MELVIN NEWLAND, MINISTER
CENTRAL CHRISTIAN, BROWNSVILLE, TX
TEXT: Romans 12:1-2
ILL. The story is told that a man living out on the edge of town heard a commotion in his back yard. He investigated & discovered there was a very hostile gorilla up in his tree. He immediately called 911, & it wasn’t long until an animal control officer was on the scene with a big ferocious dog, a pair of handcuffs, & a shotgun.
Turning to the homeowner the officer said, “Here’s what we have to do. I’ll climb up the tree & shake it as hard as I can. When the gorilla falls out, the dog will leap upon him & with his powerful jaws clamp down on the gorilla’s neck & paralyze him. While he’s paralyzed, you put the handcuffs on the gorilla & we’ll have him.”
“Okay,” the man said. So the officer started climbing the tree. Suddenly the man hollered, “Wait a minute. You forgot to tell me what the shotgun is for.” “Well,” the officer said, “when I start shaking the tree, if I fall out instead of the gorilla, you shoot the dog.”
APPL. I guess what I’m going to do this morning is to try to shake some trees. And if something hostile or hurtful falls out, hopefully we’ll get rid of it. But if you or I fall out, we will need to do something to see that our lives are what they ought to be.
A. So let’s begin by considering this question. “If you were to evaluate your spirituality & your closeness to God, how would you rate it?” Now please be honest. The answer is just between you & God. And God will know whether you’re telling the truth or not.
Would you answer, “I believe in God with all my heart, & Jesus Christ is my Savior & Lord? I’ve committed myself to do the things He wants me to do. As a result, I feel at peace within, & at peace with others. I spend time pouring out my heart to Him in prayer, & in listening to Him by reading His Word. And I try to show my faith by what I do, & how I live before others.”
Or would you answer, “Well, you would probably rate me as being weak or even dead spiritually because I’m really not much interested in the things of God? Frankly, I’m here, but I would rather be playing golf or doing something else.”
Then again, maybe you would answer, “I’m someplace in-between. I guess you would say I have one foot in the world & one foot in the church. I vacillate back & forth. When it’s appropriate to be seen as a Christian, then that’s what I am. Otherwise, I’m mostly like all the other people around me.”
Now, what answer fits you? You see, I think a problem we have in our relationship with God is that many of us have kind of flirted with it most of our lives. And we live in a society that encourages that attitude.
B. Most of us have never really been tested in our faith. We’ve never been persecuted like Christians are persecuted in Communist China or Muslim Iraq, or in the First Century. We live in a country that tolerates us.
People around us may not embrace our faith, or even much condone it. But they would say, “It’s okay for you to have it, if you want. Just don’t try to impose it on me.” And they tolerate us going to church & doing Christian things whenever we feel like it.
But we’ve never really been tested. And I guess the question in all our minds ought to be, “If I’m ever tested, will I pass the test?”
ILL. When you enlist in the military, they begin your training by putting you through “boot camp.” During that period of time they completely deprogram you. They cut your hair, give you a uniform so you look like everybody else, teach you to salute & to respond to your superiors in certain ways, & to obey commands instantly without question even though you may not understand why.
In effect, they deprogram you & then reprogram you to think and act effectively & efficiently as a confident member of the armed forces.
As you well know, the U.S. Army seeks to enlist you in this by challenging you to “Be all that you can be.” And the Marines dare you to become a part of “The Few – The Proud – The Marines!”
C. Now in a very real sense, as Christians, we need this too - to be deprogrammed & then reprogrammed so that we can honestly say, “I believe in God with all my heart, & I’ve committed myself to do the things He wants me to do.”
With that answer in mind, turn with me to Romans 12:1-2, & listen to these words from the Apostle Paul:
“I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy & pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test & approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing & perfect will.”
Obviously, the Apostle Paul thinks that what he urges is possible. But how? How can we change from being the kind of person who vacillates, who lives with one foot in the world & one foot in the church, to being “all you can be” in God’s sight?
Well, first of all, I’m convinced there is no way we can do it by ourselves. It will only be as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives that there is any hope for such a change to occur. But that is exactly what the Holy Spirit is doing today.
PROP. The Bible says that He is convicting the world of sin & righteousness, & of our need for Jesus. When we respond to that, He continues the work of transforming our hearts & our minds. And that is what I want us to consider this morning.
I. CHANGING OUR MINDS
A few moments ago we read Romans 12:1-2. I want you to notice in this passage that we are challenged to change our mind about 3 different things.
A. First of all, we’re challenged to change our mind about God. Vs. 1 says, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy…”
By the way, how do you perceive God? Do you see Him as a tyrant, one who is just waiting for you to make a mistake so He can pounce on you? Or do you see Him as a loving, gentle, heavenly Father who lifts you up, encourages & embraces you?
Psychologists tell us that usually our perception of God is molded by our relationship with our earthly father. If your earthly father was a harsh disciplinarian, & he insisted that you toe the line all the time; then probably your perception of God is much like that.
But they say that if your earthly father was loving & gentle & tender, then probably your perception of God is more like that.
And when Jesus pictures God to us, He tells of a father waiting anxiously for his son who had gone astray, & who welcomed him with open arms when he came home again.
Jesus said, “God is like that.” Now if you have trouble seeing God like that, let me suggest that you do 2 things: #1, take a long, hard look at the cross. If you do, it will remind you of how horrible our sins are, & how deep is God’s love for us.
#2, take a long, hard look at God’s Word because it tells us again & again of God’s love. Listen to these words, “…let us love one another, for love comes from God. …This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one & only Son into the world that we might live through Him. …Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” [1 John 4:7a, 9, 11].
So the first thing is to change your mind about God. For if your perception of God is wrong everything else will be wrong, too.
