The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“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 12:1,2 NIV).
“About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him” (Luke 9:28-32 NIV).
We were talking about the Transfiguration of Jesus earlier and the glimpses of glory that were given to the disciples on a mountaintop in the wilderness. But we have also pointed out that the glory spoken of here had to do with his departure and all that would happen in Jerusalem.
In short, the glory of God is the cross of Christ. The glory of God is his character as he declared to Moses on a different mountaintop in Sinai. The glory of God, the true character of God, is most clearly seen on a hill outside of Jerusalem a little more than 2000 years ago.
But what does that have to do with our own Transfiguration, our own glory? Everything of course. If glory is character first and foremost, and the glory of God is the character of Christ as demonstrated on the cross, then our glory is also the character of Christ rooted in the cross and shown in us, in our transformation, in our transfiguration.
It is too simplistic to say that our glory will come to us in heaven, in the context of a new heaven and a new earth. It is too simplistic because it is only superficially true. The Bible talks about our glory being revealed in the new world but it is developed in the crucible of suffering as Christ suffered in this world. More on that to come.
It is true that in this life our Transfiguration will only be glimpses of glory just as it was with Christ but that doesn’t change the fact that our glory is neither automatic nor delayed. It is the stuff of real life today as we follow Christ.
Romans 12:1,2 speaks eloquently about that glory, that transfiguration, that transformation. It is worth spending some time to see what Paul says.
There appears to be three steps to this Transfiguration process. I call them SACRIFICE, TRANSFORMATION and MATURITY. And they seem to be integrated and circular, creating even more sacrifice, transformation and maturity in an upward spiral of virtue.
In the first verse, Paul says, “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.”
Wow, there is so much to say about this one verse that it literally blows your mind. What I will say is this. In the book of Revelations, God reveals his secret weapon against the forces of darkness throughout time and especially at the end of time. His secret weapon is the living martyrship of his people who are committed to following Him. I call it a “living martyrship” because this testimony is not just that someone dies (a lot of people were killed by the Romans) but rather how they died which means how they lived especially just before they died and why they died. Living Martyrs seems to capture the idea (rather than just Martyrs).
Everyone knows that Christians aren’t supposed to seek Martyrdom but can still accept that it may happen to them if they follow the cross of Christ. This is our testimony – a willingness to follow Christ even to death. Sometimes it is just a question of suffering and persecution, sometimes outright death. Whatever the case, it is the attitude and focus and testimony of these godly men and women which changed the Roman Empire and the world forever. Within 300 years or so, the testimony of these people so affected the populace of Rome that the Roman Empire officially (for good or bad) became a Christian nation.
Being a living martyr and being a living sacrifice are the same thing. It is a willingness to give up this life (and everything in it) to gain an eternal life with God. Jesus felt the same way. That character, that willingness to die to follow God, that trust in the Father, that boldness in the face of sin and evil, is the glory of God. A love for the sinners of this world motivated Him to pay the ultimate price. It is holy and pleasing to God and is our spiritual act of worship.
But how do we get there, to that place of being willing to die in our obedience to Christ and the glory of the cross? Not so easy, is it? Even just a little bit of inconvenience can get us started complaining or discouraged, forget about real persecution. That is the second step. The process, the transfiguration, the transformation.
Paul says in verse two, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Everybody notices that contrast between being conformed and being transformed but lets be clear. The first is an active verb and the second is a passive verb. And that makes a world of difference here. It doesn’t say that we should not “be conformed” to this world as if it is something that happens to us against our will (although there is a lot of truth to that as well) but rather it says, “do not conform any longer” meaning that we were doing it before (perhaps without thinking) but now we have to actively fight it, actively stop doing it, actively think differently and act differently (see Romans 7 and my post on The Good Fight).
And it also doesn’t say that we need not to conform to the world but to “the pattern of this world.” Well, what does that mean? That one word, “pattern” can only be understood in the context of everything that Paul and the Bible teaches. It is more than a question of morality. It is more than a question of going to church or sending your kids to a Christian school. It has to do with the “pattern” of this world (or worldview). It has to do with your Identity, your Purpose, your Significance all of which makes up your Meaning in this world. It is a change at a fundamental level.
