Forum Class for December 7, 2003

 

Living Day by Day (Romans 12)

 

A Summary: Romans So Far (Part II)
(Romans 1-11)

Paul's letter to the "house churches" in First Century Rome contains a very thorough description of the root content of the Christian message--commonly called the "good news," or "glad tidings."

Though the gospel is very good news, very few people will appreciate this announcement of God's favor towards us, unless we learn something about our desperate state. Human beings are lost. We have become enemies of our Creator. He owns the entire universe but we have offended Him greatly. The moral state of our race is a story of decline and ruin all the way. We are neither evolving nor improving. To say, as the Bible does, that men everywhere are "totally depraved" includes all classes of men, from every walk in life, from every nation, every religion.

"For we have already charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: 'There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.' 'Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit'; 'The poison of asps is under their lips'; 'Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.'' ''Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.' 'There is no fear of God before their eyes.' Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." (3:9-19)

No human efforts can earn us any standing or "credit" before God. Good deeds can not out weigh our bad deeds, because as far as God is concerned, we are incapable of good deeds. (What we might call "good" does not necessarily match God's much higher values). Furthermore, God is holy by nature. He can not tolerate even the slightest spot or blemish. He is Just and so can not ignore human evil. Eventually God must act justly towards all men. (Because His justice is long-delayed many people wrongly suppose He is uninvolved in human affairs. The exact opposite is true).

Death is in the world because of the sin of Adam. All men are sinners, and all men die. Unless God Himself had provided a solution for our sins all human beings would remain lost and eventually be cut off from life and from God forever.

Though we human beings are "rotten to the core" we all do carry the image of God. Each of us actually has great worth in the eyes of God. God is also Love. Though He must be just, He has, in mercy, been willing to go to extreme lengths to save people from themselves and restore them to the life He designed for us in the beginning.

Counseling together, the Three Persons of the Godhead have provided a way of acquittal for us so we can escape God's court room of just condemnation. An innocent fully qualified man--God's Son Jesus--voluntarily agreed to be punished in the place of every sinner. The finite human mind can not begin to grasp the magnitude of the sufferings the innocent Jesus endured on our behalf. By the death of Christ and His subsequent resurrection, divine justice was fully satisfied once and for all. God is therefore now free to forgive sinners and restore them to real, and everlasting life.

Nevertheless God can not grant a general amnesty to mankind and allow all men everywhere to go free. That would involve a violation of human free will. God is free to offer forgiveness to all men. But everyone must choose to accept this free gift from the hand of God.

Love always requires the consent of two persons. If one person offers to love the other, and wishes to form a lasting relationship, but the second party declines the offer, or is unwilling to respond, then a loving relationship between the two parties can not occur.

Those who remain lost do so because they chose to refuse to be loved by God.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:16-19)

God's offer to us is made effectual in our lives by "faith." But faith--as the Bible uses the word--means to believe what God has declared to be true, and then to act upon that belief. Central to the gospel is the Person of Jesus because He alone is the Mediator between God and man--our defense attorney.

Using the example of Abraham and David, Paul shows that salvation is by faith alone, apart from the Law and apart from works. God has always saved people on this same basis, therefore all believers in any age must have the same kind of faith as Abraham had. Basically, Abraham enjoyed a personal relationship with Jesus as are now invited to do. That is, no one can have a relationship with God unless they have accessed God through His Son Jesus.

"Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

(We have seen that the various religions in the world are man's vain attempts to remake God into someone other than who He really is--one must come to God through Christ or be left out altogether).

In order to save human beings without destroying us, God merges us "into Christ" when we place our faith in Jesus. When we "believe" our sins are credited (imputed) to the account of Jesus, and the righteousness of God is credited to us. Having been "immersed" (baptized) into Christ, each of us is then personally identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. In Christ, and at the cross, our old Adamic self is crucified with Christ so that when Christ was raised from the dead we are raised with him "to walk in newness of life." (Our full realization of what has actually transpired when we were spiritually regenerated takes a life time to grasp).

Paul explains at length how radically new and different our life in Christ is compared to our old life in Adam. Though salvation can be thought of as a package deal, each of us must work all this out in daily life. Considerable struggle is involved, including suffering, hardship and sometimes physical death. (Non-Christians have no real struggle with evil--they are "dead in trespasses in sins.") However a true Christian can not ever be separated from Christ and is eternally safe ("secure") from the moment he or she first truly believes.

The Christian life can not be lived by anyone other than Jesus. Paul explains that we are slaves either of sin or of Jesus--there is no third option. We do not have built-in power to avoid doing wrong, nor any inherent ability to live righteous lives as Christians. Our true humanity, and how we were designed to operate after we become Christians, takes getting used to. The Christian has been called "the exchanged life."

"For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Galatians 2:19-21)

Since men do not want to know God and do not seek Him on their own, God must seek us out one by one. We learn in Romans that God in His sovereignty has elected some to be saved, but He has also passed over many others. From the human point of view God will save anyone who is willing to be saved. His bountiful grace can save the most wretched members of our fallen race. Therefore we can plead with people everywhere to be reconciled to God. God does not tell us who the elect are, so we are to treat even the most evil of men as candidates for salvation. As we come to see the depths of our own sin, it becomes more difficult for us to look down on others--no matter how bad their lifestyles may be.

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:14-21)

The history of Israel is presented to us in Romans as a case study of God's calling of a group of people for His own purposes. God equipped and taught a whole people (the nation Israel)--to represent who He is. Israel is God's Exhibit A on the world stage. But, only a small number of Israelites down through Israel's long history have accepted the great opportunity to be true children of Abraham. Today most Jews are secular or assimilated. Religious Jews seek God through the Law, which, as we have seen, does not work. . God, however always keeps His covenants and his promises even in spite of the unbelief of many. (Similarly, we should not be surprised to find that the church consists of a large number of professing Christians, but only a small inner core of those who truly believe. Jesus said, "When the Son of man returns will He find faith on the earth?" Evidently not!)

In the end God will save the nation Israel (but not every individual Jew--as we have seen). God can not fail to keep his promises and His commitments. That would also be contrary to His nature. God's original intention that Israel should be His model people will be finally realized--on earth and in human history. God will fully honor the promises he made to the Patriarchs. Therefore, in the next age, after World War III, Jerusalem will become the capital city of the planet. King Jesus will rule the nations with a rod of iron from Jerusalem, sitting on the throne of His father David. God will accomplish this by grace alone, exactly the same means He has always employed in saving gentiles down through the centuries.

God's program for nation of Israel will be completed quite apart from the calling out of a second group of believers--the true church of Jesus Christ. We gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah Jesus, are linked through Jesus to believing Israel and thence back to Abraham, and Abraham's faith. Or in Paul's words, Gentle believers in the church are "wild olive branches grafted into the true olive tree".

Romans shows us that accurate knowledge of God is very important. A vague general belief in "a god" or "any-old-faith" will not do! Content is all-important in the Christian message. The standards of God are absolute--God is Who He is in spite of human unbelief. Either we get with His program or we will remain lost and without hope. Therefore the gospel message must be presented to every generation in the clearest possible terms without compromise. Furthermore every Christian must study and learn and understand at least the key aspects of what a relationship with God is all about. Ignorance of God will not get us of the hook. God can only use us effectively when we are well-informed about His nature and His ways among men.

The Book of Romans is therefore one of the most important books in all the Bible, especially and a sound foundation for authentic Christianity.


Notes from Ray Stedman's sermons, Romans Chapter 12:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- which is your spiritual worship. [Literally, "which is your logical service, that which makes sense."] Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-3 NIV)

These are familiar words. I know you have read them many times. I like the way the Jerusalem Bible translates the first sentence:

Think of God's mercies, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy -- by offering him your living bodies. (Rom. 12:1 Jerusalem Bible)

Paulsays God is interested in you bringing your body and making it available to him. When he says to "present your bodies," he uses what the Greeks call the aorist tense. That means it is something you do once for all; it is not something you do over and over again. You do it once, and then you set the rest of your life on that basis. So there comes a time when God wants you to bring your bodies to him. It amazes me that God would ever want our bodies. Why does he want my body? I can hardly stand it myself, at times! But God says, "Bring your body." Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Paul has been talking about the body all the way through this section of Romans. In fact, he tells us the body is the seat of what he calls "the flesh," that antagonistic nature within us that does not like what God likes and does not want to do what God wants. We all have it, and somehow it is located in or connected with the body. Our body is the source of temptation. It is what grows weak and wobbly. That God would want this is amazing! And yet he does.

Some of us, I know, feel like saying, "Lord, surely you don't want this body! Let me tell you something about it! It's got B.O. It snores. It has a bad heart, Lord. It has a dirty mind. You don't want this body. I have trouble with this body. It is always tripping me up. My spirit is great, and I worship you with my soul -- but the body, Lord, that's what gets me down!" But the Lord says, "Bring your body. Let me tell you something about it. I know all about it. I know more about it than you do. I know all the things you tell me about it plus some things you haven't learned yet. Let me tell you something. By means of the blood of Jesus, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, I have made it (what does Paul say?) holy and pleasing to God."

That is the beautiful appeal of this verse. It is not telling us we have to get all cleaned up and get our lives straightened out in every way and become perfect before we can offer ourselves to God. Paul's word is, "I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices. Bring your bodies (that is what it says in the Greek word -- your bodies, not yourselves) as a living sacrifice unto God." Bring it, with all its problems, with all the difficulty you have with it, with all the temptations and all -- bring it just the way it is! I don't know how that affects you, but that encourages me greatly. All the other religions that I know of in the world tell us that somehow we have to straighten out our lives first, and then offer them to God. God never talks that way. He says, "You come to me just the way you are. I am the answer to your problems; therefore, you must start with me. You can't handle those problems yourself. Don't start with thinking you have to get them straightened out. Come to me, because I have the answers for your problems."

Furthermore, Paul tells us, this is the only thing that makes sense. "This is your logical worship." This is the way you worship God. I hear a lot of people talking about worship these days. When you come to a church, you come to worship corporately, together. But worship doesn't start or end in church. You are worshipping or you are not worshipping all week long, depending on what you do with your body. Is it his? Is it his to use right where you are -- at your work, in your home, with your family? Worship is allowing God to use your body and to be the dynamic that works through that body in every situation. God says that is your logical worship. That is the only thing that makes sense.

God says if you use the body that you have, you will misuse it, abuse it. You will use it for things the body was never intended to be used for. Or you will use it in such a way that it will be destroyed or hurt. We know this is true. But if you give your body to God, he says he will use it rightly. You will either ruin it, if you use it yourself, or you will spend so much time preserving it, painting it, pouring lotions on it, exposing it to the sun, and all the other things we do, that you will never get around to using it for what God has intended it. "So bring it to me," God says, "and I will use it wherever you go, and I will use it in such a way as to bring peace and to give joy and to heal hurt and show love and healing and grace wherever you are. I will bless the world through your body."

Therefore, the only logical, sensible thing to do with your body is to bring it to the Lord and say, "Lord, here it is, just as it is, without any attempt to improve it or make it better. Take me, Lord, and begin to use me." Well, that sounds like a great deal, doesn't it? You say, "Okay, Lord, but how do I do this? How does it work?" The Lord says, "Well, you bring your body, and then there are two things I want you to do after that. Once you bring your body to me, I will take it." But then there are two things that you need to keep doing: First, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world." Second, "But be transformed by the renewing of you mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." These two commands are both in the present tense. That means they are things that you keep on doing. You bring your body once -- you give it to God and you base the rest of your life on that commitment -- then you go out and do these two things every day:

First, "Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world." Literally, this means "the schemes of this world," the schemes that men come up with, by which they regulate and run their lives. The word of the Lord is, "Stop being conformed to that." "Oh," you say, "I know what that means. I know exactly what you are talking about. That means you should not smoke or drink or play cards or, if you are really, really spiritual, you sell your television set and never drink coffee or tea again." You say that is being spiritual and not being conformed to the world.

There are a lot of Christians who have thought that. I grew up thinking that if you stopped all these things that the world does you were being spiritual. And there was always a particular list of forbidden activities. A lot of other things the world did were not on the list, but the things mentioned above were always on it. And if you stopped doing those things you were not being conformed to the world. I had to learn, through rather painful experience, that has nothing do with spirituality at all. Those things are neither good nor bad in themselves. I know people who have given up all of them, and yet they are still saturated by the spirit of the age. That is what this word really means. It doesn't mean "be not conformed to this world," it means "be not conformed to the pattern of this age, the spirit of the age, the philosophy of thought and of life that surrounds us on every side." God says, "Don't give way to the schemes of men, the schemes by which they live their lives."

The spirit of the age, you see, is always the same. It never changes from generation to generation. The basis of it is clearly the advancement of self. Everybody in the world lives to advance himself. Just listen, and you will see how true that is. You hear them talk about it. "What do I get out of this? What is in it for me?" That is the spirit of the age. "What's my angle; how can I work this for my benefit? Unless there is something in it for me, I'm not interested!" That is the spirit of the age. What the Word is saying to us is "Don't be stuck in that kind of thinking, because that is what is wrecking life among men. That is what brings the heartache and ruin and disaster into our lives. Don't live on that basis anymore. Don't get sucked into that kind of thinking; it's wrong! It is an approach to life that is twisted and distorted, and it won't work. Don't be trapped by it."

What is the spirit of this age? [zeitgeist] We all know what it is. It is my personal happiness. If the advancement of self is the basis for all life, then the goal of all life is my happiness. You hear that on every side. Unfortunately, it has infiltrated the church as well. Christians talk this way just as much as anybody else. They say, "The reason why I am working and living is so I can have my needs met, my desires fulfilled." I hear people talking about church this way. "Why do you go to church?" they are asked. "Because it meets my needs." Or you will hear them say, "I'm thinking of leaving this church and going to another one." If you ask them why, they'll say, "Because this one doesn't meet my needs." As though the only reason for ever going to church is to have your needs met! That is the thinking of the world; that is the spirit of the age. And to be conformed to that way of thinking is to be conformed to the world, regardless of whether you drink or smoke or chew or play cards.

Then there are the methods of the world. You only have to look around to see what those are. They are rivalry and competition, getting ahead of the other guy, getting there first, grabbing what's mine before someone else gets it, hanging onto everything I've got no matter what it costs in terms of hurt or pain to someone else. That is the method of this age, isn't it? That is very clear.

