Monday, November 7, 2011

A Renewed Mind

Romans 12

Finally we leave behind Paul's purely theological arguments and get to how it all plays out in the daily things we do. The 12th chapter of Romans describes how a life incorporated into Christ expresses itself. It is simply a delight to read about how worship can make up the whole of our life. The basic principle is an adoring response to God; a total response to the grace of God. Paul explains it by making reference to something both the Jews and pagans already knew -- ritual sacrifice. His appeal, however, goes much further. He's talking about living persons, not dead animals. We are to present everything about our lives --- the special and the ordinary --- before God as an offering. This is worship --- being transformed by the renewing of our mind.

Next Paul moves to the Christian community. We all have to work with "the measure of faith" that God has given us. We all have faith, but we don't all have the same amount. Some of us are "weak in faith" (14:1-3), and the weak are to be welcomed in because God has welcomed them. But lest we get all proud of ourselves for being so accommodating, Paul reminds us that the church is the body of Christ, a living organism  with many different functioning parts all working together for the health and growth of the whole. Each part has its own value and role. My elbow is pretty valuable to me even though it's not essential. I'll never be a famous theologian, but maybe being an elbow for God is not so bad.

Paul's teaching in verses 9-21 is reminiscent of 1Corinthians 13, "the love chapter." Love is the comprehensive term for the Christian's obligation towards others. The Message says, "Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it."

Bumper stickers say don't get mad, get even, but "even" can be elusive. Retaliation tends to escalate. We want to dish out a little more than we got. The Old Testament rule of an eye for an eye was an improvement over making sure the other guy looks worse than you after a fight, but Jesus didn't stop there. He said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Paul echoes this sentiment by reminding us that getting even is absolutely forbidden, as we are to "overcome evil with good."  This is true, but it certainly isn't easy, and it may not always be possible. Paul says, "If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Peace should not be obtained at the expense of what is good or right, but we should be ever striving for holiness. The 4th century theologian Pelagius said, "The enemy has overcome you when he makes you like himself." The essential victory over evil is the work of love.

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