The Sermon on the Mount and Politics

We cannot serve Jesus while at the same time seeking political solutions, which of necessity rely on principles which contradict those of Jesus’s kingdom. In “The Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 5-7), Jesus taught that the principles of the kingdom of heaven are visibly and obviously different from the principles of earthly kingdoms. He called the citizens of His kingdom to be the “salt of the earth” and to be a “light to the world” (Mt. 5.13-14).

It is essential that Christians live differently from the world. If we lose our distinction, we will fail to influence the world as the salt and light that God has called us to be. 

If the salt becomes tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under food by men. – Matthew 5.13

Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if Jesus’ teachings sound somewhat strange, offensive, contradictory to common wisdom, or even foolish. The fact that His teachings are different from everyday thinking is precisely the point Jesus is trying to make.

The Sermon on the Mount and Violence

There is no government on earth that practices, or could practice the principles taught by Jesus. As we read the Sermon on the Mount, we come across some of Jesus’s teaching on violence and the Christian’s attitude toward it.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also… You have heard that it was said “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? – Matthew 5.39-47

As we should expect, these are some very strange teachings. Christianity is different. Other kingdoms on earth tolerate, and sometimes encourage retaliation. And here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings up retaliation for the specific purpose of prohibiting it.

Here He sets forth a clear and broad difference between the spirit of retaliation and the spirit of Christianity. Living according to this difference is not just a minor side point in Jesus’s sermon that can be ignored; it is at the very heart of the theme of His sermon.

And what’s more, Jesus doesn’t simply address the outward action of retaliation. He speaks to the very heart of the matter. The section on retaliation is part of a larger section in which Jesus addressed common everyday understandings of the law (“You have heard that it was said…”), and then immediately gives a teaching that applies directly to the heart (“But I say unto you…”). For instance, when Jesus addressed adultery (Mt. 5.27-30), He condemned not only adultery, but also lust. The principles Jesus taught do not simply refer to the outward act, but also forbid the passion itself. His teachings attach guilt no only to the conduct, but also to the thought.

In another teaching, Jesus forbade not only murder, but also hateful feelings such as resentment or revenge which lead to murder (Mt. 5.21-22). When these unholy motives and intentions are prohibited, the very spirit of violent force towards our enemies is destroyed. Violent force towards our enemies cannot be encouraged or allowed if that which is necessary for that violent force is prohibited. Jesus’ disciples are taught in this sermon that all such attitudes that promote violence towards  enemies are prohibited in His kingdom.

According to everyday wisdom at that time, violence towards enemies was permitted. Jesus directly contradicts this mindset when He says “Love your enemies”. Loving our enemies is contrary to desiring harm upon them. By desiring to use force against our enemies we are violating one of the fundamental principles of Jesus’s teaching.

The tax collectors and gentiles demonstrated a similar set of ethics as the Jews. They preached the importance of love, but they limited their love to those who were deserving of it. If a person was wicked enough, they were seen as no longer deserving of their love. If a Christian decides that certain enemies are just too wicked to be loved, they have become no different from the rest of the world; they have lost their flavor as salt.

The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State

Christians cannot serve the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. The principles taught by Jesus are contrary to the principles that are, and of necessity must be, practiced in every human government on earth. No nation on earth would survive very long if it refused to resist its enemies. First, there would be no military forces to maintain a country’s strength. Subsequently, the nation would not be able to enforce its laws upon its citizens. The implied force that lies behind all political solutions and legislation would be destroyed. (If you don’t believe all political solutions are a demonstration of force, just refuse to obey a law and see what happens).

The mindset that is necessary for the maintenance of a strong country is opposed to the mindset that is taught by Jesus. The two mindsets cannot dwell at the same time inside the same person. You cannot be gentle, forgiving, responding to evil with good, turning the other cheek, praying for your persecutors, and at the same time execute wrath and vengeance upon evil doers as God has ordained governing authorities to do (Romans 13.1-7).

Jesus understood this to be the case. He understood that the principles of Sermon on the Mount could not be kept among those who try to serve two masters.

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. – Matthew 6.24

Satan is the god of this world. To serve wealth is to serve Satan. Wealth is served in the kingdoms of this world. Jesus teaches that we cannot serve both.

 “Jesus Didn’t Really Mean That”

Many will be quick to point out that Jesus never intended for his sermon to be applied to governments. In this observation, they are correct. After all, Jesus didn’t go to Rome to preach this lesson to Caesar and his guards, and He didn’t preach the sermon to the U.S. Government.

He preached the sermon to those who were to be a part of His kingdom, and He expected His teachings to apply to every aspect of their lives. Therefore it wouldn’t make any sense to suggest that the Sermon on the Mount is fine to apply to individual Christians, unless those Christians decided to become involved in political action, in which case they would be exempted from these expectations.

Consider these words from Martin Luther, the great Reformer (who in many regards should be praised as a hero). From his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther wrote:

Thus we read of many holy martyrs, who under infidel emperors and lords have gone forth to war, when summoned, and in all good conscience have struck right and left and killed, just as others, so that in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen; and yet they did nothing contrary to this text. For they did it not as Christians, for their own person, but as obedient members and subjects, under obligation to secular person and authority. But if you are free and not obligated to such secular authority, then you have here a different rule, as a different person.

Wait, what? Christians are no “different than heathens”? For “they did it not as Christians… but as obedient members and subjects, under obligation to secular person and authority”?

Is Jesus not to be the Lord over every part of our lives? Would this logic make sense if applied to other activities in life? For example, consider if this quote were applied to lifeguarding.

Some Christians, while working as lifeguards have looked at immodestly dressed women and lusted after them, and in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen; yet they did nothing contrary to this text. For they did it not as Christians, but as lifeguards who were faithfully doing their jobs under obligation to their secular bosses.

