There are few positions, I think, in all the world that are more miserable than a legitimate, born-again follower of Jesus in whom the Spirit of God lives, who lives with one foot in walking with God and the other foot in the world’s system.
I happen to be an expert on this. I’ve done extensive personal research. I know what it’s like to be at Bible study on Thursday night and hit every bar on Friday night. I have been over here where I’ve, oh, Bible study and talking about sexual purity and lusted like crazy over here and telling God I’ll never do this, this, this, or that again.
And I will tell you, I was the most miserable Christian in the world for the first three years. That is the place the great majority of believers live. And we forfeit God’s peace. The guilt and the shame of logging on, the guilt and the shame of flirting over here, the guilt and the shame of all the kind of stuff that you’re lured into as the world conforms your thinking to a bankrupt system that never delivers.
See, God loves us too much for that. We’re going to learn – are you ready – we’re going to learn how to break that cycle; how God’s Spirit and God’s power can help you live the kind of life that you long to and that He wants for you. And we’ll learn that’s how you get His best.
Beginning in verse three and through eight, we learn that in our relationship to ourselves, God desires a sober self-assessment. Notice the little phrase, “for by the grace of God.”
What I want you to hear in all, where he sort of sets the bar of holiness and righteousness and what it means to have true spirituality, I want you to hear behind it this compassionate heart of love. “For by the grace of God, I say to every man among you, don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think as to have sound or sober judgment as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
He talks about how you get that and how you’re a part of a body. And we’ll discover that He’s deposited a supernatural gift – if you’ll look at verses six through eight. We’ll cover all those later.
But he wants you, in your relationship to yourself, to look in the physical mirror and to look in the spiritual and the relational mirror and say, “I like that person. God made them. That personality, those gifts, that height, that eye color, those struggles, that family background.” In the sovereignty of God, He wants you to have an accurate, sober view of yourself.
In that one verse, that word sober, think, think, think–four different times. God wants you to see yourself the way He sees you – dearly loved, valuable, precious, forgiven. And you know the big question this answers? “How do you come to grips with the real you?”
I mean, do you realize how much time, and energy, and money, and posing, and image management we do just as normal human beings, even as Christians, to try and project to all these different people that “I’m like this” and “I’m like this” and “I’m dressed like that” and “I’m cool like that” and “I know this” and “did you know I know so and so” and “this is how many people report to me” or “my son or my daughter, they got this on their SAT scores” and “he hit two home runs” and “I want you to know I went to an Ivy League school,”
And then you spiritualize it all and you get in a Bible study. “Well, according to so and so’s commentary, when I was reading the Greek text a little bit earlier in preparation for this…” Ehh. We do it, we do it, we do it, we do it. This section will teach you how to come to grips with the real you, and then it supplies the missing ingredient.
Verse one supplies the power, when you understand it. Verse two supplies the peace. And verse three supplies your purpose, because see, God made you specifically. You are His workmanship. You’re created in Christ Jesus unto a good work, which before the foundations of the earth… So guess what. He’s gifted you to do something specific. In His sovereignty, He has you in relationships that have been difficult in some ways and empowering in others.
But God has a purpose for your life. When you’re always pretending to be someone else or comparing yourself with someone else and not accepting these are my strengths, these are my weaknesses, these are my gifts, this is my background, this produces some difficulty and dependency, this produces some great things…
Until you get a sober self-assessment, you end up playing games your whole life. You try to fulfill your mom’s purpose, or your dad’s purpose, or the culture’s purpose, or the company’s purpose, or what other people think. Do you know how freeing it is to understand, “This is why I’m here. My purpose is this. And this is what I’m good at and this is what I’m not good at. This is where I need help and this is where I need to step out and let God use me.” It’s revolutionary. It’s absolutely revolutionary.
I have a good friend over in Santa Cruz and he was a fellow entrepreneur. He ran half of the United States of one of those really, really giant companies and saw that he was kind of losing touch with his family and the travel, and so he decided that he would start a business of his own. And so he developed these, about 26 of these stores around, kind of like Jo-Ann’s or Michael’s, but he called it by his wife’s name, which I thought was very nice.
He was a good business guy. He became very successful. When you’re very successful in business, he made a lot of money. So there he was a good leader and… Because you know what his whole like 25 years of church experience was? Sitting on committees, in meetings, where everyone wanted to talk about money and then counting money afterwards. And he said, “I hated it all.”
And we went through a journey and he discovered his spiritual gift. And he discovered what he likes to do is launch things, and what he likes to do is equip people, and what he likes to do is bring together networks. And so he said, “You know what? I just decided I’m not going to be on anymore boards.” This was a spiritual decision. He said, “This is what I’m going to do.”
And he actually was the one that launched Living on the Edge. It was his idea. And I can now tell you four or five, six, seven, eight different ministries, and inside church ministries that he’s launched. And he just says there’s such joy when you figure out how God made you and you fulfill your purpose.