The apostle is saying, "Be not conformed to this world. Do not conform any longer. Don't let the world around you pressure you into thinking that way any longer." No doubt every one of us realizes how much pressure we are subjected to. The pressure to conform pervades all of society. Even in the church itself people talk this way, think this way, live this way. All around us is a whole climate of life that is saying, "Conform!" It is pressuring us, squeezing us, insisting we conform, making it costly to us if we don't. That is what Paul is talking about by not being conformed to this world -- not going along with its pattern of thinking, not being willing to go in for all that it goes in for in its pursuit of pleasure and happiness. "That's tough," you say. You bet it's tough! If you do that day after day it gets very hard, because you are under constant pressure -- and it gets to you after a while. "Everybody is thinking this way, everybody wants to do that, nobody understands you -- so why don't you give in?"

There is only one answer to that question. In order to stand up against that kind of pressure you need what Paul talks about next: "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." There is no way that you can keep from being conformed to the world unless you are being transformed by the renewing of your mind. Something has to happen to your thinking. You can't go on thinking the way the world around you thinks and still not give in and be conformed to what it does. What we need is a change of thinking. That comes day by day by being renewed again and again and again. You need a mind that will see through all these silly schemes of the world. There is that kind of a mind. In the Scriptures it is called "the mind of Christ," (1 Cor. 2:16). The mind of Christ is the way of looking at life as Jesus does, seeing life as he sees it. It is seeing what is really there and not what seems to be there, seeing what really is important, not what looks to be important. You can't have that mind unless you are having your mind renewed every day.

The mind of Christ, of course, looks at the world and does not say that the basis of life is the advancement of self. When it looks at the world it says that the basis for living, the reason for life, is to serve God and to advance his will. Not your will, but his will be done; not the building of your kingdom and your empire, but the advancement of his kingdom. This is the basis for life. This is really what human beings are here for. And to maintain that kind of thinking in the midst of the world takes a renewed mind.

I was talking with a young businessman this past week. He told me that he sat down a few months ago and made a list of all the reasons why he is working at his company -- the advantages it gave him, the salary, the prestige and status, the opportunity to rub shoulders with men in his profession who could help him, the opportunity to be involved in work in which he found intense pleasure and delight. Then, when he finished the list, he looked at it and said to himself, "That's just the human list -- the things that just anybody would put down. I'm a Christian. I ought to have other reasons than these for being here." So he took another piece of paper and sat down and began to list all the reasons why God wanted him there. He began to see things that he hadn't seen before. He saw that God had him there because the fellow at the desk next to his needed help. He had an opportunity to bring a witness to that whole organization that wouldn't be there otherwise. He had occasions to help people with their problems and give them Christian insights to help solve their personal and emotional problems. He began to list all the reasons why God had him there. When he finished, he began to realize that these were the reasons why he was in that job. How much money he made and his advancement were really very trivial; the enduring thing, the thing that would last forever, was not what he got out of it, but what God got out of it.

That is what this passage is talking about -- renewing your mind so that you see life the way God sees it. The mind of Christ sees that the goal of living is not to please yourself but to please God. And the way you please God is to depend on him, to expect him to work through you, where you are; to expect that he has the power and the wisdom and the strength to somehow, in the situation in which you find yourself, do things in ways that you can't anticipate or even dream of. God is pleased when people venture out in faith

Christians are not sent into the world to build their own little nests, to feather them up and keep them nice and comfortable, and to try to get by without being polluted by the things around them. That is what we often think, and that is what we often hear, but that is not what it is all about. We are sent into the world "like sheep in the midst of wolves," Jesus said (Matt. 10:16). We are exposed to danger and pressure and trouble and battle all the time. The only thing that will keep us from succumbing to all this subversive propaganda to which we are constantly exposed is that we constantly have our minds renewed by the Word of God.

How do you get your mind renewed? Well, it happens at church, to name one place. This is why we have the exposition of the Scriptures on Sunday morning when we come together and hear once again what the truth is -- not what everyone around is telling us is true. That philosophy is wrecking everybody else's lives, but here you learn what the truth is, what really helps and heals and works. Your mind is renewed in your personal Bible study, when you sit down with the Word of God. When you are confused and don't know where you are, you renew your mind by reading through a passage and thinking it through and letting the Word speak to your heart. Then you go back to your routine and determine that your life will be in line with the Word of God. The rest of the book of Romans is designed to tell you how to have your mind renewed so you won't be conformed to the spirit of the age. This is where we learn that the methods of the Christian are not rivalry and competition, but obedience to the Word of God and a heart that expects God to operate. Then life becomes exciting. God wants your life at work and at home to be exciting, with this constant battle around you, so that you might understand how to live and overcome and conquer in the name of Jesus.

I don't know what you are going to be doing this week, but I know that living a Christian life isn't something that is done only in church. It is done wherever you are. It starts with a change in your thinking. You don't let yourself think like other people around you think. That can only come as you are exposed to the truth as it is in Jesus. Now, what are you going to do with your life? Are you going to wrap it up in a napkin of affluence and bury it in forty years of self-indulgence? Well, that would be the dullest experience you could have. When you get before the throne of God, all you will find out is that you have wasted all those years. Oh, you will be there, if you know the Lord, but you will find you have wasted your life, and it will be worth nothing before his throne. And you will have lived the dullest kind of existence.

But if you are willing to bring your body to God and say, "Lord, here it is. I have trouble with it, and I'm sure you will too, but here it is. You wanted it. I give it to you for the rest of my life, to be your instrument for whatever you want." God says, "All right, I'll take it." If you then, on that basis, begin to recognize the systematic brainwashing of the world and refuse it, and constantly renew your thinking in the truth as it is found in Jesus and the Word of God, then I will tell you something: You are going to have an exciting life, beyond what you ever dreamed. It will never be dull. It will be awfully hard sometimes, but never dull, never boring. What are you going to do with your life? Give yourself to God, if that is what you want. He doesn't make anybody do this. That is why Paul puts it in these terms: "I beseech you, brothers, I beg you. It is the logical outcome of your life, the only thing that makes sense." But will you give yourself to him, so you can never forget that you did it right here and right now? Every time you come back to this spot you will think about it. "This is where I gave myself to God. This is where I said he had a right to use me. He can use my body and all that I am for the rest of my life."

The place to start is with yourself. That is always where God starts. He never wants to change others until he has changed you. Jesus said, "First remove the beam that is in your own eye, then you will see clearly how to help your brother remove the little sliver that is in his eye," (Matt. 7:3-5, Luke 6:41-42). The order of this is so important! Start with yourself first. In Romans 12, Verses 3-8, there are two things the apostle tells us about our thinking of ourselves: First, what to think about who we are; and then, what to think about the gifts God has given us. Let's begin with the word about our view of ourselves, Verse 3:

For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Rom 12:3 NIV)

Paul is saying, first, to think about yourself. Many people get the idea that the Christian life consists of never thinking about yourself. Because we know that ultimately we are to reach out to others, we think that there is never any place for thinking about ourselves. That is wrong. It is true that some Christians have abused this to such a degree that all they think about is themselves. I know Christians like this who are forever going around taking their spiritual temperature, feeling their spiritual pulse, and worrying about their spiritual condition.

The Scriptures tell you to examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith or not, "to see whether Christ be in you," as Paul writes to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:5). It is wrong to think continually of nothing but yourself, but it is quite right to take time, occasionally, to evaluate yourself and where you are in your Christian life and experience. The apostle says so. In fact, he exhorts us with his apostolic authority to do so. "For by the grace given to me," i.e., the gift of apostleship, on the basis of that office he exhorts every one of us to take time to think through where we are and what is going on in our lives. Every one of you is to think about yourself.

Now, Paul stresses that you have to do this in a way that avoids overrating yourself. "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought." I am sure he puts this first because this is such a natural tendency with us. But feelings can change and fluctuate a thousand times a minute. They are dependent upon so many factors over which we have no control, such as whether our glands are working properly, or whether the sun is shining, or whether we ate too much at a previous meal, or whether we got enough sleep the night before -- all these factors affect our feelings. Therefore the most foolish thing in the world is to judge yourself on the basis of how you feel at any given moment.

Now, feelings are important, and I don't mean to rule them out entirely. Sometimes people get the idea that feelings are all wrong. No, feelings aren't wrong; they are just not what you base your evaluation of yourself on. This is what the Scriptures tell us in many places. Well then, on what basis should you evaluate yourself? The answer, of course, is how God sees you. That is reality -- what God says you are. That is the realistic way to think about yourself. It is a two-fold evaluation, as the apostle makes clear in this verse: First of all, he says, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment." So, first, think soberly about yourself. What does that mean? What will sober you? Well, surely that refers to the teaching of the Scriptures on the Fall. We are all fallen creatures. We all have within us this Adamic nature which is not to be trusted at all. And as long as we are in the flesh, in the body, we are going to have this nature. Therefore, the first thing to remember about yourself is that there is something you have to watch. There will be something within you that you can't quite trust. There will be thoughts and attitudes and temptations in your life which are distorted and wrong. And they will always be there. Therefore, first of all, think soberly about yourself. But then, second, think with "the measure of faith that God has given you." That is, look back over all God has told you about what has happened since you have come to Christ. The degree to which you accept what God has said about you will give you confidence and courage and ability to function as a human being any day, or at any given task. You have that courage and ability according to how much you believe what God has said.

And what has God said about you? Look back over all the tremendous truth given in the first eight chapters of Romans: We are no longer in Adam, in our spirit, but are now tied to Christ. He lives with us, his power is available to us. The Holy Spirit has come to enable us to say "No" to all the evil forces and temptations that we come up against, so that sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the Law but under grace. That is the way to think about yourself. Remember that you are always going to have to be on guard because of the evil of the flesh within you, but you can always win because of the grace of God and the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit which you have.

When I get up in the morning I try to remind myself of three things: First, I am made in the image of God. I am not an animal and I don't have to behave like an animal, because I have an ability within me, given by God himself, to react and relate to God. Therefore I can behave as a man and not as a beast. Second, I am filled with the Spirit of God. The most amazing thing has happened! Though I didn't deserve it in the least degree, I have the power of God at work within me. I have become, in some sense, the bearer of God, and God himself is willing to be at work in me in terms of the little problems and the little pressures that I am going to go through this day. And third, I remind myself that I am part of the plan of God, that God is working out all things to a great and final purpose in the earth and I am part of it. What I do today has purpose and significance and meaning. It is not just a meaningless thing that I am going to go through. Even the smallest incident, the most apparently insignificant word or relationship, is involved in that great plan. Therefore it has meaning and purpose.

I don't know what that does for you, but it gives me confidence without conceit. You see, I have a sense of being able to cope, of being able to handle life. And yet I know that I don't deserve this gift of worth and grace, and yet I have it. Therefore I can't be conceited about it, but I can be confident in it. I don't know anything else that can set you on your feet like that. If you succumb to the thinking of the world around you, you will end up either as bigheaded and as boastful and as loudmouthed as Mohammed Ali, or you will end up certain that you can't do anything and as unwilling to attempt anything, as meek and fearful and timid as a mouse. But God has provided a way that we can face life daily with confidence, and yet without a vestige of conceit, because we know that it doesn't come from us. Now Paul moves to our life in the church and he takes up the subject of the gifts that God has given. Not only are you who you are because of the work of Christ, but you have what you have because of his work too. Here the apostle says, in Verse 4,

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. (Rom. 12:4-5 NIV)

That is a beautiful picture of the church. I don't know what you think about the church. Most of us have grown up with various backgrounds and experiences in churches, and I am sure all of us have a mental picture of what the church ought to be. But here is where we need our thinking changed. We need to be renewed in our mind. God has told us that his church is like a human body. If you want a good course in ecclesiology, just stand in front of your mirror some morning without your clothes on and examine your body. That is what the church is like. The first thing that will impress you is that there is only one body there, not two. There is only one church in all the world. All Christians belong to it, and it doesn't make any difference whether they have a denominational label or not. If they have been born of the Spirit of God, they are members of that church, and there is only one church. Therefore, wherever the members meet one another, they already belong to each other. Whether you have your name on a church roll somewhere is of no significance whatsoever. There is only one church, one body, yet there are many members.

The second thing that will strike you as you look at your own body is that it has members. It isn't just a trunk, but it has arms and legs and feet and toes and fingers and eyes and ears and a number of other interesting protuberances. And they are all for a purpose. They are part of a body, they belong to the body. And so the church of Christ has many members, and they are different. That is what I like about the church -- the diversity of it. And yet that is so contrary to the spirit of the age. In this age in which we live, the spirit of the world around us is one of uniformity. Everybody is pressured to look and act and talk and think alike. You join a club and you have to dress like they dress, drive the same general class of car, etc. You join another club and you have to change your way of speaking. This is the Christian life. I don't know why it is that we have this mentality that we have to Xerox everything. Even in the church, people want to turn out Christians like so many sausages -- all alike. No matter where you cut them they are still bologna.

But that is not God's idea of the church. His idea is to have diversity within the church. There are many members, and they are not to be alike. That is the joy of it. They don't come from the same class or the same race or the same color, and they don't even have the same gifts. They have many gifts. A true church is one where people are beginning to recognize that diversity more and more and rejoice in it. They let people be different and don't try to grind them all out alike. I have been with Christian groups in which you could discern who the members were by the fact that they all carried the same Bible under their arms -- the same version and even the same color. Sometimes they even would have identical notebooks.

