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About this series
Becoming a Romans 12 Christian
Being a genuine disciple of Christ flows out of a relationship with Him. It's about experiencing God's grace, not earning His love through performance. A real relationship with Jesus Christ will produce a follower whose life looks progressively more like His life. Romans 12 provides a relational profile of an authentic disciple: someone who is surrendered to God, separate from the world's values, sober in self-assessment, serving in love and supernaturally responds to evil with good. Christians who live out this kind of lifestyle are what we call r12 Christians. God is willing to go deeper and grow you into a real disciple - are you ready?More from this series
Some of you are going to get out of prison today. Some of you have been pushing this down, and that’s why you’re depressed. Some of you eat when you’re not hungry because you’ve been pushing this stuff down. Some of you have ulcers and migraines, and there are lots of physical causes, but a big part of why our bodies don’t work very well, and why we do stuff that doesn’t make sense, and we have “sanctified addictions,” and not so sanctified addictions. And a lot of it is rooted in this lack of forgiveness and be willing to release these people. And you can start that today.
The final thing he says, not only do you forgive them, but it talks about identification. And so it’s not just where you mentally are doing this. This gets from hard to crazy hard. He says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Christians, we usually quote that, and we think it’s how we’re supposed to treat one another. You don’t need any commands to rejoice with people that you love, and you don’t need any commands to weep with people that you love that have cancer. The context here is this is how we bless or treat our enemies.
And so your boss who ripped you off, who did terrible things to you, who actually stole a couple of your patents, took credit for it, launched another company, went public, got mega wealthy rich, and you lost out, and you’ve been brewing over this forever. Or your mate that walked out on you and married some little hottie, male or female, and now is on the beach while you don’t have any money, and you’re…now is this real stuff or not? Right? And then they get cancer, or they’re in an auto accident. You know what this says? You rejoice with those who rejoice, you weep with those who weep.
What would happen if you walked in that hospital room and said, “I know it’s been five years. You can’t believe how much I’ve prayed for you.” You don’t have to tell them why. “And I want you to know that I have forgiven you for what you’ve done. But when I heard about this cancer, I felt compelled by God to come tell you that Jesus really loves you, and I would love – would you allow me to pray for you right now?” Can you imagine them scratching their head?
Or when something good happens to them, rejoicing with them. Maybe they remarry. And they burnt you, but they have a kid, and they have a baby, and something happens, and you’ve completely forgiven them, and you’re praying for blessing.
What if you jotted a note and said, “I really, I praise God. I’ve been praying for your family for two years, and it’s exciting to see this blessing in your life.”
And for some, because here’s the disclaimer, if you were sexually abused, or this person hurt you or did something, there are some people you can’t get involved with. But you could send them an anonymous gift, because here’s what it does. It changes you.
And before you keep looking at me like this is the craziest stuff you’ve ever heard, isn’t this what Jesus did? Didn’t Jesus come to a planet, and those who were His own did not receive Him but rejected Him? So we are His enemies, Paul would call us, “while we were still His enemies, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
And so while we’re His enemies, what did He do? He went to weddings and rejoiced with us. He raised little kids from the dead. If you’re hungry, why don’t we just feed everybody right here? Or with Lazarus, what’d He do? He wept. See, Jesus wasn’t playing, Okay, when you clean up your act, and when everything gets okay, then I will love you. He rejoiced with those who were rejoicing, and He wept because it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance.
People will probably, this is so counterintuitive. This is so bizarre. When you, by His power and His grace, choose to do this, something happens, and the grace of God works through you in ways where you know what? People start to believe, Maybe this Jesus is real.
And so it begins with forgiveness. And then there’s identification. And then notice the very last part, verse 16. He says there’s an association that you need to be very careful. He says, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing” – circle that word associate – “with people of low position.” And then as though, “Do not be conceited.”
In a fallen world, with evil people, and especially those who don’t know Christ and are very antagonistic, the apostle Paul is saying, “We need to be people who don’t just cling to our rights. In the fray of life, it’s a selfish dog-eat-dog, manipulative world. Welcome to the NFL! So how does a Christian live that out?