And how is this change at a fundamental level going to work? Through the “renewing of your mind.” But first, let me remind you that the second verb which talks about transformation is passive. It says “be transformed” indicating that something will happen to you if you follow what Paul is telling us here. There is still a question of effort since this is an imperative as well as a passive. How does that work? How can you command someone (imperative) to have a passive experience?
Simple, by focusing on the means by which the passive experience will happen. The transformation will be automatic (although developmental) if you focus on the “renewing of your mind.” Ok, that makes sense. Obviously, in the context, Paul is saying that our minds will be renewed by the Word of God. Yes and No.
Yes, if we are talking about the truth of the Word of God applied to real life in the context of ministry. That is a mouthful but it is necessary to say since there are so many people in the church today that know their Bible’s, have memorized a lot of verses, can talk theology on par with the best of them but have no fruit, no ministry, no suffering for the sake of the gospel to act as the forge, the furnace for making those truths the most important things in their lives. That’s why I said Yes and No. It depends on the context of your transformation.
In this context, it is like saying that unless your life is a living sacrifice of ongoing cross bearing and gospel sharing, with a healthy dose of suffering and inconvenience for the sake of the gospel out of love for Christ and the sinner you are ministering to, then you do not have the necessary furnace or forge to make the truths of the Word of God become a transforming reality in your life. Period.
Yes, there is a lot more to say about all of this (and we will) but today we are just getting the gist of these verses so that we can start to understand the glory of our own transfiguration which starts here and now in the real world of your life ministry.
But here comes the good part. How do you know that the transformation is working? On the one hand, Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian who lived during the Great Awakening, points out that only humility (as shown in confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation) cannot be counterfeited by the Devil (or “untransformed” religious people). So that should be one clear evidence of transformation in our lives.
Although that is true, that isn’t what Paul is specifically saying here. For me, this last step is the most interesting and powerful.
“Then,” Paul says…… Then? THEN? Obviously this is a consequence, a result, a given that happens if you are truly transformed. Read on…..
“Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
So if you are truly transformed, you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is. Point blank. Now, maybe a lot of people think that that is rather obvious. I do not. I can’t tell you how many leaders and pastors of churches who, although they preach well, do NOT understand the will of God for them or their church. They may understand a lot of theology, but without a commitment to the crucible of ministry (rather than programs) in the real world of messy lives, difficult people and situations, and smelly people off the street, they miss the will of God for them and their church on a regular basis. But why should that surprise us.
There is no greater truth than the fact that the church is asleep and needs to wake up. It is often called, “awakening the sleeping giant.” If Jesus was able to turn the world upside down and change the entire Roman Empire in less than 400 years using 12 disciples (plus the 500 witnesses of his resurrection), why can’t the church accomplish anything in their own neighborhoods much less the world?
Where is the transforming power of the gospel in society today? Has it disappeared altogether? No, but those who still carry the torch have been transformed through the renewing of their minds and the fruit is evident to all.
But not just for churches, also for individuals. Do you see what the problem is? God calls us to suffer, yes, and rejoice in persecution when we are vitally involved in the ministry of reconciliation, the furtherance of the gospel. This is not an easy task. It takes a focus, a commitment, a truly life changing effort. It is not for the faint of heart who only want to maintain their middle class lifestyle and take no chances, spend no money, certainly not go anywhere to share the gospel (even if they knew how to do that in the first place).
Most people (rightly so) suspect that God’s will for them will hurt, will cost them money, will be inconvenient and smelly and perhaps even make them look bad (inside and outside the church). They would be right. Many people complain that God seems willing to let them get hurt, not answer their prayers, let them continue to have cancer and even die, all because of his priority of trying to save the world through our testimony. We are suppose to agree with him that that priority is also our priority. But the truth is that most of the time, it isn’t. Our lifestyles show that all too clearly.