That isn't the way God runs his church. Each member is to be different, with a blessed diversity. And yet, Paul says, though these members do not all have the same function, each one belongs to all the others. That is unique. No other organization in the world can say that about itself. In all other organizations the members are individually there for what each can get out of it. But in the church of Jesus Christ, we belong to one another. We share with one another. Paul says we are to have the same care, one for another. Isn't this remarkable! How terrible it would be if all Christians were exactly the sameThat is why you are to get along with other Christians -- not because you like them, necessarily, or that they are very nice, but just because you belong to each other. They are your brothers and sisters. And when they hurt, you will hurt, whether you know it or not. And when they are honored, you will be honored, whether you know it or not. A number of years ago I fell and injured my wrist rather severely. It swelled up and got very painful. And the rest of my body felt so bad about it that it sat up all night to keep it company. That is what the body of Christ is to do when one member is hurt. We are tied to one another, and when one hurts, all hurt. Not only is that true, but Paul goes on to point out that we have gifts that determine our function within the body; Verse 6:

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Rom. 12:6-8 NIV)

That is only a partial list of gifts. There are many others that are mentioned in First Corinthians 12 and First Peter 4 and Ephesians 4. You have to put them all together to get the total list of gifts that are available to us. But the point the apostle makes is this: God has given gifts. Paul calls them graces, and we have different gifts, according to the specific gift of grace that is given to us. I like that term for gifts because it indicates something about them. Graces are graceful. Something graceful is a delight to watch in action. This is true about a spiritual gift. It is an ability God has given you because he wants you function along this line. It enables you to do this thing so naturally and smoothly and beautifully that others will take note of it, and ask you to do it, and enjoy watching you do it. And you will enjoy it too.

A spiritual gift is a fulfilling thing when you are using it. You enjoy doing it, and that is why it is called a grace that is given to you. It is not a hard, painful thing to do; it is something you delight in doing. And you can improve in it as you do it. Therefore it is one of the things that will make life interesting and fulfilling for you. Imagine how hurt you parents would be if you gave gifts to your children, wrapped them all up in beautiful packages and put them under the Christmas tree, and then handed them out to your children and the child just took it and laid it aside. What if he said, "Thank you," and never bothered to open it, never made any effort to find out what was in it.

Can you imagine how the Lord must feel when he has given gifts to us that he intends us to use and we never take the trouble to find out what they are, and never put them to work, and excuse ourselves by saying that we can't do anything. But the Word of God tells us there is not a single Christian who is left out in this matter of the distribution of gifts. It is clear from this account that the gifts Paul lists here are intended to be used. That is what Paul stresses here. The first gift mentioned is prophesying. In First Corinthians 12 and 14 Paul tells us this is one of the best gifts of all. This is the gift you ought to covet earnestly to be manifest in your midst, because basically it is the gift of expounding Scripture, making Scripture come alive. It comes from a root word in Greek that means "to cause to shine," and it refers to the ability to take the Word of God and make it shine. Everybody sees what to do, and where to go, and how to act, and function. Peter says, "We have a more sure word of prophecy that shines as a light in a dark place," (2 Peter 1:19 KJV). John Calvin describes prophecy as "the peculiar gift of explaining revelation." Paul says if you have the gift -- and it is not just for people who go to seminary; there may be many in a congregation who will have the gift of prophesying -- then use it. But use it according to the proportion of your faith. That is, stay with what you know. Don't try to get into areas that you don't yet understand. That will come later as you grow in the use of your gift.

Start where you do understand Scripture, make it clear to people, explain it. That is the gift of prophesying. There are some who have the gift of serving. This is a very beautiful and common gift. Many people have it. I think it is the same gift which is called "the gift of helps" in First Corinthians 12 (1 Cor. 12:28 KJV). It is the word from which we get our word deacon. It is to deaconize, i.e., to serve as an usher, to do banking on behalf of the church, or caring for widows, serving on committees -- whatever. But it is the ability to so help people with such a cheerful spirit that they are blessed by it.

You know people like that. You are thinking of some right now who have the gift of helps. You just love to have them around because they are so eager to serve and they do it so willingly and cheerfully that everybody is helped and blessed by it. What a tremendous gift that is! The church runs by those who have this gift. Many of you have it, so put it to work. "If [a person's gift] is serving, let him serve." "If [his gift] is teaching, let him teach." Teaching is the ability to impart knowledge and information, to instruct the mind. You see, prophesying goes much deeper. It instructs the heart and moves the will. But teaching instructs the mind, and is the basis for much else that comes in the Scriptures in terms of gifts. Therefore the gift of teaching is a great gift, and widely established in the body. I suspect that at least 30% or more of any Christian group would have the gift of teaching. If you have it, don't wait for somebody to ask you to teach. The church didn't give you these gifts. The pastor didn't give you these gifts. God gave them to you -- you put them to work.

Don't wait for somebody to come around and invite you to exercise your gift. That may happen, and be glad if it does, but you still have the responsibility to use the gift God has given you, whether anybody asks you to or not. You find the occasion. Find somebody who doesn't know as much as you know and teach them, if you have the gift of teaching. Then there is the gift of encouragement. That was the gift that Barnabas had. He was called "the son of encouragement," which is what Barnabas means. His name was Joseph, but no one called him Joe; they called him Barney. In the stories of Barnabas in the Scriptures he is always found with his arm around somebody's shoulder, encouraging him, comforting him, urging him on. This is a marvelous gift in the church. If you have the gift of encouragement, start anywhere and use it. God gave it to you, therefore use that gift. Then there is the gift of giving, contributing. Did you know that is a gift? That means God will give you something to give, and then he will give you a desire to give it. If you have that gift, use it!

The more you use it, the more you will have to give. It is part of the way you function in the body of Christ, and many can use that gift. Paul says, "Let him give generously." That is not quite an accurate translation. What Paul is really saying is, "Let him give with simplicity." It means without ostentation, without calling people's attention to it. I heard of a man who stood up in a meeting and said, "I want to give $100 anonymously." You can't give that way if you have the gift of giving; you give with simplicity, without making a big deal out of it. Just give the gift as unto God and delight in the opportunity to be used by the hand of God. Then the gift of leadership is mentioned. That specifically is a word that means "leading meetings." It comes from a root which means "to stand up before others." If you have that gift, there are all kinds of meetings waiting to be led. But when you use it, Paul says, do it with diligence. That is, don't wing it. Do it thoughtfully, think it through in advance. Make yourself ready for it, and use the meeting to its fullest purpose. The gift of leadership is a great gift. Then, finally, Paul mentions the gift of showing mercy. I just delight in some of the people of this church who have the gift of showing mercy. I watch them in the congregation at times.

There is a young girl who comes and brings retarded children, sits with them in her lap, and interprets the service to them. There is another young girl who brings a dear old lady who is partially crippled and nearly blind. She brings her almost every Sunday and ministers to her. Mercy, you see, is helping those who are undeserving or neglected by others. The gift of showing mercy is a marvelous gift within the church, and many have it. If you have it, don't wait for somebody to show you what to do -- start doing it. Sometimes great and marvelous organizations have grown up out of a single person beginning to exercise his gift. This ministry for retarded children, called Green Pastures, has grown up out the exercise of the gift of mercy by a single individual. There is another ministry that is just starting to take off that is reaching out to the vast crowd of homosexuals in this area. It was organized by someone who had a vision, a gift of showing mercy. They had an understanding of the homosexual's need and a desire to help. These people are starting out alone, but others will join them -- so organizations come into being by individuals exercising their gift. That is the way the church functions. There are many other gifts that are not mentioned here, as I said, but no matter where you find a list of gifts, there are always two divisions. Peter gives this division to us in First Peter 4. He says,

Each one should use whatever spiritual gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-12a NIV)

Now there are two divisions, speaking and serving. In Romans 12 the first four gifts listed have to do with speaking; there are three have to do with serving. There are two basic functions, then, of every bliever in the body of Christ. Either you speak, or you serve -- one or the other. And everybody is to be involved. Dr. F. B. Meyer, in the last generation, said this about the local church:

It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the Head Physician and Nurse; but a garrison in an enemy's country, every soul of which should have some post of duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quitting.

Now that, I think, is a biblical picture of the church, a church functioning as God intended it to function. Now we close with this question: Who are you, anyway? Every morning you ought to ask yourself that. Who am I? And your answer should come from the Scriptures: I am a son of God among the sons of men. I am equipped with the power of God to labor today. At the very work that is given to me today God will be with me, doing it through me. I am gifted with special abilities to help people in various areas, and I don't have to wait until Sunday to start to utilize these gifts: I can do it at my work, I can do it anywhere. I can exercise the gift that God has given me to do. As soon as I begin to find out what it is, by taking note of my desires, and by asking others what they see in me, and by trying out various things, I am going to set myself to the lifelong task of keeping that gift busy. That is why Paul had to write to Timothy to say, "Stir up the gift that is in you, that which was given you by the Holy Spirit," (2 Tim. 1:6). Timothy was letting it slide. But we are expected to stir it up

Everyone knows that the church is a place where love ought to be manifested, and many people have come to church hoping to find a demonstration of love, only to discover an encyclopedia on theologyIf you have read through this passage, Romans 12:9-21, you can see that the theme is clearly given in the very first sentence: "Love must be sincere." Our English word sincere comes from the Latin sincerus, which means "without wax." It stems from a practice of the early Roman merchants who set their earthen and porcelain jars out for sale. If a crack appeared in one, they would fill it with wax the same color as the jar, so a buyer would not be aware that it was cracked. But astute buyers learned to hold these jars out in the sun, and if the jar was cracked, the wax would melt and the crack would be revealed. So the honest merchants would test their wares this way and mark them sincerus -- without wax. The word literally reflects what the Greek says here, "Let love be without hypocrisy." The RSV translates it, "Let love be genuine." Phillips says, "Let us have no imitation Christian love."

All this indicates clearly that the primary character of the early Christian community was that it was a place where love was demonstrated -- so much so that people began to imitate it. You can see this emphasis in the New Testament. Every writer in the New Testament stresses the need for love. In First Timothy 1:5, Paul writes to his young son in the faith and says, "The end of our endeavor is love." That is where it all comes out. "The end of our endeavor is love, out of a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith." Peter says (1 Peter 4:8), "Above all else put on love." Paul reminds us here, and in other places, that this love must be a genuine love, not phony, not hypocritical.

In those early days of the church it was easy to imitate love if you didn't really have it because it was so widely valued and so visibly manifested. So people fell into the habit, as they do today, of pretending they loved, using loving terms and gestures, but really not feeling it in their hearts. This, of course, is hypocrisy, and this is what this passage warns against. Don't let your love be hypocritical, don't put it on. We are living in an age in which this is the very spirit of the times -- to project an image, to pretend you are something that you are not. All the world holds that up before us, through the media of television and radio and all the rest. We actually are encouraged to be something we are not.

No one seems to see how phony this is. But in the church it is intolerable. That we should be in any sense phony in our love is a violation of all that the Lord came to do. Sham love, of course, comes from the flesh. It comes from that pretender that is down inside all of us that wants to be thought well of even though we really are not worthy of it. And so we easily succumb to this desire. But true love, as we have been seeing, comes from the Holy Spirit. In Romans 5, Paul says, "The love of God is shed abroad in your heart by the Holy Spirit which is given unto you," (Rom. 5:5 KJV). True love is manifested by learning from the Word of God how you should behave in a certain situation, and then, depending on the Spirit of God to give you the strength to do it, moving out and doing that very thing. That is the way you love -- by acting in obedience to what the Word tells you by the power of the Holy Spirit within you.

This is what we are exhorted to in this passage: Verses 9 through 13 set forth love as it is manifested in the family of God, the church. Verses 14 through 21 describe how Christian love looks when it is out in the world. This outline will be our guideline as we look at this passage together. Let's take each of these two sections separately and see what is covered by each of them. First, love in the church is described in Verses 9-13:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Rom. 12:9-13 NIV)

This describes love among Christians. Notice that it consists of six things which the apostle brings out very clearly. In order to understand them, let's look at them one by one: when he says, "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." He is talking about people. That is, hate what is evil in people, but don't reject the person because of the evil. The person is good. God loves him. He or she is made in the image of God. Therefore, true love learns to hate evil but not to reject the good. I grant you that this is difficult to do. But notice that hypocritical love, love that pretends to be Christian, does the opposite.

Hypocritical love rejects the person because he doesn't behave according to an acceptable standard. You find many churches that do this. In fact, this is one of the things in the church that has turned off more people than anything else. People come and hear the great words of the New Testament about love and peace and joy, and expect to find them exhibited, but instead they find all the world's attitudes -- rejection and prejudice, and even contempt and disdain for people. The church cuts them off and sets them aside, not wanting to have anything to do with them because they don't meet a certain standard of performance. That is what this word warns us against. It is hypocrisy to reject persons because you don't like their behavior.

But you can go to the other extreme in this too. It is also hypocritical to condone sin because you accept the person. Christians often realize that it is wrong to cut people off and have nothing to do with them because they are not behaving rightly. But some Christians accept these people and say nothing about their evil or sin, and even defend it on occasion. We are seeing something of this today in the matters of homosexuality and alcoholism. People want to defend these sins, as though they were right, simply because they want to accept the person. "Hate what is evil [loathe it]" -- but "cling to what is good." Second, notice that true love remembers that relationship is the ground of concern, and not friendship. That is why Paul says, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love." This doesn't refer to just anyone that is in need or in trouble; it specifies your brother or sister. The basis of concern for one another is not that we know each other well or enjoy one another, it is that we are related to one another -- even though we may never have met before. If we are Christians, we know that we already have a tie that ought to evoke concern and care for one another. They are our brother, our sister. It is because we are related that we treat our brothers and sisters warmly and with acceptance and forgiveness. Third, Paul says that true love regards others as more deserving than yourself: "Honor one another above yourselves." I like Phillips' translation here. He says, "Be willing to let other men have the credit." That is a practical application of this. Years ago I ran across a sign that has helped me many times when I have done something, that I wanted to be credited with and yet people had credited others with it. I would be on the verge of pointing out that the credit belonged to me, but I would be stopped by the remembrance of this little sign:

THERE IS NO LIMIT TO THE GOOD THAT A MAN CAN DO,
IF HE DOESN'T CARE WHO GETS THE CREDIT

If you really don't care who gets the credit, then you can just enjoy yourself and do all kinds of good deeds. Just be glad that it is done, and don't worry about who gets the credit. Again, our flesh doesn't like that. It is very eager to be acknowledged and promoted and recognized. But the Word tells us that real love will not act that way.

Fourth, real love retains enthusiasm despite setbacks: "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." I think that one of the most noticeable marks of a Christian walking in the Spirit is that he retains enthusiasm, always rejoicing, rejoicing in hope. He never lets his spiritual zeal flag or sag, but maintains it. After all, the one thing that the Lord cannot put up with, as he tells us in the letters to the churches in Revelation, is lukewarmness (Rev. 3:16). It is nauseating. He will spew you out of his mouth if you are indifferent, neither hot nor cold, just going along with the crowd. Jesus says that lukewarmness is very distressing to him.

