Submitted by Yang W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 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 marks the transition point where Apostle Paul shifted from theology to Christian living, and he chose to summarize Romans 1-11 in one phrase, God’s mercy. That was what stood out to Paul. God is merciful. We are not to offer our bodies as living sacrifices just because he is God and that is what he want us to do. But we need to remember who we are, and how God has offered his mercy to us. That is something that I ought to keep in my mind as I carry out my Christian walk. It is difficult to not conform to the pattern of the world, as it is so deeply ingrained in my mind. Even though I have been Christian for many years, and even now serving for years as staff to lead college students, when I look inside myself, I still see the person who wants comfort and security, the person who seek other people’s praises, feeling the need to defend my own ego. My mind needs to be renewed on a daily basis. As I set out to face the world each day, to have the value of the world thrown at me, that much more I need to be spoken to by God’s Word first. I need the Word of God to remind me of who I am, who God is, and my need for his great mercy. I need to be reminded on a daily basis that he is my creator, what he has in store is the best for me. His will for me is that good, pleasing and perfect will.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
The “debt” to love one another–do I see my love for other people as a debt that I owe them? Debt implies an obligation, not a choice. When I think through the people that are in my life (my family, leaders, peers, students, etc.), do I have that strong sense that I owe it to these people to love them? Maybe I feel this way toward those I am ministering to per se, but I don’t think that is that case for everyone. Often, I have a sense of entitlement that it is their debt to love me. They are the ones who should have been more understanding, more caring, more loving. Thus, my life is filled with more complaint than gratitude, as I am more aware of how I wasn’t being taken care of rather than trying to take care of others. This kind of attitude is the opposite of love; it is purely self-seeking. I think one way of establishing that “debt” of love in my heart to commit to pray for the people in my life other than the people that I am directly responsible for in my ministry, to pray regularly for my family, my leaders and my peers–to pray about their needs and concerns, so that I can be the one to meet it.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
This is another layer of self-limitation. God calls us not only to refrain from doing something because of God’s law, but also refrain to avoid stumbling someone. That is, even if something is “permissible,” we ought to not do it out of love for someone else. One thing that I thought about myself is often my lack of thoughtfulness in making my decisions. As I grow older in my area of ministry, I have to understand that my influence on people is greater and greater, which also means that there are more and more people that can be stumbled by the decisions I make. The things I say, the way that I carry myself, the things that I choose to buy, the way I choose to arrange my schedule—they all have the potential to stumble people in my life. One thing that I know is that I cannot remain thoughtless. I have to carefully weigh and consider my decisions. Sometimes it means limiting myself from the things that I have clear conscience about. Just because I can, does not mean that I should. Also, I need a lot of wisdom in myself, because there are a lot of areas of blindness that I simply don’t see. I need to ask questions, and really invite feedback from others.
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”
This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.
Paul ended the book of Romans by expressing his passion and ambition for the sake of Christ. That is something that is deeply challenging to me. He did not want to settle down, in fact, he didn’t even want to build on someone else’s foundation. He kept on venturing out, desiring to go to places that people had never gone before. He was driven by those who did not hear the gospel, and he was captured by the vision that those people will see and hear and understand. From the text, we can see the deep concern and attachment Paul felt toward people in Rome (just as he expressed toward many of the other churches), but he was hindered from seeing them, not for any of his own agenda, but because of his drive to spread the gospel. It reminds me a lot of what we are trying to do through our various church plants, where people leave places they are familiar with, friends they have grown close to, so that the gospel can be brought to those who have not heard. I think about Andy and Amy, who are serving in Taiwan, half way across the globe, serving the students there and building up the church. I am very thankful for these examples in my life, as these examples really challenge me, challenge my deeply ingrained desire for comfort, desire to settle down. I want to follow the example of Paul, examples of those who have came before me, to live out Christian life, and preach the gospel where Christ is not known.
