Justification: The Ultimate Total Makeover

Justification: The Ultimate Total Makeover

Romans 3-4

A kids game can help all of us to remember lessons for today’s sermon. Can you sing along with me? Head, shoulders, knees, and toes. Knees and toes. Repeat. Eyes and ears and mouth and nose. Head, shoulders, knees, and toes. Knees and toes.

Let’s review. Head reminds us that our mind needs to be transformed into the mind of Christ. Shoulders remind us to carry the cross of unconditional love and forgiveness. Knees remind us to pray intentionally. Toes remind us to walk out your faith like Jesus. We are to guard our eyes. Ask yourself: what are you watching? We are to guard our ears. Ask yourself: what are you listening to? We are to guard our mouth. Ask yourself: what are you talking about or who are you talking about? No gossiping! We are to guard our nose. Nose? Have you ever spent the aroma of delicious food and been drug away to eat way more than you should? Ask yourself: Where are your appetites taking you?

This song will be our theme song for the preaching series on Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. This week we are focusing on what it means to have the mind of Christ. The mind is indeed a thematic topic across the letter to the church at Rome. There are several stages of the developing mind noted in Paul’s letter: depraved (sexuality), sinful (hostile toward God and the natural law), transformed (agree with God’s will), fully convinced (change your personal habits), and made-up (change habits toward others) mind then onward toward oneness of mind and voice of God in the attitude of Christ Jesus. The good news is that our job is simply surrendering our thought life to God for the sanctification process.

Paul desires for the church at Rome to fully comprehend the depth of sinfulness of humanity. Paul uses this strategy of defining the depths of sinfulness to draw the two factions together. Sin is not unlike the creation of a star that grows into intense phase called a supernova and then dies creating a black hole. A person may grow up to become a star of a person but when sin captivates the mind, the star goes supernova and eventually collapses under the weight of the sinfulness. The only way out of such a dark place of thinking is the power of God.

Paul talks about the power of God in Christ Jesus that delivers us from the darkness of our personal, communal, and spiritual sinfulness. It takes the “du/namiß” power or the dynamite of God to break us free to save our souls for complete collapse into darkness. Paul unabashedly declares, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the dynamite power (du/namiß) of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1.16). To be sure salvation comes by faith in the power of God to transform our sinfulness.

Paul had experienced this dynamite power in his own thinking processes. Remember his road to Damascus experience was mind-blowing. Paul was left blind until fellow Christian Ananias came to his rescue share gospel message to him. Seeing or knowing about Jesus didn’t make Paul a Christian. However, when Paul responded to the invitation of accepting the gospel message of Jesus as the Messiah, being baptized with water in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and welcoming the laying on of hands for the infilling of the Holy Spirit did ensure his entry into the Kingdom of God. Now that’s dynamite transformation!

  • Rom. 1:28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  
  • Rom. 7:23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
  • Rom. 7:25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
  • Rom. 8:6-7 The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
  • Rom. 8:27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
  • Rom. 11:34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
  • Rom. 12:2 Do not conform 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. 14:5 Some consider one day more sacred than another; others consider every day alike. Everyone should be fully convinced in their own mind. (We have a choice.)
  • Rom. 14:13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (We have a choice.)
  • Rom. 15:5-6 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sin is real. Sin is surely best described as an irresistible flood of wrongdoing, not just a serious of mistakes. Sin takes on a life of its own power. It is a power opposite to the power of God, and its force is as destruct as black hole. Sin distorts our vision and understanding of the available preventing knowledge of God in nature and in the Law & the words of the Prophets. Sin distorts the preventing grace in the Scriptures. Paul uses the word “sin” for the first time in his letter to the church at Rome here in verse 3.9. This sweeping flood of sinful power is the lowest common denominator for all humanity. In our passage today Paul focuses on our throats, tongues, lips, and mouths are the core issue of our sinfulness. Language is the most difficult part of our body to harness, not the heart, stomach, or sexuality. It all begins with what comes out of our mouths. Next, Paul surely points out to us that our words lead us down paths that are unrighteous. Our way of life is determined by our speech. It is here that we understand best that sin comes in the form of both “words” and “deeds.” It is through our words and deeds that we sin. Paul goes a step further in his analysis stating that the root sin is failure to worship God as God (1.20-21, 2.1-3, 3.18).