I have always enjoyed the Old Testament story of David and Goliath. Remember how all Israel was sunk in despair because of their fear of this giant? The whole army of Israel was helpless because of the taunts of this man. But little David is fearless. He is only a stripling, but he is not afraid. He looks at Goliath, in all his impressive height and great strength, and says, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, who dares defy the armies of the living God? Who does he think he is?" (cf, 1 Sam 17:26). Now where did David get this kind of enthusiastic response? David tells us. He says, "The battle is not ours but the Lord's," (cf, 1 Sam 17:47).This is what Paul is saying here. The answer to keeping your spiritual fervor is that you are serving the Lord. It is not your battle; it is his. It is not your resources that are required to work it out; it is his. After all, why should you be afraid or distressed or want to give up? It doesn't depend on you. You are serving the Lord! That is why it is important that Paul adds the phrase "serving the Lord" here -- to help us remember that the only thing that will keep our enthusiasm high is an awareness that we are serving the Lord.

Fifth, true love rejoices in hope: "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." The way to rejoice in hope is explained by the two others things mentioned here. You can rejoice in hope because you are patient in affliction, and you are patient in affliction because you have been faithful in prayer. That is what makes you patient. So, when trials come, the thing to do is to begin with prayer. As Paul tells us in Philippians, "In everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known unto God," (Philippians 4:6 KJV). Take them to him. If you are faithful in prayer, you will be able to be patient in affliction. You won't be dropping out, or copping out, or quitting, but you will be staying in there, waiting until God works it out, not getting impatient and angry and resentful, but quietly waiting for God to accomplish what he had in mind in this whole trial. That, of course, will make you rejoice in hope -- because you will discover that God has a thousand and one different ways of working things out, ways that you can never imagine. That makes you begin to rejoice. You rejoice because God knows what he is doing and he is able to work it out. Then, six, true love responds to needs. "Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." In these days when we have so much social help available -- unemployment insurance, Social Security, welfare, Medicare, etc. -- we tend to forget that there are still human needs and that we have a responsibility to meet them. I think we need to be reminded at times that people are still hurting and that it is a direct responsibility of Christians to care for one another's needs.

Now Paul moves on to describe love exhibited to a non-Christian world. Tomorrow morning you will all be back in your shops and offices and schools and places of business, and Christian love is to be manifested there as well as it is here. So Paul gives some very practical help on this. Again, he gives us six ways to do this, Verses 14-21:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Don't be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Don't be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge, I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:14-21 NIV)

First, love speaks well of its persecutors. That is a tough one, isn't it? "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." That is getting right down to where the rubber meets the road, isn't it? That means you don't go around badmouthing people who are not nice to you. You don't run them down or speak harshly about them to others, but you speak well of them. You find something that you can approve, and you say so to others.

That is a tough one. I confess that that is not my natural reaction. When somebody persecutes me, I persecute back! At least I want to. But this is what the Word tells us we don't need to do and we should not do. I think this applies to such practical areas as traffic problems. Have you ever been persecuted in traffic? It happens all the time. Somebody cuts you off, and you want to roll down the window and shout, "Melonhead!" But according to this, you are not supposed to. Now, this doesn't tell you what to call them, but it tells you to bless them, anyway. Second, true love adjusts to other people's moods: "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." When somebody in your office is feeling low and gloomy, don't come in and sit down and whistle away. When they obviously don't respond, don't say, "What's the matter with you? How come you're so down all the time? Why don't you be cheerful like me?" There is nothing worse than a cheerful person when something has gone wrong for you. No, Paul says, adjust yourself. Mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice. I think he puts rejoicing first because that is so hard to do sometimes -- especially if it awakens our envy or self-pity. If there is something someone else has achieved that we think we ought to have, it is hard to go up to that person and say, "I'm so glad for you." But that is what love does, and it is possible to do it -- for those who walk in the Spirit.

Third, true love does not show partiality to persons. Paul says very precisely, "Live in harmony with one another. Don't be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Don't be conceited." That is amplified in these words, "Don't seek high-up people, but associate with ordinary people." When Jesus came to Jerusalem he stayed with Mary and Martha and Lazarus out in the little suburban town of Bethany instead of at the Intercontinental Hotel in Jerusalem. Many of us have been rejoicing over the way President Carter is seeking to manifest this kind of a spirit in his high office. He is spending the night with the ordinary people in little towns in New England and various other places. The whole nation is caught up with the beauty of that kind of approach -- we love it. This is what the apostle enjoins Christians to do. And he suggests that the real reasons for respecting persons, and for name-dropping and that kind of thing, is really personal conceit. "Don't be conceited," he says. "Don't think highly of yourself." That is what makes you always want to be associated with the high-ups. But if you have an honest view of yourself, you know that you are no better than anybody else and therefore you will be willing just to enjoy the ordinary people. And you will find a rich, rich manifestation of love and humanity among them.

Fourth, love is not sneaky or underhanded (Verse 17). Paul tells us not to give back evil for evil, but to plan to do right, out in the open, before all. "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody." I think that Paul is telling us not to take silent revenge for imagined or real insults, and not to resort to subterfuges to get even.

I remember hearing of some officers during the Korean War who rented a house for themselves and hired a Korean houseboy to work for them. He was a cheerful, happy soul, and they were young and had a lot of fun playing tricks on him. They would nail his shoes to the floor, and they would put water up over the door so that when he pushed it open the bucket would fall on him. They played all kinds of tricks, but he always took them in such a beautiful, good humor that they finally became ashamed for themselves. They called him in one day and said, "We've been doing all these mean things to you and you have taken it so beautifully. We just want to apologize to you and tell you that we are never going to do those things again." He said, "You mean no more nail shoes to floor?" They said, "No more." He said, "You mean no more water on door?" They said, "No more." "Okay then," he said, "me no more spit in soup!"

So you see, it is possible to take silent revenge. But the Word of God warns us against doing it. Don't be sneaky and underhanded about your actions, it says, but "be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody." Fifth, true love seeks to live at peace with everyone: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." There are people who just will not allow you to be at peace with them, but don't let it start with you. Remember the old song, It Takes Two To Tango? I think that last word ought to be tangle. It takes two to tangle. If you refuse to tangle, at least the conflict does not depend on you and is not traceable to your actions and your attitudes. That is what love really does.

Then, finally, love does not try to get even. Listen to these words again. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, 'It is mine to avenge, I will repay,' says the Lord." Revenge is one of the most natural of human responses to hurt or injury or bad attitudes. We always feel that, if we treat others according to the way they have treated us, we are only giving them justice. We can justify this so easily. "I'm only teaching them a lesson. I'm only showing them how I feel. I'm only giving back what they've given me." But any time you argue that way you have forgotten the many times you have injured others without getting caught yourself. But God hasn't forgotten. This always puts us in the place of those Pharisees who, when the woman was taken in adultery, were ready to cast stones and stone her to death. Jesus came by and said to them, "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone," (John 8:7). That stopped them all dead in their tracks, because there wasn't a one of them who wasn't equally as guilty as she. They needed to be judged too. We must never carry out revenge, because we are not in the position of a judge. We, too, are guilty. We need to be judged. Therefore, Paul's admonition is, "Don't try to avenge yourself." You will only make a mess of it. The inevitable result of trying to get even with people is that you escalate the conflict. It is inescapable.

When I was in school in Montana, I used to watch the cows in the corral. They would be standing there peacefully, and then one cow would kick another cow. Of course, that cow had to kick back. Then the first cow kicked harder and missed the second cow and hit a third. That cow kicked back. I watched that happen many times. One single cow, starting to kick another, soon had the whole corral kicking and milling and mooing at one another, mad as could be. This happens in congregations too.

Paul gives two reasons why you should not avenge yourself: One is because God is already doing it. "Leave room for God's wrath." God knows you have been insulted or hurt or injured. He knows it and he is already doing something about it. Second, God alone claims the right to vengeance because he alone can work it without injury to all concerned. He will do it in a way that will be redemptive. He won't injure the other person, but will bring him out of it. We never give God a chance; we take the matter into our own hands. And Paul says that is wrong. It is wrong because we don't want that person to be redeemed; we want them to be hurt. We are like Jonah when Nineveh repented. When God spared it, Jonah got mad at God. "Why didn't you wipe them out like you said you would?" We get angry because God hasn't taken vengeance in the way that we would like. Paul reminds us that God is already avenging, so we should leave him room, and God claims the right to vengeance because he alone can work it without injury to all concerned.

You say, "What do you expect me to do? Somebody hits me -- do you expect me just to sit there and do nothing? Oh, no. There is something you can do. Look what it is: "On the contrary: 'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Two things will happen if you refuse to avenge yourself and let God do it: First, you will be enabled to act positively instead of negatively. That will result in what Paul, quoting Proverbs (25:21-22), calls "heaping burning coals on his head." This doesn't mean that you are going to get even by another process -- burning his head. No, this refers to the ancient way of lighting fires. They didn't have matches in those days, so if you wanted to light a fire in your home, you couldn't go and borrow a match. But you could go and borrow some coals from your neighbor. Of course, you took along an earthen jar that would not burn. Then you would ask your neighbor if you could borrow some coals to light your own fire. Now, if he was a good neighbor, he would fill the jar and you would carry the padded jar home on top of your head. This became a picture of an ample, generous response to a neighbor's need. Because of that, it became a metaphor for responding so generously to your neighbor that it made him ashamed of himself for his attitude toward you. That is what Paul is suggesting here. The second result of leaving vengeance to God is that you win the battle. If there is a conflict going on, you will win it if you respond with doing good instead of evil.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "The best way to overcome an enemy is to make him your friend." Three times in this passage the apostle has stressed the fact that you are not to return evil for evil. In Verses 14, 17, and 21 he states it. So, throughout this passage it is underscored that the major way we express love in the world is by not reacting in vengeance when we are mistreated by the world. Can you imagine what would happen if Christians would begin to act this way? How many times we turn people away from Christianity by assuming the same attitude the world around us has. Surely this is a practical way Paul has of reminding us that we are not to be conformed to this age. We are not to think like they do. It is recorded of the Lord Jesus that when he was reviled, "he reviled not again, but committed himself to him who judges all things righteously," (1 Peter 2:23 KJV). That was given for our admonition, that we might behave as Jesus did in the midst of the world. What a testimony of grace that would be!

(From http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/)

For more on the spiritual gifts and the church as the Body of Christ, see Ray Stedman's book Body Life, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/bodylife/)


A Brief Description Of The Spiritual Gifts

Natural talents and personality traits are natural human resources which all of us have. These are not the same as spiritual gifts which are given by sovereign choice, by the Holy Spirit, at the time we become Christians. These are supernatural enablements so that we may serve God more effectively in the world and in the church. Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, many are given more than one gift. All Christians are called to the work of the ministry and distinctions between "clergy" and "laity" are foreign to the New Testament. Both spiritual gifts and natural talents must be employed in the power of the Holy Spirit and not in the self-energy of the flesh in order to please God and bring positive results. The various spiritual gifts are listed in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, I Corinthians 13-15, and elsewhere. Commentators differ as to whether the list totals 22, or fewer, gifts. The gifts are divided into (1) teaching/leadership gifts, (2) service gifts, and (3) sign gifts given to authenticate the work of apostles and prophets, particularly at the beginning of a new age (dispensation) when God does something new and different in the world. Here is a rather complete list:

1. Apostle (apostolos). The Greek word means "one sent forth" (on an official errand), i.e., an ambassador. In addition to the twelve original disciples who became apostles, Paul was added to the list of those commissioned by God to lay the foundations of the Christian church and impart a full body of truth which would guide Christian faith and conduct. There were also other apostles, for example, Barnabas, Acts 14:4,14; Andronicus and Junia, Romans 16:7, 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25. The need for apostles diminished as the church became established. If there are any apostles today they might be found among pioneer missionaries who establish churches in foreign lands where the gospel has not yet been proclaimed. Christians today are under apostolic authority, however there is no Biblical reason to believe in the so-called apostolic succession of authority in the church. Ray Stedman likens the apostles in the Body of Christ to the skeleton and musculature of the human body.

2. Prophet, prophecy. (prophetes), lit: "to speak forth," to proclaim the mind and counsel of God, i.e., the gift of preaching. Differs from pastor-teacher in scope. Ray Stedman compares the role of the NT prophet to the nervous system of the body. NT prophets do not make predictions about the future as the OT prophets did, but gather their message from the Scriptures. Nor is God giving the church new revelation through such individuals today. The gift of prophecy is likewise not for giving secret messages from God to individuals in the church. Prophets vigorously stimulate and challenge the Body of Christ, pastor-teachers patiently feed the sheep and care for their needs. Prophets are to edify, exhort and console, (see 1 Cor. 14:3).

3. Evangelist, evangelism. (evangelistes) from eu = well, plus angelos = messenger. The gift of bringing the good news of God to unbelievers individually and in groups. The content of the message is outlined in I Cor. 15. Ray Stedman compares this gift to the digestive apparatus of the human body which has the ability to take material which is not a part of the body and transform it into parts of the body. Evangelists are also to teach other believers how to lead people to the Lord Jesus. Timothy evidently did not have this gift but Paul nevertheless urged him to "do the work of an evangelist".

4. Pastor-teacher (poimenes kai didaskalos), shepherd and teacher. Ray Stedman describes this gift as analogous to the circulatory system of the human body which "cleanses and feeds" the members of the body. Ray Stedman once said he believed this was a this is a common gift, given to perhaps a third of Christians.

5. Administration. (kubernesis = government). To pilot, guide, or steer as one steers a ship. To preside over the assembly and guide the proceedings. In order to preserve order in Christian meetings the person in charge should know how to direct the course of events towards a spiritual goal as led by the Spirit.

6. Leadership, (proistemi) "to stand before" that is attend to with care and diligence, as the head of a family does. Perhaps this also includes setting the pace, imparting direction and goals in a ministry since sheep are lazy and helpless and prone to wander off course. Most people like to follow a good leader. God's leaders are not only visionary they lead by serving.

