Romans 12 • August 30, 2023 • g1273
Pastor Todd Lauderdale teaches an expository message through Romans 12 titled “Be Transformed.”
1:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. 3 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
When a person receives Christ into their life many things take place. We know that their sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did for them on the cross, we know that they are given eternal life, we know that they become the children of God, but one of the other significant things that happens when a person gives their life to Christ is that they change. They are no longer the person that they used to be. There’s a verse in 2 Corinthians 5 that tells us that, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” I think that that concept of being a new creation in Christ Jesus is somewhat undersold to many of us. We don’t really understand the scope of what that means to be a new creation in Christ Jesus. It means a lot more than just getting a deep cleaning. It’s not just like getting a fresh tune-up or a new coat of paint. It’s not the new and improved you. It means that you are not who you used to be. You are an absolutely changed person from the inside as well as the outside.
Years ago, St. Augustine had written about his own life and told details about what brought him to Christ. In the telling of that story, he also explained what his life had been like before he ever gave his life over to Christ, and he had lived a pretty reckless life—it was very immoral, he made a lot of bad decisions—but when Jesus got ahold of his life, that all changed and he became that new creation in Christ Jesus. He tells the story of one day walking down the street when a woman, an old lover, saw him. She began to call out to him, “Augustine, Augustine!” He heard her voice but did not respond. He kept walking. She yelled louder and began to get closer, “Augustine, Augustine! It is me. It is me.” Still, he didn’t pay her any attention. She got even closer and yelled a little bit louder, “Augustine! Can’t you see that it is me?” He stopped, turned, and said, “Yes, but it is no longer me.” You see, he wasn’t who he used to be. He was a new creation in Christ Jesus, and that’s what Jesus came to give us—new life, eternal life for sure, but a new life here and now where we are no longer who we used to be—and He will change us from the inside out.
Let me ask you, are you changed? Has He completely changed you from who you used to be to who you are today? If we were to take the time I would imagine that there would be a number of us that could get up and give your testimony of how radically changed you are compared to the person that you were before you met Christ and the person that you are today, that there is no resemblance and other people could testify to that fact that you are not who you used to be. There are others of us here that we may have had some cosmetic changes—we go to church now, we didn’t used to go to church; we have a Bible now, we didn’t used to have a Bible; we used to have a foul mouth, it’s not so foul anymore—but maybe not deep changes, radical changes, noticeable changes.
Let me assure you of this: If Christ has come into your life, He wants to change you, not only forgive you of your past, but to mold and to shape your life into His own image. That is God’s goal. God did not just save us for heaven, He saved us to be like His Son Jesus which means we need to be transformed because we’re not like Jesus. There are many areas of our life that are not like Him, but from the day that we give our life to Christ until the day that God receives us into heaven, the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to transform us into the image of the Son of God.
I want you to take a look with me at the first couple verses here of Romans 12. Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” I want you to know that tonight we are going to cover the entire chapter, Romans 12, which is a lot (and I’m a little bit intimidated in trying to do so) but I felt compelled to do so because there is so much in this chapter that we could focus on, that we could possibly miss seeing the entire forest by simply examining the trees. We’re going to look at the entire chapter, which means we cannot look at it in significant detail, but my purpose, my goal tonight, is for us to get a good overview of what Paul is trying to convey to us in this whole chapter about what the transformed life actually looks like.
Paul begins in verses 1-2 by laying the foundation of what that transformation is going to be. He says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” First of all, I want you to notice that what he is calling us to he says is a “reasonable service” that we are going to offer to God. Why does he call it that? Because he begins by appealing to “the mercies of God.” “The mercies of God,” which Paul has laid out for us actually in the first eleven chapters of the book of Romans as Paul has detailed to us how merciful God has been to the believer. Up until this point in the book of Romans, Paul has been laying out for us a picture of the gospel—that we were lost, that we were dead in our sins, that there weren’t any of us that were without sin because, “..all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that sin exacted a penalty that we deserved, a punishment from God, Romans 6:23 telling us that the wages of those sins that we had committed are worthy of death, not just a physical death but spiritual death, an eternal death, separation from God.
