“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” (Romans 12:1-2 NRSV). This is one of the most familiar parts of Scripture, known to most Bible-believing Christians. The implication is that followers of Jesus, seek to be faithful to our call by God to give ourselves to His service. A “living sacrifice” is literally an act of complete surrender to the will of God, so that we might glorify him in our lives. The whole point of resisting conformity to the pattern of this world is so that we can turn away from sin and evil and seek those things God wants in our lives. The resulting transformation is in body and mind and in spirit.
Our lives will be different. Followers of Jesus are set apart and don’t speak and act like unbelievers. Our actions are consistent with our words. Yet many unbelievers say they want nothing to do with the Church because it is full of hypocrites. You might be shocked when I agree with that statement. “Hypocrite” literally means play-actor. What is happening on the outside is not consistent with the true beliefs and values on the inside. Imagine what life would be like if our thoughts were displayed on a screen on our foreheads for everyone to see! So, in that sense we are all hypocrites because none of us are perfect.
The transforming though is meant to be ongoing, like a journey. We know our goal or destination is perfection in Christ and we are motivated by love for God to do our best to do that. Hopefully we get closer each day to our words and deeds becoming consistent with each other. We want to “practice what we preach.”
The apostle James, the brother of Jesus wrote many aspects of this in his letter to the Church. It would be too simplistic to say that his central message was that faith and works are inseparable, but it is what he essentially writes. Maybe a little more elaborately than that, but he does deal with many life issues that sometimes cause us to fail the consistency test (between words and deeds).
James deals with a variety of themes, with an emphasis on practical aspects of the Christian life. Some of the subjects include: handling trials and temptations, practicing pure religion, understanding the relationship between faith and works, the proper use of the tongue and display of true wisdom, being a friend of God rather than a friend of the world, and the value of humility, patience and prayer. While these may appear unrelated, they are crucial to the growth and development of the Christian.
I look forward to digging into this goldmine together over the next few weeks.