7. Faith. (pistis), Faith-vision: the ability to believe God for new direction and power---visionary faith that sets in motion events others can join in and follow. All Christians have some faith because "without faith it is impossible to please God." Also anyone's faith grows as it is exercised. However there is also a gift of "faith-vision" which pioneers new ministries, encourages others and helps them to grow in faith. "Without a vision the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18).

8. Knowledge. (logos gnoseos), lit: "word of knowledge," systematic understanding of truth in broad, sweeping terms so that others may be trained and instructed. Not supernatural utterances from God. All Christians have some knowledge, but there is also a gift of knowledge given to some so they may teach and edify the Body. The ability to sum up lots of information or pieces of knowledge so as to give a clear concise overview.

9. Wisdom (logos sophias), lit: "word of wisdom." The ability to make wise choices and decisions at critical forks in the road. Very valuable to an individual or a group when it needs to choose but has no specifically clear information on the best choice. All Christians can grow in wisdom as they make a series of wise choices over a life-time, however there is also a gift of wisdom given to some in the Body of Christ.

10. Exhortation, encouragement. (paraklesis), to call alongside, comfort, strengthen, to counsel, exhort, bring aid, admonish. The same Greek word describes the Holy Spirit's role in our lives.

11. Discernment (of spirits) (diakriseis pneumaton), is a gift to judge or evaluate the spirits so as to distinguish whether something is from God or from an evil source. Similar to the natural talent of intuition but of course more reliable and consistent.

12. Ministering (diakonia), to serve (hence our word deacons). A wide variety of activities one performs with the help of God to comfort, encourage, support and build up God's people. Also, (huperetes), an under-rower or servant as distinguished from an ordinary seaman on a Roman galley.

13. Service (helps) (antilempsis), "to lay hold of (and support)", especially the weak and needy. To minister to others and meet their needs.

14. Giving, (metadidomi), is the gift of sharing and imparting, not only money but other resources. All Christians should learn to give generously since "God loves a 'hilarious' giver", however certain individuals are given the gift of giving so they can act as stewards over material resources in the Body of Christ.

15. Tongues (that is, "kinds of languages") (gene glossan). The ability to speak in other languages not previously learned, but known languages to men. The gift is for the purpose of praising God. It must be directed to God, not to be used to pass a message from one member to another or from one member to the congregation. Not a means of communication from the Lord to the flock. A sign to Israel especially to mark the beginning of a new dispensation. A sign to unbelievers.

16. Interpretation of Tongues. The ability to translate unknown languages so as to edify and instruct others regarding what has been said.

17. Miracles. (energemata dunameon) The ability to raise men from the dead, call fire down from heaven and otherwise present signs that authenticate the power of God in certain situations.

18. Healing(s). (charismata iamaton) (plural). Ability to heal at the physical, emotional and spiritual levels. The word is plural in Greek, probably suggesting that the ability to heal refers to all three levels of man. Today, God sometimes heals physically, but more often emotionally and spiritually. A valuable gift for a counselor.

19. Mercy (eleos) An ability to touch inwardly with compassion. To be exercised with "cheerfulness".

20. Hospitality. (philoxenia), lit: "love of strangers." May not be a spiritual gift but definitely a Christian virtue. Those who believe this is a separate gift also hold that all believers are to practice hospitality.

Note: Every Christian is in the work of the ministry! A Christian's service involves the entire Trinity. 1. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the sovereign choice of the Holy Spirit. 2. The place of our service is chosen by the Son of God, and 3. The "workings" (energema), or style, of our ministry is determined by the Father. This is made clear by the following passage: "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord (Jesus Christ); and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God (the Father) who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:5-7).

Some Relevant Scriptures

"And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for (unto) the work of ministry, for (unto) building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16).

"To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:8-12)

"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Cor. 12:27-30)

"For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness". (Romans 12:4-8)

"The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers. Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:7-11) (Lambert Dolphin 2/89, http://www.ldolphin.org/Spgifts.html).


On the Decline of the knowledge of God in the church:

Dec. 6, 2003
Volume 18
Number 47

Unbelieving 'born-agains'

Research continues to reveal a steady theological collapse among professing Christians in America
By Gene Edward Veith

SECULARISTS, LIBERALS, AND MUSLIMS DO NOT need to fear conservative Christians, says Dave Shiflett in The Wall Street Journal. Christians, he says, are not all that interested in converting the heathen. They don't really believe that there is such a thing as the heathen, tending to believe instead that every religion is equally valid.

"Even the most feared of Christians-the dread 'born-agains' who have cost the high priests at People for the American Way so much sleep-often embrace the modern orthodoxies of tolerance and inclusion over the traditional teachings of their faith."

He cites poll data from Christian researcher George Barna that 26 percent of born-agains believe all religions are essentially the same and that 50 percent believe that a life of good works will enable a person to get to heaven.

He goes on, though, to cite data that cast doubt on whether some of these born-again Christians will be there. More than one in three (35 percent) born-again Christians do not believe that Jesus rose physically from the dead.

Isn't that a rather important thing to believe in? Especially in light of Romans 10:9: "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord" [that they do] "and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead," [this they do not do] "you will be saved" [so are they?].

Over half of born-again Christians (52 percent), according to Mr. Barna's data, do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living entity. In Acts 19, the Apostle Paul came across a group of people who said that they were Christians, but they had never heard of the Holy Spirit. They had to be reevangelized and rebaptized.

Slightly more born-again Christians believe in the devil than believe in the Holy Spirit, though 45 percent do not believe that Satan exists. Ten percent believe in reincarnation. Twenty-nine percent believe it is possible to communicate with the dead.

As for moral issues, one out of three born-again Christians (33 percent), according to Mr. Barna's numbers, accept same-sex unions. More than one out of three (39 percent) believe it is morally acceptable for couples to live together before marriage. And, significantly, born-again Christians are more likely than non-Christians to have experienced divorce (27 percent vs. 24 percent).

Mr. Barna defines "born-again Christians" as those who report having made a personal commitment to Christ and expect to get to heaven because they accepted Jesus. He has a subcategory of born-again Christians-"evangelicals"-who meet more stringent criteria of biblical faith. But these amount to only 8 percent of American Christians, with 33 percent being the less-orthodox "nonevangelical born-agains."

Is this rampant unbelief among people who have accepted Christ an example of biblical illiteracy? Or is it a positive conviction that faith is a purely subjective experience rather than an appropriation of objective truths?

Either way, this is strong evidence of how American Christianity is conforming to the dominant secular culture. It is all right to be religious, according to the dictates of postmodernism, as long as your faith exists just in your head. If you start claiming that your beliefs are more than just a private mental state that makes you feel good, asserting instead that what you believe is objectively real and valid for everybody, then you are an intolerant menace to society. Many Christians apparently agree, feeling solace in their own private mental decisions and mystical experiences, without reference to the God outside themselves who is revealed in His Word and in His slain and risen Son.

Preachers sometimes exhort people to "invite Jesus into your heart" without proclaiming who Jesus is and what He has done for sinners. This is evangelism that forgets to preach the gospel. The result will be "nonevangelical born-agains."

New Christians, like babies, need to be fed, taught, and cared for; otherwise, they will die in their cribs. They need intensive nourishment from the Word of God.

At least Christians are not the only ones addled by their culture into holding contradictory beliefs. Atheists are just as confused about their theology. "Half of all atheists and agnostics say that every person has a soul, that heaven and hell exist, and that there is life after death," reports Mr. Barna. Moreover, "one out of every eight atheists and agnostics even believes that accepting Jesus Christ as savior probably makes life after death possible." They believe that accepting Christ can bring eternal life, even though they don't believe in Jesus Christ. Just like "nonevangelical born-agains." (11/30/03)


James Boice on Culture

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Some verses in the Bible are enriched when we read them in several translations, and Romans 12:2 is one of them. In the New International Version the first part of Romans 12:2 says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world."

This verse has two key words: world, which in Greek is literally age (aion), meaning this present age, in contrast to "the age to come"), and do not conform, which is a compound having at its root the word scheme. So the verse means "Do not let the age in which you live force you into its scheme of thinking and behaving." This is what some of the translations try to bring out. The New American Catholic Bible says, "Do not conform yourselves to this age." The Jerusalem Bible says, "Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you." The Living Bible reads, "Don't copy the behavior and Customs of this world." Best known of all is the paraphrase of J. B. Phillips, which states, "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold."

The idea in each of these renderings is that the world has its ways of thinking and doing things and is exerting pressure on Christians to conform to them. But instead of being conformed, Christians are to be changed from Within to be increasingly like Jesus Christ.

What Is Worldliness?

The first phrase of verse 2 is a warning against worldliness. But as soon as we say worldly we have to stop and make clear what real worldliness is. When I was growing up in a rather fundamentalist church I was taught that worldliness was following such "worldly" pursuits as smoking, drinking, dancing, and playing cards. A Christian girl would say: "I don't smoke, and I don't chew, And I don't go with boys who do."

That is not what Romans 12:2 is about, however. To think of worldliness only in those terms is to trivialize what is a far more serious and far more subtle problem.

The clue to what is in view here is that in the next phrase Paul urges, as an alternative to being "conformed" to this world, being "transformed by the renewing of your mind." This means that he is concerned about a way of thinking rather than merely behaving, though right behavior will follow naturally if our thinking is set straight. In other words, the worldliness we are to break away from and repudiate is the world's "worldview," what the Germans call Weltanschauung, a systematic way of looking at all things. We are to break out of the world's way of thinking and instead let our minds be molded by the Word of God.

In our day Christians have not done this very well, and that is the reason why they are so often "worldly" in the other senses too. In fact, it is a sad commentary on our time, verified by surveys, that American Christians in general have mostly the same values and behavior patterns as the world around them.

Secularism: "The Cosmos Is All That Is"

If worldliness is not smoking; drinking, dancing, and playing cards, what is it? If it is a way of thinking, what is a worldly worldview? There is no single word that perfectly describes how the world thinks, but secularism is good for general purposes. It is an umbrella term that covers a number of other "isms," like humanism, relativism, pragmatism, pluralism, hedonism, and materialism. Secularism, more than any other single word, aptly describes the mental framework and value structure of the people of our time.

The word secular also comes closest to what Paul says when he refers to "the pattern of this world. " Secular is derived from the Latin word seculum, which means age. And the word found in Paul's phrase in verse 2 is the exact Greek equivalent. The NIV uses the word world, but the Greek actually says, "Do not be conformed to this age." In other words, "Do not be 'secularist' in your worldview."

There is a right way to he secular, of course. Christians live in the world and are therefore rightly concerned about the world's affairs. We have legitimate secular concerns. But secularism (note the "ism") is more than this. It is a philosophy that does not look beyond this world but instead operates as if this age is all there is.

The best single statement of secularism I know is something Carl Sagan said in the television series Cosmos. He was pictured standing before a spectacular view of the heavens with its many swirling galaxies, saying in a hushed, almost reverential tone of voice, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." That is bold-faced secularism. It is bound up entirely by the limits of the material universe, by what we can see and touch and weigh and measure. If we think in terms of our existence here, it means operating within the limits of life on earth. If we are thinking of time, it means disregarding the eternal and thinking only of the now.

We have it expressed in popular advertising slogans like "You only go around once" and Pepsi's "Now Generation." These slogans dominate our culture and express an outlook that has become increasingly harmful. If now is the only thing that matters, why should we worry about the national debt, for example? That's not our problem. Let our children worry about it. Or why should we study hard preparing to do meaningful work later on in life, as long as we can have a good time now? Most important, why should I worry about God or righteousness or sin or judgment or salvation, if now is all that really matters?

R. C. Sproul writes, "For secularism, all life, every human value, every human activity must be understood in light of this present time. . . . What matters is now and only now. All access to the above and the beyond is blocked. There is no exit from the confines of this present world. The secular is all that we have. We must make our decisions, live our lives, make our plans, all within the closed arena of this time--the here and now."

Each of us should understand that description instantly, because it is the viewpoint we are surrounded with every single day of our lives and in every conceivable place and circumstance. Yet that is the outlook to which we must refuse to be conformed. Instead of being conformed to this world, as if that is all there is, we are to see all things as relating to God and to eternity. Here is the contrast, as expressed by Harry Blamires: "To think secularly is to think within a frame of reference bounded by the limits of our life on earth; it is to keep one's calculations rooted in this-worldly criteria. To think Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man's eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God. "

Humanism: "You Will Be Like God"

There is a proper kind of humanism, meaning a proper concern for human beings. Humanitarianism is a better word for it. People who care for other people are humanitarians. But there is also a philosophical humanism, which is a way of looking at people, particularly ourselves, apart from God, and this is wrong and harmful. This is a secular way of looking at them, which is why we so often speak not just of humanism but of "secular humanism."

The best example of secular humanism I know is in the Book of Daniel. One day Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of Babylon, was on the roof of his palace looking out over his splendid hanging gardens to the prosperous city beyond. He was impressed with his handiwork and said, "Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30). It was a statement that everything he saw was "of' him, "by" him, and "for" the glory of his majesty, which is humanism. Humanism says that everything revolves around man and exists for man's glory.

God would not tolerate this arrogance. So he judged Nebuchadnezzar with insanity, indicating that this is a crazy philosophy. Nebuchadnezzar was then driven out to live with the beasts and acted like a beast until at last he acknowledged that God alone is the true ruler of the universe and that everything exists for his glory rather than ours.

"I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth." Daniel 4:34-35

Humanism is opposed to God and hostile to Christianity. This has always been so, but it is especially evident in the public statements of modern humanism: A Humanist Manifesto (1933), Humanist Manifesto 1I (1973), and The Secularist Humanist Declaration (1980). The first of these, the 1933 document, said, "Traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival. "

The 1973 Humanist Manifesto II said, "We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural'" and "There is no credible evidence that life survives the death of the body."

Humanism leads to a deification of self and, contrary to what it professes, to an utter disregard for other people. In deifying self, humanism actually deifies nearly everything but God. Several years ago Herbert Schlossberg, one of the project directors for the Fieldstead Institute, wrote a book titled Idols for Destruction, in which he showed how humanism has made a god of history, mammon, nature, power, religion. and, of course, humanity itself. It is brilliantly done.

