SUNDAY MORNING SERMON NOTES
A Spiritually Renewed Mind is Different from Trying to Be a Better Perseon
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Sunday, May 8, 2011 - 10:00 a.m.  Sermon #: 1466
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 12:1-2 - "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. [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.”

In the previous teaching in this series I outlined two foundational principles that hold up the rest of what Paul is going to say in these famous opening verses of Romans chapter 12. First, spiritual life (and by that I mean the life generated by the Holy Spirit - not just the inner you described by Oprah and a host of others) - genuine spiritual life is organic, not external. That is, you can’t just copy the life of Jesus by yourself. It isn’t like the decorations on your Christmas tree. It has to grow from new life inside - like the tomatoes on the vines in my garden.

I can add water. I can weed. In fact, I must do both to reap the kind of harvest I’d like. But I can’t manufacture tomatoes. I can nurture, but I can’t create tomato life. Tomato life is organic. It’s its own self-life. You can’t make tomatoes like you make spark plugs. The same is true of the life of the Spirit.

And second, spiritual life - the life generated by the Holy Spirit - begins with a comprehensive inward change rather than just particular adjustments to individual problems or needs. It doesn’t begin as a solution to one particular problem. Sometimes particular problem can reveal the need for regeneration. But spiritual life is like the flu. It comes indwelling the whole, not any one part of your being. When you have it in your being there is no part of you left untouched. God reaches all the particular needs and problems of your life indirectly, not directly. He doesn’t come in Christ Jesus just to solve some particular, felt problem. He comes to claim you as His own and increasingly dominate the whole of your being. Spiritual life is totalitarian or nothing at all.

That’s where we began our opening teaching in this series. Now I want to anchor a few more ideas to the text we’ll be examining in detail for the next several weeks:

1) THE RENEWED MIND COMES FROM SOMEWHERE. IT DOESN’T JUST APPEAR AS THE RESULT OF WISH

Romans 12:1-2 - “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. [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.”

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers....” There’s a whole world of hope and instruction in that one word. “Therefore,” or, “Because of this,” or, “In view of this.” In other words, Paul is emphasizing that what he is about to say is based on the things he has just said. He is about to give four and a half chapters of specific, practical, livable direction to their lives, but he doesn’t just give it. He tells them and us something we are prone to neglect. He tells them and us that there is no way these instructions are doable without the engagement and application of the mind.

Remember, spiritual life is organic not external. These Roman Christians can’t just copy the Christian life from Paul or Jesus or anybody else. Examples are important, but spiritual transformation can only generate from the inside. Well, where will they get these renewed minds? If they can’t manufacture them by themselves, will Jesus just come and plop new minds into their heads? How will this all start to grow and flow in their beings? How will it become comprehensive and organic rather than just partial and external?

This is where that word “therefore” comes into play. And that one word exposes one of the deadliest mistakes Christians make regarding how their lives will be changed. The practical instruction Paul will give in chapters 12 through 16 is based on the doctrinal instruction in chapters 1 through 11. Both are necessary, but one must precede the other.

And what comes first is a bit surprising. We tend to think the practical stuff in 12 through 16 is for the life while the doctrinal stuff in 1 through 11 is for the head. But Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that’s all wrong. In fact, he says the instructions in chapters 12 through 16 are impossible without the teaching of 1 through 11. All of this is bound up in that single word, “therefore.”

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul is calling out to the church. The life he is calling them to live in Romans 12-16 won’t just happen. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. It has foundations. It has a source. It has reasons. And we must come back to these if we’re going to teach the next generation of Christians to live for Jesus. Coffee houses and snappy praise choruses, by themselves, aren’t going to sustain it. You have to be more than just “wild at heart.” You have to have a mind and heart deeply tethered to a full understanding of the truth of God.

