First Sunday after Epiphany January 12, 2020
16, 126, 121, 652
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 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.
When I was a little boy, one toy every boy I knew wanted to have was a “Lone Ranger” play set. They were extremely cool and came complete with a mask, a badge, and a toy pistol. Many of my friends had the play set, and I really wanted one too. My desire for the play set was not just because I really liked the “Lone Ranger,” but also because most of my friends had one. I wanted to be like them. In other words, I was a conformist.
We’re all conformists to a certain extent. Children want the toy for Christmas that’s popular because they want to be able to tell their friends they got one too. Horrified by the idea that someone might think they’re different, teenagers want to be like their friends, not realizing that one day they will become just like their parents. Advertisers are pretty good at convincing us that we better get what they’re selling because we don’t want to be the only one in the world who doesn’t have one.
Is being a conformist—being like everyone else—a bad thing? It depends. If you just have to have the latest “iPhone” on the market, well, okay. But if Christians start to notice that their attitudes and actions aren’t all that different from the world around us, then not “okay”. If we’re afraid to stand out from the crowd for Jesus and, instead, find ourselves wanting to blend in with everyone else, then that’s not a good sign.
We Christians are like square pegs in a world of round holes. We don’t fit in. In the eyes of the world we’re misfits. We’re different. We’re a little strange.
Are we allowing Satan to pound us into the world’s ways of thinking? Has the world begun to whittle away at the corners of our Christian sensibilities so that we are starting to lose our distinctive character as God’s people? If we hear ourselves laughing at the sinful humor on our favorite TV show, or if we notice in ourselves a proud, unforgiving, and self-righteous spirit, or if love for money and possessions is controlling our lives then we need to wake up to the fact that we just might be letting ourselves be conformed to the evil pattern of this world.
In the second verse of our short text Paul says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Transformed? I know that several of the children of our congregation are into toys that are called TRANSFORMERS. Some of you older ones may be interested in the TRANSFORMER movies, in which these bio-tech robot things are able to change—TRANSFORM—from one thing into another. In the latest movie the Transformer hero is able to change from a yellow Camaro with black stripes and take on a humanoid shape.
Christian transformation is all about having our very minds transformed so that our thinking, our world view, our hopes, our desires, our way of life, how we treat others, our very reason to live is transformed into something entirely new and different. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Christian transformation involves a renewing of our sinful minds. It means taking on the mind of Christ. It means the Holy Spirit working in us so that we think more and more like Jesus.
Let me offer you an illustration from nature to help us understand what this transformation is and is not. Take a snake. Snakes shed their skin constantly. Yet no matter how many times they shed their outer skin they are still the same old snake. A person who changes outwardly, who “sheds” some of his vices and in general cleans up his act just to make himself look good, is like a snake. He hasn’t been transformed at all. In some ways he’s worse because invariably he will rely on his outward goodness to gain acceptance with God, and God always sees right through that.
But now think of a caterpillar. A caterpillar is a creature that undergoes a true transformation through the process of metamorphosis. Once it breaks out of the chrysalis it becomes this amazing new creature. The change isn’t just outward either. Scientists tell us that while in the chrysalis the cells and tissues of the caterpillar turn into a soup like substance that gets rearranged until you finally have a butterfly. The caterpillar into a butterfly miracle would be a closer example of what Christian transformation entails. In fact, the word transformation in v.2 is translated from the Greek word “metamorphousthe” (meta-morph-ous-thay).
Have you been transformed? Yes, you have! When the Holy Spirit created saving faith in your heart you were transformed. When you, dear Christian, received salvation through faith in Christ you experienced a spiritual metamorphosis. For most of us here, that transformation happened when we were baptized. The Bible calls Baptism a washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). In other words, when you were baptized you were born again and made into a new person—transformed from an unbeliever into a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. For others perhaps the spiritual transformation occurred when the Spirit brought you to faith through hearing the Gospel of Christ.
Every believer in Christ has been transformed. It’s not like there are some Christians who have been transformed, and others who have not. If a person hasn’t been transformed, he’s not a Christian. Yet, as you probably already figured out from our text, we are being urged to continue in this Holy Spirit worked transformation. The Apostle is talking to people who are already believers when he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
In other words, let’s live who we are in Christ. We’ve been transformed, let’s continue to show it. We are being urged to show the world that, at heart, we are square pegs in a world of round holes, and we’re glad and thankful we don’t fit in.
A little girl asked her daddy, “When you sleep you can wake up right?” Her daddy said, “Sure, you sleep and in the morning you wake up.” But then she asked, “When you are awake, can you wake up more?” How would you answer that question? Can you wake up and then become more awake? Sure! A good strong cup of coffee or two usually does the trick for me.
But what stimulates us to become more awake and energetic in our transformed lives as God’s people? Look again at our text. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy.” Paul is telling us to be renewed in our spiritual transformation. How? By keeping God’s mercies in plain sight. God’s mercies point us to His Son. They point us to His Son’s death on the cross. They remind us of God’s unconditional and undeserved love, and how He freely forgives us because Jesus died and was punished at Calvary as our substitute. God’s mercies pick us up off the ground every day, washing away our sins, guaranteeing us a place in Heaven, and making us certain, that despite our many sins, God loves us no matter what.
When we keep the eyes of our faith on God’s mercy then the Spirit makes us more alert to what God has done for us in Jesus his Son. And when the Holy Spirit wakes you up more and more to God’s mercies you are given amazing energy to pattern your thinking and your living after Jesus, to be transformed and not conformed.
Let me focus you on two brief but important points as we put the finishing touches on this message today…
Point #1—When a person has been transformed he or she wants—from the heart—to give his or her life as an offering and sacrifice to God. A sacrifice—lambs, bulls, goats, etc,—during Old Testament times was something consecrated or dedicated to God. We no longer offer dead animal sacrifices to God, but because Christ sacrificed Himself, we offer our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Our lives—our very bodies—our very selves—are now dedicated to God, offered to Him to use as He sees fit. The Bible expresses the very same truth in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, where we read, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice is like the song we learned in Sunday School:
Two little eyes to look to God Two little ears to hear His Word
Two little feet to walk His ways Hands to serve Him all my days.
Point #2—The transformed Christian seeks to be molded and shaped by God’s Word. The human mind is like a sponge. What we hear and see and experience is absorbed and determines our thinking, and makes us who we are. Frankly, we expose ourselves to a lot of garbage. We want God’s Word to be a powerful force in hearts and minds and lives. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” To live with a TRANSFORMED and renewed mind means testing everything in our lives against God’s will—his good, pleasing and perfect will. What does the Bible say to me in this situation? What is God’s will for my life in this circumstance? What does Jesus want me to do? These are questions God’s redeemed, baptized, transformed children will always be asking themselves.
Well, sure enough Grandma bought me the coveted Lone Ranger set, and so I got to be like every other boy in second grade. I was so cool. But of course, you and I, in our attitudes and actions, don’t want to be like everyone else. We’ve been transformed. The hymn we will sing in a few moments expresses our new Spirit created desires:
I long to be like Jesus, Meek, loving, lowly, mild;
I long to be like Jesus, The Father’s holy Child.
I long to be with Jesus Amid the heavenly throng
To sing with saints His praises, To learn the angel’s song. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.