If possible, He says, “Live in harmony with one another.” And then here’s the deal. When you’re blessing your enemies, see, if you’re not careful, it can be like, You know what? I’m going to do this. I’m going to jot a card. I’m going to visit them in the hospital. I’m going to pray for them every day. You know what? I’m this wonderful, spiritual, amazing person, loving this scumbag of the world, who walked out on me. That’s kind of the opposite of “do not be conceited.”
See, this is hard for some of us. On a given day, the very thing that that person did to you in a moment of weakness and under pressure, you could do that to someone else.
So we come not as the superiors. We come associating with, connecting with our humanity, people of low position. And we’re not conceited, but it’s with humility that we bless them with a sense of, But for the grace of God, I would be doing those things to others.
Doesn’t this really just sound like Jesus? Doesn’t it just, isn’t there a trail being blazed that we’re to follow? And so that’s the positive side. “Bless those” – and notice – “who persecute you.” They’re after you.
The second command is a negative one: “Don’t take your own revenge,” verses 17 through 20. “Don’t take your own revenge.” It’s just a command. “Do not repay evil for evil.” And then – he’s in a fallen world. He says, “Be careful.” Circle that word above it. Literally, it’s take thought. The New American Standard says, “Respect what is right in the sight of all men. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live with peace with everyone.”
And then he goes on to say, Just wait a second. “Don’t take your own revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath. He’s the one who’s going to be the judge. He’s going to mete out justice.” But here’s the point. Personal retaliation is a prohibited response for God’s people. Personal retaliation.
In other words, they did evil to you, you get them back. They did evil to you, you get them back. They did this to you, you say bad things about them. And if you’re a Christian, and you have some experience, you can do it in such passive aggressive ways, and you add a verse to it. Throw in, “It’s a prayer request.” It works, believe me.
And you just go left-handed like this, and you whack them, because your real goal is revenge. It’s payback. You use your power, you use your intellect, you use your relationships, you use nuances, and you go like this, “One more drink of poison, please. It’s going to kill him sooner or later.” But it doesn’t. “Never pay back evil for evil.”
Instead, take thought and consider how people think, respect and realize that they don’t have your values, they’re not going to act the same way, so the field is not level. They’re really focused on them.
Sometimes I hear Christians get all upset about non-Christians living like non-Christians. That guy is really greedy! She is so sexually immoral! I can’t believe that! He just drained the whole company and all the employees! Oh my! So what were we like before Jesus was controlling the interior of our lives? Take thought for how people think. It will help you live in harmony with them.
Personal retaliation is prohibited for two very important reasons. One, it usurps God’s role as judge. “Vengeance is Mine.” God says, Look, I’m just. Yes, I’m holy, I’m compassionate, I’m slow to anger, but I’m just. And the word justice is rooted in a concept. The scales of justice. Justice is rooted in a very clear concept of retribution. Retribution is simply this: When you do evil stuff – evil consequences. When you do good stuff – reward. Every man will get what they deserve.
So you just need to say, I need to take the ball of judgment, hand it to God, and say, I’m tired of trying to figure out all the ways – in my anger fantasies and different ways – to get back at my boss, or my ex, or one of my kids, or the person who abused me. And I’m going to put that ball in Your hands from now throughout eternity, and I’m going to trust that since You are just that You will do what’s right. I will never get a raw deal. But I’m stepping out. You own it, God. I release it to You. You’re fair, You’re just. And either on this side of heaven, or on this side of after death, the scales will be absolutely and perfectly balanced.
[Sigh] You can release that wound, and that hurt, and your desire for payback, because He knows all things. He knows all the whys. He knows all the circumstances, and you don’t, and you can give that to Him. But there are a lot of us, if you demand to be the judge, then God doesn’t get to be the judge. And when you judge people, and you decide you’re going to pay them back, you reap what you sow.
The second reason that personal retaliation is prohibited is because it’s an ineffective means of bringing about peace. Look at this passage and how many times it was about oneness, and one another, and live in harmony. God wants us to live in a very fallen, evil world where we’re the kind of people who bring peace, and we don’t cling to our rights.
And we’re the kind of employees who people say, “Wow, we’d like a hundred of them because everyone’s gossiping, and doing this and that, and wanting that, and wanting this, and they‘re a real hassle. But, man alive, these Christians. They make the company smooth. They’re loving, they’re selfless, they’re caring. They’re not doormats. This isn’t peace at any price. They take a stand on principle. They take a stand on values. You don’t ever run over them. But, man, they’re people of integrity. They bring about peace.” You want these on your softball team. You want them in the city league. You want them running the rec center stuff.