Paul uses the illustration of our sinfulness to unite the people who are divided in his church. According to Scripture, not one of us is better than the other not even one. We all fall short of the glory of God. Even the holiest among us is shored up in that righteousness by the mercy of God. The vilest offender is fully redeemed. Be careful how you label the vilest offender because you are surely putting yourself in a compromising position with God himself. Judge not lest you be judged. No one can stand before God (or humankind) declaring that they know right from wrong. We who have been exposed to Christian values generally know the revelation of right and wrong in Scripture, or we might even as we know the natural order of ethical law in our heart. We may say my heart leads me to do right, thus I don’t need to read Scripture to point the way. Paul is convincing the people of the Roman church to realize that no one – not one of us – can bring about reconciliation to God and neighbor.

Paul moves us from understanding our desperate sinful situation to pointing us to the healing through Christ Jesus’ atonement for our sins. “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood” (Romans 3.23-25). The ground at the foot of the cross is all level. Reconciliation to God depends complete on the life and work of Jesus Christ. For Paul sin is not a matter of “one’s own business” or “I can do what I want as long as I’m not hurting anyone else” instead sin impacts all relationships beginning with God himself. The sins we make are sins directly against God and impact others in our lives whether we comprehend it or not. We may make our sinfulness smaller in comparison to others and grade our holy and unholy responses to God. We call that sanctifying grace – what you do with the power of God in your life as you mature. But here Paul is speaking specifically about God’s justifying grace, which helps us to understand that there is no sin so evil that Christ’s blood doesn’t atone.

Imagine for a moment the worst person you know and the best person you know. Both would be welcomed at the cross equally given the opportunity to be redeemed by the purchase of Christ’s blood. It is by faith that we are saved, and Paul points out that has always been the way of relationship with God since the beginning. Christ’s work on the cross stands fixed in time and space, unmovable. Henry Blackaby describes Christ’s saving work best in his illustration of the burning bush. For Christ is always at work among us inviting us to accept his life and work accomplishments by faith alone as our pathway to restoration. Because Paul understand that sinfulness begins with the mouth, Paul calls us to confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10.9-13). Here is the way of salvation, and surely an appropriate response would be for us to recite the Apostle’s Creed declaring with our mouths what we believe by faith.

Hear the story of Joann.

When I was in my early 20s I met a lady named Joann (30 years old) who worked along side me in Lexington. It seemed that the song “Suspicious Minds” became her theme song for her relationship with her drug-addicted boyfriend. Joann had been living with this young man for about ten years. She felt that she had grown up and settled down, but that he still remained a little boy who didn’t seem to want to put down roots particularly to get married and have a family.

The lyrics to the song “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley goes like this …we’re caught in a trap… you don’t believe a word I say… we can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds …I’m caught in a trap. This song has made its way into the hearts and minds of people all over the world, and it made its mark on Joann. Many people resonate with its meaning because they have experienced broken trust in relationships. How many times have you thought …well, I just don’t trust her or him or them? You might even have good cause for distrust, but the Bible invites us to reflect on the suspicion in our hearts.

And, that’s just what Joann did. Joann and I got to know each other over the course of a few months while working together. I discovered how Joann was living into the music she was singing and the mental stories she was telling herself. You see the battle was in her mind before she ever lived into it in her everyday life. As she began to confess her hang-ups and change her thinking, Joann began to find freedom to live differently. As her thinking changed her life reflected those better choices for herself.