So it isn’t just a matter of knowing the will of God and the priority of the gospel in our churches and our lives as we build together the kingdom of God in the hearts and lives of people. It’s not just about knowing the priorities of his purpose but also about liking it. Liking it? Yes, liking it. Agreeing with Him.
The ability to test the spirits, the theologies, the preaching, the messages of the world and the church and to be able to recognize what is of God and what is not, is essential but we are also to “approve” of what God’s will is. It isn’t that God needs our approval but rather that we need to agree with God in order to be transformed and to show evidence of our transformation.
Some people like to say that there are three types of will that God has. Some of it is good. Some of it is pleasing. And some of it is perfect. I disagree. All of God’s will in every circumstance is good, pleasing and perfect. These three things have to do with our perspective on God’s will. We are the ones that need to realize (and agree) that God’s will is good – even when our child is dying of cancer. We are the ones that need to change how we feel about God’s will – that God’s will is pleasing and we are able to rejoice (even through tears) for the death of our child because of the people who received a powerful testimony of faith from your family in one of the most difficult situations that life can throw at you.
Or do you think that your faith is normal? The nurses and doctors, and friends and family, and church members look at you and know that you are justified to be angry at God, at life, at everybody. That it makes sense that you are bitter and resentful like anyone else in that situation. Who wouldn’t agree with that? And yet, even though you hurt, you have faith. Even though you weep, you have hope. That is your living sacrifice. That is evidence of your transfiguration, your transformation.
But that isn’t developed in the moment. You have to prepare for it. You have to build your house upon the rock so that when (not if) the storms of life come, you will be able to stand. Your testimony will make a difference because it is real, not fabricated, not invented, not determined with gritted teeth but, rather, obvious and even natural, because of the relationship of trust, the faith, you have in the glory of God as you look to Christ and how he suffered for you, to save you.
And you know, deep down in your gut, that God’s will is perfect. If even one person is saved through your testimony, it was worth it. If your other children are saved and transformed, it was worth it. If a stranger gives his life to Christ, it was worth it. Worth the death of your child? Are you crazy? Yes, probably. But when you are transformed, you know that it isn’t just about this life but about eternal life. It isn’t just about health but about spiritual health. That there is a bloody battle going on for the lives and hearts of the people all around you, the pagan and the religious alike, and for some strange reason, you believe in faith that all of your suffering and pain and difficulty and inconvenience is worth it.
Why? Because you agree that God’s will in every circumstance is perfect. You know, because you have seen his glory, his character on the cross, his suffering, his pain, his mockery, his injustice. You know that he would never allow you to go through it if there wasn’t a “redemptive” gospel promoting reason for it. And if that was reason enough for Christ, then it most certainly is enough for me.
That is the testimony of a living sacrifice, a living martyr and that is God’s secret weapon in the battle against evil and the salvation of the world. And we get to be a vital part of it. Our testimony, our transformation, our transfiguration is key to the whole process. That is our significance in life.
When we truly accept our new identity in Christ, to become like him in his character, priorities, purposes, glory and when we truly accept our new purpose in Christ to suffer for the gospel as he did (and rejoice in it), then we can understand our true significance in the economy of God and realize that He is the one who brings true meaning to our lives as we invest them in the furtherance of the kingdom of God.
Now that is transformation. That is my Transfiguration. You can see glimpses of that glory as I (sometimes half-heartedly) stumble in the direction of learning to “approve” of God’s will for my life and the life of the church.
That is true spiritual maturity.
The Desert Warrior
Let us pray….
Lord, I look at your vision for my life and it both thrills me and scares me (more than a little). I know that I can’t do this on my own and I am not expected to. I need your help and the help of your church. Teach me to live as a living sacrifice for the gospel and in the process be transformed until I can approve of your will in all circumstances. That is who I am and who I want to become. That is my glory which I share with you. Thank you for that new life. You make all the difference in my life. I love you. Amen.