Resolutions – Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Romans 12:2 ESV

 

New Year’s Resolutions, many people tend to make them. The top ten New Year’s Resolutions this last year were diet, exercise, lose weight, save more money and spend less, learn a new skill or hobby, quit smoking, read more, new job, drink less alcohol, and spending more time with friends and family. We tend to look at New Year’s resolutions as a form of self improvement goals, things we want to do for ourselves either to fulfill our desires or to make ourselves appear better in some for or another. Now I am not saying there is anything completely wrong with New Year’s Resolutions, I mean half of them are regarding living a healthier lifestyle. The problem with New Year’s Resolutions is how many people actually stick to them? I mean the big joke is if you want to start working out at a gym, start in February after those who made resolutions have quit and the gym becomes less crowded.

 

The question is do we often take a similar approach to our spiritual life? We make promises that we will do things to improve ourselves spiritually only to give up on them after a short amount of time. How many of us made a resolution to read the Bible through in a year, or to do a daily devotional? How many of us have actually stuck to that resolution? One thing I will state New Year’s Resolutions it is said that 80% fail by February and only 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions.

 

The thing is what Paul is getting at here in this verse goes so much deeper than the concept of a resolution. In fact if you look at verse 1 we see that this is a daily intentional decision. To be transformed and not conformed is not something we can do on our own; but it is done by daily giving ourselves to God. It is humbling ourselves before God, looking to Him and seeking His desires, which in turn eventually become our desires as we are transformed. You see being conformed to the world is asking what can we do for ourselves, how can we make ourselves look good; even the most giving person if they are not following God their motives are purely for their own purpose. On the other side to be transformed is to rather ask what can I do to make God look good, what can I do to bring Him glory? You see the reason in the previous verse Paul states we need to present ourselves daily as a living sacrifice is that in order to be transformed we need to kill our selfish desires and humble ourselves daily, as pride is something we all struggle with  and it is turning from our selfish desires and looking towards God and seeking His desires that results in the transformation. One verse I like to look at regarding this is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Not in that God will be a genie and give you what you want, but as you look towards God, He will change or transform your desires to line up with His desires; or He renews your mind so that “you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Grace Alone – Romans 3:23-24

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24 ESV

Sola Gracia or grace alone, it is the second of the five solas of the Protestant Reformation that I will cover and is the concept that we are saved by grace alone. So what exactly is grace? I am not big for acronyms or catchy phrases to describe theological terms but I often hear grace broken down as God’s riches at Christ’s expense; but as we see in Romans 3 I would modify that statement, and I think Martin Luther’s revelation regarding Romans 1:17 would agree, God’s righteousness at Christ’s expense. You see in the previous verses it mentions that God’s righteousness is given to the believer, it is the same righteousness that Martin Luther agonized over when reading Romans 1:17b, “For the righteous shall live by faith.” What this means is that through grace we are offered God’s righteousness, as that is the only thing that can truly justify us, because when we are measured against God’s glory in our own merit nothing we do can measure up, no matter how moral and good it may seem to us our actions on our own tend to be self serving in some form or fashion.

The fact that we can never measure up to God’s glory, to His standard, He offers us the gift of grace. He states that He is willing to apply His righteousness to us when He sees if we measure up to His glory and standard. You see when we say that we are justified, it is not the simplistic just as if I had never sinned, another of those pesky catchy phrases. So if you remember what it mean to be justified, it is to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable.

But didn’t we just get finished talking about how it is faith alone? Well faith and grace are actually two sides to the same coin. Grace as mentioned here is the gift of God’s righteousness bestowed upon us. It is God stating that rather than using our righteousness to measure up to His standard, he will apply His righteousness to us and use that to see if we measure up. Faith is our trust and belief that God will do just that, in other words our faith is the result of accepting God’s grace. You see you cannot have faith without grace and when we receive grace our faith is the proof before God. Thus as stated in Ephesians 2:8 we are saved by grace through faith.

Scripture Alone – 2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone, this is one of the foundational statements of the Protestant Reformation. It is the concept that Scripture is the ultimate authority on how a Christian should live and believe. The Bible is the measuring stick by which we are to measure all of our beliefs as well as what we are told. It is to be the final say in our moral compass directing our paths and actions. You see the reformers and even some of those that came before them such as Wycliffe and Huss saw a discrepancy between what Rome was saying and what the Bible stated and rather than side with the pope and the church they took the stance that the Bible should have the final say.