Paul goes on to tell us that God so loved us that He demonstrated His love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. By chapter 10, he expounds to us that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we shall be saved. In the first eleven chapters Paul is laying out for us “the mercies of God,” and now, as he spills into chapter 12, he’s appealing to “the mercies of God.” If God has been so merciful to us that we as sinners that deserved His judgment instead receive His love through Christ’s death and are given the opportunity to believe and to receive Him into our life to gain forgiveness of our sins, to experience the mercy of God, to be given eternal life; if God has done all of that for us, it is reasonable for us to respond, to respond to that love, and to love Him back. If Jesus is willing to give His life for us, we certainly should consider it reasonable that we will now live our lives for Him.
What does that look like? What does the life that lives for Jesus look like? Verse 2 gives us a clue, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Now, there are two words in this verse that we need to focus in on because they are different words, but they are connected words, and they’re really going to paint a picture for us at what Paul is trying to get across to us. Those two words are “conform” and “transform.”
Those two words are very similar to us, even in our English language we wouldn’t maybe define them too much differently to be conformed or to be transformed, but let me assuredly tell you that they are different words. The similarity that they share is this, at least in the Greek language, which Paul had written this book in, he used a certain mood in the Greek text which we refer to as the passive voice, which means that what he is calling us to do is not something we do for ourselves but that we allow to be done to us. What do I mean by that? When Paul says, “And do not be conformed to this world,” that conforming, we don’t conform ourselves to the world, we allow ourselves to be conformed to the world. When he talks about us being, “…transformed by the renewing of your mind,” he is not speaking in a sense that we make the choice to transform ourselves, the passive voice means that we allow ourselves to be transformed, so the words are similar in this that both are in the passive voice. We are either allowing ourselves to be conformed or we are allowing ourselves to be transformed.
Though they share that similarity, there is a difference between those two words. “Conform” is speaking of an outward change due to an outward influence where “transform” is speaking of an inward change due to an inward influence. That difference goes even further in this, something that conforms can look differently on the outside while it remains completely the same on the inside, but that’s not true of the word “transform.” “Transform” can’t look differently on the outside and remain the same on the inside; no, it is changed from the inside, which then impacts the outside. To “conform” is different than to “transform.” That’s a lot of detail, so let me try and tie that all together so that we’re getting a picture of what Paul is actually saying because he tells us not to be conformed to this world.
What does that mean? It means that we live in a world that wants to conform us to its own image. In other words, that we would embrace their beliefs, that we would live according to their values, that we will look like them, talk like them, embrace the things that they embrace, we will reject the things that they reject. Because it’s in the passive voice, it means that the world has that influence on us and if we do nothing, it will influence us. If we sit around passively living in this world, we will be conformed to this world simply by being members of this world. Paul is telling us not to let that happen. Do not let the world conform you to its image.
I like the way that the J.B. Phillips version of the Bible uses this translation of this verse. He says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” That really encapsulates what’s being said here. Paul is making sure that we understand that if you’re living in this world, the world wants you to be like it, and if you are passive about it, it will form you into its own image. You need to make sure that does not happen.
On the flip side, what are we to do? We are to be transformed, but who does the transforming? Remember, that word “transform” is speaking of an inward change due to an inward influence. In the believer’s life, that inward influence is the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit using the Word of God on the inside to change how we are living on the outside. It’s somewhat of a play on words that Paul is using in speaking of conforming or being transformed, one we are to give in to, the other we are to resist. If we allow the Holy Spirit, He will transform us into the image of His Son Jesus, but we must allow Him to do that change in us. If don’t allow the Spirit of God to change us, I guarantee you the world will be waiting to take advantage of that neglect and will conform us into the image of this current generation. Either we are allowing the world to shape us or we are allowing the Word of God, by the Holy Spirit, to shape our lives. We’re being shaped by public opinion or we’re being shaped by what God has to say.