Or apply this logic to a lawyer…

Some Christians, while working as lawyers, have told lies, and in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen; yet they did nothing contrary to this text. For they did it not as Christians, but as lawyers who were faithfully doing their jobs under obligation to their secular clients.

We wouldn’t use this logic towards other walks of life. Why would we apply it to Jesus’ teachings about retaliation and loving our enemies? Jesus never adds any qualifiers to these statements. He did not intend for them to apply to certain parts of our lives and not to other parts.

A Christian might be a lifeguard, but a Christian lifeguard should never lust. A Christian might be a lawyer, but a Christian lawyer should never lie. A Christian might live as a citizen under secular authorities, but a Christian citizen should never retaliate, resist evil with evil, or hate his enemies.

The Sermon on the Mount was not addressed to human governments, but it does apply to every Christian in every aspect of their lives. To seek political solutions to lose our distinctiveness; that is, to cease to be salt and light.

Words of Comfort and Warning

 Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. – Matthew 7.24

Jesus concludes by teaching that those who live according to the principles of God’s kingdom will stand forever. Those who do not will be overcome in destruction. The kingdom which was established by God will never fall. The kingdoms which are in the world will be destroyed along with those who live according to their way of life.

The kingdom Jesus established does not need the right political party, strong political victories, strong law enforcement, constitutionally protected rights, strong military strength, or a strong economy to prosper. If Jesus can overcome the cross, Christians can rest assured that the gates of hell (much less a bad earthly government), will not prevail against His church.

Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Adultery

As I mentioned in my previous article, Jesus sets forth a challenge in the Sermon on the Mount: be different. Jesus even sets a challenge for Himself. He told His audience that day that He came to earth to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-18).

There is part of that challenge that is strictly Messianic, meaning, only Jesus was able to fulfill the Law by living it perfectly. Only Jesus was able to fulfill the prophecies about the Prophet who was to come into the world.

Yet, there is the other part that we ourselves can participate in.

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12.

Are you ready to take up this challenge? Can you be a part of Jesus’ mission to create fulfillers?

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19-20.

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48.

Between these two high callings, Jesus gives some shocking teachings that require courage and dedication to the cause of Christ. To move forward in our study, we need to make the commitment of a true disciple.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery”; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30.

Marriage, as God defines it, is a sacred bond. It is the first inter-personal relationship He ever created. Woman was made for man, and man is incomplete without woman.

Jesus says a lot about marriage. The one phrase that is and should be repeated at every Christian wedding is what He said in Matthew 19:6: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.

What happens, however, when a third person is introduced into the one-flesh bond? The first time the word adultery is found in the Bible is within the cited commandment: “You shall not commit adultery!” (Ex. 20:14). The punishment? Death for both parties involved.

To say that God takes marriage seriously is true, but that may be an understatement. God understands the wrenching heartbreak people feel when relationships are destroyed by adultery. If this is news to you, read through the book of Hosea, and read God’s reasonings for punishing the nation of Israel in the book of Jeremiah (31:31-32).

The people listening to Jesus on this occasion would have heard this commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” well enough. But did they understand it? Perhaps, like murder, the religious teachers spent inadequate time on the feelings and intentions that usually lead to sin. Sure enough, the commitment of adultery is wrong. What about the heart?

…but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28.

Let us define our terms. There are some Greek words that are flexible, and context helps us understand the correct translation into English. There is no ambiguity with the word translated “adultery” in this passage. Every time “moicheuō” appears in the New Testament, it is translated as the act of (commitment of) adultery, which can be defined as: “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse” (Oxford).

The word lust is a bit more flexible than adultery. It has been translated as covetousness (Acts 20:33), craving (1 Cor. 10:6), desire (Matt. 13:17), longing (Luke 16:21)and lust. Sometimes, it’s even used for spiritually healthy feelings (e.g. 1 Tim. 3:1). In the context of Matthew 5, however, lust would be a sensational craving that produces unwholesome and sinful thoughts. It has to do with sensational cravings of someone’s physical being who is not your spouse.

Let it be said that attraction is not the same as lust. Attraction, the recognition that someone has desirable qualities, is as universal as its opposite, disgust, the recognition of undesirable qualities. A woman may see a man and say, “He’s handsome.” She may then notice some other things about him and say, “I also like how kind he is, and how good he is with children.” In other words, she’s saying, “I’m attracted to him.”

The question is, where does it go from there? She could pursue these feelings in a very godly way, so long as he is eligible for her. Or, if she employs no self-control, then it could become sinful, or lustful, very quickly.

Without attraction, God’s first commandment to the first married couple would be difficult to fulfill. He told them, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Attraction aids in the fruitfulness of the earth. With lust, however, God’s creation is distorted, and a man or a woman is stripped of the image of God and turned into a spirit-less, physical body.

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17.

John says the things in the world fall into these three categories. Two of them are related to this subject: the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes.

The child of God who, every day by discipline of the heart, submits more to God according to His word bears the Holy Spirit’s fruit, which includes self-control (Gal. 5:16-25).

When we become Christians, we are publicly professing our belief in the spiritual. We recognize that there is more to our body; therefore, there is more to everyone else’s, too! When we lust, we are are looking at the person according to the flesh and denying the faith that teaches of the spiritual.

Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad…
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, 16-17

A Christian is committed to no longer recognizing anyone according to the flesh. If you struggle with this, wake up daily with the words of Job on your lips: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman [or man]” (Job 31:1, NIV).

The question is still here: are we willing to take drastic measures?

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 5: 29-30.

Sometimes we want to go quickly to the question, “Does Jesus mean for me to obey this commandment literally?” First, no, He doesn’t. If He did, we would have seen examples of self-mutilation carried out by the inspired apostles, the prophets, and the first-century church in Scripture, but we do not. Obeying this literally renders the world half-blind and half-paralyzed. Plus, what good is it to pluck out one eye, when one more would remain?

