an orchestra. Different instruments play different notes, but all the sounds blend harmoniously into beautiful music. Imagine if the violins refused to play. The symphony would be missing an important melody. Similarly, if one group of believers within the Body of Christ refused to perform its function, the Church would not work right. This is why Paul reminds his readers to think soberly, “As God has dealt to each one a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). Here, Paul is back to humility.
The Christian faith is essentially a corporate experience. Although each member of the body comes to faith by an individual act of commitment (faith), the believing community lives out its Christian experience in fellowship with one another.
In verses 6-8, Paul addresses the difference in functions as “gifts” from God. Given “according to God’s grace,” they are true gifts, not payment or reward for work. Therefore, the nature of each person’s gift is determined by God. The differences are intentional, provided for the body of Christ according to the church’s needs and God’s plans.
Note that the spiritual gifts Paul mentions in Romans 12 are not identical to those we find in 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4:11, though there are some overlaps. Here Paul lists seven gifts: prophecy, service, teaching, encouragement, giving, leading, and extending mercy. Though it’s difficult to know exactly what to make of this, N.T. Wright says that the seven “perhaps [indicates] the completeness of God’s provision for the work of the church.”
However, several categories are missing from this list that are mentioned elsewhere. Apostles are not listed here, nor are tongues, interpretation, healing, or special words of knowledge, as in 1 Corinthians 12. “There is probably not much significance to be drawn from this,” N.T. Wright says, but “possibly this is deliberately general, emphasizing ‘ordinary’ rather than ‘extraordinary’ gifts, because Paul does not actually know what special gifts the Christians in Rome possess.”
Paul’s point is that just as God has given grace to him to do the things God has called him to do, God also gives the church what it needs for its tasks. “We have many parts in one body,” he said, “but the parts don’t all have the same function.”
Paul mentioned seven different gifts and showed how they are to be exercised (1 Peter 4:10):
||The Gift’s Effect
||Communicating the revealed truth that builds up believers
||Practical service to help others
||Spiritual understanding and growth occurs
||Cheerfully supporting the needs of others
||Emotional needs are met
||Things run in an orderly way
||Burdens are borne thoughtfully
As Christians, we should keep in mind that spiritual gifts are all for the unity and benefit of the church. We are not called to prophecy to ourselves, give to ourselves, or show mercy to ourselves. The gifts Paul lists are necessary for the church to be all that Christ intended her to be.
A pastor was passing through a children’s Sunday school class and saw a little plastic church that was used for offerings. As he picked it up to examine it, a little boy in the class earnestly said to him, “Be careful … you have our church in your hands.” And so we do!
- How will you know when you have become a “living sacrifice?” What will you do to be this?
- How can your church energize the members to recognize and use their spiritual gifts? What process can the church use?
- What plan can a church enact to identify and encourage those who have the gift of teaching?
Resources for this lesson:
“2018-2019 Standard Lesson NIV Commentary,” Uniform Series “International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching,” pages 329-336
“The NIV Application Commentary, Romans” by Douglas J. Moo, pages 393-396; 401-404
“Adult Bible Studies, Spring 2019, Discipleship and Mission, Teacher, Uniform Series,” Gary Thompson, pages 118-125
“The Book of Romans, The Smart Guide to the Bible Series,” Gib Martin and Larry Richards, pages 179-185
“Romans, Shepherd’s Notes,” David R. Shepherd, pages 70-73, pages 165-171
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries (halbradyministries.com).