This verse explains precisely why the Bible is important. The first thing that Paul mentions in this verse is the importance of the source of Scripture. I know when writing research papers there are different types of sources, where the professors want you to use as many quality sources as possible, sources that are accurate and reliable as opposed to the random rants of someone on the internet. What he points out is that Scripture was inspired by God, or as we see in some translations that it was God breathed. What this means is that what we see in the Bible was in a way dictated to the authors by God; but in a way that was more in terms of thoughts and concepts, as God’s truth flowed through the minds, souls, hearts, emotions, and personalities of the various authors. This is seen by each writer having their own style and presentation; Paul uses a different vocabulary than James, and Luke writes to the Greek mind while Matthew speaks more to the Jews. It all however, is God’s truth breathed into the writers.

The next thing we see is that not only is the source of Scripture important, but the uses of Scripture is important. Paul gives a list of ways that the Bible is to be used by stating that in each of these areas Scripture is profitable, it brings about the best results. The four areas in which Paul lists Scripture as being profitable all work together in helping the believer grow. First is that of teaching or in fancy terms doctrine, it is learning what is right. That is followed up by reproof, or telling us what is not right. So with these first two aspects Scripture tells us what we should be doing and what we should not be doing; what our goals should be and what we should try to avoid. Then there comes correction, this is where Scripture helps to tell us how to get right; especially when we fail, as we all will do at one point or another. Finally Scripture is profitable for training in righteousness, or how we are to stay right. These last two go together because as we are shown how we have failed and how to get right with God, we then are shown how to remain that way. This is not a one time deal, it is a lifelong process that we must all endure; and that is what Paul is getting at with how Scripture is profitable to us. It brings us to salvation, to faith in Christ, but then leads us through maturing in our faith.

If you have any other questions about why Scripture alone remember that Scripture is the Word of God, and as John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Stop the Spiritual Fluff – 1 John 4:1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1 ESV

Who are you listening to? What preachers and speakers do you regularly follow? Do you take what they tell you as gospel truth or do you regardless test what they are teaching against the Word of God? John wrote to the early church warning them about false teachers and he wasn’t the only person to warn the church. Paul in his farewell address as well as when writing to Timothy warned against those that would come in teaching what people want to hear rather than teaching the Truth.

Today in the world of televangelists and mega churches we find ourselves in a similar situation. Crowds gather more to where they are being told what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. They want the what amounts to being spiritual sweets while neglecting the spiritual nutritional substances. The problem is much like with our own diet we cannot live on only cakes, pies, and ice cream as our nutritional intake, a spiritual diet of nothing but spiritual fluff is also unhealthy.

That is why we need to test the spirits. We need to be sure that our spiritual diet is healthy. We do this by making sure that the teaching we listen to is firmly grounded in the Bible and not taken out of context. We need to remember that just because it sounds good doesn’t make it true. So let me leave you with this, what does your spiritual diet look like? Do you test the spirits to make sure what you are taking in is healthy or do you just settle for spiritual junk food?

Are You Looking For Your 15 Seconds of Fame? – John 3:29-30

He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
John 3:29-30

How often do we want to find greatness, or to be the center of attention? How often do we get into the mindset of thinking that everything should revolve around us? We often look for what can put us into the spotlight, to have that next viral video or post on Facebook; to be the next chicken nugget tweet, which if I remember right that was one of the most retweeted tweets on twitter. In this world of reality TV and social media, where anyone with a camera has the potential to become a star, that is what many people focus on. They ask how can I become greater, how can I get more likes, more retweets, more followers; they fall into the trap of pride, where all of their focus is on themselves.

Here we see John the Baptist talking to his disciples when they came to him complaining about Jesus becoming more popular than John. You see John had no problem with this as he knew who Jesus was and that he was only there to prepare the people for Jesus, much like an opening act preparing the crowds at a concert for the headline band. John understood that his role was fulfilled once Jesus started His ministry and thus needed to diminish while Jesus’ ministry was to become greater.