As far as disregarding other people, well, look at the best-sellers of the 1970s. You will find titles like Winning through Intimidation and Looking Out for Number One. These books say, in a manner utterly consistent with secular humanism, "Forget about other people; look out for yourself; you are what matters." What emerged in those years is what Thomas Wolfe, the social critic, called the "Me Decade." And the 1970sgave way to the 1980s, which others have aptly called the "Golden Age of Greed."

Remember, too, that this is the philosophy (some would say religion) underlying public school education. This is ironic, of course, since humanism is an irrational philosophy. How so? Because it is impossible to establish humanistic or any other values or goals without a transcendent point of reference, and it is precisely that transcendent point that is being repudiated by the humanists. Frighteningly, the irrationalism of humanism is appearing in the chaos of the schools. where students are using guns to kill other students and threaten teachers.

In the fall of 1992 an ABC Prime Time Live television special, featuring Diane Sawyer, reported that in this country one in five students come to school with a handgun somewhat regularly and that there are ten times as many knives in schools as there are guns. This is as true of the suburbs as it is of the inner city. In Wichita, Kansas, which calls itself mid-America. students must pass through metal detectors in order to enter school, and there are still guns and other weapons in the buildings.

For humanism as well as for secularism, the word for Christians is "do not conform any longer." We remember that the first expression of humanism was not the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 or even the arrogant words of Nebuchadnezzar spoken about six hundred years before Christ, but rather the words of Satan in the Garden of Eden, who told Eve, "You will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5).

Relativism: "A Moral Morass"

While we are talking about humanism we also have to talk briefly about relativism, because if man is the focal point of everything, then there are no absolutes in any area of life and everything is up for grabs. Some years ago Professor Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago wrote a book called The Closing of the American Mind, in which he said on the very first page, 'There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.

What that book set out to prove is that education is impossible in such a climate. People can learn skills, of course. You can learn to drive a truck, work a computer, handle financial transactions, and do Scores of other things. But real education, which means learning to sift through error to discover what is true, good, and beautiful, is impossible, because the goals of real education-truth, goodness, and beauty--do not exist. And even if they did exist in some far-off metaphysical never-never-land, it would be impossible to find them, because it requires absolutes even to discover absolutes. It requires such absolutes as the laws of logic, for example.

Is it any wonder that with such an underlying destructive philosophy as relativism, not to mention secularism and humanism, America is experiencing what Time magazine called "a moral morass" and "a values vacuum"?

Materialism: "The Material Girl"

The final "ism" to which Christians are not to be conformed is materialism. This takes us back to secularism, since it is a part of it. If "the cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be," as Carl Sagan says, then nothing exists but what is material or measurable, and if there is any value to be found in life, it must be in material terms. Be as healthy as you can. Live as long as you can. Get as rich as you can.

When today's young people are asked to name their heroes or heroines, what comes out rather quickly is that they have no people they actually look up to except possibly the rich and the famous-people like Michael Jordan and Madonna. And speaking of Madonna, isn't it interesting that she is referred to most often not as a singer or entertainer or even a sex symbol but as "the material girl." That is, she represents the material things of this world, clothes (or the lack of them), money, fame, and above all, pleasure. And this is what today's young people want to be like! They want to be rich and famous and have things and enjoy them. They want to be like Madonna.

The poet T. S. Eliot wrote an epitaph for our materialistic generation:

Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.

How different the Lord Jesus Christ! He was born into a poor family, was laid in a borrowed manger at his birth, never had a home or a bank account or a family of his own.

He said of himself, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). At his trial before Pilate he said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight. . . My kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36). When he died he was laid in a borrowed tomb. If there was ever an individual who operated on the basis of values above and beyond the world in which we live, it was Jesus Christ. He was the polar opposite of "the material girl." But at the same time no one has ever affected this world for good as much as Jesus. It is into his image that we are to be transformed rather than being forced into the mold of this world's sinful and destructive "isms."

No One But Jesus

I want to close this study by looking ahead one phrase to what Paul says we are to be: not conformed but transformed by the renewing of our minds. There is a deliberate distinction between those two words. Conformity is something that happens to you outwardly. Transformation happens inwardly. The Greek word translated transformed is metamorphoo, from which we get metamorphosis. It is what happens to the lowly caterpillar when it turns into a beautiful butterfly.

This Greek word is found four times in the New Testament: once here, once in 2 Corinthians 3: 18 to describe our being transformed into the glorious likeness of Jesus Christ, and twice in the gospels of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain where he had gone with Peter, James, and John. Those verses say, 'There he was transfigured before them" (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:2). The same word used by Paul to describe our transformation by the renewing of our minds so that we will not be conformed to this world is used by the gospel writers to describe the transfiguration of Jesus from the form of his earthly humiliation to the radiance that Peter, James, and John were privileged to witness for a time. And that is why Paul writes as he does in 2 Corinthians, saying, "We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).

In 2 Corinthians Paul says, "It is happening." In Romans 12 he says, "Let it happen," thus putting the responsibility, though not the power to accomplish this necessary transformation, upon us. How does it happen? Through the renewing of our minds; and the way our minds become renewed is by study of the life-giving and renewing Word of God. Without that study we will remain in the world's mold, unable to think and therefore also unable to act as Christians. With that study, blessed and empowered as it will be by the Holy Spirit, we will begin to take on something of the glorious luster of the Lord Jesus Christ and become increasingly like him.

This Mindless Age

Harry Blamires, an Englishman who wrote an important Christian book in 1963 titled The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? Blamires was a student of C. S. Lewis. His book's main thesis, repeated over and over in chapter 1, is that "There is no longer a Christian mind," meaning that in our time there is no longer a distinctly Christian way of thinking. There is to some extent a Christian ethic and even a somewhat Christian way of life and piety. But there is no distinctly Christian frame of reference, no uniquely Christian worldview, to guide our thinking in distinction from the thought of the secular world around us.

Unfortunately, the situation has not improved over the past thirty years. In fact, it has grown worse. Today, not only is there little or no genuine Christian thinking, there is very little thinking of any kind. The Western world (and perhaps even the world as a whole) is well on its way to becoming what I have frequently called a "mindless society."

Since Christians are called to mind renewal--our text says, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind"--this cultural mindlessness is a major aspect of the "pattern of this world" that we are to recognize, understand, repudiate, and overcome. We are to be many things as Christians, but we are especially to be thinking people. We are to possess a "Christian mind."

America Has Been "Vannatized"

There are a number of causes for our present mindlessness--Western materialism, the fast pace of modern life, and philosophical skepticism, to name a few-but I believe that the chief cause is television.

I began to study television as a cultural problem several years ago, and the thing that got me started was a I 987 graduation address at Duke University by Ted Koppel of ABC's Nightline. Following this address Koppel was frequently quoted by Christian communicators because of something he said about the Ten Commandments. He was deploring the declining moral tone of our country and reminded his predominantly secular audience of the abiding validity of this religious standard. He said that they are Ten Commandments, not "ten suggestions," and that they "are," not "were" the standard. But to me the most interesting thing about Koppel's address was his opening sentence, in which he said that America has been "Vannatized."

Koppel was referring to Vanna White, the beautiful and extraordinarily popular hostess of the television game show Wheel of Fortune. Vanna White is something of a phenomenon on television. Her actual work is simple. She stands on one side of a large game board that holds blocks representing the letters of words the contestants are supposed to guess. AS they guess correctly, Vanna walks across the platform and turns the blocks around to reveal the letters. When she gets to the other side she claps her hands. It is simple work, but Vanna seems to like it. No, "like" is too mild a term, as Koppel notes. Vanna "thrills, rejoices, adores everything she sees." People respond to her so well that books about her have appeared in bookstores, and she is well up on that magical but elusive list of the most admired people in America.

But here is the interesting thing. Until recently Vanna never said a word on Wheel of Fortune, and Koppel asked how a person who says nothing and who is therefore basically unknown to us can be so popular. That is just the point, he answered. Since we do not know what Vanna White is actually like, she is whatever you want her to be. "Is she a feminist or every male chauvinist's dream? She is whatever you want her to be. Sister, lover, daughter, friend, never cross, non-threatening, and nonjudgmental to a fault." She is popular because we project our own deep feelings, needs, or fantasies onto the television image.

Koppel does not care very much about Wheel of Fortune's success, of course. He was analyzing our culture. And his point is that Vanna White's appeal is the very essence of television and that television forms our way of thinking or, to be more accurate, of not thinking. It has been hailed as the great teaching tool, but that is precisely what it does not do, because it seldom presents anything in enough depth for a person actually to think about it. Instead, it presents thirty-second flashes of events and offers images upon which we are invited to project our own vague feelings.

If all we are talking about is game shows and other forms of television entertainment, none of this would matter very much, except for the amount of time our children spend watching these banal, mind-numbing diversions rather than disciplining their minds by serious study. But if television is really conditioning us not to think, as Koppel and I maintain, then television is a serious intellectual, social, and spiritual problem.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

A more academic study of the negative impact of television on culture has been provided by Neil Postman, a professor of communication arts and sciences at New York University, in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

Amusing Ourselves to Death was published in 1985, one year after 1984, the year popularized as the title of George Orwell's futuristic novel, with its dark vision of a society controlled by fear. In Orwell's novel Big Brother rules everything with a ruthless iron fist. But Postman reminds us that there was another novel written slightly earlier with an equally chilling but quite different vision of the future: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. In Huxley's novel there is no need for Big Brother, because in this ominous vision of the future people have come to love their oppression as well as the technologies that strip away their capacities to think:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial cultureAs Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for diversions."

Obviously, as Postman suggests, the Western cultures have succumbed to the second of these two oppressions, just as the communist countries fell victim to the first. The first half of Postman's book is a study of the difference between what he calls "the age of typography" and our present television age, which he calls "the age of show business." Typography refers to words in print, and it concerns the communication of ideas by newspapers, pamphlets, and books. It is rational and analytic, because that is the way written words work. He writes:

To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions, and over-generalizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weigh ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another. To accomplish this, one must achieve a certain distance from the words themselves, which is, in fact, encouraged by the isolated and impersonal text. That is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that, and too detached.

He illustrates the strength of the age of typography by public attention to the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of the mid-eighteen hundreds, which people were capable of hearing, understanding, and forming opinions about, even though they lasted three to seven hours. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries "America was as dominated by the printed word and an oratory based on the printed word as any society we know of,". Postman says. The country could think.

Unfortunately, television does not operate by rational means of communication but by images, as Ted Koppel pointed out, and as a result we are becoming a mindless culture.

News on Television: "Now. . . This"

A great deal of what Postman develops in his book is reinforcement for what I have been describing as mindlessness. So let me review three specific areas of bad influence, as he sees it.

A chapter in the book that deals with news on television is entitled "NowThis." That is because these are the words most used on television to link one brief televised news segment--the average news segment on network news programs is only forty-five seconds long--to the next news segment or commercial. What the phrase means is that what one has just seen has no relevance to what one is about to see or, for that matter, to anything. Rational thought requires such connections. It depends on similarities, contradictions, deductions, and the development of probable consequences. It requires time. It is what books and other serious print media give us. But this is precisely what television does not give. It does not give time for thought, and if it does not give time for thought or promote thought, what it essentially amounts to is "diversion."

Postman says that television gives us "news without consequences, without value, and therefore without essential seriousness; that is to say, news as pure entertainment." In other words, it is not only mindless, it is teaching us to be mindless, to the point at which we even suppose that our ignorance is great knowledge.

Reach Out and Elect Someone

A second area of bad influence is politics. Postman calls this chapter "Reach Out and Elect Someone." Ronald Reagan once said, "Politics is just like show business. " But if this is so, then the object of politics on television is not to pursue excellence, clarity, or honesty, or any other generally recognized virtue, but to appear as if you are pursuing these things.

After the 1968 presidential campaign, in which Richard Nixon finally won the White House, a political writer named Joe McGinniss wrote a book titled The Selling of the President 1968. In it he described the strategy of the Nixon advisors who felt that their candidate had lost the 1960 election to John Kennedy because of Kennedy's better television image. He reports William Gavin, one of Nixon's chief aids, as advising, "Break away from linear logic: present a barrage of impressions, of attitudes. Break off in mid-sentence and skip to something half a world awayReason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demandGet the voters to like the guy, and the battle's two-thirds won."

How do campaign managers get their candidates elected today? Not by discussing issues, because that is a sure way to get defeated--any position on any issue, unless it is utterly meaningless, is certain to offend somebody. The way to win elections is to present a pleasant television image and to keep the candidate out of trouble for as long as possible.

That is why Ronald Reagan won in 1980 and even more decisively in 1984. It was not his positions, though they were substantially different from those of his predecessors and were, in my opinion, generally right. There really was "a Reagan revolution." But this was not why he won. He won because he had a long career in movies and was a master of the television medium. He projected an image of a strong decent man we could trust.

The 1988 presidential election, in which George Bush defeated Michael Dukakis, involved issues about which every intelligent voter should have been carefully informed. Television is supposed to be the medium through which this is done. But a discussion of the issues is precisely what the voters did not get. Where did George Bush and Michael Dukakis differ in their politics? In regard to domestic programs such as Social Security, child care, education, taxes, abortion? In international affairs? The military? Relations with Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Japan? It was only specialists in government who knew the true answers to those questions, not the voters, because those were not the issues of the campaign.

What were the issues then? Actually, there was only one issue, and it was this: Is George Bush a "wimp"? That question was raised because he looked like a wimp on television; he is thin, seems to be frail, and held his head slightly to one side in a way that looked deferential. If the Dukakis camp could encourage voters to think of Bush that way, they would vote for Dukakis, because no one wants a wimp for president. On the other hand, Bush's task was to convince the voters that he would actually be a strong president, and the strategy of his camp was therefore to wage a strong, aggressive--many said unfair and nasty--campaign against Dukakis. The media complained! Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings were predictably self-righteous and offended. They called it the least substantial, meanest campaign in memory. But how hypocritical! It was mindless, but it was mindless precisely because that is what television demands. It demands images and not thought.

The campaign of1992 is another example. I said from the beginning that Bill Clinton would win the election, not because he might have a better program for getting this country out of debt or even because the electorate was unhappy with America's slow rate of economic growth in the previous two years, but because Clinton looks better on television. Clinton is the perfect television candidate, and so he won.