When we jump to this question right away, at best, we are distracted from the commandment. At worst, we begin to justify a lack of action when stumbling blocks are present. After all, we are not to take it literally.

So, what did Jesus mean? Do whatever it takes to remove stumbling blocks from your life. Therefore, if you find out that “whatever it takes” actually requires the loss of a body part, then follow through, “For it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Truthfully, though, “whatever it takes” is sometimes more painful and difficult than it would be to tear out your eye with a dull, wooden spoon. Do you struggle with sorcery? If so, do what the new Ephesian Christians did in Acts 19–burn your books that equal to five million dollars in today’s money. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it? Do you struggle with pornography? Cut off all access to the internet. Sounds extreme, doesn’t it?

Maybe we need to first take a step back and ask a simpler question. Do you struggle with lust? Even simpler is, do you struggle? I’m afraid that many of us, when we see a spiritual weakness, we begin saying, “I struggle with such-and-such.” Yet, struggling requires much more than just admitting you have a problem.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
And He scourges every son whom He receives.” Hebrews 12:1-6.

Do you recognize a problem in your life? Take it to the next step, to the point of struggling, or striving against sin. Can you honestly say that you are actively fighting against the temptation of lust?

Conclusion

Do you want to participate in Jesus’ fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets? If so, treat others the way you want to be treated. How do you want people to see you, as merely an animated body (or as slang puts it, a “piece of meat”)? Or do you want people to see you as someone who bears the image of God, and for that reason, you have inherent value?

Regard people with spiritual eyes. Do not reduce a person to the flesh. Remove anything in your life that hinders your growth in Christ and causes you to stumble in your walk.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38.

Our righteousness must surpass that of the most apparent religious people around us. We are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It’s easy enough to say, “That’s impossible!” But with Christ by our side and the Holy Spirit inside, it’s even easier to say, “That’s possible.”

The things that are impossible with people are possible with God. Luke 18:27.

Jesus’ Shocking Teachings: Murder

Christianity is meant to be different. It is to be different from other religions and different from the way this world thinks. The Old Testament prophets continually spoke of a different and better kingdom that was coming. The first word preached by both Jesus and John the Baptist was, “Repent!” which is a commandment to change… or be different than the way you were before. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7), Jesus calls His disciples to, not surprisingly, be different.

Primarily, Jesus teaches us to:

  1. Be different than the standard of the world.
  2. Be different than the standard of religious teachers.

Consider how beautiful the world would be if everyone followed the teachings in this sermon. Jesus gives such a standard that he is able to say, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). He concludes this section of His sermon with, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Such high callings!

Context

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the prophets (see Luke 24:44). The last words He uttered on the cross were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Entire books of the New Testament were written to teach Christians that Jesus and His New Covenant are better than the Old Law and have made the Law of Moses obsolete (i.e. Galatians and Hebrews). Jesus didn’t destroy the Law; He fulfilled it.

What Jesus was saying was, “Your religious teachers have twisted and abused the Law and the prophets. Let me explain to you perfectly what the Scriptures mean.” Jesus then begins six contrasts of what the religious teachers of the time were saying, versus what God is saying. In this article, we will study the first one, where Jesus presents His divine take on murder (Matt. 5:21-26).

You have heard…

You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” Matthew 5:21.

“You shall not murder.” These people would have heard this from the Ten Commandments. Is Jesus about to annul one of the Ten Commandments? By no means!

It seems that the teachers of the time were saying that simply the commitment of murder was wrong. Perhaps the teachers had forgotten that the Law defined murder as an act that resulted from hatred, or at least, the intention of murder in the heart (Num. 35:20-21).

You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.
You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:16-18.

But I say…

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, “You good-for-nothing,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matthew 5:22.

Being guilty of the court, in Jesus’ eyes, requires only one thing: anger. Deuteronomy 16 and 17 put forth Israel’s court system, which Jesus refers to here. Murder is easy to see and convict, but how is anger to be judged in the court system? There are, of course, different types of anger.

Some translations have, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger…” (see KJV and NKJV). There is what people have called “righteous indignation.”

God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. Psalm 7:11.

Just as God is one who hates sin, when one of His children exemplifies the heart of Christ, he or she will also hate sin.

And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Jude 22-23.

When Jesus saw the money changers at the temple, He responded in anger. Yet in all of His “righteous indignation,” Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15). We have the same calling–the one to be angry, yet without sin.

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Ephesians 4:26-27.

To call someone raca (KJV), or, you good-for-nothing (NASB), insults the Creator, who saw in His good will to create everyone for somethingWhen we let anger take its natural course, it boils inside of us. Where there is the presence of anger and a lack of self-control, there is the presence of insult and lack of love. According to Christ, putting down someone’s life, skill, and cognitive ability condemns one to the fiery hell.

Therefore…

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Matthew 5:23-24.

So, what’s the application of all of this? Verse 23 begins with, “Therefore.” Based on what Jesus says in verses 21 and 22, be reconciled to your brother.

The Law of Moses taught the Israelites to “not appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Deut. 16:16). Sacrifice was the way to worship, forgiveness, and reconciliation. However, it didn’t work by itself. Along with the sacrifice, three other things were to be present–intention, purity of heart, and repentance.

The longer one lives in Christ, the longer he or she develops a deep love for the work of God among men, which is boiled down to reconciliation. There should be no wonder, then, why Christ requires reconciliation to be exercised within our relationships with all others who also worship God.

Of course, there is no physical altar in the Law of Christ. Christ is our sacrifice. However, we still approach the same God in worship, and we must not appear before the Lord stained-hearted, or in other words, while ignoring broken relationships within the body of Christ.

Scenario: You come before God, and like the tax collector in the temple, you realize your sins are laid bare before a holy God. You then remember of how you have offended a brother or sister in the previous week. What are you to do?