What Paul is laying out for us in this chapter is that we need to be transformed, not just conforming to this world but being transformed by the power of God. The rest of the chapter is going to identify areas of our lives that will be transformed, areas that God wants to transform in our lives. This is not an exhaustive list, I want you to know. There are many areas in our lives that God wants to transform us, to change us, to mold and shape us into the image of His Son Jesus. We’re going to just take a look at those that are articulated here in this chapter. There are four of them, four areas of our lives that the Spirit of God wants to use the Word of God to transform us so that we become more like Jesus.
The first is found in verse 3. The first area that He wants to transform is your view of yourself. In verse 3 it says, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Would you agree that there are a lot of people that have a very high opinion of themselves? You probably would. We see people every day that we think in our mind, Man, that person really thinks a lot about who they are. Oftentimes, we don’t stop to consider maybe that person is me. Maybe I’m one of those kinds of people. Maybe I think of myself a little bit too highly which, to tell you the truth, is human nature because we have a tendency to think of ourselves highly and to think of ourselves often. I mean, it goes without saying that any time we see a group picture, whether it’s of our family or some friends of ours where we happen to have a get-together with, the first person we look for in that picture is who? Ourselves.
When you were in school and the end of the school year came around and yearbooks were being handed out, you got your copy of the yearbook, who was the first person you began looking for in that book? It was yourself, and I doubt that any of us walked by a mirror without just taking at least one glance at ourselves. Why do we do that? We’re somewhat enamored with ourselves. Now, we might not like everything about ourselves, but the reason that we don’t like something about ourselves is because we wish it was different because we’re enamored with ourselves.
It’s funny how we are with pictures. We can look at a picture and say, “Man, this is an awesome picture.” What makes it an “awesome picture” is that we look good. Everybody else can look like zombies, but if I look good, this is a great picture. We can look at another picture and look bad in that picture and everybody else looks perfect, everything else is exactly the way that it should be, but if we look bad, we say, “Throw this one out. Throw this in the can. This one’s no good. Don’t you dare post that picture.” Why are we like that? Because we tend to have a high opinion of ourselves or we want to maintain a high opinion of ourselves in the eyes of other people. Paul is telling us that we ought to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think.
I remember hearing the story about Muhammad Ali. It was at the height of his popularity and fame, at the time he was the heavyweight champion of the world. He was the greatest, and he’d be the first one to tell you so. Those of you that are old enough, you remember that anytime he was interviewed, one of the things that he was going to proclaim was the fact that he was the greatest. About that time, he was boarding a plane to fly, who knows where I don’t really know, but he found his seat on that plane. As the flight attendants were going through their pre-check and so forth, one of the flight attendants came walking down the aisle. Everybody else had their seatbelt on, but there is Muhammad Ali sitting in his seat without his seatbelt on. She kindly turned to him and said, “Sir, can you please put on your seatbelt?” to which he quickly responded, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt!” She looked him in the eye and said, “Superman don’t need no airplane,” so he put on that seatbelt.
You know, there are times that we need to be knocked down a few levels, and we as Christians sometimes can have a high opinion about ourselves, maybe not so much that we’re going to say it out loud, but even Jesus’ disciples fought over who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, each of them thinking that they were going to have the more prominent place. It’s not too difficult to think highly of yourself as a disciple if you are surrounded by a bunch of knuckleheads, which they all thought that they were, so they thought that they were the king of the knuckleheads, so they considered themselves highly likely to have the more favorable position in Jesus’ Kingdom.
We know that God doesn’t look at things the way that man looks at things, and when we try to exalt ourselves, God is quickly going to humble us. When you measure yourself comparing to other people, you can look good, but other people are not our standard. When you start to measure yourself by Jesus, you start seeing yourself as you should see yourself. That’s what happens in the life of the believer. Part of the role of the Holy Spirit in our life is to help us to see Jesus as He is, and the more you see Jesus as He is, the more you’re going to see yourself as you are. You and I, like John the Baptist, must respond, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Jesus must increase; I must decrease. Let me tell you, one of the areas of our lives that will be transformed by the Holy Spirit as God works in us is our opinion of ourselves. We will choose to place ourselves lower that Jesus might be exalted higher.
