Summary: To understand the significance of THEREFORE in Romans 12:1, we need to connect the dots between belief and behavior.
During the past several weeks, God has impressed upon me the wonder and the joy of Christian community. Lots of good things have been happening in the life of this congregation. I know I can’t put it all together in one complete picture, but I’d like to just remind us that God is doing a remarkable thing right here among us.
1. How is it that in a culture in which differences between individuals often seem to get in the way of cooperation, that here in this congregation people of various ages, ethnic backgrounds, economic levels, and political leanings can enjoy meeting, worshiping, and working together?
2. How is it that in a culture in which many people show signs of selfishness, independence and self-centeredness, that here at Elm Street we see people coming together to accomplish a common mission that seeks to study, follow and share the Word of God, sending kids to camp, taking doorknob bags into the neighborhood, and gathering regularly around the Bible to learn how to live?
3. How is it that in a society in which children often bully each other, pick on each other, and treat each other rudely, that here at this church we see kids who enjoy playing with each other, who visit each other’s homes, and learn the skills of mime to minister to others?
4. How is it that in a culture in which people are becoming more and more isolated and afraid to reach out to one another, that here when we gather we see people trusting each other, listening to concerns, praying for each other, and even humbly washing each other’s feet?
5. How is it that in a society in which it seems that people have forgotten the skills of interpersonal relationships, that here we see people eagerly greeting each other, respecting each other, relating to each other nonviolently, learning from each other, and even forgiving one another?
It doesn’t happen automatically; it takes effort, but I find it a remarkable picture in a world that is being blown apart by violence on the one hand, and a world that is falling apart because of apathy and unconcern on the other. How is it possible for a small body of God’s people to live with hope in a dark world with so much going wrong around us?
When I was a child, I enjoyed the worksheets and coloring books that had numbers in them and dots to connect. You all have one in your bulletin today (numbered outline of the church building). I’d begin by trying to find number 1 and then trying to follow the sequence to the highest number. The picture only became clear after all the dots had been connected. If I missed one, the picture wouldn’t be complete. What I have just described about our congregation is something like that. And today, using the book of Romans, I want to connect some of the dots so we understand what God is trying to do.
During the weeks leading up to Easter our sermons came from the book of Romans. Today we are ready to begin the last part of this long, deep theological book. As usual, when Paul wrote letters to churches, he begins Romans with lofty, spiritual concepts and understandings, and then at the end gets to the practical, everyday actions expected of God’s people as they live in their church community. The last five chapters in Romans describe how beliefs translate into behavior. And Romans 12:1,2 serve as the transition verses between them.
The foundation of Paul’s faith and ours, of course, is Jesus. And in explaining what God has done through Jesus, Paul uses a lot of important words, words such as faith, grace, salvation, sin, etc., And we need to understand these ideas in order to grasp all that God has done and is doing. But we also need to pay attention to words that connect those ideas and we have an important one in 12:1, the word THEREFORE. If we pay attention to that word, it will help us connect what Paul is going to say with what he has already said. As someone has said, “When you see the word therefore, you need to find out what it is there for.” And so that is where we will start.
Romans 12:1 says, “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.”
What does Paul want to connect with his appeal? He wants to introduce us to the next five chapters about the way members of the Roman church should live and he seems to be saying that we need to go back in order to go forward. A moment ago I asked how it is possible for a congregation like ours to exist in the kind of world we live in. How far back in the book of Romans do we need to go to understand the answer? We might start by looking at what Paul has written just before Chapter 12 and we see immediately the wonderful words at the end of Chapter 11.