  1. Leave your sacrifice.
  2. Go.
  3. Be reconciled.

Is that the trend today? Unfortunately, we live in a day where victimization is exalted, where parents treat their children like the world revolves around them, where culture teaches that you’re entitled to your heart’s desires. If we’re not careful, and if we’re not intentional, this world will shape us, and the gospel will not. When there is offence, the world says, “Leave the relationship.” The Master says, “Leave your sacrifice.”

In case you’re justifying yourself by saying, “So-and-so is not offended at me; I’m offended at him; therefore, I’ll share this article in hopes he will read it and come to me for reconciliation!” don’t be so hasty. First, there are other Scriptures that command even those who are “innocent” to initiate the reconciliation (e.g. Matt. 18:15-17; Rom. 12:18). But even within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus leaves no room for self-justification. If you can come to worship with a clean conscience because of your pride (“Sure, my relationship with someone in the faith is on rocky ground, but it’s his fault; he’s the offender”), then you’ve proven otherwise by your attitude. The commandment is for you:

  1. Leave your sacrifice.
  2. Go.
  3. Be reconciled.

Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. Matthew 5:25-26.

Imagine a situation where you ignore one whom you have offended. Will the situation get better by itself? In most cases, it will get worse. The longer you ignore the problem, the more awkward it gets. Perhaps while you ignore the problem, the person you have offended is busy taking things to the next level, even to the point of drafting court papers. Being proactive in fixing relationships has its spiritual benefits–it allows you to worship spiritually without hindrance. It obviously has earthly benefits, too. Settling matters before third parties get involved can prevent complicated, awkward, expensive, and undesirable results.

Conclusion

If our righteousness is to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, we must follow Jesus’ teachings against murder. Doing so includes making friends with our enemies quickly. In a culture that loves to be offended and victimized, we are to take the heroic initiative by fixing relational problems before a third party is needed.

If we are to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, we must:

  • Treat our brothers and sisters kindly.
  • Recognize a person’s inherent value. God created him or her to be good for something!
  • Be willing to see a friend’s point of view. Sometimes all it takes is a change of perspective to see that we are the ones who are actually foolish.
  • Be reconciled to our estranged members of the household of faith so that our worship to God may be unhindered.

Do you want to be the true worshiper who worships God in spirit? How can you when you harbor hate inside your heart? Deal with your relationships Jesus’ way, and you’ll be that much closer to God’s perfection.

Healthy Parts, Healthy Body

Healthy: A Flexible Word

When it comes to our bodies, the definition of “healthy” is often a moving target that changes with each person you ask because people use different standards and reference points when comparing a given body to an imaginary “ideal” body. Does healthy mean there are no aches or pains right now or does it also include having none of the chronic disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated inflammation markers (with all of their ranges of progression)? Is a person with two previous heart attacks and slightly reduced heart function, but who feels great, has a sharp mind, and still has the ability to be “active” (another word that’s tough to pin down) considered healthy even though he is now at higher risk of future heart issues? What about age? Is an 85 year old who is able to keep up with the young guns who are just now turning 60 deemed healthy, even though his strength is no where close to the average 25 year old?

A growing approach to assessing health is to also consider the “whole person” rather than just the surface point of symptoms. Modern science is growing in understanding how the body’s incredibly complex organ systems, with each of their hierarchy of functions from the organs down through the tissues, cells, proteins, DNA, and necessary nutrients, impact and are affected by the other organ systems and their constituent parts. I.e., the digestive system sends signals through the nervous system that affect the blood supply via the cardiovascular symptom that intricately maneuver the muscular system in its proper functioning to digest food. And the effects are not all local to what we might consider its “primary” purpose. Eating a meal and the functions needed for it affect the brain, heart rate, respiratory rate, hormonal regulation, kidneys, etc.

Every function of the body, each with its own complex inter-workings, communicates with other parts so as to maintain homeostasis, which is the proper and effective functions and composition of the body. And when just one part is not functioning effectively, its effects can cause a chain of dysfunctional events that may or may not be apparent to the individual. The complexity I’ve briefly described has not even included the vast interconnections between the “hardware” of organ systems and the emotional status of the individual.

At the risk of pushing a biblical analogy further than its intended purpose, I believe the common image of God’s New Covenant people as the Body, of which Christ is the Head (Eph. 2:22,23; 3:11-16), itself made up of unique, yet unified, parts (Rom. 12:4,5) is such a good illustration for assessing our spiritual health both as a single unit and as individual members. What better way to illustrate the unity, maturity, unique tasks, mutual effects, and common purposes of the Church than to compare it to the chief object of creation, that which was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). But qualified as being not under the headship of Adam, but of Christ, who himself is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15-20). He is the model of submission and yet effectively exercises God-given dominion over all things (Ps. 8), even death.

Jesus: A “Healthy Template” for the Church

Here we can have our standard, our reference point for what can be deemed “healthy.”

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16

Here we have a standard for what it looks like for the Church to be healthy. A healthy mature Church looks like Christ in every way. The unity of faith and the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God is a picture of maturity and stature. A healthy thinking, healthy functioning Body does not chase the trends of human societies, is not swayed by arguments based on faulty human reasoning, or deceived by outright lies. Rather the mature Church boldly reflects the love and will of God into the world as we imitate God himself (Eph. 5:1,2). Much of Ephesians is a detailed description of what that looks like. Where God created man in His own image and subsequently gives him dominion to be the agents of God’s authority over the lower creation, the Church lives it out by ruling our bodies and properties in a God-glorifying way and serving and loving one another.

It is not 100% accurate to say that the Church ought to restore the 1st century church (is it desirable to imitate 1st century Corinth?). Rather, our goal is to restore it to the model of health and maturity revealed to us by Christ himself and the Spirit of God through the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-22).

