“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deut. 6:4, 5
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
Today we confirm six of our young people. They will make statement of their faith in Christ, so we read two central biblical passages about the meaning of life in Christ. From the Old Testament, the command to love God. From the New Testament, the instruction not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. When you receive Christ by faith into your life as Savior and Lord, you then confirm faith by loving God and by asking Christ to transform your life.
The Lord directed Moses to teach the people to observe the laws. He did not tell them just to learn the laws, but to live them. That is hard for people to do, because the laws of God are counter to the way life flows. To live out these commands, you have to listen to them, and then you have to hear them, which moves you to obey them. The key movement in the Christian life is going from listening to hearing. You can study the will of God, read it and even memorize it, but to hear it means to be moved to accept it and put it into practice.
A young salesman went from farm to farm selling books on the latest farming methods. “Buy this book,” he told one farmer. “It will teach you how to be a better farmer than you are.” “No, thanks,” said the farmer. “I already know how to be a better farmer than I am.” Knowing and hearing are not the same thing. Somehow we must move from knowledge to obedience.
This is what Paul is writing about in Romans 12. We find ourselves doing what conforms to the pattern of this world. We are imitative beings. We tend to do what the people around us are doing. So in order to live out the commands of God you have to have energy and heart commitment. There has to be a power behind your obedience.
This is why the commandments begin by saying “The Lord your God, the Lord is One.” There are no other gods like the Lord God. P.C. Craigie writes, “When the Lord speaks, there is no contradiction. When he promises, there is no other to revoke his promise.” That is why you can love God. When you love and obey God, there is no other god who can do you harm. This is what Israel learned in their deliverance form Egypt. Since God alone brought them out from slavery and rescued them from Pharaoh, they could love God with full and free hearts, without any fear of what other gods might demand of them.
The love of God is to be done with our whole being: heart, soul and strength. It is this love from the whole person that Paul expresses when he calls us to offer our bodies as sacrifices; living, holy and pleasing to God. In a burnt offering sacrifice, the picture is that the whole body of the offering is given into the presence of God, the smoke rises like a kind of incense or prayer. The point is that we do not commit part of our lives to God, but our whole life. We come into his presence as whole people, not trying to deceive God or to live a double life or to pretend a commitment with our face when in fact our heart is far away. The life we live in Christ is whole. It is living, holy and pleasing to God.
Paul explains this by contrasting a life lived in conformity to the pattern of the world, with a life transformed by Christ. Conformity is a matter of adapting our behavior and our attitudes to the surrounding culture. Years ago there was a large group of immigrants from Russia who moved into our town, and a Russian congregation met in our church building. Many of the children came to our evening children’s program. I was leading the 3rd grade boys group. Their mothers tended to find jobs at Sears, and every one of them dressed exactly like the boys clothing was modeled in the Sears catalogue. They all wore khaki pants, a polo shirt and athletic shoes. They conformed quickly to what they saw as the American style. Conformity is going with what we see around us. It is done quickly and changed quickly. It is imitative and it is driven by self-consciousness. It is all about outward appearance, fitting in, being accepted, and belonging.
Transformation is inward change that works its way out in new behaviors and attitudes. It comes about in the renewing of our minds, which includes our morals, our will and our intellects. Its benefit is long term, and it is not quickly changed. Transformation is a process that begins in forgiveness and shapes our character. It is seen not in the clothing we wear, but in the fruit of the spirit exhibited in our lives.
Leon Morris writes, “Paul is looking for a transformation at the deepest level that is infinitely more significant than the conformity to the world’s pattern that is distinctive of so many lives. Christians have been introduced into the life of the world to come; what a tragedy, then, if they conform to the perishing world they have left.”
Last Wednesday night we did not have a family dinner here. We ended a bit early this year. I look forward to the dinners and I felt sad in the quiet and empty church on Wednesday. We did not have a dinner because carpet was being installed downstairs. That day, the glue smell was very strong throughout the whole church. Instead of the good smells of simmering soup or spaghetti sauce, people would have walked into a very different aroma. They would have been served good food that smelled like glue. Conformity wraps Christians in the smell of worldly glue. The presence of Christ is masked by the presence of something very powerful. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”
Transformation takes place through the renewal of the mind. The mind is our inner orientation or moral attitude. It stands in constant need of renewal. The renewing of the mind is not the same as salvation. But for those who have faith in Christ, there are times when we get tired in our thinking, when we become stagnant in our faith, bored with our lives. Our words become sharp, we become less willing to help, we grow suspicious of the motives of others. A hardness develops, a protective shell.
Then the Lord brings an experience of grace that renews our minds. It may begin with a conviction in our hearts of how we have been thinking and acting. With that comes a great sense of the love of God, and a feeling of cleansing and washing. This is the ocean of grace. Instead of being upset with people, we are filled with love for them. Instead of blaming God for our troubles, we experience the holy presence of God. We see things differently. We are filled with hope. Mostly we come to trust God in a new way.
Leon Morris writes, “The renewal of the mind enables the believer to discern what is good, what is pleasing to God and what is perfect. That same renewal sets him to the task of performing what is seen as the will of God.”
Paul then goes on to say that the renewal of the mind leads to humility, unity in the body, serving the Lord according to gift, an attitude of love, and a spirit of hope.
In our former church, the congregation came to feel its building was getting old and small. At some point they seemed to get tired of it, even to give up on it. Weeds were allowed to grow, the paint got a little tired, minor problems were not fixed, no remodeling was done, things were just left as they were. So we moved to a different location and built a new building.
Another church bought our old building. To them it was not old at all. It was new, and they saw many possibilities in it. They put some new color on it, got a new sign, re-did some rooms, moved a few walls, and planted some flowers. It became beautiful again, and it reflected the energy in the new group.
Sometimes we let our minds and souls grow a little tired and weedy, we lose energy for loving God and doing his will. But the Lord does not see us as old and tired. He loves us and cares for us and desires to renew us. If we ask God, he will renew our thinking. He will cleanse old sin, lift anxiety, wash anger and resentment, replace hardness with forgiveness, restore damaged relationships, and put some bright color in our hearts. He will give us the power to love God with our whole heart and mind and strength.