If people don’t think right about God they won’t live right for God. They can be morally good people but they can never be godly people. Paul says the renewed mind and the life of worship - “....which is your spiritual worship”(12:2) - arise out of something very specific. There must come a full, rich, warm grasp of the goodness of God in Christ Jesus - “I appeal to you, therefore, by the mercies of God to present yourselves.....” There is no experience that takes the place of filling the mind with the truth of God and His mercy revealed in Jesus Christ. You can’t sing or shout or fast your way into this kind of understanding.

Without this foundation we will always be vulnerable and weak in our faith, regardless of how long we’ve been Christians. I see more Christians than ever “tossed to and fro,” to use Paul’s words, by every new doctrine blowing through the church. Or they’re carried along in a thousand different directions by their own emotions and passing ups and downs. It’s so easy to profess belief in Biblical truth without really studying and ingesting and loving and being fueled by that Biblical truth.

Satan is working his hardest in these days to fill people’s minds with false ideas about God. There is a history to his approach: Genesis 3:1-5 - “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" [2] And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, [3] but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.' " [4] But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. [5] For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Remember, the damage of the Fall didn’t just happen when Eve and Adam ate the fruit. That was only the outward expression of the damage that was already done in their thinking. Satan changed the way they thought about God. He changed what was going on in their minds and the disobedience was the outward result of that change.

Paul is telling us that the same process works in a positive direction - a fall-reversing direction - as well. We are to fill our lives with the beautiful truth of Jesus and (as we’ll study in future weeks) His mercy toward us. We are to so saturate our lives with truth that buffs up the glory of God in our own heads that our actions will organically arise, germinate, and flow out of this as worship rather than work.

This is why, as we’ll study in future weeks, Paul calls the outward actions of the renewed mind our “spiritual worship”(12:1) rather than merely our assignment. We’re called to live where the mind has been so warned and enlivened with the beauty and power of Biblical truth that our hearts are in our deeds. As the apostle John says, they aren’t a chore because we’ve been trained to see the shallowness and emptiness in the life-styles played out all around us.

2) THERE IS A PRACTICAL MANIFESTATION TO AN INWARDLY RENEWED MIND

People who have lives filled up with the abundance of Romans 1 through 11 are ready to live out Romans 12 through 16. They are ready because they are bursting to please God. These people never even ask “Why can’t I see this movie?”, “Why can’t I go to that party?”, “Why can’t I date that non-Christian person?”, or, “Why do I have to go to church?” All of those questions reveal a misguided approach to genuine spiritual life.

We must train people to think deeply and Biblically about these issues. They aren’t just moral issues in the strictest sense. We will always appear small and archaic in the world’s eyes if we’re merely perceived as fighting the latest trend. We are not merely advocating a more conservative social agenda. We seek to magnify and flesh out the beauty of the truth of Christ and His indwelling, all-consuming life.

This is so important. We will never be convincing in our arguments against worldly tastes and ambitions until we teach people to ask the right questions. The issue isn’t just “What’s wrong with this movie, or this music, or these parties? Or, “What’s wrong with the goal of being rich or powerful?”

All of those questions are simply too small. You can never get truly convincing answers to them because they’re the wrong questions. They never touch big eternal issues. That’s not the way we are supposed to be training disciples with renewed minds to think.

The questions that need to spring to mind immediately in everything I do are, “How can I show the beauty of Jesus in this? How can I act to show all my friends that I treasure Jesus more than my own pleasure in this world? How can I prove to the world that Christ calls me to lay down my life for Him today? What will stand out about my calling to be a servant and pilgrim in this world as I take up my cross? How can I show people that my citizenship is in heaven and not of this earth?”

Those are the right questions. Those are the important questions. But you can never make people ask them. Only as people learn to treasure genuine spiritual truth will they begin to think this way and ask those questions. It takes a mind renewed by the Spirit and soaked in the Word to begin to ask those questions in a way that’s unpremeditated and winsome.

People with renewed minds never just ask “What’s wrong with this?” Because they’ve experienced a comprehensive shift in affections and priorities they look through a completely different set of lenses at everything they say or do.