Healthy From Every Angle

Consider the complexity of the human body once more. The body cannot be said to be restored to full health if all of the organ systems are sound but the vascular system is hardened. In fact, atherosclerosis will prevent the other organ systems themselves from remaining healthy. The body is not healthy if muscles are strong but the digestive tract is swollen and inflamed. In fact, decreased nutrient intake will eventually weaken the muscles. The church is not restored to Biblical health if beliefs about judgment and eternity are Scriptural but they neglect the poor and oppressed. In fact, Biblical hope and anticipation for the age to come shapes our motivation to implement the effects of God’s current reign in the “now time” (Matt. 25:31-46). A church who strives for the true and authorized ways to offer worship to God on a weekly basis but neglects opportunities to express brotherly love to one another will have not restored the characteristic of God’s church being a family. In fact, worship in an environment that is void of mutual love for one another will quickly deteriorate away from being worship done in spirit and in truth.

Just as restoring the health of the church must address the “whole person” and not neglect different “organ systems” (as if they can so easily be pulled apart from one another without destroying the person), a healthy body also relies on healthy organs within it. A person is not healthy if the liver hardened. Cirrhosis of the liver will in fact destroy the other organs and their functions. A person is not healthy if the thyroid is unregulated. In fact, a dysfunctional thyroid can destroy the bones, metabolism, hair growth, temperature regulation, and memory of a person.

The church is not restored to full health if its people thrive in benevolence, offers scripturally consistent worship, shares the gospel with many but whose members are giving up fights against addiction, are being swayed by the mindsets and powers of the world, scratching whatever itch comes around, or silently drifting off unnoticed. This aspect of the restoration ought to remind us that there should never be a feeling of “We have arrived.” A healthy church is evangelistic, bringing in younger generations, and growing in Biblical wisdom and knowledge at every level. All of these present opportunities for growth and maturity at every moment in time.

A Healthy Church is Full of Healthy Christians

If the church is to be restored to health, we must commit ourselves to being restored to health as individuals, which will include healthy attitudes and behaviors towards one another corporately (Rom. 12:3). Having spiritual health as individuals will result in looking different than the world. A collection of individuals that are different than the world will be a nation that looks different than the nations of the world. Ephesians 3 goes on to say in verse 22 that we are to “lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Healthy is good. Healthy is effective. We have a picture of what healthy looks like, but it is a conscious effort.

 

Hear the Song of My People

In every American college football game at least two different songs can be heard. The first song, the National Anthem, is played before the game starts. The second song is the home team’s fight song, and will likely be played multiple times throughout the contest. Why do we play these songs? These songs are designed to encourage and unify the people behind one common purpose. The words and the melodies of these songs remind the people of who they are, what side they are on, what they stand for, and what they stand against. These songs serve as rallying calls.

The children of God have a “song” which they sing. They have a rallying call. They have a common purpose, a common value, a common trait which runs through all that they say and do. Our song is love; true and genuine love. Jesus, when summing up the greatest commandment, put it this way: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matt. 22.36-40). Paul puts it simply, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (Rom. 12.9).

Christian love is more than simply a claimed love; it is a love that is lived. Christian love is more than just a talked about love; it is a deep emotional love. Christian love is more than just a theological teaching; it is the very core of who we are. Christian love is not just a natural emotional occurrence that is felt as relationships are developed with our neighbors; it is a love that we strive to achieve even when we are mistreated, hated and persecuted. Love is a thread that runs through everything we say and do. True, genuine love is our song. It calls us to one purpose. It unites us. It encourages us. It reminds us of who we are, what we stand for, and what we stand against. Love is the song of God’s people.

Genuine Love

In Romans 12, Paul expounds upon the way this genuine love is seen in our lives. In verses 7-9, Paul instructs Christians to use our varying gifts accordingly. When we use the gift of serving, we must put that service in to action. If our gift is exhortation, we must exhort. When we give, we must give liberally. When we exercise leadership, we must lead with diligence. When we do acts of mercy, we must do them with cheerfulness. So also, when we love, we must continually demonstrate the genuineness of our love, just as Paul describes in verses 9-12:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another  in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Love must ALWAYS be genuine, sincere, and most importantly, put into action.

Christians must never be heard saying, “I abhor evil, but…”, “I love my brethren, but…”, “I know we have a better hope, but…”, “Yes, we must patiently persevere tribulation, but…” “Yes, we must care for the poor, but…”, “Yes, our homes should be used for hospitality, but…”, “Yes, we must love our enemies, but…”. There are no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it! The Holy Spirit commanded that our love must be without hypocrisy! Love must never be reduced to something we talk about, but refrain from putting into action. It doesn’t cut it to simply say “Of course I love my brethren” or “Of course I love my enemies”. Christian love must be  put into action in our words, in our thoughts, in our emotions and in our actions.

Love for our Brethren

When it comes to our brethren, our love must characterize us so completely that we are never tempted to “fake it.” Not only must we have “agape” love for one another (v. 9), we must also have “brotherly love” for one another (v. 10). That is, our love must be not only a commitment to love, but we must also cultivate and develop those feelings of brotherly affection. It is a love that must affect our very preferences: “give preference to one another in honor.” We must fervently throw ourselves into our service towards one another as we serve the Lord (v. 11). The hope we have together surpasses even the most severe and depressing of earthly trials, hardships, disappointments and frustrations (v. 12). Therefore when those trials come our way, we can persevere, all l because of the “song” we keep singing. And when we see our brethren going through those hard times, the devotion of our love must show through in our constant prayer, generous giving, and warm hospitality.

We sing this song together. We rejoice together. We weep together. We suffer together. We persevere together. We have this same mind towards one another (vs. 14-15). Paul continues, “Do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly” (v. 15). When we are more concerned about ourselves, we cannot show the kind of love Paul describes. Notice how Jesus puts it in Luke 23.25-26:

And He said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest and the leader like the servant.

