We live in an age of change. It seems that every decade, even every year, is labeled pivotal. Almost 25 years ago, two decades before 2000, Peter Drucker wrote in "The New Reality," "If you are just now preparing for the 21st century, you are late. It is here now. We are well into it." Even as the 21st c. begins, we are anticipating the 22nd. Time moves rapidly, more than at any time in history. We can hardly keep up, when we get behind we know not how to catch up.
In this rapidly changing world, human efforts are less and less effective. Many are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of change, the explosion of knowledge. Against a biblical text that claims the transforming power of Christianity, the church must face the question, "Will we be effective change agents, affected changed agents, or unaffected unchanged agents?" The challenge to bring the gospel message to our world is great, but real. Paul saw the same challenge in the first century: 1 Cor. 9. How can we bring the unchanging gospel to a changing world? How can we bring the message of Jesus to our contemporary post-modern world without compromising the message? What direction shall we take?
Our society is largely without direction and without hope. 51% have no philosophy of life; 24% have a non-Christian philosophy, only 24% have a Christian philosophy or worldview. The numbers in some recent surveys are even less.
As we undertake the tremendous task before us, we must first ascertain the Christian undergirdings for our work. Faith is not just a religious proposition, but is the basis of life, adjusting our lifestyles and our purposes. We must integrate this spirit of belief into life. Two tensions come to mind: PRIVATE vs. PUBLIC; VALUES vs. FACTS.
This will require for some an expansion of the basic concepts of Christianity: (1) Lifestyle issues from our sense of being. From our knowledge of who we are, we act; (2) We cannot function without a clear self-definition; (3) We act from the knowledge of who we are more than from our sense of oughtness. To fix our doing, we must teach who we are, recognizing that morality and ethics comes from a sense of self-identity.
STUDYING THE TEXT
Thus our text is significant: Romans 12:1-2. In a pluralistic, individualistic world, secular to the core, three related texts come to mind.
Do not conform, but be transformed. How can we avoid worldliness, partaking of the world. This is more than a moral question. Are you uncomfortable with the world? The bottom line is that the veracity of the Christian story is in the character of Christians.
Alan Redpath: "In many places a mutilated gospel is being preached. It majors on free grace but minors on full obedience....Failure to preach the entire message which includes not only the forgiveness of sins but deliverance from the power of the sin principle has produced a generation of independent Christians who simple have not progressed with God and who do not grow."
God's plan is for our strength (1 Cor. 10:13). We have thought of the task as informing--sharing information, but the biblical task is a transformation, re-formation, Gal. 4:19. David Mason writes about measuring life by having, doing and being. We must learn what we are becoming.
What plan do we have for the conversion of the world? Most do not know, but a few are dreaming a dream and could give response.
What plan do we have for the transformation of the church? Most have no answer at all. Yet for the church to exist in a usable form in our world, we must be formed, re-formed, yea transformed.
This is true because the world disorients us. We must be constantly reminded that our agenda is not from this age but is from God. We must begin with a backward look: Rom. 12:1. Remember. Remember in the present, bringing the past to the present. This is not remember by taking the present to the past. We must get the order right.
We must reestablish the Greek view of time: chronos vs. kairos, Israel vs. the prophets; remade not simply renewed. When we accomplish this, we may be started toward transformation. But how? How can we be transformed? How can we share the Jesus experience, perhaps paralleled in his tranfiguration?
Renew the mind, Rom. 1:28; 7:23,25; 12:2. This is our disposition, orientation, how we direct our mind to a subject, what is our inclination.
There is something finer than to do right against inclination; and that is to have an inclination to do right. There is something nobler than reluctant obedience, and that is joyful obedience. The rank of virtue is not measured by its disagreeableness, but by its sweetness to the heart that loves it. The real test of character is joy. For what you rejoice in, that you love, and what you love, that you are like. (Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Great Stone Face)
This mind we are to renew has several elements.
Lewis Sperry Chafer is credited with the prayer: God, keep me from becoming a dirty old man. Metanoia (repentance) is literally to think beyond. The Bible talks about change, but do we know the word? Repent. Acts 2:38, convert, change.
In the light of Rom. 12:1-2, if we were to become serious about the transforming power of Christianity in individual lives, as well as in the church as a whole, what might we anticipate changing?
At the Cathedral of Milan are 3 gates, with three sayings:
Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 3:18, we are being changed. Electricity to be useful must be converted, transformers and converters are a part of the electricians' language. We too must be transformed and converted to be useful. This is the only other NT occurrence of our word from Rom. 12:2. The picture is from Exodus 32-34.
A few years ago, I found an article entitled "Shaped for Glory."
During the Great Depression, a good man lost his job, exhausted his savings and forfeited his home. His grief was multiplied by the sudden death of his precious wife. The only thing he had left was his faith--and it was weakening.
One day he was combing the neighborhood looking for work. He stopped to watch some men who were doing the stonework on a church building. One of the workers skillfully chiseled a triangular piece of stone. Not seeing a spot where it would fit, the man asked, "Where are you going to put that?" The worker pointed toward the top of the building and said, "See that little opening up near the spire? That's where it goes. I'm shaping it down here so it will fit in up there."
Tears filled the man's eyes as he walked away. The message seemed clear: Shaping it down here so it will fit in up there. He found new meaning in the difficulties before him.
Some of you are going through terrible troublesome times. You may experience heartache and sorrow. You may endure painful physical illness. Or something else--perhaps too excruciating to talk about to anyone. The hammer and chisel hurt.
Hold to faith. These difficulties are temporary. Glory is coming. It is the harsh blows to the outward man that often bring the greatest strength to the inner man. Keep praying, keep believing. The Master has to do some shaping of us down here so we will fit in up there.
This is the transforming power of Christianity. Each of us must ask, Am I genuinely changed?
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