They’re just good people. And when they get a little offended, they’re not so insecure that they’re always causing problems. They look at people and realize, take thought for where that guy’s coming from. That’s not even worth the time. I probably ought of pray for him. He’s going to go home and scream at that nine-year-old for probably five hours because he missed one ground ball. We’re not going to mess with that stuff. We’re going to make this a great environment.
Do you get it? See, when you tit for tat, evil for evil, evil for evil, you know what it’s like? It’s like there’s a little fire brewing. It’s like taking, one of those big fireman hoses and instead of water coming out of it, you fill it with gasoline. And that’s what people do. They do it in their families, they do it in their marriages, they do it with their in-laws, they do it at work. They did this, I did this. We did this.
Sit in some coffee shop. Just sit in a coffee shop sometime this week – this is sort of raw to say – and listen to other people. You can’t help it because they’re so close, because usually you try and concentrate.
And see how many conversations – I bet it’s in the eightieth percentile – of when people are talking, that they’re talking about someone that’s not at the table, about, “Your mom did that, and she did that, I can’t believe your sister, and she did that, and you know Bob who’s the supervisor? Can you believe they’re doing that at work?” Right?
And then they carry this attitude, and they poison their own soul. And I would say it’s really true of a lot of us. And Paul says, “Don’t do that. It’s ineffective.” In fact, he goes to the other extreme, and he says, “In fact, if your enemy’s hungry – the person who’s wounded you – help them. Give them some food. If they’re thirsty, give them a drink. In so doing, you heap burning coals on their head.”
This picture of burning coals is not, as I said, it blows out their brains. It was an Egyptian ritual in the time. Ancient Near East. If a person in Egypt in this culture realized that they had offended someone, there was an argument and they were wrong, then they would build a fire, and they’d take the coals out of the fire, and put it in a pan. And then they would take a towel, and put it underneath the pan, and they would put it on their head, and they would walk through the village, symbolizing, “I’m burning the bad thoughts out of my mind. I was wrong.” We would use the word: I repent. I’ve had a metanoia. I’ve had a change of mind.
And see, this is what you see happen in Scripture. This is when you do good for people, and they know deep in their heart and their psyche that they don’t deserve it. It brings about a shame, even in evil people. This is a picture of David, and David’s running for his life. And all he’d done was won battles, and cared for Saul, and cared for the King of Israel who was Saul. And Saul really went off the deep end, and he was chasing David, and he’s trying to kill him. You know the story?
And so, he’s running, running, dodging, dodging. Finally he gets surrounded, and he finds himself, and there’s this cave. So he and his men are all the way in the back of this cave, and Saul’s got them surrounded, and it’s like, “Guys, this is it. We’re done if they find us.” And lo and behold, Saul comes into the cave, and the Bible’s pretty graphic. He relieves himself. And I don’t know, maybe he took a nap afterwards. I don’t know exactly how it all happens. The text doesn’t say. But David’s buddies, they go, “Hey, God’s delivered him. This is it. Nail him!”
And David says, see, David gets this. I’m not the judge. “I will not touch the Lord’s anointed.” His buddies were saying, “God has put him right here. This is an answer to prayer. Knock him out.” David says, “No, no.” But he gets close to Saul, gets out his knife, and he cuts a little section off the bottom of his robe.
Saul leaves the cave, goes down a piece, there’s a ravine, gets on the other side of the ravine, and David steps out from the mouth of the cave. “Saul, Saul, why? What have I done? God brought you in this cave.” And he holds up…
“Look at your robe. I could have killed you.” And then he makes this very interesting statement. He says, “Let God be the judge between us. If you are more righteous than I, then I accept full responsibility. May God take me out. But what have I ever done?”
See, he gave good for evil. And then, very interestingly, Saul begins to weep. It’s like in this flash, in this moment, he realizes the truth. See, when people do evil things, they repress it, and then they go into denial. And there’s demonic stuff that happens with people that do progressively evil things to where they don’t think they’re doing anything evil, and it’s addictive. And in this moment of grace, Saul, he weeps, and he says, “David, you are more righteous than I.” And unfortunately, it’s a very short repentance, and a temporary repentance.
