A Life Transformed
Rev. Aaron B. Kesson
Emmanuel United Methodist Church
January 10, 2010
Anyone who knows me understands that I enjoy cooking, more specifically that I enjoy being outdoors, grilling. Even in the winter time, one may find me standing in front of my charcoal grill, preparing whatever I can find that is “grillable” (which is just about anything). Even when we visit friends or have a cookout for church, I am usually behind the grill. As you can tell, this is something I enjoy. But, grilling is more than just slapping a piece of meat, or vegetables on a cast iron grate over a hot fire. You see, grilling involves a great deal of preparation, transforming an everyday piece of meat (chicken for instance) into a delectable treat.
So, how does this transformation take place (maybe I should have my own cooking show)? By a process I like to call Marination... You know what I’m talking about, the process where you place a piece of meat into a container with sauces and other spices, sealing it tightly and letting it sit in the fridge for a set amount of time. The mistake most people make is that they don’t allow the meat to marinate for an adequate amount of time. I like to marinate for at least a day before cooking. This process allows the sauces and spices to penetrate the food, causing a transformation of flavor from bland to exciting (If only the Food Network could hear me now!). This “taste explosion” is what gives the food its wow factor. Now, one could cheat and inject a sauce and spices into the food, but this would cause vital moisture to leave and you risk drying out the food way too much. Again, the key here is patience and time.
Pastor Aaron, you may be asking, what in the world does grilling have to do with the Christian life? Well, I’m glad you’re thinking along these lines because I have the answer… Everything!. You see, just as the process of marinating a piece of food takes patience and time, so does the work of transformation and renewal in our own lives. It takes patience and time to “soak up” all of the wonderful things that God has in store for us.
The Holy Spirit Renews and Transforms Us
Today is Baptism of the Lord Sunday, a day when we remember and celebrate not only the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan, but also to remember our own baptism and the transformative power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. In Acts 2:38, we see that when we receive God’s gift of salvation in our lives, the Holy Spirit takes residence within our hearts. By God’s grace, and his grace alone do we even become capable of such reception, thus the reason we baptize infants in the United Methodist Church, to demonstrate God’s grace that goes before us, even before we make a conscious choice to receive him into our own hearts.
In our passage this morning from Romans 12, Paul is reminding us that the transformation that occurs in our lives is not only necessary, but a gift of God’s grace! First off, Paul tells the believers in verse one that they should present their entire body (physical, emotional, spiritual) to God’s service, as a “living sacrifice”. Let’s look at this for a moment before we move on.
A “living” sacrifice is not one that necessarily dies, though we do give our lives for the sake of Christ. The believers to whom this letter was written would have understood that Paul is making a distinction here between the Old Testament forms of sacrifice, which required that a pure animal be slain and its blood spilt so that remission of sins could occur, and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Ultimately in Jesus, the spotless Lamb, he became that sacrifice for us. But, since Jesus became that atoning sacrifice for our sins, we are to give our lives to him and his service by living for him. Thus, as we become a “living” sacrifice, we give our whole being (mind, soul, and body) to God’s service. This is what Paul calls our “spiritual” or “reasonable” act of worship. This is important to look at as well, as the word used for “spiritual” in some translations really makes sense to be translated “reasonable” as it is only reasonable that we offer ourselves to the Lord who gave himself fully for us. And, how is it that we give ourselves to him? By our spiritual act of worship, “God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” – John 4:24.
This now leads us to look at the second verse and how this may impact our lives today. It is almost as if Paul is giving us the “recipe” for spiritual worship as he tells the believers not to be conformed to, or fitting within the mold of, the world. Rather, he states “be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” This is the “meat and potatoes” (I know, another food analogy) of this section. The word for transformed in the Greek occurs only four times in the New Testament, and in this instance it is used in what is called the imperative mood, suggesting not only importance but that it may really be a command. So, Paul is saying that in order for believers to become living sacrifices, they must be transformed by the renewal of their minds. There is no exception.
This leads to the act of renewal. Who does the renewing? The phrase “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” is in the passive tense, suggesting that the “agent” of renewal is outside those who are being transformed. Now, stay with me here. This means that something other than us is doing the act of renewal that leads to transformation in our lives! Any guesses? It’s the Holy Spirit. One resource states that the renewal of our mind occurs when our natural mind is “penetrated and transformed by the Spirit received at baptism.” (BDAG). This does not contradict the idea that we receive the Holy Spirit when we accept the gift of salvation, but really reinforces it as our natural mind is “replaced” or “changed” by the residence of the Spirit as we are baptized. Paul talks about this more in 2 Corinthians 3:18 when he speaks of being changed to the likeness of Christ “one degree of glory to another…” and that the changing “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”. Let me be clear here, baptism is not the vehicle to salvation; however baptism is a symbol of God’s grace being poured out upon us even before we choose him. We are the passive recipient in baptism. All we need to do is be present and have a pulse. Our presence is recognition of our willingness to be changed by God. It is through this transformation by renewal that we are then able to receive an understanding of what God’s perfect will is for our lives.
So then what does this transformation look like? First off, if we look at verses 3-8 we recognize that Paul is speaking of the body of Christ and the variation of gifts given to each one of us. In verse 3 we are reminded that humility is the key to effective use of our gifts. Then in the following verses we see that where God has gifted us, that is where we are to serve. And, how do we know where God has gifted us, but to be in communion with God through the transformation of our minds by the renewal of his Holy Spirit. So again, the transformed Christian life is one of service to God and others.
Then, in verses 9-13 Paul teaches on a practical level that our love should be genuine, loving one another “with brotherly affection” and the part I love most, “outdo one another in showing honor” (v.10). This does not mean we become prideful of our demonstration of honor, but that we strive to honor others as much as possible. Continuing in verses 14-21 Paul gives instruction that is contrary to the ways of worldly thinking. And yet again, how is this possible but by the power of the Holy Spirit to renew our minds so that we are transformed (Remember back in verse 2 we are told not to be conformed to this world?). This is where the beatitudes come to mind as Paul reminds us that we are to “bless those who persecute you” (v.14) and to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (v.19). By doing these things, we learn as well to feed our hungry enemies, and to overcome evil with good (vv.20-21).
Living Out Transformation in the World
So, how are we to live our lives as transformed and renewed people? Love the loveless, help the helpless, feed the hungry, give to the needy, allow God’s Holy Spirit to work within and through you. To engage in such a task may seem impossible, and it is, if we do not have the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, renewing our minds constantly. This is why I believe Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 that we are to “pray without ceasing”. But, though the work is the Lord’s, the obedience is ours. This is why we need that “mustard seed” faith to simply believe that God is at work within us. This is when we can say with bold confidence “He who is within me is greater than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Will you be a willing vessel for God’s grace today? Will you allow him to continue transforming your life by the renewal of your mind? By doing this, we will then “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Amen.