In this time of YouTube and Instagram stars, and everyone looking for their 15 seconds of fame we need to take a page from John the Baptist’s playbook and realize that it is not about us. We need to look less at how we can bring ourselves fame and glory and look at how we can point people to the one who deserves all glory. We need to decrease while God must increase. In other words we need to tell ourselves that “I got nothing.”

What are you teaching? – 2 Timothy 2:15

Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 CSB

 

What are you teaching?

 

How often do we remember people either telling us to “do as I say and not as I do?” Or perhaps we are the ones making that statement to someone else. The problem is our actions say as much about what we believe and sometimes more so than what our words do. When you see that someone’s actions and words don’t line up, how likely are you to listen to the advice that they give you? If someone were to tell you not to drive fast all while going ten over the speed limit would you listen to them? I know when you look at a child they are more likely to imitate what they see adults do over that an adult will tell them to do; that is why the saying “actions speak louder than words” is so true.

 

In this verse Paul is encouraging Timothy to keep a check on his actions, telling him to work towards living in such a way that when he comes before God he won’t be ashamed of how he lived, much like an employee standing before their boss during a performance review. If you worked hard, trying to meet the expectations of your employer there is nothing to be ashamed of; but if you slack off and don’t do anything there is plenty to be ashamed of. Our Christian walk should be like that of an employee looking to get a good review, and how do we know what the performance expectations are? That is where the last part of the verse comes in. In the Christian Standard Bible it states “correctly teaching the word of truth,” however other translations mention dividing or handling the word of truth. What this means is that we should be measuring our actions against what we see in the Bible, but not only that we should as John mentions test the spirits to make sure what we are doing and listening to is truth. That is because there are some out there that will use the Bible to teach what they want, but take verses out of context or twist their meaning to support their personal agendas rather than to promote God’s will.

 

So again I will ask what are you teaching? Are you living in such a way as to promote God’s message?

Are You A People Pleaser? Matthew 6:3-4

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3‭-‬4 ESV

What’s your motivation? Why do you do what you do? Are your actions done so that others’ may see what you are doing and so you get praise for it, or would you rather not be recognized for what you do?

In these verses placed within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is touching on this subject. You see the religious elite of the day were known for publicly displaying their righteousness. If people were watching they made sure to make themselves look good. They would pray elaborate prayers, throw large sums of money into the offering, if it would get the people to look at them and comment on how “good” they are they would do it. In Matthew 6:1-2 Jesus steers the people away from this thinking, telling them not to act this way, but rather as mentioned in verses 3-4 to do it in secret.

What Jesus is getting at here is not to do the seemingly impossible of keeping one part of your body from knowing what another is doing, but rather our actions should be done in such a way that glory and praise is focused on God. The pharisees were all “look at me, look at me!” While Jesus tells us that we should be going “look at God, look at God!”

Jesus states that those seeking the praise of the people already have their reward, that is because rather than seeking God’s glory and God’s favor they are seeking the praise of the people and to have their egos stroked. So they have gotten exactly what they are seeking; but those that seek God’s favor, those that do good in secret, will receive God’s grace as a reward.

So I ask again what is your motivation? Do you seek the praise of others or do you seek to please God?

Romans 12:1 – Who takes first?

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

What is worship? How are we to worship God? Looking at Romans 12:1 we see that worship consists of being a living sacrifice. What does this mean exactly, what does it look like to be a living sacrifice? A lot of it comes down to the concept of humility. I know it seems like humility is something that is mentioned constantly, but that is because it is central to our faith. The concept of being a living sacrifice means we are not just day by day but instant by instant laying aside our will and our desires and looking towards God to receive His will and His desires. This means in order to be a living sacrifice we take ourselves out of the equation and place God first in our life.

You see worship is what we place our energy, priority, and focus on. What we worship is what we place first in our life. The problem though is that we often make a list of things in our lives and rank them by priority, yet just like a golf leaderboard something in second place still has the chance of becoming first. You see God wants not just to be first in a list of priorities but He wants to be our everything. This is offering ourselves as a living sacrifice, we take our leaderboard of things in our life and place God at every single ranking. In other words we throw out the leaderboard, throw out the rankings, and seek out God alone.

So do you have a leaderboard of priorities in your life? If so I challenge you to first place God firmly in that top spot, then work on making God fill all the spots, as that is what spiritual growth is.