Another area of our lives that will be transformed is our relationship to God’s people, verses 4-8. In verse 4 it says, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
When I received Christ into my life I really didn’t think that the church was important. I had Jesus and, as far as I was concerned, that’s all I really needed. When I was younger I had attended church with my family from time to time. It was never very consistent. My experience at the church was not very favorable, so I thought, Now that I have received Christ into my life, I don’t really need the church to be a part of my life. I decided that I would just live my life for the Lord by myself, just me and Jesus. That didn’t work out so well. It was kind of messy. My life didn’t change a whole lot, and in a matter of time I began to realize that I needed the church, I needed the body of Christ, I needed to be a part of a fellowship of people who believed in Jesus like I believed in Him because I was not growing. I was not maturing in my faith, and nobody really noticed any difference in my life from how I lived before Christ to now as a Christian.
I began to realize that the church was important and played a role in my life, so I began going to a church. I began making friends there, and I began realizing my life was being influenced and impacted by them. What do I mean by that? I was being encouraged when I was going through trials by others that knew what it was like to go through trials. When I was knocked down by life, I had friends there that were supporting me. When I was falling back into sin, I had friends there that were willing to love me enough to confront me. I always was surrounded by examples, Christians that had walked the walk a lot longer than I had, that knew the Word better than I did, and they began to set an example for me of what it looked like to live the Christian life and I began to change.
My spiritual life began to be noticeable to others as I began to change, and one of the things that I began to realize too, much to my surprise to be honest, was not only did I need them, but they needed me. That was something that was hard for me to swallow because I didn’t see that as important, that I wasn’t important to the body of Christ but the body of Christ was important to me, but suddenly I was learning that that was not true. We are the body of Christ and that the Holy Spirit has gifted each one of us with certain gifts that we are to use to build up the body of Christ. Those gifts were not given to just select Christians, the favorable ones or the mature ones, but to all of them. That’s what this passage is going on to tell us that you are in the body of Christ and this is your family. We literally are blood relatives because we are all blood bought. In many ways your Christian family is closer than your biological family because of the bond of Christ, and God has a role for each of you to play within the body of Christ.
What Paul elaborates on in this passage is letting us know that we have been gifted by God and we are to use those gifts for God’s glory. Look at what it says in verse 6 again, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them.” This might be an eye-opener to some of you here tonight, but you are gifted by God and are part of this fellowship for a specific purpose and in some way, in using your gift, you are going to bless the rest of us that are here. We are going to be built up in our faith and encouraged, and we’re going to be able to grow in our relationship with the Lord in ways that we could not grow if you were not here or if you were not exercising your gift.
One of the ways that God wants to transform every one of us is the acknowledgement that God has placed you in the body of Christ for a purpose and that we are to begin to fulfill that purpose. Whatever God has gifted you to do, you are to use that gift in the body of Christ for the edification of the rest of the church. In this passage, he goes on and says if you’re gifted to teach, then teach; if you’re gifted to encourage, then start encouraging those around you; if you’re gifted to give, then give generously; if you’re gifted to lead, then lead well; if you’re gifted to show mercy; then do it with a cheerful heart. This is just a selection of the many spiritual gifts that are given to the body of Christ. To be honest, this is one area of transformation that is often neglected in the believer’s life, where they will attend church week in and week out for years, be a part of a fellowship, but never truly get engaged where they are serving the rest of the body of Christ.
There may be some of us here tonight that fall into that category. Let me tell you that this is an area maybe that God is wanting to transform you, where that you stir up the gift that is within you and begin to serve the body of Christ in whatever capacity God leads you to so that the rest of us are blessed.