Marshall McLuhan, the television "guru," was right when he said, "The medium is the message." The campaign managers have learned that, which is why they organize the kinds of campaigns they do.

I know someone will say, "But Reagan was a decent, strong man." Or, "George Bush really is a wimp (or 'is not a wimp')." Or, "Bill Clinton is the Stronger candidate." But my point is that we do not actually know those things and cannot know them, at least from television, until events perhaps support or fail to support our perceptions. The most serious thing of all perhaps is not that we do not know, but that we think we do know because of television.

Religion as Entertainment

The third area of bad influence is religion. Postman's chapter on religion is called "Shuffle Off to Bethlehem." Religion is on television chiefly in an entertainment format. With the possible exception of Billy Graham, who has an international following quite apart from the television medium, and some other teaching pastors such as Charles Stanley and D. James Kennedy, the religious television stars are mostly entertainers. Pat Robertson is a master of ceremonies along the lines of Merv Griffin. Jimmy Swaggart is a piano player and singer as well as having been a vivacious and entertaining speaker. Even televised church services, like those of Jerry Falwell and Robert Schuller. contain their requisite musical numbers and pop testimonies, just like variety shows on secular television. The proper name for them is vaudeville.

Nearly everything that makes religion real is lost in the translation of church to television. The chief loss is a sense of the transcendent. God is missing. Postman says:

Everything that makes religion an historic, profound and sacred human activity is stripped away; there is no ritual, no dogma, no tradition, no theology, and above all, no sense of spiritual transcendence. On these shows, the preacher is tops. God comes out as second banana. . . . CBS knows that Walter Cronkite plays better on television than the Milky Way. And Jimmy Swaggart plays better than God. For God exists only in our minds, whereas Swaggart is them, to be seen, admired, adored. Which is why he is the star of the showIf I am not mistaken. the word for this is blasphemy.

An observer who likes such religious entertainment might object, "Well, what harm is done as long as genuine religion is still to be found in church on Sundays?" I would argue that so pervasive and normalizing is the impact of television that pressures have inevitably come to make church services as irrelevant and entertaining as the tube.

In the vast majority of church services today there are virtually no pastoral prayers, while there is much brainless music, chummy chatter, and abbreviated sermons. Preachers are told to be personable, to relate funny stories, to smile, and above all to stay away from topics that might cause people to become unhappy with the church and leave it. They are to preach to felt needs, not necessarily real needs. This generally means telling people only what they want to hear.

Your Mind Matters

This is the point at which we need to talk about genuine mind renewal for Christians, which is what I will continue with in the next study. But I close here by mentioning a helpful little book by John Stott, the Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church in London, titled Your Mind Matters. It deals with six spheres of Christian living, and it argues that each one is impossible without a proper and energetic use of our minds: Christian worship, Christian faith, Christian holiness, Christian guidance, Christian evangelism, and Christian ministry. We need to think. Stott argues that "anti-intellectualism. . . is . . . part of the fashion of the world and therefore a form of worldliness. To denigrate the mind is to undermine foundational Christian doctrines." He asks pointedly, "Has God created us rational beings, and shall we deny our humanity which he has given us? Has God spoken to us, and shall we not listen to his words? Has God renewed our mind through Christ, and shall we not think with it? Is God going to judge us by his Word, and shall we not be wise and build our house upon this rock?" They are important and helpful questions, if you think about them.

Mind Renewal in a Mindless Age: Part 1

In each of the last two studies dealing with what it means to think as a Christian rather than in a worldly or secular way, I have mentioned Harry Blamires, an Englishman who has written two good books on this subject: The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (1963) and Recovering the Christian Mind: Meeting the Challenge of Secularism (1988). In each of these books Blamires encourages us to reject the world's thinking and begin to think as Christians. This is what Paul is writing about in our text from Romans 12:2, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind". This means that our thinking is not to be determined by the culture of the world around us but rather that we are to have a distinctly different and growing Christian worldview.

But what does it actually mean to have an outlook like that? How are we to experience mind renewal in our exceedingly mindless age?

Thinking Christianly and Thinking Secularly

The one thing this does not mean is what most people probably assume it does, and that is to start thinking mainly about Christian things. We do need to think about Christian subjects, of course. In fact, it is from that base of revealed doctrine and its applications to life that we can begin to think Christianly about other matters. I am going to pursue exactly that line of thought in this study. But to think Christianity itself is not a matter of thinking about Christian subjects as opposed to thinking about secular subjects, as we suppose, but rather to think in a Christian way about everything. It means to have a Christian mind.

This is because, by contrast, it is possible to think in a secular way even about religious things. Take the Lord's Supper, for instance. For most Christians the Lord's Supper is probably the most spiritual of all spiritual matters, and yet it is possible to think about even it in a worldly manner. For example, a trustee of the church might be thinking that he forgot to include the cost of the communion elements in the next year's budget. Another person might be looking at the minister and criticizing his way of handling the elements. "He's so awkward," this person might be thinking. Still another person might be reflecting on how good it is for people to have spiritual thoughts or to observe religious ceremonies. "This is good for people," he might be reflecting. Each of these persons is thinking secularly about the most sacred of Christian practices.

On the other hand, it is possible to think Christianly about even the most mundane matters. Blamires suggests how we might do this at a gasoline station while we are waiting for our tank to be filled with gas. We might be reflecting on how a mechanized world with cars and other machines tends to make God seem unnecessary for people, or how a speeded-up world in which we use our cars to race from one appointment to another makes it difficult to think deeply about or even care for other people. Even further, we might be wondering, do material things like cars serve us, or are we enslaved to them? Do they cause us to covet and therefore break the tenth commandment? How do they impact the environment over which God has made us stewards?

Blamires says, 'There is nothing in our experience, however trivial, worldly, or even evil, which cannot be thought about Christianly. There is likewise nothing in our experience, however sacred, which cannot be thought about secularly-considered, that is to say, simply in its relationship to the passing existence of bodies and psyches in a time-locked universe.

The God Who Is There

So I ask again, Where do we start? How do we begin to think and act as Christians? There is a sense in which we could begin at any point, since truth is a whole and truth in any area will inevitably lead to truth in every other area. But if the dominant philosophy of our day is secularism, which means viewing all of life only in terms of the visible world and in terms of the here and now, then the best of all possible starting places is the doctrine of God, for God alone is above and beyond the world and is eternal. Even more, the doctrine of God is a necessary and inevitable starting place if we are to produce a genuinely Christian response to secularism.

What does that mean for our thinking?

Well, if there is a God, that very fact means that there is literally such a thing as the supernatural. Supernatural means over, above, or in addition to nature. In other words, to go back to Carl Sagan's popular credo, the cosmos is not all there is or was or ever will be. God is. God exists. He is there, whether we acknowledge it or not, and he stands behind the cosmos. In fact, it is only because there is a God that there is a cosmos, since without God nothing else could possibly have come to be.

If anything exists, there must be an inevitable, self-existent, uncaused first cause that stands behind it.

Several years ago at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology Professor John H. Gerstner was talking about creation and referred to something his high school physics teacher once said: "The most profound question that has ever been asked by anybody is: Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Gerstner said that he was quite impressed with that at the time. But later, as he sharpened his ability to think, he recognized that it was not a profound question at all. In fact, it was not even a true question. It posed an alternative, something rather than nothing. "But what is nothing?" Gerstner asked. "Nothing" eludes definition. It even defies conception. For as soon as you say, "Nothing is . . ." nothing ceases to be nothing and becomes something. Gerstner referred to Jonathan Edwards, who is not noted for being funny but who was at least a slight bit humorous on one occasion when he said, "Nothing is what the sleeping rocks dream of."

So, said Gerstner, "Anyone who thinks he knows what nothing is must have those rocks in his head. "

As soon as you ask, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" the alternative vanishes, you are left with something, and the only possible explanation for that something is "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1), which is what Christianity teaches.

"He Is There and He Is Not Silent"

The God who exists has revealed himself. This is the doctrine of revelation. Francis Schaeffer titled one of his books He Is There and He Is Not Silent' to make this point. God is there, and he has not kept himself hidden from us. He has revealed himself-in nature, in history, and especially in the Scriptures.

[Earlier I] mentioned four "ism"s that are part of the pattern of this age: secularism, humanism, relativism, and materialism. The doctrine of God is the specific Christian answer to secularism. Revelation is the specific answer to relativism. If God has spoken, then what he has said is truthful and can be trusted absolutely, since God is truthful. This gives us absolutes in an otherwise relative and therefore ultimately chaotic universe.

That God has spoken and that God's Word to us can be trusted has always been the conviction of the church, at least until relatively modern times. Today the truthfulness of the Bible has been challenged, but with disastrous results. For without a sure word from God all words are equally valid, and Christianity is neither more certain nor more compelling than any other merely human word or philosophy.

But notice this: If God has spoken, there will always be a certain hardness about the Christian faith and Christians. I do not mean that we will be hard on others or insensitive to them. Rather, there will be a certain unyielding quality to our convictions.

For one thing, we will insist upon truth and will not bow to the notion, however strongly it is pressed upon us, that "that's just your opinion."

Several years ago when I was flying to Chicago from the West Coast I got into a conversation with the woman seated next to me. We talked about religion, and whenever I made a statement about the gospel she replied, "But that's just your opinion." She was out of the relativistic mold.

I hit upon a way of answering her that preserved the hardness of what I was trying to say and yet did it nicely. I said, "You're right; that is my opinion, but that's not really what matters. What matters is: Is it true?"

She did not know quite what to say to that. So the conversation went on, and after a while she replied to something else I was saying in the same way: "But that's just your opinion."

I said, "You're right; that is my opinion, but that's not really what matters. What matters is: Is it true?" This happened about a dozen times, and after a while she began to smile and then laugh as she anticipated my comment coming. When I got home I sent her a copy of Mere Christianity.

Another thing the doctrine of revelation will mean for us is that we will not back down or compromise on moral issues. You know how it is whenever you speak out against some particularly bad act. If people do not say, "But that's just your opinion," they are likely to attack you personally, saying things like, "You'd do the same thing if you were in her situation" or "Do you think you're better than he is?" We must not be put off by such attacks. Our response should be something like this: "Please, I wasn't talking about what I would do if I were in her shoes. I'm a sinner too. I might have acted much worse. I would probably have failed sooner. I wasn't talking about that. I was talking about what is right, and I think that is what we need to talk about. None of us is ever going to do better than we are doing unless we talk about it and decide what's right to do."

"What the secular mind is ill-equipped to grasp is that the Christian faith leaves Christians with no choice at all on many matters of this kind," writes Blamires. We are people under God's authority, and that authority is expressed for us in the Bible.

The West's Spiritual Exhaustion

Now let's return to some implications of the doctrine of God. First, if there is a God and if he has made us to have eternal fellowship with him, then we are going to look at failure, suffering, pain, and even death differently than non-Christians do. For the Christian these can never be the greatest of all tragedies. They are bad. Death is an enemy (l Cor. 15:26). But they are overbalanced by eternal matters.

Second, success and pleasure will not be the greatest of all goods for us. They are good, but they will never compare with salvation from sin or knowing God. Jesus said it clearly: "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matt. 16:26). Or, from the other side, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but who cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).

That leads to a Christian response to materialism. There are two kinds of materialism, a philosophical materialism like that of doctrinaire communism and a practical materialism that is most characteristic of the West. We have been raised with a false kind of syllogism that says that because we are not communists and communists are materialists, therefore we are not materialists. But that is not necessarily true. Most of us embrace a practical materialism that warps our souls, stunts our spiritual growth, and hinders the advance of the gospel in our time.

The best critique of Western materialism that I know was presented by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the well-known Soviet dissident and writer, in an address given to the graduating class of Harvard University in 1978. Up to that point Solzhenitsyn had been somewhat of an American hero. He had suffered in the Soviet Union's infamous gulag prison system and had later defected. That's why he was invited to speak at Harvard. But in this address he was so blunt in his criticism of the West that his popularity vanished almost overnight, and he was almost never heard from, though he continued to write voluminously from a retreat in New England.

Solzhenitsyn's address was no defense of socialism. Quite the contrary. He celebrated its ideological defeat in Eastern Europe, saying, "It is zero and less than zero." But he declared, "Should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. . . . Through intense suffering our own country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive." He maintained that "after the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by 1V stupor and by intolerable music. "

According to Solzhenitsyn, the West has pursued physical well-being and the acquiring of material goods to the exclusion of almost everything spiritual.

"We Do Not Mind That We Die"

In 1989 Westerners were astounded by the political changes in Eastern Europe. Country after country repudiated its seventy-two-year communist heritage and replaced its leaders with democratically elected officials. We rejoiced in these changes, and rightly so. But we need to remember two things.

First, while the former communist lands have moved in a more democratic direction, we have moved in the direction of their materialism, living as if the only thing that matters is how many earthly goods we can acquire now. We marveled at the moving scenes of East Germans passing through the openings in the infamous Berlin Wall. We saw them gazing in amazement at the abundance of goods on West Berlin shelves. But what is the good of their being able to come to the West if all they discover here is a spiritual climate vastly inferior to their own?

And that is the second thing we need to remember. Though the American media with its blindness to things spiritual did not acknowledge it, the changes in the Eastern Bloc came about not by anyone's will, that of Mikhail Gorbachev or any other, but by the spiritual vitality of the people.

The strength of the Polish Solidarity movement, where the breakthrough first came, is that of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II was a strong supporter of the people's faith and dreams. Faith and spiritual strength also lay behind the changes in East Germany. Conventional wisdom in Germany has it that the turning point was on October 9, 1989, when seventy thousand demonstrators marched in Leipzig.

The army was placed on full alert, and under normal circumstances it would have attacked the demonstrators violently. But the protesters' rallying cry was, "Let them shoot, we will still march." The army did not attack, and after that the protests grew until the government was overthrown.

In Romania, where President Nicolae Ceausescu just weeks before had declared that apple trees would bear pears before socialism should be endangered in Romania, the end began in the house of a Protestant pastor whose parishioners surrounded him, declaring that they were willing to die rather than let him be arrested by the state police."