Submitted by Kenton W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Romans 12:2 “then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
I am again first struck by the description of God’s will–it’s good, pleasing and perfect. Intellectually, I can assent that God’s will is good and perfect, but that word “pleasing” challenges my view of God’s will. At times I see God’s will as overwhelming, laborious, dreadful, scary, and often going to require sacrifice on my part. However, the context in this passage is that only after NOT conforming to the patterns of this world and renewing my mind, am I able to test and approve God’s will. However, if I never reach that point, if I’m still conforming to worldly patterns, then I will never be able to truly be convicted and convinced that it is good, pleasing, and perfect. I’ll never know the joy there is in sacrificial love for another person so long as I see sacrifice as unwanted in my life. Yet I can testify that I was able to test and approve of God’s will when I went on Cambodia Mission Trip a few years back and lived completely for the Gospel during that short duration of the trip. But as I examine those initial response of hesitancy when God calls me to love people, whether it is confronting someone about sin in his life, casting a vision for those under me, or staying up a little late to prepare for my ministry responsibilities, it’s so clear I’ve been living to the world’s pattern that my comfort comes first. My emotional, mental and physical comfort is the most important matter. It’s the ugly cycle that if I view comfort as my top priority, then I’ll see God’s will as uncomfortable and unpalatable and will never find any pleasure in it. But as I respond again to the fact that I have been set apart for the Gospel and called an apostle, my response needs to be the same as it was in Cambodia–to deny myself and my fleshly desires, to deny the patterns of this world. It may be difficult and even overwhelming at the outset, but God’s promise is that if I persevere I will be able to experience joy and pleasure in serving God.
Romans 13:7 “Give everyone what you owe him”
Going over this verse again I can testify to the power in this verse to renew one’s mind even in these past few days. It turned out to be a paradigm shift for me. It was eye-opening the other day as I saw the different ways I felt I was owed in my list of relationships from my leaders down to my students. Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:14 that he was obligated to both Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish–effectively, everyone! They weren’t obligated to him, but he to them. He owed them himself and the Gospel. In the same way, I am obligated to molding and shaping the staff under me, I am obligated to spiritually leading the students under me, I am obligated to reaching the lost, I am obligated to love and encourage my co-laborers. Christ is indeed my example referencing Philippians 2 that Christ made himself obedient to death on the cross for humanity. The reality is that much of what I have to do doesn’t change–the conversations I need to have, the ministry activities I need to plan and prep for, and other responsibilities that I need to take care of. Yet what changes is that now I can respond to the people and needs around me without that feeling of tension regarding my time and resources with love and find joy in serving.
Romans 15:1-2 “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
This verse is a continuation of the theme throughout chapter 14 about limiting one’s self, one’s freedom for the sake of another brother in Christ who is struggling. This idea applies to me that as leader I need to 1) identify the struggles my sheep are going through and 2) I need to find a way to bear with them in their struggles. In what ways do I need to limit myself so that my sheep know that I am there with them in their struggle so that they can be encouraged and built up? I can think of many right now. Yet more than think and know, to be a spiritual leader, I need to act on them. I know personally the strength and encouragement I received when my leaders joined me in my struggles–I saw them take concrete steps to limit themselves. This strength is a strength drawn from solidarity and I knew from then on that I was not alone in my spiritual battles. I am now in the position to provide strength and solidarity to my sheep and I need to respond because this is the body of Christ in action.
Romans 15:30 “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”
This verse stood out to me because in view of the recent retreat where all the church plant members were together with us. God again reminded me of the need to continue to labor in prayer for all of them. Paul foresees the challenges that await him as he returns to Jerusalem and he asks the Roman church to pray for him. But praying isn’t wishful thinking or empty words with a swell heart, but praying allows one to “join in [the] struggle” of the other person. So it’s not necessarily a matter of physical proximity that I can struggle along with someone. But God has given us this avenue of prayer to strengthen and encourage one another. To pray for the different church plant needs is more than saying the words on a prayer list, but to “struggle” with them is try to put myself in their place: to think through the challenges and obstacles they are facing, the emotions they must be feeling and what needs to happen for the prayer request to be met. Through prayer, God has given us an avenue to stay connected as we plant more churches and send more people out, that by engaging our minds and hearts through prayer, we can struggle alongside our brothers and sisters who are hundreds of miles away.
There really isn’t a key verse for me here, but I was struck at how Apostle Paul defined most of his relationships as he greeted the many people in Rome. “A servant of the church,” “fellow workers in Christ Jesus,” “first convert to Christ,” “outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was,” “whom I love in the Lord,” “tested and approved in Christ” and so on. Apostle Paul qualifies these people by their service to the Lord, by their relationship to God. These are the words through which Apostle Paul sees each person. He sees them through their common commitment to serving God, to doing kingdom work. That is the bond that brings them together–the bond that endears them to Apostle Paul’s heart. For me, I am again reminded of what truly deserves to be the defining quality of my relationships–commitment to kingdom work. When I take a second to look around at the rich relationships I have at this church, truly I wouldn’t have any of them outside of the gospel. The staff I served with, we often laughed that we would never have become friends with each other had we not both become Christian. I think about my peers in Riverside and Austin, although we don’t get to talk to each other or see each other often, but I continue to be close with because I know we are both laboring for God’s kingdom at our respective places. God has indeed given the church the loftiest and deepest criterion to which to connect ourselves-our commitment to the Gospel work. I’m thankful that I get to experience that type of connection and bond.