Only lazy minds find God boring. Minds being renewed through the blazing revealed glory of God’s mercy and joy in Christ Jesus never find the things of the Spirit boring. Hollywood is boring. Celebrities are boring. Cars are boring. Fashion is boring. Sports is boring. Wealth is boring. Avatar is boring. But the vast, never drained or fully comprehended, heart-warming, live-giving, mind nourishing, more to be desired than fine gold apprehension of God’s rich work in Jesus Christ is never boring.

Don’t set your mind in things that depreciate like the tin and plastic in our car. Or the wealth that you must leave when you die. Or the scores and trends that will be totally different next year. No. Paul says we need to be totally transformed - away form all of that mixed up, shallow thinking, by the renewing of our minds around the mercy of God. And that kind of mind doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes from digesting and adoring the truth of God more than anything else in life.

This is exactly what Jesus meant when He said in John 8:31-32 - “....If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

3) WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN TO THE AVERAGE CHURCH-GOER TODAY?

I think it’s time to admit we are seeing more and more misfires in conversions to Christ today. We have more and more people professing Christ and living the same old lives. We have more and more people loving Jesus who can’t be bothered going to church consistently and joyfully. And I have my own view as to why this is happening.

We talk and sing about loving Jesus more and more. But we are finding it harder and harder to turn away from the things we know in our hearts we find more exciting than the things of the Spirit. And then we hate ourselves for this kind of phoney duplicity.

There’s a reason for this. And it’s in today’s text. I would submit to you that many church goers are trying to do the impossible today, and their church isn’t even confronting them with the truth. The mind has to be renewed and captured by divine truth.

So many miss this! The average church goer wants to have a happy marriage. He desperately wants his children to do well in school, marry a Christian partner, stay out of trouble with sex and drugs, and generally love Jesus. In fact, the average adult church-goer today wants more in terms of spiritual blessings for his children than he wants for himself, forgetting that children never treasure a lifestyle based on the basis of instruction. They treasure it on the basis of example.

And here’s the bad news. If Paul is right, many church-goers are wrong. They want more and more of the good life - they want their prayers answered, their kids godly, their homes sound and moral - but they want to ground their own lives in costly spiritual disciplines less and less. They are going to church 50% less than one generation ago. They spend more of their time and wealth on their own consumption. They read their Bibles less. They spend less time in prayer and get more of their religion through television and the internet.

Add to this the disturbing trend in religious books telling believers they don’t need to work very hard at anything Christian, that the traditional church is laying a big guilt trip on people, that as long as they spend quality time with their family on Sunday that’s the same thing as worship in God’s eyes, and that all they need is a WWJD bracelet, and you can see why these dear, misguided saints can’t figure out why, somehow, with all the best intentions, and armed with the latest religious best-seller under their arm, everything is somehow coming up unraveled and empty.

Please, church, please remember this key point from today’s teaching. God calls us to live a life of devotion, separation and loving, passionate, obedience to Him. All of my behavior, emotions, and plans and thoughts are to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. But this renewal isn’t accidental and it isn’t arbitrary. It can’t just be pumped up in our corporate worship times. It can’t be regulated by rules and laws. It can’t just be inherited from parents like red hair or freckled skin.

It is built on something. It doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the passionate, continuous digesting and cherishing of divine, revealed truth. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Because of what I know to be true of Christ I speak this way and not that. Because of what I know to be true of Christ I think this way and not that. Because of what I know to be true of Christ I cultivate this kind of activity and put that kind to death. Because I exist to glorify Christ I watch and listen to this and not to that. Because my whole life is joined to Jesus at every point I date this kind of person and not that kind. Because I am a pilgrim here on this earth, and only for a short while, and because I am awaiting Christ and His return, I do my business this way and not that way, even if it’s less profitable in the short-term.

Hear this call from the Spirit today. Hear it more deeply than you have heard it before - Ephesians 4:21-23 - “....assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, [22] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds....”