Josef Tson, founder and president of the Romanian Missionary Society, was in Romania just after the death of Ceausescu and reported the details of the story. The pastor was from the city of Timisoara, and his name was Laszlo Tokes. On Saturday, December 16, 1989, just a few days before Christmas, hundreds and then thousands of people joined the courageous parishioners who had surrounded his house trying to defend him. One was a twenty-four-year-old Baptist church worker who decided to distribute candles to the ever-growing multitude. He lit his candle, and then the others lit theirs. This transformed the protective strategy into a contagious demonstration, and it was the beginning of the revolution. The next day, when the secret police opened fire on the people, the young man was shot in the leg, and the doctors had to amputate it. But on his hospital bed this young man told his pastor, "I lost a leg, but I am happy. I lit the first light."

The people in Romania do not call the events of December 1989 a national revolution. They say rather, "Call it God's miracle." The rallying cry of the masses was "God lives!" That from a former fiercely atheistic country! The people shouted, "Freedom! Freedom! We do not mind that we die!"

Willing to die? Ah, that is the only ultimately valid test of whether one is a practical materialist at heart or whether one believes in something greater and more important than things. Do we? No doubt there are Westerners who are willing to die for things intangible. The people who were willing to die for civil rights during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s are examples. But today the masses of individuals in America no longer share this high standard of commitment and sacrifice. In 1978, during President jimmy Carter's abortive attempt to reinstate draft registration for the young, newspapers carried a photograph of a Princeton University student defiantly waving a poster marked with the words: "Nothing is worth dying for."

"But if nothing is worth dying for, is anything worth living for?" asks Charles Colson, who comments on this photograph in Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages. If there is nothing worth living for or dying for, then the chief end of man might as well be cruising the malls, which is the number one activity of today's teenagers, according to the pollsters. Solzhenitsyn summarizes our weak thinking at this point when he says of today's Americans: "Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense which has come into being during [these last] decades. . . . So who should now renounce all this? Why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values?"

Christianity has the answer to that, and Christians in past ages have known it. It is to "gain a better resurrection" (Heb. 11:35), which means to do what is right because what is right pleases God and that is what ultimately matters. But those who do it must be thinking Christians.

Mind Renewal in a Mindless Age: Part 2

In the last study 1 introduced the Christian doctrines of God and revelation as the biblical answer to secularism, humanism, relativism, and materialism, but I did not write about humanism in detail. The answer to humanism is the Christian doctrine of man.

Humanism is the philosophy to which human beings inevitably come if they are secularists. Secularism means eliminating God or anything else that may be transcendent from the universe and focusing instead on only what we can see and measure now. When God is eliminated in this process, man himself is left as the pinnacle of creation and becomes the inadequate and unworthy core for everything. In philosophy we usually trace the beginnings of this outlook to the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Protagoras. Protagoras expressed his viewpoint in Greek words that have given us the better known Latin concept homo mensura, which means "Man, the measure" or, as it is often expressed, "Man is the measure of all things." The idea is that man is the norm by which everything is to be evaluated. He is the ultimate creature and thus the ultimate authority.

This seems to elevate man, but in practice it does exactly the opposite. It deifies man, but this deification always debases man in the end, turning him into an animal or even less than an animal. Moreover, it causes him to manipulate, ignore, disparage, wound, hate, abuse, and even murder other people.

What's Wrong with Me?

In the last twenty years something terrible has happened to Americans in the way we relate to other people, and it is due to the twisted humanism about which I have been writing. Prior to that time there was still something of a Christian ethos in this country and people used to care about and help other people. It was the natural thing to do. Today we focus on ourselves and deal with others only for what we can get out of them. This approach is materialistic and utilitarian.

In 1981 a sociologist-pollster, Daniel Yankelovich, published a study of the 1970s titled New Rules: Searching fur Self-Fulfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. This book documented a tidal shift in values by which many and eventually most Americans began to seek personal self-fulfillment as the ultimate goal in life rather than operating on the principle that we are here to serve and even sacrifice for others, as Americans for the most part really had done previously. He found that by the late 1970s, 72 percent of Americans spent much time thinking about themselves and their inner lives." So pervasive was this change that as early as 1976 Tom Wolfe called the seventies the "Me Decade" and compared it to a third religious awakening.

But isn't this a good thing? Shouldn't thinking about ourselves make us happy? If we redirect our energy to fulfilling ourselves and earn as much as we can to indulge even our tiniest desires, shouldn't we be satisfied with life? No! It doesn't work that way. It fails on the personal level, and it fails in the area of our relationships with other people also.

In 1978 Margaret Halsey wrote an article for Newsweek magazine titled "What's Wrong with Me, Me, Me?" Halsey referred to Wolfe's description of the seventies as the "me" generation, highlighting the belief that "inside every human being, however unprepossessing, there is a glorious, talented and overwhelmingly attractive personality [which] will be revealed in all its splendor if the individual just forgets about courtesy, cooperativeness and consideration for others and proceeds to do exactly what he or she feels like doing."

The problem, as Halsey pointed out, is not that there are not attractive characteristics in everyone (or at least in most people) but that human nature consists even more basically of "a mess of unruly primitive elements" which spoil the "self-discovery." These unruly elements need to be overcome, not indulged. And this means that the attractive personalities we seek really are not there to be discovered but rather are natures that need to be developed through choices, hard work, and lasting commitments to others.

When we ask "What's wrong with me?" it is the "me, me, me" that is the problem.

This affects our relationships with other people too, because it makes our world impersonal. Charles Reich in his best-selling book The Greening of America wrote:

Modern living has obliterated place, locality and neighborhood, and given us the anonymous separateness of our existence. The family, the most basic social system, has been ruthlessly stripped to its functional essentials. Friendship has been coated over with a layer of impenetrable artificiality as men strive to live roles designed for them. Protocol, competition, hostility, and fear have replaced the warmth of the circle of affection which might sustain man against a hostile environment... . America [has become] one vast, terrifying anti-community.

The Christian Doctrine of Man

The Christian answer to this is the biblical doctrine of man, which means that if we are to have renewed minds in this area, we need to stop thinking about ourselves and other people as the world does and instead begin operating within a biblical framework.

When we turn to the Bible to see what it has to say about human beings, we find two surprising things. First, we find that man is a uniquely valuable being, far more important than the humanists imagine him to be. But, second, in his fallen condition we also find that he is much worse than the humanists suppose.

Let's take the fact that human beings are more valuable than humanists imagine first. The Bible teaches this at the very beginning of Genesis when it reports God as saying, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). We are then told, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (v. 27).

In ancient times books were copied by hand with rough letters. There was no typesetting, so it was not possible to emphasize one idea over another by such devices as italics, capital letters, boldface, and centered headings. Instead emphasis was made by repetition. For example, when Jesus wanted to stress something as unusually important, he began with the words "verily, verily' or "truly, truly." We have the same thing in the first chapter of Genesis with the phrases "in our image," "in his own image," and "in the image of God." That idea is repeated three times, which is a way of saying that man being created in God's image is important. It is what makes man distinct from the animals. He is to value this distinction greatly.

Just a few chapters later in Genesis, the fact that man is made in God's image is given as the reason why we are not to murder other people and why murderers should be punished by death, since they devalue another individual's life, taking it lightly: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man" (Gen. 9:6).

Bible students have debated the full meaning of what it means to be made in the image of God for centuries. This is not surprising since being made in God's image means to be like God and God is above and far beyond us, beyond even our full understanding. Nevertheless, we can know a few things:

1. Personality. To be made in God's image means to possess the attributes of personality, as God himself does, but animals, plants, and matter do not. This involves knowledge, memory, feelings, and a will. Of course, there is a sense in which animals have what we call personalities, meaning that individuals in a species sometimes behave differently than others in the species. But animals do not create. They do not love or worship. Personality, in the sense I am writing about here, is something that links human beings to God but does not link either God or man to the rest of creation.

2. Morality. The second characteristic of being made in the image of God is morality, for God is a moral God and those made in his image are made with the capacity to discern between what is right and wrong, between good and evil. This involves the further elements of freedom and responsibility. To be sure, the freedom of human beings is not absolute, as God's freedom is. We are not free to do all things. We are limited. Nevertheless, our freedom is a true freedom, even when we use it wrongly as Adam and Eve did when they sinned. They lost their original righteousness as a result. But they were still free to sin, and they were free in their sinful state afterward in the sense that they were still able to make right and wrong choices. Moreover, they continued to be responsible for them.

3. Spirituality. The third feature of being made in the image of God is spirituality, which means that human beings are able to have fellowship with God. Another way of saying this is to say that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) and that we are also spirits meant for eternal fellowship with him. Nothing can be greater than that for human beings, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism states it well when it says in the answer to the first question: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever."

Perhaps at this point we are beginning to see why secular humanism is so bad and not just a less attractive option than Christianity. Humanism sounds like it is focusing on man and elevating man, but it actually strips away the most valuable parts of human nature. As far as personality goes, it reduces us to mere animal urges, as Sigmund Freud tried to do. Regarding morality, instead of remaining responsible moral agents, which is our glory, we are turned into mere products of our environment or our genetic makeup, as B. F. Skinner asserts. As far as spirituality is concerned, how can we maintain a relationship to God if there is no God and we are made the measure of all things?

To refer again to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in humanism "things higher, warmer, and purer" are drowned out by "today's mass living habits and TV stupor." We can make engrossing five-minute TV videos or commercials, but we no longer build cathedrals.

The Doctrine of the Fall

What is the problem, then? If human beings are more important and more valuable than the humanists imagine, why is it that things are so bad? The answer is the Christian doctrine of sin, which tells us that although people are more valuable than secularists imagine, they are in worse trouble than the humanists can admit. We have been made in God's image, but we have lost that image, which means that we are no longer fully human or as human as God intends us to be. We are fallen creatures.

Here I think of something I wrote about in the first volume of these studies. when I was looking closely at Romans 1. Romans 1 is about human beings falling down a steep slippery slope when they abandon God, and I pointed out that the conceptual framework for this down bound slide is found in Psalm 8. Psalm 8 both begins and ends with the words: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (vv. 1,9). In the middle it talks about the created order. So the beginning and ending teach that everything begins and ends with God, rather than with man, and that if we think clearly we will agree with this. Then it describes men and women particularly:

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands:
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field. (Psalm 8:3-7)

These verses fix man at a very interesting place in the created order: lower than the angels ("the heavenly beings") but higher than the animals-somewhere in between. This is what Thomas Aquinas saw when he described man as a mediating being. He is like the angels in that he has a soul. He is like the beasts in that he has a body. The angels have souls but not bodies, while the animals have bodies but not souls.

But here is the point. Although man is a mediating being, created to be somewhere between the angels and the animals, in Psalm 8 he is nevertheless described as being somewhat lower than the angels rather than as being somewhat higher than the beasts, which means that he is destined to look not downward to the beasts, but upward to the angels and beyond them to God and so to become increasingly like him. But if we will not look up, if we reject God, as secularism does, then we will inevitably look downward and so become increasingly like the lower creatures and behave like them. We will become beastlike, which is exactly what is happening in our society. People are acting like animals, and even worse.

Over the last few decades I have noticed that our culture is tending to justify bad human behavior on the ground that we are, after all, just animals. I saw an article in a scientific journal about a certain kind of duck. Two scientists had been observing a family of these ducks, and they reported something in this duck family that they called "gang rape." I am sure they did not want to excuse this crime among humans by the comparison they were making, but they were suggesting that gang rape among humans is at least understandable given our animal ancestry. The inference comes from the evolutionary, naturalistic worldview they espoused.

A story of a similar nature appeared in the September 6, 1982, issue of Newsweek magazine. It was accompanied by a picture of an adult baboon holding a dead infant baboon, and over this there was a headline that read: "Biologists Say Infanticide Is as Normal as the Sex Drive--And That Most Animals, Including Man, Practice It." The title is as revealing in its way as Carl Sagan's 'The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. "It identifies man as an animal, and it justifies his behavior on the basis of that identification. The sequence of thought goes like this: (1) Man is an animal, (2) Animals kill their offspring, (3) Therefore, it is all right (or at least understandable) that human beings kill their offspring.

The argument is fallacious, of course. Most animals do not kill their offspring. They protect their young and care for them. But even if in a few instances some animals do kill their offspring, this is still not comparable to the crimes of which human beings are capable. In the United States alone we kill over one and a half million babies each year by abortion--usually just for the convenience of the mother. And the number of outright murders is soaring.

The Doctrine of Redemption

My point in these last two studies has been that renewing our minds begins with understanding and applying the great Christian doctrines, and thus far we have at least touched on four of them: the doctrines of God, revelation, man, and the fall. This is a proper starting place for our thinking if we are serious about what Paul is urging upon us in our text from Romans, "be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

In the next study I will move on to the final phrase of verse 2 to ponder what it means to "test and approve what God's will is." But before I do that I want to mention the doctrine of redemption, without which nothing in either of these last two studies would be complete.

The doctrine of redemption--the fact that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16)--infinitely intensifies everything I have been saying about man being both more valuable than the humanists can imagine as well as also being worse than they can possibly suppose.

The doctrine of redemption intensifies man's value because it teaches that even in his fallen state, a condition in which he hates God and kills his fellow creatures, man is still so valuable to God that God planned for and carried out the death of his own precious Son to save him. At the same time, this doctrine teaches that man's state is indescribably dreadful, because it took nothing less than the death of the very Son of God to accomplish it.

I want to close this study by referring again to what I regard as the greatest single piece of writing produced by the great Christian scholar and apologist C. S. Lewis. It was preached as a sermon in the summer of 1941, but it is known to us as an essay called 'The Weight of Glory." Lewis begins by probing for the meaning of glory, recognizing that it is something of the very essence of God that we desire. It is something "no natural happiness will satisfy." At the same time it is also something from which we, in our sinful state, have been shut out. We want it. We sense that we are destined for it. But glory is beyond us--apart from what God has done to save us and make us like himself.

At the end of the essay, Lewis applies this to how we should learn to think about other people. We should understand that they are either going to be brought into glory, which is a supreme and indescribable blessing, or else they are going to be shut out from it--forever. Here he says, "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. . . There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors." What Lewis is doing in that essay is helping us to develop a Christian mind about other people, and his bottom line is that we will treat others better only if we learn to think of them in these terms. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Vol. IV, Baker Books, 2000.)