If our minds seek after highly respected places in this life, we will never be great in God’s eyes. The song of God’s people is not greatness or power or respectability. The song that calls us together is “love.”

Love for our Enemies

Showing love towards our brethren is not the only kind of love Paul speaks of in Romans 12. In verses 14-21, Paul challenges us to take our love to a completely different level as he challenges us to love our enemies.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (v. 14). The same thing was taught by Christ himself when he commanded us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt. 5.44-45). Yes, a Christian can (and must) continue to “abhor what is evil”, but we must deal with the evil man with love, so as to lead him to what is right. Responding to evil with good is not optional. It is something the disciples of Christ must do. If when we are reviled, we revile in return, and if when we suffer, we threaten the lives of our enemies, we are not following in the steps of Christ (1 Pet. 2. 21-23).

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (v. 17). The Holy Spirit didn’t say “Most of the time, it is wrong to pay back evil for evil”, nor he did say “Never pay back evil to evil, unless you are dealing with someone who is really evil, like a terrorist or something”. He said “never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (vs. 17-18). That’s genuine love. That kind of concern for our enemies is the kind of love that identifies the followers of Christ.

What is the Christian responsibility for peace? If it is in our ability, it is our responsibility. We must use anything and everything in our power to strive for peace, even with wicked men. We must be willing to sacrifice everything, even our own lives. The only thing we cannot and must not sacrifice for the sake of peace is our faithfulness to the Lord and our firm stance for His truth.

This is not to suggest that Paul desired that we simply stand by and allow wicked men to have their way. (Any interpretation that would aid wickedness would certainly be an odd understanding of Scripture). Christian love should not eliminate the desire for justice. If anything, Christian love should enhance our compassion for the victims of evil. Righteous judgment is one of the great attributes of the God we serve!

Paul, in discussing our genuine love, embraces the idea of the wrath and vengeance against evil. Yet he is very clear that the execution of justice is not the responsibility of Christians themselves. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” The Holy Spirit admonishes us be patient in tribulation. As we witness evil, and our desire for revenge arises, be patient! Vengeance WILL be executed! “I will repay” is the promise of our Lord. As is explained in Romans 13, God in His overruling authority uses governments as his minister for doing this very thing. But the words of Romans 12:19 couldn’t be clearer; it is our responsibility to leave vengeance in the hands of God. It is our responsibility to love our enemies.

Love Wins

We must never forget that we are in a war; not a physical war against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. The question is this: will we overcome evil, or will we be overcome by evil? The answer to this question depends on our faith in the strategy given to us in Romans 12. 20-21.

But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.

If we love our enemies, if we do kindness to them, if we feed them when they are hungry, if we give them drink when they are thirsty, we have the promise their evil will be overcome. But if we forget our song, if we forget our purpose, if we forget our rallying call, if we forget that true, genuine love, the Holy Spirit warns us that we will be overcome by evil.

Love is our song. It is our purpose. It is our rallying call. It is what identifies us as followers of Christ. We must never stop singing that song.

Do Not Be Conformed to the [Religious] World

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2 was the first passage I ever seriously considered and meditated upon. This occurred many years before I was introduced to the concepts of historical or literary context. This passage was initially introduced to me as a supporting verse for 2 Timothy 2:22 and fleeing “youthful lusts.”At that time, I interpreted the verse to mean that the more I read my Bible, the easier temptation would be to deal with. While I was certainly not too far off, I later came to realise that my interpretation was incomplete.Perhaps we can find more meaning within the historical context of the Roman church at the time and of the literary context of Paul’s writing.

The Historical Background of the Roman Church

We know that “visitors from Rome” were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost when the initial 3,000 were baptised into Christ (Acts 2:10). Assuming that these early Christians returned and worshipped in Rome, the earliest Roman church would have been composed entirely of early Jewish believers. Their evangelistic efforts, at this point, would have been limited to other Jews in the synagogues of Rome. Later, however, the Roman church would have begun reaching out to the Gentiles, as the other early churches did. Following the conversion of the first Gentile converts, Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), the first mass outreach to Gentiles began (Acts 11:19-21). The successes among the Gentiles that Paul and Barnabas experienced during their first missionary journey (Acts 13:48-49; 14:1, 27) actually prompted the church in Jerusalem to send a letter to the Gentile brethren in nearby locations (Acts 15:23-30). Though we only have available the travels of Paul recorded in Acts, we can imagine the conversions among Gentiles continued to increase in the churches, including the church in Rome.

Paul’s meeting with Roman couple Priscilla and Aquila gives us more insight into the historical context of the Roman church (Acts 18:1-12). Priscilla and Aquila’s “trip” to Corinth was arranged by Emperor Claudius, who decreed that all Jews must leave the city of Rome. Roman historians Suetonius and Cassius Dio reinforce the biblical text of this historical occurrence. Looking to archaeology, we find that the Gallio inscription (Acts 18:12) in Delphi dates this event sometime between January of 51 and August of 52. The majority of the Roman congregation, presumably Jewish, would have been subject to Claudius’ edict. The welfare of the early Roman church, therefore, would have been left to the propriety of the rather recent Gentile converts for a significant amount of time.

By the time Paul, who had at that point had not personally visited the Roman church (Rom. 1:10-13), wrote to them, the Jewish population had returned (Romans 16:3). As you can imagine, the differences between the Jews and Gentiles in the church were amplified by the return of the Jewish Christians who most likely felt an overwhelming sense of culture shock. I can imagine them saying, “What happened to our synagogue style, mostly Jewish assembly?”, “Can you believe the Gentiles are coming to worship then going out for lunch at the temple of Athena!?”, “These guys don’t know our scriptures very well! What qualifies them to teach about Israel’s prophesied Messiah?”