B. Here is the second change. Change your mind about your body. In Romans 12:1 Paul continues on saying, “I urge you…to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy & pleasing to God...”
We’ve been programmed to think that our bodies belong only to us. So we hear such slogans as: “It’s your body, & you have the right to choose,” & "If it feels good, go ahead & do it.” That’s basically the attitude of the world.
But God’s Word teaches that our bodies don’t belong to us alone. Not only are we God’s creation, but 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
C. Thirdly, change your mind about the world. Vs. 2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test & approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing & perfect will.”
Now the ways of the world have always been in conflict with the ways of God. But the difference, it seems to me, is getting greater. And it is so real that almost everyone can sense it. The world sees things one way, & God sees them in another.
ILL. A year or so ago Time Magazine published a review of the movie, “The Birdcage.” The review said that while the movie is based on the plot of Robin Williams & Nathan Lane playing a homosexual couple, & Gene Hackman playing a conservative politician who messes up their gay lifestyle, that the movie is a “warm, humorous, family film.”
Now wait a minute, folks. The world’s thinking has become so skewed that it can take a perverted script & interpret it as a “warm, humorous, family film.” You see, if you walk in the ways of the world long enough, you get all twisted around & begin to think that sin is normal, & what used to be evil is good, & what used to be good is evil.
So we need to turn our “eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. Then the things of the world will grow strangely dim as we look at His love & His grace.”
II. CHANGING OUR HEARTS
A. Now here’s the second part – “Changing our hearts.” You see, if we change our minds & don’t change our hearts, then it just won’t work.
The Bible talks about all kinds of spiritual heart problems. There are hard hearts & troubled hearts & selfish, divided, boastful, unrepentant, lying, callous, doubting, lustful, slow to believe hearts. So the real need is for us to change our hearts.
ILL. When David faced up to his sin in Psalm 51, he realized his need. So he wrote, “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”
Ezekiel also writes, “Rid yourselves of all of the offenses you have committed & get a new heart.” Until the heart changes, the changing of the mind is going to be pretty much useless. So the two go hand in hand.
A lot of times in the church we’re frustrated because we think we’re doing a bad job of teaching people, & people don’t know what to do. But I’m convinced, the older I get, that’s not the problem. The problem is not teaching. Most people know what to do. The problem is a heart that doesn’t want to do the right thing.
C. So the important question is: “How do we get a new heart?” Here are 4 steps:
1. First of all, “Humble yourselves before God.” Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So first of all, we have to humble ourselves before God.
Jeremiah 13:23 says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”
In other words, if you have lived a life of rebellion against God, & the sins are deep inside, you are not going to change overnight, & you just can’t do it by yourself. So humble yourself before God & ask for His help.
ILL. Before the alcoholic can begin to break his addiction he must finally admit, “I can’t do this by myself, I need help from above. I need God to help me.”
And the Christian is the same way. Neither our minds nor our hearts will be changed until we humble ourselves before God. The Bible calls that repentance, or “changing your direction, & going a different way.” So do that. Grit your teeth & say, “I’m going to change my direction.”
2. Secondly, decide to obey God. In the military they’re taught to obey orders even though they don’t understand the reason for them.
In Christ it is pretty much the same way. You may not understand why God asks you to do certain things, but He is the Commander in Chief, & if He has commanded it you will do it because your heart & mind have been changed.
Jesus says, “Go & make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit.” And Ezekiel says, “I will remove from them their heart of stone & I will give them a heart of flesh.”
ILL. Liz Higgins in her book, “Reflections of God,” tells of her own baptism. She wore a white dress on the day she was baptized to symbolize her new purity in Christ. She also wore a little gold chain. And on the chain she had a cross & the outline of a heart in gold.
When she came up out of the water of the baptismal pool & was dressing, she noticed that the cross had become embedded inside the golden heart. She said that the symbolism was so real that she just left it there.
I tell you, people, when you resist the commands of God whatever they might be, then you’re never going to have a changed heart, because your resistance symbolizes that you’re standing strong in your own will & not God’s.
3. Thirdly, “Do the right thing regardless of your feelings.” If you wait until you feel like doing it, you may wait a long time. I’ve discovered that most times our feelings will follow our actions. So do the right thing when you know the right thing to do, even though you may not feel like doing it.
ILL. Dr. Criswell, after being married 50 years to his wife, said “Sometimes I love her so much I could just eat her up. At other times I wish I had eaten her up.” So it is not always easy.
4. Now here is #4, “Expect progress, but not perfection.” One of our problems is we think that when we do the right things, God will just make us into perfect little saints who never think wrong thoughts or want to do the wrong things again.
But that’s not true. As long as we’re residents of this world Satan is going to be seeking to entice us to slip back into his grasp again.
So expect to be making progress, to be getting closer to God, but don’t expect perfection. We’ll never be perfect this side of heaven. But we can be forgiven, & be growing upward in Christ as long as we live.
ILL. I like the song we used to sing, “He’s still working on me to make me what He wants me to be. It took Him just a week to make the moon & the stars & the sun & the earth & Jupiter & Mars. How patient & loving He must be because He’s still working on me.”
The Apostle Peter said, “Dear friends, I urge you… to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds & glorify God…” [1 Peter 2:11-12].
CONCL. Are you so committed that you would stand up for Jesus regardless of the circumstances that surround you? Is you heart & mind in tune with the Lord? Or are you just kind of someplace in-between? Or maybe you are way over here somewhere, completely separated from God.
You’re the only one who can answer those questions. If you need to make some changes today, humble yourself before the Lord, be obedient to Him, to His commands whatever they might be for you today. Make those decisions. We urge you to do that. Begin to do the right thing even though you might not feel like it, and you’ll notice some real progress in your life. Will you come as we stand & sing together this morning?