God want’s to transform us in the way that we view ourselves, God want’s to transform us in the way that we relate to the body of Christ, and God wants to transform us by how we relate to all people, verses 9-16, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”
In this passage Paul gives a string of many short but very pointed exhortations that we are to live out in our Christian lives. All of them have to do with the love of God flowing through us. I will tell you this, verses 9-16 is giving a list of the fruit of the Christian life, the fruits that ought to be coming out of the Christian’s life, but the root of these fruits is found back in verse 1 when we are exhorted to, “…present your bodies a living sacrifice,” unto the Lord. When we present our bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord that means you surrender your life to the Lord, “Lord, my life is Yours. However You want to use me, in whatever way You want me to be an impact upon the people around me, however You want to shine Your love, Your grace, Your goodness through my life, Lord, my life is Yours. I give it to You.” That is the root. Then, in verses 9-16 is the fruit of that. It’s the impact that our lives begin to have on those that are around us.
The overarching theme of these verses is found in verse 9 when it says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Sincere love is really what permeates everything that is mentioned in these verses. We’re not going to have time to look at every one of the statements that Paul made in these verses, but what we can look at is the concept of love as described in the Bible. The word here is agape, a word that most of us are familiar with, but what I want you to see, at least in the book of Romans, if we had the time we could go back to the beginning and kind of see an overview. We don’t have the time to do that, but I want you to know that when agape love is brought up in the book of Romans, up until this point almost every time it is in reference to God’s love for us, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” There is nothing, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These are references to God’s agape love for us.
There is one occasion that that agape love that comes from us has already been mentioned, but it is toward God. This is the first time in Romans that that love, that agape love, is now being mentioned being extended to our fellow man. If you understand what’s taking place here in Romans, what we see here first is that God’s agape love is poured out in our lives. We respond to God by loving Him back with that same agape, but now it’s going to go even further. That agape love now needs to be extended to our fellow human beings. This is not isolated only to those that are believers, although Christians are involved, it is actually talking about all of humanity. We are to love the people that are around us with that agape love, and he describes it there in verse 9 saying that our love should be without hypocrisy.
Some translations use the word “sincere”—our love should be sincere. Some use the word “genuine,” but you get the idea that this love is not to be superficial or fake. In fact, I like the way that the New Living Translation translates it. It says, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.” There’s a lot of pretend love in our world today, a lot of pretend love where people love with words but they don’t love with actions. People say that they care, but they don’t show that they care. Genuine love, sincere love, love that is without hypocrisy is a love that is seen in actions and not just words. That’s what makes it genuine. The genuineness of love is seen in what love does, not what love feels or what love says.
This passage is going to mention eight different areas that we should display sincere love. I’m just going to mention a couple of them. In verse 10 it is telling us that simply showing kindness to others is a display of that love. Verse 10, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” When we show kindness to each other we are showing an example of the love that God as shed abroad in our hearts. This kindness is a kindness that puts the needs of others above itself.
Several months ago my wife and I were taking a few days of vacation to lovely Oakland, California. Don’t ask me why, but we were up there in Oakland for a few days. We were taking public transportation. On one occasion we were at a bus stop to get from one location to another, and we boarded that bus when it arrived. We noticed that there was a man who was in a wheelchair and the bus driver was trying to assist the man in getting onto the bus. She had the little hydraulic ramp that went down, and they were able to roll his wheelchair onto it. The hydraulic lift brought him into the bus while everybody just stared, watching this all happen. Then, the bus driver tries to wheel him to a location in the bus where that wheelchair could be attached to the floor so that it would not move. The man was fairly large, so she was having a very difficult time maneuvering the wheelchair to get it in a position where it could be locked down.
My wife and I saw what was going on, so we got up and began to help try and position because it was going to take more than one person to make this actually happen. While we were trying to help out the bus driver, we were becoming very aware of how annoyed the people that were on the bus were becoming. They weren’t getting up to help—not a single one of them got up to help—but they began sighing deeply and mumbling under their breath that they just wanted to get going, and why is this taking so long. It was such a simple act on our part. We really didn’t think much of it at all, and I don’t share it to pat ourselves on the back other than to just say that to me it was common decency. It’s what you do to help your fellow man. If someone is struggling a little bit and you have the ability to help them, by all means help them! It was literally shocking to me that others were more annoyed at what was going on and unwilling to help.