Do you know yours? Do you start to get what I’m talking about is so different than, “All right, it’s Sunday morning, it’s Saturday night, we’d better go to church. Oh yeah, this is great. Oh, we’re going to hear about what we ought to do and I’m not doing very much of it. I’m going to try really hard. It’s not really going so I better fake it a little bit better than I’m faking it right now. I was really convicted. Oh, boy. More to do, more to do. They want you to do this…”
Do you realize how so much of Christendom is like people have another job, and often a job you don’t like, and often a job you don’t like and you’re actually not doing very well at? That’s not true spirituality. True spirituality is relational, it’s practical, it’s measurable. It’s normal people like us that are surrendered to God, on a day where we actually cross that line, and then progressively we’re separate from the world’s values. Then we develop a sober self-assessment and we start to discover our purpose and why we’re here. And it actually gets downright exciting.
The fourth thing you see is that it’s a relationship of believers serving in love. True spiritual maturity is, “Love must be sincere.” The word literally is “without a mask or without hypocrisy.” “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good; be devoted to one another in brotherly love.”
And then the rest of that passage, we’ll unpack it and it’ll talk about honoring one another and giving preference to one another. And it’s really about people that actually know each other, and like each other, and sacrifice for one another, and pray for one another, and do whatever it takes to help one another. And it’s like doing life in community. But you serve in love, and it’s real love. It’s not a meeting I go to. It’s not, “Okay, we made it three out of four times this month. I’m feeling really good about that checkbox. I read the Bible four times this week…”
It’s so different when it’s a relationship with this God who loves you so much. You open His Word with a sense of holy trembling, that He would so love and want to speak to you today, and He would love to hear what’s on your mind and on your heart. And actually, His spirit lives inside of these other people called other fellow Christians, and He’s deposited gifts in them, and He wants to hug you through them, and He wants to love you through them, and He wants to hold you accountable through them. He wants to encourage you through them. And are you ready? He wants you to do that right back.
And there’s this amazing thing in the early church. Remember what Jesus said? “A new commandment I give unto you” – to the early disciples, John 13 – “that you love one another” – how – “just as I’ve loved you. By this” – not by buildings, not by external morality – “by this the world will know that the Father has sent Me, by how you love one another.”
And this section of true spirituality from Romans 12 answers the question–how do I experience authentic community? Boy, there are so many lonely people. I don’t mean just being in a group, I don’t mean just being a member of something. I mean, how do I experience where there’s someone or two or three in my life that I can unzip my heart and I can risk putting it out there and I can tell them things and I won’t be condemned and they’ll support me and love me. And when I’m going through a horrendous time, they’ll be there for me and they know I’d be there for them.
You ready? Having some friends who would literally – not figuratively, not metaphorically – friends who would die for you. That’s authentic community. And I’ll tell you what. When you get around people that love each other like that, it’s powerful.
You know what’s missing in most Christians’ lives? It’s not just power, it’s not just purpose. You know what’s missing in most Christians’ lives? Experiencing God’s presence. Somehow it’s like we do these things and we hope God will do this and like He’s out there somewhere, somehow, someway. Do you know God’s primary plan apart from when you read His Word or you’re talking to Him or meditating? Do you know His primary way to manifest His presence? It’s through other Christians.
I mean, if an angel comes at the middle of the night at the foot of your bed tonight, go for it. Tell me about it later. And if he hugs you and fixes you a meal and says, “Tell me what’s really going on inside because I really want to hear because I really care,” God bless you.
But for 99.9% of all the rest of us, you know how Jesus is going to show up in your life? He’s going to show up in the body of another person. A man or a woman or a fellow student where there’s kind of this chemistry, and this safety, and this love, and you’re devoted to one another in brotherly love, and you give preference to one another in honor, and you do life together.
The final portion of becoming a Romans 12 Christian isn’t just your relationship with God, or your relationship with the world, or yourself, or believers but the evil in the world–relationships with nonbelievers that are hostile to the gospel. And unfortunately, sometimes relationships with believers that are evil and hostile toward you. But it’s supernaturally responding to evil with good.
Hear the apostle Paul. You can just hear him reaching into the Sermon on the Mount by the Spirit of God. “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and curse not. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. Vengeance is Mine. I will repay.” If your enemy’s hungry, what do you do? Feed him. If your enemy’s thirsty, what do you do? Give him a drink. “Do not be overcome with evil.”
See, we’re humans. Evil is going to come into all of our lives on your little journey on this earth. Some of you have had more than others. You’re going to get ripped off, you’re going to get betrayed, you’re going to have mates walk out on you, you’re going to have kids say terrible things to you, you’re going to…people who you’ve loaned money and they promised to pay it back and guess what – they’re not going to.
And there’s evil that’s sort of systemic. You can love God with all your heart. Guess what. Christians that love God with all their heart get cancer. They get hit by drunk drivers. They get swooped into down economies and lose their homes. And they’ve been faithful with their finances. Evil is coming your way.
So what’s true spirituality? I love what God says–true spirituality is how the Spirit of God lives the life of Christ out in relationship with my Heavenly Father, with the world, with myself, with believers, and then with unbelievers when the raw deals are coming my way.
