How does God want us to live? What does He want us to do? How are we to treat others?

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1 Discernment It Takes A Church November 2, 2014 Introduction Romans 12:1, 2 NRSV I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God what is good and acceptable and perfect. Paul begins this 12 th chapter with an appeal and an imperative. Most scholars are in agreement that these two verses provide an introduction and perhaps a summary for the chapters that follow. How does God want us to live? What does He want us to do? How are we to treat others? The appeal needs to be understood as greater than a suggestion. It is Paul urging or exhorting or strongly encouraging believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. One scholar points out that this is the language of diplomatic correspondence. Paul here is making a personal appeal not just to the individual believer but to the church. I think this is important. He is calling for brothers and sisters, plural, to make themselves living sacrifices. Another important detail is to note that he is not asking for us to make sacrifices. He is asking that we become the sacrifice The 1 st Conclusion we come to is that this appeal for living sacrifice is an appeal to the church and to all of its members. An important part of our relationship with God is that making sacrifices can be self-centered. But when we are the sacrifice, there are no self-gratifying strings attached. Paul is asking for active participation in holiness, expressing newness of life (Romans 6:4), not some symbolic self-sacrifice along the lines of I Cor. 13:3 where Paul points out that God has more in mind than simply giving to the poor and martyrdom. Notice also that this appeal flows from the mercies of God and not some performance based system. The appeal makes it clear that God is talking to the entire church and all the members that make up the church. The imperative gives us key to the answers to the questions we asked at the beginning. How does God want us to live? What does He want us to do? How are we to treat others? 1

2 We are not to be conformed to this world. How we live, what we do, and how we treat one another is based on a different value system than the one we find in the world. This could be translated as we are not to be formed or shaped by the world, its values, its beliefs, or its morals. This brings us to another conclusion. The imperative is in the plural context of brothers and sisters. What Paul is calling for is corporate transformation as all members of the body of Christ as asked to be transformed in their thinking and therefore behavior. When the church is thinking differently from the world, it understand what God wants and how He wants us to live. While it requires this of the individual, the focus is on group decision making. Paul is addressing corporate transformation here in addition to individual transformation. Discernment and the Will of God These verses introduce us to the subject of how do we as a church discover and follow the will of God. This should be of interest to every member of the body because this can also be the source of contention within the church when poorly handled. It can cause resentment and hurt feelings when one member forces their view on others or when one position is considered the right position and that position is not shared by others. Let me illustrate. A friend recently told me what happened when his church was about to vote on building a new building. A building program always has a certain amount of stress and when it is handled poorly, it can be divisive. During the congregational meeting, their pastor stood up and told the congregation that God had impressed upon him that if the members pledged the money needed to build the building it was a sign they should go forward with building. When the capital campaign fell short, the pastor then said that God still wanted them to proceed. This resulted in a number of families leaving the church. There was no shared discernment. I once visited a person in the hospital whose life was threatened by a serious illness. After praying with the individual, he told me not to worry because God had told him that it was not his time and he was going to recover. As I was leaving the hospital, I met his wife. After talking for a while, she told me that God had told her that her husband was going to die. No shared discernment. Tod Bolsinger tells the story of a denominational leader who was giving counsel to a church searching for a new associate pastor. He started by encouraging them that they were charged with finding the person that God has already picked out for them. So the committee was to find that one person out there that God wants to be an associate pastor and your job is to discern God s will. This process is bound to create division if there is no shared discernment. 2

3 The problem is not that Christians are incapable of discerning the will of God. It is that we often get discernment and the will of God confused. Discernment can often get lost in individual perspectives, personal wisdom and preferences. Our text in Romans reminds us that discerning the wills of God is not about making individual decisions. Discernment is primarily about the moral life of the community of God s people and related to the edification or building up of the church. There is a great difference between asking What should I do? and asking What should we do? Based upon who you are as that is revealed in what you are doing, O God, among us and within us, who should we be and what should we do in response? Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament Community The Role of the Bible I Thessalonians 5:20-22 NRSV Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. A Scottish cleric in the late 1800 s wrote that there were three great doctrines or principles which won the battle of the Protestant Reformation. First was the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture. The second was the right of private judgment or understanding. The Third was justification by faith, without the deeds of the law. It is clear as we read this text that there was biblical support for the conclusions of the Reformers. Paul warns us that we cannot disregard the Word of God. If you want to know the will of God listen to what is being taught by the prophets. The Christian movement has always been guided by the words of those who spoke for God. Their words have been recorded for us in the Bible. If we despise it by ignoring it, adding to it, or distorting it we will not be able to understand the will of God. The principle laid down is this, "Prove all things by the Word of God. All ministers, all teaching, all preaching, all doctrines, all sermons, all writings, all opinions, all practices, prove all by the Word of God. Measure all by the measure of the Bible. Compare all with the standard of the Bible. Weigh all in the balances of the Bible. Examine all by the light of the Bible. Test all in the crucible of the Bible. That which can abide the fire of the Bible, receive, hold, believe and obey. That which cannot abide the fire of the Bible, reject, refuse, repudiate, and cast away." - J. C. Ryle ( ) Discover by Experience Ephesians 5:10-11 NRSV 3

4 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. The language here is imperative in nature. When we are trying to find out the answers to: How does God want us to live? What does He want us to do? How are we to treat others? We are being asked to try and find out what pleases God. How? Take his word and practice it. Put it to the test. See if it works. Learn from it and in doing so you find out what really pleases the Lord and benefits His people, the church. Here again is where the context of this verse comes into play to give us a better understanding of what kind of practices please the Lord. In the 2 nd verse we are told to live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Living under the influence and guidance of Christ s love and sacrifice is what leads us to understand and attempt to do what pleases the Lord. Notice that this is contrasted with those things that do not please God. If you turn over to the fifth chapter of Galatians you see the contrast between the things that please God and those that do not. After making a contrast, Paul writes: Galatians 5:23 NLT Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit s leading in every part of our lives. Reflection II Corinthians 13:5 NRSV Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! So far, we have established that discernment, individual and corporate, requires: 1. A Living Sacrifice 2. Being formed by God 3. Giving Authority to the Bible 4. Proving by Practice There is a 5 th step that I want to add. When we discover the will of God, it is essential that we do not become content and declare it in stone. We are new creatures in Christ but we still are cursed by a flawed human wrapper. And when we gather, imagine how those flaws can magnify the potential for error. Because of that, we all need times of reflection where we examine and check to see if we pass the test when it comes to living as God wants us to live, doing what He wants us to do, and treating others as He would treat them. 4

5 The Greek Philosopher Socrates boldly claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living. He is not saying that an unexamined life is less meaningful than it could be. He is pointing out that there are consequences for not taking the time to reflect on one s life. Paul is here saying basically the same thing and he is again addressing not only the individual believer but the church at large. Are we living the faith? If we profess a faith in Christ, does our lives match this profession of faith? If the life of our congregation is not in conformity with the truths of the gospel, it limits what God desires to do in our midst. This may sound foreboding but if we are to determine the will of God related to living, doing, and how we treat others we need to reflect. Are we consistent with the teachings of Christ? Are we living and serving in such a way that those we share membership with are being loved, encouraged, and built up? Final Philippians 1:9-11 NRSV And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. 5

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