So I don’t know about you, but I have had a hard week. Not physically hard, but relationally and spiritually hard. And this usually happens as we talk about spiritually things. This week I have had victories in the Jesus, and I have put on the chains of sin as well. I have sought Jesus to be my victory in times, and I have given up and allowed sin to have control of my life.
And I want to share that with you, because we can easily think that once we become a Christian, or if we can do all the right steps, then we will not have trouble, or we will not succumb to sin. But that is a lie. The idea that we will never struggle with sin again is one of those fantasies that we talked about last week.
The reality is this, Jesus says, “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).”
I don’t want us to leave here thinking, “If I just follow the Pastor’s challenges, or the steps he gives us, then I will never face trouble, I will never wrestle with sin, I will never succumb to my sinful desires again.” Because that is a fantasy. You know how I know that, because Jesus says it in his word “…you will have trouble.” Paul tells us that he struggled with sin, even though he was one of the great apostles of the Church.
But what I can say, without any doubt in my mind is this: if we continue forward in our trusting of Jesus. If we put ourselves into positions where he can transform us, then sin’s power and control in our lives will lessen over time. And we will begin to see ourselves as God sees us through Jesus: perfect and blameless.
And it all starts in the victory that Jesus won on the cross. The victory that he gives to us freely if we put our trust in him as our Savior. And that’s what we’ve been talking about these past three weeks. How do we live in the victory that Jesus won on the cross?
In the first two weeks we talked about what that victory was. First we talked about how it was won through suffering. We tend to want to just have a victory with the least amount of resistance, but Jesus shows us that his way to victory is through struggle and strife. That’s why we fall to our sin, because the victory comes through suffering, and is all the sweeter because of it. Then on Easter, we talked about how Jesus’ victory was a reversal of mockery. How the world looks at Jesus and says, we got ‘em. Jesus then raises from the dead and puts the mockery back on the world saying, gotcha. So when we fail, and the world looks at us saying, I thought you were a Christian? We can respond with what we talked about last week. I am a sinner, and that’s why I need Jesus. This is the greatest thing we can hold onto in living victoriously. When we recognize that it is Jesus who not only won our victory, but we must rely on him moment by moment for that victory to become the reality in our lives. That it is not us that defeats sin, but Jesus living in us who defeated sin on the cross, and who can defeat it every time it comes crawling back.
And now that we have spent three weeks focusing on how Jesus is the victor, and how we must rely on him, we’re going to spend the next two weeks putting all of this to the concrete. Because Jesus has given us a lot of ways for us to have victory in this life.
Now, like I said in the past, we must understand that we have to rely on Jesus for the victory, because if we rely on what we’re going to discuss in the next two weeks as our avenue to victory, what will end up happening is we will become legalistic and hypocritical. It will also make us fall into the trap of thinking that we win the victory a part from from Jesus. But that’s just one more fantasy to add to the many we tend to live by.
And as we get into these two weeks we’re going to separate them into the inside and the outside. This week we will be dealing with the inside. Now you might ask the question, why? Why would we deal with the inside, when all our actions are what get us into trouble? Let me share with you two passages of Scripture. Both from the Gospel of Matthew.
The first is Matthew chapter 15 verses 11,17-20, “11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them…17 Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
The second comes from Matthew chapter 23 verses 27-28, “27 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Jesus was very blunt on where sin takes root. The sin we see that impacts our relationships, comes from the sin that is boiling inside of us. It’s the sin that has been rooted in our heart that we need to take care of, because if we just try to clean up our actions, all we’re doing is putting a bandaid over that problem. And allowing the sore underneath to fester and spread.
So we must start with the inside. But how? This is where we return to the book of Romans where we started in a few weeks ago, but this time we are going to fast forward to chapter 12, and start in verse 1. Now Romans 12:1 is a common passage that is recited in the Church. But it’s the verses after it that I want us to focus on today. But let’s start in verse 1 of chapter 12 of the book of Romans.
1 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. 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.
I want to break down these two passages really fast. First Paul says, “in view of God’s mercy.” We can think about this is terms of the victory we’ve been talking about. We can say it like this, “In view of God’s victory that we have been brought into when we trusted in him as our Savior.” Paul says it more succinctly, but now we can move forward. Because Jesus won the victory, Paul’s telling us that this should move us forward in offering our whole bodies back to him, which as Paul notes at the end of the first verse is our “true and proper worship.”