The Literary Context of Romans 12

For obvious reasons, Paul spends considerable time in the book of Romans reconciling the brethren in Rome. His letter begins with passages like 1:16, 2:9-11, and 3:9, 29-30 which remind the brethren that: the stain of sin has affected ALL mankind, ALL mankind will be judged according to their works, and fortunately, the saving gospel of Jesus is also for ALL mankind. Spiritually speaking, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek” (3:22; 10:12).

Therefore the spiritual realities of: baptism (Romans 6:1-11), the release of the Jews from the Mosaic law that bound them to sin (Romans 7), and the promises of the Spirit (Romans 8) all serve to bring the Jewish and Gentile believers together into a new category: those who have responded to God’s call through faith in Jesus.

Chapter 1:18-32 focuses on “them,” the Gentiles with no regard for God. Chapters 9-11 focus on “them,” the Jews who haven’t accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Chapter 12, however, begins with an appeal to the Christians in Rome. Unlike the hedonistic Gentiles and the self-righteous Jews, the Christians ought to recognise the disobedience of all mankind, and the greatness of God for giving the opportunity of mercy to both Jew and Gentile (11:30-36). This discussion provides the immediate literary context for Romans 12:1-2.

To summarise Paul’s argumentation, it’s almost as if he’s saying, “Enough talking about ‘them.’ Let’s talk about ‘you’ Christians. You’re all from different backgrounds, but you’ve found a new identity in Christ. Forget the past. Whether it be the sensuality you formerly knew, or your supposed self-sufficiency in observing the law, you’ve all died to your former lives, and now you know that God’s mercy comes through Jesus.”

A Closer Examination of Romans 12:2

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

How would the early Roman church have read this passage?

Romans 12:1 urges the Christians “to present [their] bodies a living and holy sacrifice.” It’s within the context of the epistle to suppose that this passage might have been presented to the Gentile Christians and their previous lives of sensuality. 12:2, however, is likely directed to the Jewish Christians who risked conforming their minds to a worldview that allowed no room for a crucified Saviour from Nazareth.

The Jewish Christians could be encouraged by this passage to use the available evidence (the Old Testament scriptures- Acts 17:1-2 and apostolic signs- 2 Cor. 12:12) to prove that: faith in Jesus, as opposed to faith in the observance of the law, is actually God’s will. Subsequently, the inclusion of the Gentiles into the family of God was also part of God’s plan (Eph. 2:11-22). By accepting these things, the first readers of this epistle wouldn’t be moulded by the societal or religious status quo of first century diaspora Judaism, but instead would be transformed, together with their Gentile brethren, into the “body of Christ” (Rom. 12:5).

Applying Romans 12:2 Today

“Since we’ve answered the question, “What did this passage mean to them?,” we can now ask, “What should it mean to us?”.”

There are major differences between our context and that of the original audience. Primarily, the distinction between Jew and Gentile is nonexistent today. Our western society generally champions the ethics of diversity and inclusivity, sometimes to a fault. Our society generally accepts any religious faith and practice, while the first century Christians were subject to eviction from their homes (as in the situation in Rome) and other types of persecution.

Despite the differences there are notable similarities between our churches and theirs. For one, division in the church is still a significant issue. Despite Jesus’ plea for unity among believers (John 17:20-23), there are more denominations than ever before in church history. The “World Christian Encyclopedia” by Barrett, Kurian, and Johnson (Oxford Univ Press, 2nd edition, 2001) counts as many as 33,820 Christian denominations. Paul’s exhortation “to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5) is completely applicable to contemporary church culture defined by differences.

The widespread division between churches raises another similarity between the modern and early Christians: falsehood taught under religious pretext. The blind observance of Pharisaic traditions led many Jews to ultimately deny that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. Can we say that we would have fared any better? How do we know that the religious sentiments we express today in our daily lives and our worship services aren’t just man-made traditions?

The Bereans come to mind in this conversation. They were said to have “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11). They weren’t focused entirely on new teachings as the Athenians were (Acts 17:21). Neither were they “always learning but never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). They were eager to hear a new teaching (Jesus as Messiah), but they also examined what was being taught with what they already knew to be true, the objective standard of Scripture.

How can we benefit from the example of the Bereans and Paul’s exhortation to the Roman church?

  1. Don’t wholeheartedly accept everything you’ve been given. I love my parents, my friends, and my former teachers who have all taught me spiritual things. Though I have a great respect for these individuals, the outcome of my own soul is even more important to me. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). If Christianity is the exclusive pathway to heaven as Jesus says it is, what is the outcome of all the Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims who wholeheartedly accept the teachings of their friends and family? The outcome of their souls depends on their willingness to honestly examine all the evidence. If I expect this type of attitude from my non-Christian friends, I ought to exemplify this attitude in my own approach to seeking truth.
  2. Don’t wholeheartedly reject everything you’ve been given. I’ve noticed that some, in the spirit of rebellion or because of a personal flaw within a person who taught them, completely reject everything that they’ve been taught. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 instructs us to, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” It would be a logical mistake to imagine that every single aspect of religious information we were taught is wrong, simply because we inherited it from our parents or faith community.
  3. Accept the fact that you’ve been wrong before, and it’s likely that you’ll be wrong again. It takes a humble person to admit this but it is vital to our growth as Christians. Just because someone brings a different interpretation that I haven’t heard before, doesn’t automatically make them wrong. Apollos gives us an example of humbly accepting correction and moving on with newfound knowledge to the glory of God (Acts 18:24ff).
  4. Accept the fact that you’ve been right before, and it’s likely that you’ll be right again. If we take the previous point too far, we might begin doubting that it’s possible to know anything. If I’ve been wrong before, how do I know that I’ve ever been right before?! Without going to that extreme, I can accept that every interpretational decision I’ve made is based upon the best evidence that I’ve processed so far in the best way I know how. I have a rational mind able to examine evidences and come to proper judgments.