About six months into our friendship I needed a ride home from work, and she offered to take me home. We had not connected outside of work prior to this moment. And, I guess because we were on her own turf she felt safe to talk about Jesus for the first time. She asked me about why I believed in Jesus, and if I ever prayed. I shared a brief testimony then she asked me to pray with her about her relationship with her boyfriend. On that day as we drove home, she accepted Jesus into her heart. You see Joann had grown up in the Methodist church but had strayed away from the church because of her relationship with her boyfriend. She felt that she couldn’t have a relationship with Jesus and keep her relationship with her boyfriend. So on that very day she made a decision that day to separate from her live-in boyfriend so she could go to church again.

I was totally overwhelmed by her decision, but wondered if it was a real decision. We arrived at my home so I said good-bye and told her I would see her on Monday at work. I didn’t give our conversation any more thought, and went to work Monday morning as usual. When I arrived, my co-worker came to see me. She gave me the news that Joann had died in her sleep over the weekend from an epileptic seizure. When she didn’t show up for work or call in, they sent someone to check on her. The police were called in and they found her there. The autopsy showed she had suffered from an epileptic seizure.

My coworkers and I attended the visitation and funeral. I was asked to share with her family my conversation with Joann – how she had made the decision to leave her boyfriend and go back to church. It seems I was the last person to speak to Joann. As best that could be surmised from what the police could gather was that her last conversation before she went to be with Jesus was her prayer to accept Jesus into her heart.

The foundation for Joann to become a living sacrifice was taking every thought captive. Today I will share the life lessons I learned from Joann’s story. Joann discovered the truth about Christianity: following Jesus requires our obedience to die to ourselves. And, it all begins in the mind. We have to make a conscious choice.

Being caught in a battle between selfish anger and personally motivated pride in our lives can produce some pretty destructive outcomes. We are commanded to not let anger toward another person go unresolved. We can choose to forbid ourselves from believing any half-truths from entering our mind. Wishing ill toward another person, place, or thing is a form of cursing. Curses impact lives in a negative way. We can intentionally choose to resist the urge to create division by what we choose not to say. If we are spoiling for a fight, we can resist the urge to confront the issue out of your flesh. We may have impaired judgment about an issue and speak out of turn. Our best response is to take the issue to the Lord in prayer. We have the choice to settle the issue in our hearts. If we are suspicious of others, we can resolve the issue by laying it on the altar in prayer.

Along our journey we can train our minds, wills, and our voices to grow into mature responses. Maturity means we learn not only about the world around us but about our very selves from the inside out. We learn what our own hang-ups are then we discover ways of surrendering them to God’s transforming grace. When we allow unwholesome thoughts to linger, we discover that resentment is toxic to our minds. Holding a grudge poisons our thought life. Thoughts of revenge – getting even – embitter our mind, creating deep caves of unforgiveness.

Bitterness becomes the harbinger for the pettiness that fuels our overreacting and our unreasonable responses. When our tongue becomes hate-filled, our thoughts have created space for backstabbing and sabatoging relationships. Allowing our thoughts to reminisce on offensive responses creates a nasty attitude in our minds, and our behaviors will certainly follow. Allowing disrespectful behavior to rise up inside of us just stirs things up in our relationships with family and friends. And, for Joann her battle separated her from God as well as her family and friends.

We can create a negative environment around us by the attitude behind the words we speak to one another. Meditating on ways of retaliating for hurts done to us wastes our time and energy that could be spent on right thinking. Pondering hurts of betrayal squashes empathy and sympathy for others even depleting our compassion. Overreacting with unreasonableness develops a toxic community around us. Resentment can invade our thoughts to drain us of productive energy that can lead to us sitting and stewing on issues. Confronting others to belittle them is an act of immaturity. We are commanded to take every thought captive, and for good reason. Our actions follow our disobedient thoughts right into trouble.