But can you imagine if we said, You know what, God? I’m going to forgive so and so, and then you started on the journey of praying for them? And then maybe even anonymously doing something good for them to bless them. And even, we tend to demonize people when they’ve hurt us. Have you realized that? Because they’ve really hurt us, so everything they do is terrible, and everything we do is good, and we reframe the whole story.
Most stories aren’t quite that clear. It doesn’t mean they didn’t do something terrible. But what would happen, what would happen just where we live, if we loved our enemies? If we blessed them? If we said “God, you be the judge.” If we were free. Well, here’s the supernatural result, is good will overcome evil.
Now I realize that what I’ve said so far, for some of you, is there’s still a little bit of, You don’t really understand. You can’t possibly grasp what I’ve been through. And you know what? I don’t. But some lessons you learn later in life, and some early, and this lesson I learned as a very young Christian in a powerful way that shaped my future.
I came to Christ in the summer right after high school. I went away to play basketball on a basketball scholarship. I was a freshman, and if you could do pretty well, you could make the traveling team.
And a guy came in who was supposed to be the big hero. He came from inner city New York. He grew up in the projects, he’d been to Vietnam, he’d been in prison some, he was supposed to be this rehabilitated drug addict and drug dealer. And the reason he came – I played at a smaller school – the reason he came to our school was because his nervous system was kind of damaged. His reflexes were just, they weren’t terrible, but they just weren’t all that good. He had a forty-inch vertical leap, and he was about 6’7”, 6’8”. There were times where I thought, Man, that guy is going to just knock his head on the rim.
And so something happened in his life. I don’t know if it was Vietnam, I don’t know if it was upbringing, but he hated Christians. I don’t mean he disliked or had a…he hated Christians. And I’m six months old in the Lord, okay? We’re in basketball season now. I’m just brand new. I’m just reading my Bible in the morning. I haven’t even made it all the way through the New Testament. But I’ve decided He’s my Savior. I’m going to walk with Him.
And so this guy finds out I’m a Christian, and he starts, he knew a little bit of the Bible, and he would quiz me on that. And then it got to just humiliation. If you’ve ever been in a locker room, you know what guys talk about and all that, and he liked to say my name in a way that sounded like a cuss word. “Chee-ip. Chee-ip, come here.” That’s the way he talked to me.
And then it was, I became – when you’re a freshman, you have to do whatever the older guys [say], so I kind of became his slave. So it was, “You put my bag on the bus.” And then I’d come back. “You know what? I want my one shoe out of that.” I’d go back, get the shoe. “I don’t really want that shoe.” And he would just mess with me. And at the training table, “Go get me a Coke. Get me a second helping of meat.”
And then he would just ridicule, the coach would walk out the door like before. He goes, “Hey, we got a big game. I wonder if this skinny little white virgin is going to be helpful. You know how them Christians are.” And guys, multiply ten X what I just said, and you’ll get to where we really lived. And I hated his guts. And so my answer was, my hero was Pete Maravich, and so I did all those drills for years and years and years and could handle the ball.
And so in warm-ups and things, behind the back as hard as I could because I knew his reflexes weren’t very good. Bam, right through his hands into his face, you know? And then I’d be on the break, and I’d slam one through my legs, and I’d watch it come right up. And the coach would yell at him, and a no-look pass, it was just, it was really fun.
And he was humongous. I hated him so much that, honestly, I would have done this. Like “Hey, Jerry, come on. You want some of this?” But it was like, it would be a three-second moment, and I’m smarter than that. So let me finish this story because there’s a major point where I learned about this passage because it gets real serious.
I’m coming in from the gym, and here is a room, across the hall from mine. And I just crossed to get to mine, and the door’s a little bit open, and there’s all this smoke, greenish-blue smoke coming out of it. Everyone’s smoking dope, and he’s in there. Well, if he gets caught even smoking grass, he’s on probation, and he’ll go back to prison. And I didn’t think of that, but I just walked by, and I was unlocking my door, and I felt this hand on the back of me.