By adopting this attitude, every new idea that is presented to me will inevitably renew my mind because my interpretational decisions will be further confirmed or reasonably questioned. If we take to heart Paul’s exhortation, we won’t allow ourselves to be conformed to the world’s desire to mould us, be it sensual or pseudo-religious. I pray that we constantly and consciously invite our minds to be renewed. This process won’t allow us to become close minded to any question asked of the Scripture. Neither will it allow us to accept every teaching as equally valid. Only when our minds are open to renewal will we be able to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Do Not Be Conformed to the World

The Life of Christ Challenges Us to Non-Conformity

When one becomes a Christian, it does not take long for reality to sink in. Living like Jesus is difficult. Pressure and instructions come from all places, yet the one place that is supposed to triumph all is the voice of Jesus Christ. That one voice is the one that the world tries so desperately to distort, ignore, or silence. How is the Christian supposed to live up to the old adage, “You are in the world but not of the world”?

Consider deeply the character of Jesus Christ. Do your very best to put the media’s image of Jesus out of your mind, and allow the word of God to paint the picture. How did Jesus respond to each situation? How did He act toward those who were sick? Those who were sinful? Those who were hypocritical? Those who were politically powerful? Those who were hungry? Those who were dead? Consider deeply the character of Christ. Did He allow the world to shape His thoughts and actions?

During Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth, how many people did He heal, forgive, rebuke, teach, feed, and raise? We do not know. Apart from the many times the gospel authors simply said “multitudes” or “crowds,” John helps us understand the enormity of Jesus’ impact on the lives of others when he writes:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25.

It is important that we consider the character of Jesus Christ before we commit to our passage at hand, which is:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2.

Romans 12 Challenges Us to Non-Conformity

Prior to chapter 12 in the letter to the Romans, Paul teaches on the status of Israel in the eyes of God. After chapter 12, he teaches God’s view of the Gentile world and those who come into the kingdom as Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles are susceptible to the influence of the world. Though perspective is different, the temptation is the same.

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 1 John 2:16.

The words of Romans 12 have been strategically placed between the address to the Jews and the address to the Gentiles, because no one is free from the temptations of lust and pride. Romans 12 and 13 teach that all people ought to not exalt themselves. We must utilize our gifts properly. We must love genuinely. We ought to be sympathetic with those in pain. We must never retaliate. We must respond to evil with the love of Christ. We must live obediently under civil law.

We know all of that is part of the Christian lifestyle. We would know that even if Romans 12 and 13 were never written. Jesus Himself both taught and exemplified all of these imperatives and more. So, why did Paul write them? Why did he take the time to command these Christians to do what they had already committed to do? It is because all of the commandments in Romans 12 and 13 go against the natural flow of life.

If a person were to simply follow the whims of his heart and body, he would not obey a single imperative in this passage. It takes no effort to be conformed to this world. “Do not be conformed to this world” should not be treated as a commandment by itself. Instead, it should be seen as the removal of stumbling blocks on a Christian’s path of transformation.

Why Non-Conformity Is Important

Why is it important that Christians do not look like the rest of the world? Is it simply to “make the world a better place”? No. It is because Christians are to belong in a different “world.” According to many scholars, the word for world (aiōn) in this passage is sometimes difficult to translate. It is translated as world seven times in the NASB. However, it is rendered as age 20 times. Consider Galatians 1:4.

who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (emphasis added).

With the coming of the kingdom of Christ, a new culture, a new society, a new age has been ushered in. Christians have been transferred from the domain of darkness (this present evil age) into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). It is as Jesus prayed:

I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15-19.

Christians are living in the world and among worldly people. Yet, Christians do not assimilate into the world. Instead, Christians are transformed into the image of Christ by the renewing of the mind. Such renewal is often difficult, as the voice of the world is loud and demanding.

The voice of Christ says:

  • Make peace.
  • Return violence with love.
  • Feed your enemy.
  • Be compassionate.
  • Deny self.
  • Forsake possessions.
  • Above all, love.

The voice of this age says:

  • Revenge is sweet.
  • Hit your enemy harder.
  • Destroy your enemy.
  • Mind your own business.
  • Take care of yourself first.
  • Buy, buy, buy.
  • Love those who love you.

The will of God is to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus is to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Being conformed to this age is easy and natural, but being transformed is disciplined and spiritual (see Rom. 7:14-25).

Avoiding Worldly Distractions

In addition to contradicting the will of God, what the world offers today is also distracting from a Christian’s duty as a soldier for Christ.

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:3-4.

Among those things that distract Christians from true service for Christ are those things that appear quite good on the surface. Many well-meaning Christians spend much of their free time concerning themselves with the politics and policies of this world. Entangling oneself with such things may help “make the world a better place” (then again, it may not), but one must remember that Jesus did not call Christians for that purpose. Legislating morality is not the same thing as making disciples. Righteousness can only truly be obtained by the righteousness of Christ, not the good deeds of a society. While it is true that “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov. 14:34), Christians must remember that “nation building” take priority over, or even distract us, from faithfulness. Good works done apart from the work of Christ is vanity. Even to the nation of Israel, God’s elect people, when they did not have the right frame of mind, Isaiah was able to say, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6).

Christians must remember that the world and the kingdom of Christ are and will always be two separate domains. It is not the Christian’s job to persuade the world to be conformed to the kingdom. It is the Christian’s job to call people out of the world and into the kingdom.

Conclusion

Again, consider deeply the character of Jesus Christ. How should the Christian measure up? How would he measure up if he closely followed the imperatives of Romans 12 and 13?

The world has many things to offer. Some of them are horrendous. On the other hand, some even seem good. However, Christians will always be called to be separate from the world. The disciple is to avoid participating and being distracted by the deeds and policies of this world. He is to look more like Jesus and less like the world every day. Doing so will “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” and “please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”