I recently spoke with a lady who had a little dog with a mighty bite. In order to groom the dog they had to mussel it with a tiny contraption. But because the dog was so determined to get out of the mussel, it wiggled itself free. We need to take heed of this illustration. When we are in a battle for our mind, there are times we choose not to restrain ourselves. Restrain is a choice.

Before we speak ill of another person, we are to guard our lips in prayer. Speaking evil of others is a sin toward God. Just when we think we have overcome this battle, the war has just begun. Even if we can contain the words that slip past our lips, the negativity within our hearts and minds still remains until we surrender our right to be right. You might be right. You might not. But the fact remains, that we are called to take up our cross daily to forgive one another.

What is this cross we speak of? It is the cross that bears the sins of one another, and forgives all wrongs done to us. When we live in the shadow of the cross, our response to other people’s shortcomings his forgiveness. The three phrases we should have on our lips at all times are: I’m sorry. I was wrong. I forgive you. How many personal conflicts could have been avoided if only we had spoken those words in love.

When we draw near to God, we discover our own double mindedness. We say we love God, then speak negatively about our neighbor. We reject those who God has given us to love. The instability between what is right and what is wrong created tidal waves of lies in our minds. The letter of James spends a great deal of time on this matter. When we find this double mindedness creeping up in our conversations, we can catch ourselves in this compromising position. Selfishness leaves a void of instability in our community. Doubt and confusion jeopardizes our own sure footing in our faith.

When we begin to question and judge the righteousness of others, we judge our own selves as unrighteous. We become delusional about our own grandeur and righteousness. Our mind becomes the place of strategic destruction of setting ourselves apart from the community. Our attitude becomes our battlefield. Our mouth becomes a weapon. Our words become our arsenal.

Give God the opportunity to kindle inside of you a passion for holy thinking. Dismantle the religious practices that are not bringing you closer to Jesus. Be willing to follow God into a new season of your life. Gather to yourself people who desire more of God. Break free of unhealthy people who hold the power of influence over your decision-making. Select for yourself mentors, friends, and spiritual leaders who can model the core values of the Christian faith. Seek and find an egalitarian and ecumenical expression of God’s grace within the body of Christ.

If we see the righteousness of God, the fear that binds our hearts and the hearts of those we are standing in opposition against can be released. We need to allow our hearts to be pruned that we might gain more compassion and empathy toward others. To be sure we are to take up the cross and follow Jesus. He bore the sins of the world. What makes followers of Jesus different from the populous? They  look like Jesus.

If Jesus were to stand before you today, I believe he would have several things to tell you. He might say to you something like this… I have come to give you a new spirit, the Holy Spirit. I have come to redeem your body, and even give you a new resurrected body that lasts through all eternity. I have come to give you a new mind, the mind of Christ. I have come to exchange your will for the will of the Father. I have come to heal your emotions and take away the painful sting from your memories. If you have ever wanted a total makeover here it is in the flesh! A total makeover!

A total makeover begins with just five-minutes.

Our greatest hang-ups that we have in our relationship with Jesus are really in our thoughts. The greatest challenge we face is confronting our own thinking processes. If you feel caught in a trap …if you have a suspicious mind …if you have struggles with your thought life …come to Jesus. The bible teaches us that when we grow in sanctifying grace, then we gain the mind of Christ. The battle is in our mind before it reaches any other part of our lives.

Christ Jesus came that we might have life! When we are filled with his Spirit, we are given the mind of Christ, the will of the Father, transformed emotions, and less painful memories. He gives us a new body, a resurrected body in the life to come. Come to the re-fleshing process of being healed from the inside out!

It only took five minutes for Joann’s life changed. Those five minutes saved her life eternally. What would happen if we followed Joann’s example? If each one of us offered just five minutes of our lives giving to a total makeover, the world would change for the better. So here is the five-minute challenge for us. Find a way of becoming a living sacrifice for five-minutes everyday based on Romans chapter 12. Are you up for the five-minute challenge?

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