We’ve come through another chapter and another section of Paul’s letter to the Romans, so today I’d like us to briefly review. And afterwards pray together asking God to do His will among us.
To review, we’ll headline the last verse of Romans 12: 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Overcome evil with good – but there are plenty of opinions about what is “good.” To understand what Paulmeans by “good,” let’s for the last time review the train of thought in Romans 12.
Therefore is one of the first words of Romans 12, which means that Paul is forming a conclusion from what he has said before.
So what has he said before? God has been kind to sinners and transgressors – by God the Father sending God the Son into history as a man, Jesus the Christ.
Jesus comes directly from God…just as the first Adam did. In a manner of speaking, He is a second Adam.
The first Adam was the head of a humanity and his actions would affect all who were born into his line. In a way, when Adam sinned every human who sprang from his DNA also sinned in that moment.
So the second Adam stands at the head of another humanity. And what happens to him would also come to be true of those who are in him.
Jesus the second Adam is a prophesied representative, the Christ. Unlike the first Adam, those whom He represents in His actions are not those connected to him biologically; rather they are connected to him in faith.
So Jesus, a second Adam, a Representative Man, is sent by the Creator God. He comes to represent not those who are healthy, or reformed, or righteous, or possess extra potential. The humanity the second Adam represents is composed of sinners and transgressors.
Sinners and transgressors such as we. We think and act in ways that don’t align with our Creator’s purpose. Moreover, the more that we reject and turn away from God, the more confused our thoughts become and the more futile our actions are.
So we feel ourselves steeped in purposelessness. In the process of unbinding ourselves from our Creator we’ve become more and more lost, wrong in our conclusions and approvals and nostalgias.
Jesus, the Christ, who himself was blameless, came to act in behalf of sinners.
The work Jesus Christ does on our behalf is to die for us He dies specifically under the wrath of God, the judicial outpouring of God’s anger upon our sins. The Second Adam, the blameless Christ, shouldered our sins and then took the punishment for them upon Himself, died.
After He died, Jesus, the Second Adam who represents sinners, lay in the tomb. His death means that all whom He represents – all those sinners and transgressors – have also been judged, and died. Yes, at Jesus’ death they are cleansed of every sin they’ll ever commit… and dead.
But the story of the Second Adam doesn’t end in the grave, and thus the story of those whom He represents doesn’t end in death.
God the Father, in the power of God the Spirit, raised out of the dead God the Son, the Christ, the Second Adam. His new life is a post-death, post-judgment on sin, post-sin Life. It is a life with no corruption.
And when the Second Adam is raised, all whom He represents are also raised from the dead. Ok, in that moment they’re not existentially raised – many of them are not even born yet – but the Second Adam’s resurrection means that God has re-claimed all whom Jesus represented. Claimed them from the shadowy grave and, as He gives them eternal life, there’s a message behind it: you belong. In other words, they were justified in the resurrection. They will always live and never die.
God has justified sinners and transgressors through the life and death of the Son whom He sent. He has done this by uniting, enfolding their lives into Jesus’ life and death.
And here’s the thing: when the Spirit of God unites the Son of God to people, this union is profound and forever. The people of God become sons of God, and thus heirs of God, and members of the household of God, through their union with the only begotten Son of God.
And further, what each one united with Christ eventually discovers in this union, is that God has always known him, loved him, intended to save him, waited for him, and skillfully, shrewdly led him to the situation and the moment when God calls him.
Here’s the message from God: I’ve been waiting for you. I’ve been steering you to this place. You’re home now. I sent my only begotten Son to bring you home, and the same Spirit who has always enacted my relationship with my Son now unites us.
Nothing can separate us. For a little while longer you’ll encounter powers of darkness. In this time, you won’t always feel at home, but still feel restless and hungry. The sword of governmental restriction will at different times pass through you. There will be danger and you’ll look around and not see me. You will fail many times.
But nothing can separate us. As much as I love my only begotten Son, I love you. You are at home with me by my Spirit now, and soon you will come into the age and the kingdom that my glory will suffuse. Just as it now sometimes seems impossible to believe God; it will then be impossible not to acknowledge and exalt in the reality of the victory of the triune God. And my victory will be your victory.
All of this God has given to you, with all kinds of warmth. That’s what Paul had said previously.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice
Present yourselves entirely to God. Present your personality, and computer browsing, and grandparenting, and vacation plans, and diet choices, and responding to your kids’ disobedience, and sexual imagination, and driving, and daydreaming, and hopes and dreams, and memories, and nostalgia, and opinions, and conjectures – every part of you. Present every part of you to God.
And when you present yourself to God, it’s not with the idea that: God, you I’m here for you to make my life better or rich or extraordinary – No! your entire self is an offering.
This is all for you. Make of me what you want. Have thine own way, O Lord. I’m giving You all of me, I have nothing more. You’re worthy of my all. Here is my worship.