Another way of looking at this would be like this: when we rely on Jesus with both our inner and outer struggle against sin, we are worshiping him. When we say, “I am a sinner, Jesus I need you to live through me.” What we’re doing is worshiping him. How? By going to God and saying I am yours.
But what I find interesting about these two verses is that Paul says, “offer your bodies as living sacrifices,” and that seems like he would be talking about our outside, even saying in the first phrase of verse 2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world…” But how does Paul not want us to conform to the patterns of the world? Is it through our outward actions? No, it’s through the renewing of our mind. Paul is saying, that for us to not conform, we must have an inner change. The outward change, comes from the inner transformation.
Now, Paul will get to the outer actions next week, but today Paul follows up these words in verses 1 and 2 with something that seems out of place. Let’s read starting in verse 3.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
This is a strange follow up to Paul’s statement of being transformed by the renewing of our mind. Don’t you think? Shouldn’t Paul have said, you need to pray more. Or shouldn’t he have said to read your Bible more? Shouldn’t Paul have said think before you speak? Or a whole host of things we tend to say when we talk about God transforming our minds?
But he doesn’t. Instead of saying any of that, Paul tells us to be humble about who we are, and to use the gifts God has given us for the betterment of the Church.
Now how in the world does that transform our mind? How does that overcome sin in our lives?
We talk a lot about the book of Mark, chapter 12, verse 29-31 in this church. The reason is, is because it is one of the passages that our Love, Lift, Locate, Life vision is based on. I want to read those three verses to you right now, and I want to see if you can see why Paul follows up his transforming mind statement with humility.
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Just like Paul was more succinct than I was, Jesus was more succinct than Paul was. Jesus is saying, to love God and to love people as ourselves are the two greatest commandments that are interwoven with each other. You can’t love God and not love people. You can’t love people without loving God.
Paul is saying that the transformation of our minds that is only possible because of Jesus’ victory, is done through the humbleness of ourselves and the service we provide to others.
The two are interlocked with each other. Jesus says of our love towards people is based on the love we have for ourselves. We must make our desire of wanting the best for ourselves equal to wanting the best for other people. How do we do this? By being humble, and through this humility, being truthful about our limitations, our sin, our strengths. It’s here that transformation begins. Praying, Bible reading, meditation, study, these are all good things. But if we are not humbling ourselves to be wiling to be transformed and used by God, then all of that is worthless. Because all of it, is just going through the motions of trying to make transformation happen.
Paul moves from transformation of the mind, to the humbleness of the spirit, so that we would realize that we must start here. We must humble ourselves to the work of Jesus in us, so that our inner life can be victorious over sin.
Because what is sin at it’s core? A desire to be greater than we are. The serpent told Eve, God doesn’t want you to be like him. He’s holding back godhood from you. So she decided she wanted to be like God, greater than she was, so she ate. The sin in our lives wants us to think of ourselves greater than we are, so Paul’s remedy for that is to be humble. To be truthful with our sin, with our shortcomings, and with our strengths.
And how do we become humble in our lives? As a challenge, I want to give you four activities you can do this week to move yourself into a place of humility. Ready?
First, let’s be truthful about who we want to be. Make a list of all the things you want. Be as honest as you can. If you want to be an astronaut, write it down. If you want to make a million dollars, write it down. Do not hold back. Be as honest as possible.
Second, write down three, what you consider, major sins in your life that hurt you and the people around you the most. Be as honest as possible.
Third, write down the strengths that you see, or other people see in your life, that God has given you.
Finally, take your strengths and your wants and ask yourself, “Are the strengths God has given me able to achieve the things I want?” If you want to be an astronaut, but don’t like confined spaces, well it might not be a good fit. So throw that out. Throw out any desire you have that doesn’t not match the strength God has given you. And when you are left with those things that you can accomplish through the gifts God has given you; then take the sins, bring them before God, sin in one had, and your gifts and achievements in the other, and ask God to humble you in your gifts so that your sins can’t corrupt the work God plans through you life.
This is how humility starts, by bringing everything we have before God and saying these are my sins, these are my strengths, I give them to you God who won the victory. As Paul would say, “this is your true and proper worship.”
Let us become a humble people, seeing where we fail and where God has given us strength, so that we can be transformed for greater victories and worship of God. Amen.