And he turned me around, and he grabbed me underneath the neck, and he lifted me up against the wall so I could be up where he is. And he got about this close to me, and he said “If you tell anyone what you just saw, I will kill you, and I’ve killed a lot of people, and it’s not that big a deal. Do you understand?”
And I’m eighteen years old. I just came to play basketball in college. And I’m scared to death because there was no bluff in this guy. And I started getting ulcers in my stomach, and I couldn’t sleep at night, and I had anger fantasies. I had anger, like really bad. Like doing something that you would regret the rest of your life.
And it dominated my life, and I went to my – there was a guy who was making disciples, and I was in a Bible study, and I just shared the whole story. He said “Do you want help?” I said, “Are you kidding? Yeah.” He says “Well, what I’m going to tell you is really hard, but I guarantee it’ll work.” I said “Man, I’ll take anything.”
He grabbed a Bible, he opened to Romans 12, he read verses 14 to 21, and he explained what I just explained to you. And I looked at him like, Are you on drugs? Bless this guy? I want to shoot him.
He said, “You said you’re willing.” And he said “It’s not a feeling, it’s a choice. So at this table, right now, you need to forgive him because God wants to forgive him.” I said, “I don’t think God…okay, yeah, okay. Yeah, I’m sure God really does want to forgive him. I just don’t.” And I willfully chose to forgive him. And he says, “Now, you need to bless him.” So, I prayed for him every day.
And then Jerry, for the next four months of our season, never had to ask for anything because I got his bag. “Jerry, you want this on the bus?” “Jerry, you need anything else?” “Jerry, need another Coke?” “Hey, what can I do for you, Jerry? I mean, I’m here for you.” When he would go in to shower, because all the dirty clothes you had to put in this mesh bag. And I took all the sweaty stuff, gave them to the trainer, took his clothes, folded them, put his shoes next to it. Didn’t say a word. I just blessed him, and blessed him, and blessed him, and blessed him. And when he said stuff to me, I just, by the grace of God, I didn’t say anything back. No more behind the back passes, no more no-look passes. “Jerry, good shot.”
And after a month or so, he’s going, “You trying some Christian trick on me?” I said, “No, I’m just, Jesus said that I’m to love everybody, and I’m just doing my best.”
“Chee-ip.” Disgust. Well, I’d like to say, this is one of those stories where two and a half months in, he walked into the locker, knelt down, “Oh, Jesus, please forgive me.” That story ain’t going there, okay? Because that’s not this story.
Two months, three months, nothing changed. He just ridiculed me all the time. Except one thing. About a month into it, I changed. My hate was gone. My fear was gone. I got out of prison. I actually saw, this guy was brilliant. He used to wear this skullcap. He was an amazing artist.
And I actually got to where I could say, I wonder what happened to this young man, where he came from, and where he’s been? He’d take his shirt off. He had a scar that went from here all the way around to here. I had no idea what he’d been through, and I had no idea how other Christians treated him.
All I knew is I got to the point where I actually cared about him. Why? I blessed him, I prayed for him, I did good. And when you do that, God does something in you.
We closed the season. And we always closed with a big tournament in a major city at a big coliseum, and all the teams in our conference would come, and you’d play a bunch of games, and we were eliminated, and you got to remember this is the mid 70s. And so it’s Jerry and I. I’m only six feet tall, so I’ve got my platforms, and my blue leather jacket, and my apple hat, and, I’m sort of strutting. And Jerry is, he’s like 6’7”, 6’8” so he’s got his platforms, and his afro, and his hat, so he’s like 7’2”. So, this is just the world we lived in.
And it was real windy, and I remember him – I just – you know those images in your mind sometimes? I remember him taking his leather coat, because it was windy, and put it up here. He turned to me, he goes, “Chee-ip.” I said, “Yeah?” He said, “You know, there are only two people I respect on this whole team. I’ve been messing with these guys’ minds. They are so punks.”
He said, “Me, because I am evil, and I know it, and if there’s a hell, I’m going there. And you, because I disagree with everything you stand for, but you actually live it. And I would never, ever want to be a Christian, but if I ever even thought about it, I’d be one like you.” And he said, “You know what? I’m done with you. It’s no fun to diss you anymore, so you’re done, kid. Get out of here, Chee-ip.”
And here’s what I want to tell you. God wants you to love your enemies for your good, and for His glory.