While Romans is the first letter or epistle in the New Testament, it is not the first to be written to believers. Paul wrote it to the believers gathered as the church in Rome, a body that included both Jews and Gentiles. His primary message is the core of the good news of Christ who is the Savior for all. This critical guide in Christian Scripture tells the Romans and you and I that sin’s power over all creation has been broken in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for you and all people regardless of your birth or religious background.
Paul writes that as members of the body of Christ, we offer ourselves in response for all that God has done for us. We offer our whole selves, everything that God has blessed us with as living, holy and spiritual sacrificial act of worship. We no longer sacrifice…
- By killing and presenting the carcass of an animal, or bowing down to a statue carved from wood, molded in clay, or cast in precious metal.
- By showing up at church a couple times a year when we feel guilty, are in financial or health trouble, or need a favor or prayer answered.
- By tossing some coins in the cup or hands of a homeless person, placing cash in a collection plate, or writing a check to a needy cause.
- By even being a holy person one day a week, ignoring, or resisting being conformed and consumed by the world for part of the week.
We sacrifice by living lives of worship, recognizing, honoring and giving our lives in response to our Holy and glorious God. As Paul encourages in Romans 12 verses 3-8, we live out of a place of grace, called to embody God’s grace, hope and love in community. Community as the body of Christ, the church where the gifts of others are valued, and each person uses the gifts God has given them on behalf of the body as a whole. This living out of a place of grace is what God wants, is worship, is an offering, is a living sacrifice, and is holy and acceptable to God.
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Paul says do not be conformed to this world but be a living sacrifice. For the life of a Christ follower is one…
- where we lose our focus on the feeding of egos,
- where we die to our self-centered consumerism, and
- where we live together faithfully gathered in Christian community, graced with gifts to share and abundant hearts.
Faith, forgiveness, and free will are not treasures to be hidden or hoarded, but gifts of God to be opened and shared.
Paul insists that we see these gifts not from a self-serving or consumer culture perspective, but that we should use the gifts God has given us for the sake of each other and the world. As all of us are members of the body of Christ, each blessed with different gifts from God, each one of us is dependent on every other. For the benefit of the community, God has given us different gifts, and regardless of what that gift is, calls us to use those God given skills and abilities for the community and the glory of God.
What this means is that we should figure out our gifts by self-reflection and listening to others who point out gifts we have, and then use those gifts God has given, whether we asked for them, or even like them. We can be complacent about our gifts, our communities and relationships. The Romans like modern people lacked awareness of themselves, and as broken, fallen and sinful people, they and we too, sometimes feel the need to play power games, show off to show superiority, and oppress the other and outsider among us.
This is what the world offers, values and rewards that Paul warns us to not give in to, take part in, or conform our lives to…
- God advocates abundantly. The world abdicates aid.
- God comforts compassionately. The world consumes creation.
- God grants grace. The world generates greed.
- God heals hurting. The world heaps hate.
- God lavishes love. The world loves ludicrousness.
Paul teaches us that Christians are countercultural, both believers and doers of the gospel of love for all. To be comforted and conformed to Christ, the one who sets us free from needing to find our value in ourselves and our self-worth at the expense of others. It is when we are free from our sinful obsession with ourselves, that we can then see ourselves for who we really are, children of God.
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Children of God, is that how we see ourselves? Is that how others see us? I am many things, a son, brother, husband, pastor, teacher, writer, gardener, cook… but in all these things, through all these roles, using all the gifts God has given me, I am not defined by anyone, or even all of them. We are defined love, created and claimed as children of God. Fed, forgiven and made part of the body of Jesus the Christ, all of us as Jesus, children of God. That is who I and you are.
The whole issue of perspective, who we are, what others think, and who others say we are is taken up in Matthew today. Jesus asked his disciples this very question, who do people say I am…?
The disciples share what the people are saying and Peter responds, answering and confessing who Jesus really is. He recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus through this teaching moment… shares that what we are to believe and what we are to do, are not ours to determine.
So who do you say Jesus is? God gives the answer on our hearts, lips, and lives. God blesses us with the gifts we need to do God’s work while the Holy Spirit enables us to do it.
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When we know who and whose we are, we can then see all the unique gifts, abilities and understanding God has blessed each of us with and how they and we, children of God fit in the body of Christ, the church. Paul encourages a life that moves beyond an awareness of these gifts, and moves to be a living sacrifice that includes brings all that we have and are and offers it to God and to one another.
Saved from our selfishness, Paul encourages us to get on with it. Get over ourselves, our old ways, our selfishness as individuals and gathered together as the church. He reminds that God knows us, and wants us to offer ourselves as perfect and imperfect as we are, as faithful and unfaithful people, as saints and sinners.
There is no need to make excuses or long for gifts and abilities, more time or money. God calls us where and as we are to share the abundance of who and what we are, together. For together, we are blessed, strengthened, and all we have is multiplied and magnified to share God’s unconditional love and gracious gifts for the sake of each other and the world.
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Let us pray:
Holy God, Holy and Glorious, we your children give ourselves as an offering to you. You who comes among us, we lay before you our desires and the things that we treasure, until these things that define us, are transformed into your desires, the power and beauty of life, the wisdom and life giving blessing that is you, that is within our being.
Help us to renounce the desires and expectations of this world, that our lives may be transformed into the body of your love. Take our every breath, thought, and action this day, that every part of our very being may be a living sacrifice, consecrating and focusing our lives on you, Holy God, Holy and Glorious, our rock and foundation.