Submitted by Jeremiah L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 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.
One thing that stood out to me about this passage this time was the link between being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” and being “able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In other words, if one’s mind is renewed to be more like God’s mind, then that person will have better discernment of God’s will. I, like many people, have probably spent a lot of time and effort trying to discern God’s will for my life. And, I’ve probably spent a lot of that time and effort fighting God’s will for my life as well. When I look at my life, there have been many times where I’ve stated with my mouth that I wanted God’s will to be done in my life and that I was trying to seek God’s will, but to be honest, what I really wanted was God’s will to conform to my own preferred will. As a control-oriented person, often, I want things to turn out exactly the way that I want, but little has gone exactly according to plan despite my best efforts and best judgments even, and I’ve spent a lot of energy wasted on questioning God’s will, or kicking against it like a spoiled child.
This is foolish. Isaiah 55:8 tells me that God’s ways are not my ways, and his thoughts are not my thoughts. Colossians 1:21 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your mind because of your evil behavior.” In my mind, I’ve been at war against God. Knowing that this is true of me — that naturally, my evil, self-pleasing desires reign over even my mind – I should expect that there will be many-a-time where God’s will is going to be completely opposite from my own preferred will. It’s prideful of me to think that I can dictate to God what his will for me should be. I should be humble in recognizing that my mind has a long way to go in being transformed and renewed so that it conforms more and more to God’s values. Out of trust and obedience, I ought to submit to this and trust that God’s will indeed is “good, pleasing, and perfect.” Part of maturing is recognizing that God’s will over my life thus far has indeed been for my good, even if at the time, I did a lot of rebelling and fighting against God’s ways.
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
There are categories of truths. There are truths that are true but that do not, and should not, have much bearing on one’s life. And then there are big, immutable truths like the truth here–”the night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” Both in the personal sense and in the global sense, salvation is “nearer now than when [I] first believed.” Every day I move closer to the end of my life, and every day, we move closer to the end of the arc of all history. “Understanding the present time” means knowing that my time is short and that in the end, my deeds are going to be revealed for what they are–whether they are deeds of darkness or deeds of light. This is why we are called to engage in the “continuing debt to love one another” (v. 8). Just like with any other debt, there is going to be a time when I am called to account for the debt of love that I owe others –have I loved my friends, younger brothers, leaders, family? Have I loved the church, have I loved those entrusted to me in ministry, and have I loved those who do not know the gospel? Has the love that was so lavishly given to me stopped at me? What would it look like to “slumber,” like verse 11 says? Verse 13 depicts some pretty drastic sins, but when it comes down to it, these sins are just versions of the same selfishness and self-pleasing ways that I engage in without regard to others and their need for love and care. This is what slumber looks like. Slumber is being oblivious to the clear needs of those around me, all of whom need my love — not because of any inherent love that I have, but by virtue of the abundant love and grace I’ve received from God and from others in my life. This love must not stop at me, but pass through to many others. There are only so many opportunities to love because my time is finite, and so is others’ time on this earth.
So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” That is why I have often been hindered in coming to you.
Paul had more reason than anybody to feel like he had done enough. He could have used his years of hard, faithful labor — plus all the persecution and suffering that came with it — to justify slowing down, resting. Perhaps many would have supported that decision given all that he had done. But Paul didn’t slow down; he continued to dream and hope of the opportunity to continue to “preach the gospel where Christ was not known.” Paul’s drivenness is very challenging and inspiring. Throughout history, there have been many people who shared the same conviction that Paul had — to preach the gospel were Christ was not known — and I have been a recipient of these ambitions of those who have gone before. The gospel spread throughout the world and throughout history because of people like Paul and finally it’s come to me. This did not have to be. I’ve received the gospel because there were people who were not content to let the gospel sit in them — they saw it as the good news that had to be shared. I think of the early missionaries, who left country and home to spread the gospel, when doing so in those times meant a high likelihood that they’d never see home and country again. Through the chain of history, I am a recipient of those efforts. My standard for zeal in the gospel has to be like Apostle Paul and those like him. My standard for zeal for the gospel must be the clear example we have in the Bible of true. all-consuming zeal. Paul was able to say confidently, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ,” and for everything we know about his life through the Bible, he wasn’t puffing himself up. If Paul never thought it was appropriate for him to slow down or never thought that he had done enough, how can I think that could be appropriate for me? I’ve professed to receive the same gospel that Paul did, and so, that same gospel must be proclaimed through me to all those who do know Christ.