Kindness simply sees opportunities to do something kind for somebody and doesn’t hesitate to do so. It’s part of the transformation that the Lord wants to bring about in our lives. Verse 13 gives another one, that is, we are to be givers, “…distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” We ought to be giving to each other, but we’re also to be giving to those that we don’t even know which, by the way, is what “hospitality” means.
We’ve misunderstood hospitality in our culture. We see hospitality as having a bunch of friends over for a pool party or a barbecue—our family, people that we know, people that we love, people that we enjoy being around. We have the burgers on the grill, there’s sodas in the cooler, just plop on the couch, and we’ll just hang out and have a good time together. Hospitality is supplying those burgers and supplying that couch and making sure that their can of Coke doesn’t run dry before you’re putting another one in their hand. That is not the biblical idea of what hospitality is. According to Scripture, hospitality is not entertaining your friends and family, it’s entertaining people you don’t even know. Hospitality is doing kind things for strangers. Oftentimes we are very adept at doing kind things for those that are kind to us but not those that we don’t know.
I’ll point out one more, verse 16, where it tells us to reach down to the lowly. “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.” We live in a world that wants to climb the social ladder, and you don’t climb the ladder by associating with the lowly. You climb the social ladder by associating with those that are popular. If you want to appear to be more popular, then you hang out with the popular. If you want to appear to be more successful, then you hang out with the successful. If you want to appear like you have your act together, then you hang out with those that have their act together. But the biblical concept is the exact opposite of that. It isn’t searching out for those that will build up your self image is being willing to associate with those that are the lowly. Jesus was actually criticized oftentimes for those that He chose to hang around. If we want to be more like Jesus, we need to let Him transform us into this area as well.
Let’s pick up the last one, and this will finish out the chapter, that is, our relationship with our enemies. Verse 17, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Jesus told us to love our enemies, right? That’s something that He said on the Sermon on the Mount. When we hear that spoken of in a church message, we can nod in agreement until we are confronted with one of our enemies and suddenly our concept of that “loving our enemies” goes flying out the window. It’s all good and well when we’re quoting Jesus in the confines of the church, but tomorrow, when you have to work side-by-side with that creep, suddenly it is very hard to put into practice. Let me tell you why. It’s not because we have a skewed idea of what an enemy is, it’s because we have a skewed idea of what biblical love is.
Somehow we think that to love an individual has to come from the inside where the feelings begin to bubble up and we feel warm inside when we think of their name or when they’re around, so when we feel it on the inside, then it’s easy to act upon it on the outside. Jesus went on to say, “Even sinners can do that.” Anybody can love those who love them back. The life that Jesus has called us is to love those who don’t love us back. Worse than that, He is calling us to love those who actually mistreat us, despise us, talk critically about us, ones that we would legitimately call our enemies.
If the biblical concept of love is not how we feel about a person but simply an act of the will, then we can love our enemies. That’s what the Bible is talking about when it says to love your enemies. It’s not talking about how you feel about them, it’s talking about what you are going to do for them, how you are going to respond to the way that they treat you. Jesus goes on and says, “Bless them when they curse you. Do good to them when they spitefully use you. Pray for them when they persecute you.”
When I was going over this I was thinking, Who are my enemies? and had a hard time thinking about that because I just don’t see myself as having enemies. And then, as the Holy Spirit does, He brings something to my mind. There’s something that happens to me when I am behind the wheel of my car. Most of the time I’m alright, but there are just certain behaviors that people have that set me off a little bit. One of them is when I’m trying to get off on an offramp, and we have some select offramps, I know that you all know them well because if you’ve lived in this valley for any length of time, you know when you’re southbound on the 15 freeway approaching Winchester, you’ve gotta get in those left two lanes. If it’s all backed up, you gotta hope that someone’s going to create a break in there so that you can just kind of zip in real quick so that you don’t miss the exit.