Ok, now let’s unpack what’s involved in presenting ourselves to God:
Do not be conformed to this world
Did you hear that? While you are intending to offer yourself to God you will discover that there are other pressures on you, taking you away from offering yourself to God. If you are not thoughtful and engaged and deliberate you’ll automatically be squeezed into a mold that is in the world.
Now maybe the part of the world you encounter will offer you a religious mold, or a moral mold, or a successful mold, or a smart mold or a quick-rejoinder mold. But bottom line: a life that isn’t unexamined and careful and deliberately, counterculturally offered to God won’t come up to genuine worship.
Ok, how to keep from being conformed to the world?
Be transformed by the renewal of your mind
Renewal of the mind – changed thinking. There is a reasoning after the flesh, a way of thinking that hasn’t been informed by the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This reasoning can be productive in many ways. But ultimately it leads away from God, it does not please God, it ends in death.
So the person who comes into Christ will have to learn new things. And not just a new set of facts to add on to other facts. There are assumptions that the world has handed to us that will have to be abandoned. We’ll have to allow the truth of Jesus Christ to go before all learning to become our assumptions and behind to set our presuppositions and under to lay the foundations.
Over and over we listen to God and learn to re-think.
Let’s listen to Paul for an example of the type of new thinking he’s referring to:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
How do you think of yourself? Who am I? Think of some of the ways that question is being answered:
- Who do I feel that I am?
- Who do I identify as?
- Who does the government or your parents say I am?
- Who would I like to be?
- What happened to me in my childhood?
- What is my tribe called?
- What is my job?
Who am I?
In an eastern society that question is usually answered in view of your parents and ancestry and your talents and your work ethic and your opportunities. Who am I? Dad, what do you think?
In a western society that question is answered by self. Who am I? Whoever I choose to be.
But here we’re given a new answer to the question – we are in Christ – that is the only way we have life. So we think of ourselves as being a body part within the Body of Christ. Or if you want another way of saying that: we our members of the Church.
Can I beat this dead horse one more time: when many believers think of their Christianity, it’s only in terms of themselves and God. Ok, maybe throw in their family too. Often, perhaps especially in New England, people don’t take their connection to the Body of Christ, the Church, seriously.
To think of themselves in connection to the Body of Christ would place themselves in a pool of mediocre people. It would slow them down. It is less efficient. It isn’t heroic.
However! in response to God bringing us into His home, His future – we present our entire selves to God, which involves thinking counter-culturally, particularly about ourselves, that is, we think ourselves as one among others within the Body of Christ.
But further- when we learn that we’re a body part, in the next second we realize that body parts function, they move, they contribute – not simply to their own health but to the health of the whole body.
A fitting response to the Gospel eventuates in our being workers together. In fact, when God helped us by uniting us to His Son by His Spirit, in that same move He outfitted us with tools, or He gave us gifts, because part of His salvation is making us useful in endeavors that are eternal:
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
So someone who has been united with Christ, whom God the Father has identified with Christ, responds to this lavish grace by helping others who have also been united to Christ. God has outfitted him for this.
And so we serve the Church in all sorts of homely and specific ways. This becomes a key aspect of our worshipful response to the Gospel.
Work among the Church. And because we are finite creatures, bound to times and place, we work among a specific part of the Church. We work among a local congregation.
There is something very humdrum about this. Something that feels the opposite of sensational or even important. But we serve in faith, from a mind that has been renewed to understand that – even though the world is often conforming us to get us to think we’re uniquely awesome and need to do awesome stuff– we are in fact one body part among many.
And so we serve this body. But there’s also a manner of serving. There is a certain character that is called for.
Or if the word “character” is too abstract, the one responding to the Gospel follows certain practices as he works among the Body of Christ:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
And this character that is the sum of a set of habits extends into his life among the world, and the worship of God continues:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 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.” 20 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.”
And here they are restated in concentrated form by a theologian: [Doug Wilson]
Love sincerely. Hate sin. Hold the good. Like each other. Defer to one another. Work hard. Stay zealous. Rejoice. Endure. Pray constantly. Give to others. Open your home. Bless enemies, bless and do not curse. [Sympathize]. Stoop low. Drop your conceits. Don’t retaliate. Live honestly. Keep the peace. Live the Jesus way.
In conclusion, the man and woman in Christ has been brought home to God, his future is with God, he is even now being led by God’s Spirit and will reach the age to come under God’s direction.
And yet now he still lives in a world of death and dark powers and nakedness, peril, and sword. The pull of this world is powerful; the smokes and mirrors it keeps offering up are tricky.
There is an evil afoot: a great pressure on the man and woman in Christ to not present himself wholeheartedly to God, to not think of herself as a member of Christ’s Body, to not use the gifts of God for this Body’s edification, to live unlovingly among this Body; that is, without engagement, without the effort of forethought, with no long game of peace leading to righteousness.
Don’t cave into this evil. Present yourself wholeheartedly to God exactly in the way described here in Romans 12. In other words:
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.