The question it answers is, “How do you overcome the evil aimed at you?” And the thing that most Christians – listen carefully – most Christians have missing in their life is perspective.
We all could probably get out your mobile device and press the little app where it says notes and we could probably all list four or five people that used to walk with God that don’t walk with God now – after their mate walked out on them, after the car wreck, after they got ripped off at work. Right?
See, there’s a reason that almost 25% of the book of Genesis is dedicated to the life of Joseph, because Joseph is a picture of true spirituality, of how you respond at the evil aimed at you. And it wasn’t easy–he was betrayed, falsely accused, forgotten, sold. But that little phrase – “the Lord was with Joseph” – and do you know what Joseph had? Perspective.
Joseph kind of took – even though they didn’t have them in those days, follow it – Joseph took the helicopter of spiritual perspective and in those days in prison or falsely accused, he just kept taking that helicopter up really, really, really high and looking at all of it and saying, “You know something? There’s a sovereign God that either decreed or allowed this, and He loves me, and I don’t know how it’s going to work out but if I don’t bail out and trust Him, He’ll work it for my good and He’ll do in me and through me what could never happen. And so I refuse to be bitter, I refuse to not forgive, I refuse to become a victim, I refuse to let the world shape me. I will trust my God because I have perspective.”
And he would say to his brothers, at the very end of the book, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” If all those difficult things wouldn’t have happened, he would have not been the second most powerful person in all the world and he would have not saved the Jewish nation.
And God has a game plan and you have a Joseph story to live out. It’ll be a big one for some, a smaller one for others.
Are you starting to catch what true spirituality’s all about? It’s about relationships. It’s measurable. You can measure, “Am I surrendered? Am I separated from the world’s values? Do I have a sober self-assessment? Am I serving in love? Am I supernaturally responding to evil with good?” And then it helps you ask and answer those questions.
And little by little, as we walk through this together, you will begin to experience–as you trust and obey by faith–God’s power, God’s peace, God’s purpose, God’s presence, and God’s perspective. What Jesus said to them, He said to us, “If you abide in My Word” – and that word just means if you take it in for the purpose of applying it by faith – “then you’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
I want to close with this one very important perspective. There is a danger on our journey. Like every journey, there are dangers. But there’s a danger on our journey to begin to very subtly begin to think that sort of the R12 journey or the Romans 12 journey is like a moral code and a set of bars to live up to. And you can turn it into the very thing we’re trying to avoid.
And so I want to remind you that true spirituality has nothing to do with living a good life so that God will love you. True spirituality has everything to do with beginning to grasp the height and depth and length and breadth of how much God has already loved you, has demonstrated that love, and you living out of the freedom of that love.
And so I just put the little chart of the entire book of Romans. What did he do? Chapters one through three, all of us fall short of the glory of God. We sugar coat this. This isn’t just being 'not a nice person'. We have sinned. We’ve betrayed God. We’re people that have committed treason and He’s holy and His just wrath is upon us for what we have done. And that’s the problem.
In chapters four and five, there’s a solution. The solution to the sin is salvation. Jesus, fully man, fully God, lived a perfect life, died upon the cross to pay for your sin and rose from the dead and offers a free gift to whosoever would believe and receive it.
Chapters six through eight goes on to talk about how this new life is lived and He didn’t leave us alone, it wasn’t a moral code, “Try hard.” He said, “The Spirit of the Living God in the new covenant will take up residence inside your mortal body.” After He takes you out of the kingdom of darkness, He places you in the kingdom of light. His Spirit takes up residence, and the living presence of Christ and the power of Christ by the Word of God and the community of God’s people births…
Literally, Paul talks about “until Christ is formed in you”, and that’s called sanctification. And it’s a journey, and often it’s two steps forward and three back and then four steps forward. But you grow.
And then finally, he reminded them that God always keeps His promises. So chapters nine through 11, His promises to the Jews will be fulfilled; that they fumbled the ball in terms of their responsibility as a bluster and an instrument of God. So He says, “I’m going to take them out of the game and I will fulfill everything I made promises to Abraham and to David, but the church is going to be My agent of blessing until I call timeout and bring the very final days of history to a close.”
And after 11 chapters of, regardless of where you’ve been, God loves you, died for you, puts His Spirit inside of you and will keep every promise– “Therefore I urge you, brothers,” to what? “Offer your bodies a living sacrifice.”
I’d like to ask you, have you ever placed your faith in Christ personally to forgive your sin? Because what I’ve seen over and over is people very sincerely often start coming to church and they just unconsciously think “I’m trying hard to be this good person” and it’s interesting and they begin to experience some change. But what sometimes they never realize is you need, on a certain day, at a certain time, to be born from above or to be born again. And that’s back in chapter three and the beginning of chapter four and where you come to God on a day like today and you just honestly admit, “God, I need Your help. I’ve violated a Holy God. Today, I believe Your blood paid for my sin and Your resurrection proved it’s true and on this day, I want to ask You to come into my life forever, to forgive me and to be my Father.”