Before they actually made it two lanes, it used to be, when it was a one-lane exit, that it would get backed up all the way to the connection to the 215 freeway. Oftentimes, you would come up on that, and the only way that you were going to exit at all is if somebody created a gap so that you could squeeze in there. I realized that my behavior is that my habit was, “I gotta find that spot.” The person’s looking down at their phone. They don’t know that everybody else has moved up as I’ve gotta squeeze into that spot. Then what do I do? I ride the bumper of the person in front of me because I’m not letting anybody else in.
I remember on one occasion, that’s exactly what I did. I got my spot, I’m now eight inches behind the bumper of the guy that is in front of me, and I’m thinking, I’m not letting anybody else in. I was the last one. Nobody else can fit. Then, the person in front of me paused when everybody else was going to let somebody else in, and then I noticed that there was a church bumper sticker on the back window of their car. Do you know what my appalling response was internally? Oh no! They’re going to let somebody else in, too! which is exactly what they did, and two people got ahead of me.
When I’m driving with my wife (I probably shouldn’t belabor this), she notices when these things happen because if I suddenly am riding the tail of somebody, it’s my micro aggression, so she will say, “Pastor Todd.” Every other time that she calls me I’m “hubby” or “honey” or what have you, but if I’m called Pastor Todd, it means she’s drawing attention to the fact that I have an attitude that I should not have. I do have enemies, they are on the 15 freeway. The point being is this: There’s a way that the Lord wants to transform us in the way that we treat our enemies. Now, God’s got a lot of work to do in me, but I will say that it’s happening. I’ve noticed some changes, ever so small.
Who are your enemies? Is it a co-worker? Is it a boss? Is it a neighbor? Is it a family member? Is it somebody that just grates you the wrong way? Is it somebody who has really hurt you in the past? Is it somebody that just looks for every opportunity to somehow sleight you? We all have them. What Scripture is calling us to do is be transformed in the way that we treat them. The feelings inside might not be the first to change, but the way that you respond to them can most assuredly change so that you don’t treat them the way that they treat you. In fact, in verse 21, when he finishes the chapter saying, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” I will tell you this: If you are overcome by evil, it means that you have conformed yourself to the image of your enemy; but if you overcome evil with good, it means you are being transformed into the image of your Savior Jesus.
In this whole chapter Paul is giving us very practical application of what verses 1 and 2 are saying. If God has been so merciful to us, if God has done so much for us, it is not unreasonable for us in response to give our lives back to Him. The way to give our lives back to Him is that we are no longer to live like this world. We are to allow the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to transform us from the inside out so that we become more like Jesus every day. It’s going to change the way you view yourself. It’s going to change the way that you relate to people in the church. It’s going to change the way that you relate to everybody, and it’s going to change the way you relate even to your enemies. That’s just scratching the surface. There are so many other areas of our lives that God wants to transform.
My closing question to you is: Are you being transformed? Do you see that transformation taking place? Is there a noticeable difference in who you are now from who you were, and are people taking notice? Is the change so much so that others are noticing that you are not who you used to be? Glory to God if that has happened.
But what if that’s not happening? Maybe you’re sitting there saying, “I know somebody who calls himself a Christian, and there isn’t anything transformed about them. They say that they believe. They say they believe in God, they believe in Jesus, they’ve received Him into their life, but there isn’t anything about them that is transformed.” I will say this, either they are not a Christian, they just simply claim to be, or they are the most miserable of Christians because they have the Spirit of God living inside of them who is trying to transform them and they are resisting. They are not allowing the Spirit of God to change them. Don’t be that guy because how else is the world that we live in today going to know that Jesus can save if they can’t see His saving work in you and me? Let’s pray.
Pastor Todd Lauderdale teaches an expository message through Romans 12 titled “Be Transformed.”