Living Between Two Worlds

Romans 12:1-2

The worst thing that ever happened to the church occurred in 313 AD. It wasn’t increased persecution, it wasn’t systematic annihilation of Christians. It was the legalization of Christianity by the emperor Constantine. Everything changed – persecution was replaced by a freedom for Christianity, a distrust of Christianity by the embracing of Christianity, instead of hidden secret meetings they started building church buildings.

All that sounds good (how many times have you heard someone in a prayer thank God that we can meet without fear of being molested) – except that – as Christianity became accepted and embraced, it became diluted and socialized. While there was no longer a fear of physical danger from the outside world, there was also no longer a distinction between Christianity and the outside world. As the church became more popular in the world, the world became more popular in the church. And that was the beginning of the end.

The apostle John’s words were more confrontational in the 4th century than they had ever been in the 1st – 1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

It is an inevitable consequence – as we have less to fear in the world, as the world becomes, not only more palatable, but more desirable – we look for ways to make the distinction less, for ways of making the world look not so worldly, for ways of indulging in the pleasures of the world without being consumed by the world. But therein is the rub – the world by its very nature and definition is opposed to God. Remember James 4:4 “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

Let’s not kid ourselves – this world is a pretty nice place most of the time. If you live in middle class America – with a regular paycheck, a house over your head, two cars in the garage and enough spending money to buy what you want, not just what you need. The world caters to us. It sends us platinum credit card applications and says, “You can buy happiness.” It tells us we can own a Lexus or a Mercedes or an Escalade, or even a new Ford pickup truck, for only a few dollars a month. We buy into the notion that the world will think highly of us if we wear the right names on our clothes and that “Tommy” or “Abercrombie” or “Izod” is a sign that we know how to fit in. And if we can’t have it now, we know our turn is just around the corner.

Materialism is the idea that we can buy our way to happiness and that more things, and the more expensive things are sure signs of success… in the eyes of the world. Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” ? Wasn’t it Jesus who said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well” ?

We’re chasing after lies if we keep trying to gauge our success by the world’s standards. And if we are trying to fit into the world by looking like the world and sounding like the world and acting like the world and then coming to worship on the Lord’s day and singing “O to be like thee blessed Redeemer,” just who are we kidding?

Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world.” Notice he says “any longer.” They had the same problem we have. And Paul says even if you have been conforming, even if you have the world stamped all over you, you can change – you can choose not to be molded by the world. How?

Here’s the counterculture. Here’s the antidote to the poison: “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Transformed – I love this word in scripture – in the original language of the NT it is the Gk word “metamorphoo” – it is the word that is used to describe the change that takes place when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, when carbon becomes diamond.
• This is really what is at the heart of it all. Lots of other religions talk about becoming a better person, refining your character, becoming all you can be, rising to higher levels of consciousness. But only Jesus says, “you must be born again.” Only Paul tells us “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory…” Only God could promise, “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”
• Transformation is the process by which God through his HS remakes us from the inside out.

Renewing of your mind – this transformation begins with a change of thinking and attitudes.
• We can change a lot of behavior, but if we don’t change our thinking we will always be engaged in a battle we cannot win. If our heart is in love with the world, our motives will always be tainted, our real desires will be somewhere else.
• When our mind is renewed by God, he works deep down inside, not just where our “ought to” is, but where our “want to” is.
• What does the renewed mind look like?
Phil. 2:3-8 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
• Phil. 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
• Selfishness is replaced by service, materialism by sacrifice, pride by humility, malice and bitterness by compassion and forgiveness.
• Paul said it best back in Rom. 8:6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

The result of the transformation and renewal? Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is...
• Testing and approving God’s will? He’s not putting us in the position of evaluating and giving approval – what he is saying is that when God is renewing our minds we will be able to recognize and understand God’s will in a way that is not possible when our lives are wrapped up in and conformed to this world.
• In fact, Paul had challenged them back in Rom. 2:17-18 “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior...” They claimed to know God’s will – to be teachers of it – but the fact is they were ignorant of God’s will – because their minds had not been transformed – they still thought the same old way.

What is God’s will for your life? It would be nice to be able to go to the Bible, look in the concordance and find a category, “God’s Will for John.” It’s not quite that cut and dried. There are some general admonitions where the NT says, “God’s will is…” for your sexual purity and holiness, for you to persevere under suffering, for you to give yourself first and fully to the Lord. But when you start asking questions like “what is God’s will for my job, or where I should live, or whom I should marry…” the answers aren’t very specific.
• But I thought it was fascinating that, as I did a study of the specific phrase, that in the vast majority of cases, when Paul or Peter or John used that phrase, it was always in contrast to what would be consistent with the world. If it is in and of the world, if the world would accept it and embrace it, you can be sure that it is not God’s will. God’s will is always for us to be separate and distinct from the world.

And when Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he does tell us that we are not without divine help: The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:10-16).

If you are a Christian and you have the Spirit of God living in you – I’m not saying God is going to reveal his will on specifics – but the decisions you make will be molded by a godly and super-natural perspective. As you are being transformed more and more into the image of Christ, you’re going to naturally think from the perspective of the mind of Christ – what would Christ do?; how can I best glorify God?; will this make me more or less effective as I serve the Lord?

Paul helps us a little bit by adding three descriptive words – “…his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
• “Good” – not a nodding brush with mediocrity – i.e. “good, better, best.” The word is the word that is often used to describe excellence, high moral character – it is the word Jesus uses when he says, “only God is good.” (which implicitly means the very best)
• “Pleasing” – pleasing, not to us, but pleasing and acceptable to God. It meets his standards, his expectations - he is the architect and he is the one who says, “it is good.”
• “Perfect” – no word is more descriptive of God’s will that the word “perfect.” His will is complete, all inclusive, it will encompass and accomplish all that God desires to be done. There is nothing that will happen that God will slap his head and say, “I hadn’t thought about that!” If he knows the number of hairs on your head, he knows every one of your needs perfectly.
• His will is good, pleasing and perfect.

Do those words describe your pursuit of God’s will for your life? Our lives need, not just an end which bring them to a conclusion, but a goal towards which we live. God’s will is that goal – to be perfectly, completely in his will is our highest calling.

If the gospel really is good news, then whatever God calls us to out of this world and away from conformity is better and more fulfilling than anything his world can offer. Does the world have a grip on you, has it squeezed you into its mold? Break out, step away, let God be life for you.

God doesn’t want simply to do a home makeover on you, he wants to begin with your heart and make you a new creation.