Transformational Disciplines

Sermon 1 of 5 in a series exploring Spiritual Disciplines (or practices), preached 21st October, Read Romans 12 especially verses 1-2


I’m returning today to a passage that is one of my favourites: I find that God is often bringing these words to my mind – probably because I need to hear and apply them.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.   (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

Romans is a tremendous book, it is the pinnacle of Paul’s writing: it is a beautifully crafted, reasoned, consistent, and systematic presentation of the good news of Jesus.

Paul wrote this letter while in Corinth about the year 57ad, at that time he was planning a visit to Rome, so this can be seen as part of his preparation for that visit.

This particular passage marks the beginning of a section of the letter in which he turns to the practical application of all the great truths he has been discussing in the earlier chapters.

This is the ‘how’ bit!  The bit in which Paul makes it clear that God demands our action as well as our believing and thinking.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters in view of all that I have been teaching you; in view of all that you say you believe; in view of your words and piety, now show your belief in the way you live.

What does it take?

          It takes transformation.

We should no longer resemble our neighbours, no longer living by the values, patterns, and aspirations of this world but we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds – transformed to what?

The implication is clear by all that has been said already: to be mature in Christ; transformed to Christlikeness.

As 2 Cor 3:18 puts it: … we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Eugene Peterson in the Message puts verse 2 like this:

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

This word ‘transformation’ is powerful.

The Greek behind it is metamorphoo

From which English gets “metamorphosis” – a word that describes a change in form, often a slow change but typically, when seen in completion, a comprehensive change.

This is a word used to describe what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, or when Jesus was changed on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:1-2), and used here in Romans to describe the impact on our being when we truly follow and serve God.

Paul is saying that when we become Christians we are to undergo a complete makeover, which under God, will find expression in our character and conduct.

We who are caterpillars will become butterflies.

I am reminded of travelling long distance with our children and the frequent cry from the back: ‘Are we there yet!’

No we’re not! I’m not anyway – but at least I trust I’m on the right road; even if I do hit a pothole occasionally.

We have all a way to go. And together we have responsibility to help one another get on, stay on, the right road, the transformation highway, destination Christlikeness.

This friends is the purpose of discipleship – to become like the teacher (Luke 6:40), to become like Jesus the Christ.

Now I want you to notice something in this passage:

When Paul writes transformation he uses the passive voice.

Paul reminds us that transformation is something we allow to be done to us. God is the transformer: or to use Old Testament imagery (Jeremiah 18): God is the Potter we are the clay.

We cannot change ourselves – we don’t have that power or strength within to do that. The transformation must come from beyond us.

But we still have a part to play, a major part.

Paul says we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice – we have to choose to give ourselves to God.  And in verse 2 again we are given a choice.

We can choose to be conformed to this world: i.e.

  • our values will be imitations of worldly values
  • our behaviour will mimic those around us,
  • there will be no discernible difference in practise, in attitude, in behaviour to the practise, attitude and behaviour of a non-Christian.

While we may go through life with a Christian label we remain nothing but a cheap imitation of the real thing; empty Christians, who at times, no matter how hard we try, will reveal the shallowness of our faith.

And all the while we bring shame to the name of Christ.

or we can choose to be transformed.

We can choose to allow God to work in our lives. And this of course requires our ongoing co-operation.

We must allow room for God to transform us

We must allow space in our priorities, our lives, our day.

Is there space for God in your day?

We must put ourselves in the way of God’s transforming presence, so that we live in the presence of God’s power; so that we experience the power of God’s presence.

So in practise what does this mean?

I believe it begins with accepting the authority of Christ, of bowing before him and accepting his Lordship over us.

And if you have never done that now is the day to do it. Wherever you are stop what you’re doing and invite Jesus into your life.

This is the first step, the first of many steps that will take us through life to the throne of Christ.

Second we need to be obedient and enter the waters of baptism: where being buried with Christ we will rise with Christ. Again if you are not baptised come talk to me so we can make sure we do this.

Then the process of renewing our minds continues. We must set our minds on the things of God, we must feed on God’s presence, God’s word, we must practise being in God’s presence.

Just like the early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer, (Acts 2:42), so must we.

Over the next few weeks we are going to explore in more depth some of the things we can do to practise God’s presence.

I will be talking about discipline in the sense of Spiritual Disciples, and I can see the reaction to the disciple word already. I use in not in the sense of correction or punishment but in the sense of being self-disciplined, of being deliberate, of being systematic in the practise of God’s presence.

No athlete achieves excellence without taking a disciplined approach to training. No student achieves their best without regular study; no artist perfects their technique without working at it.

No Christian becomes mature unless they have put themselves in the way of God on a regular basis:

We must put ourselves in the way of God’s transforming presence, so that we live in the presence of God’s power; so that we experience the power of God’s presence.

So the discipline we seek is transformational discipline, or if you like practices that transform.

Think for example about your own life:

In what ways do you encounter God; where are those places, those activities that draw you close to God, so close that you experience the Spirit’s transforming presence.

We will all have difference answers, and sadly some will be saying no-where. Some simply don’t know how to get there.

So we’re going to help each other; encourage each other, help each other.

And while there are many many activities that can be classed as Spiritual Disciples or Practices over the next few weeks we will focus on just a few:

Next week we will look at Thankfulness – and after all the work of the fair that may be a very good place to start. Then in November we will look at: Fasting, Prayer, and Scripture.

As I say there are many more we could look at: like Worship, Generosity, meditation, solitude, painting, walking, contemplating, but for now these four will suffice: thankfulness, fasting, prayer and scripture.

We’ll be looking at these to see what we can do to be more intentional about establishing practices that a disciple of Christ should be developing for their Christian maturity.

We are called by Jesus to follow him, to learn from him, to become like him; we who follow must stay close, must stay on track, must remain open to God’s transforming presence.

Remaining where we are, remaining the same, being conformed to this world, is quite simply not an option for the Christian.

Let us honour the one who has called us and set our minds on the things above, that we may be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Arohanui
Ian