I want you to know that every parent has a dream for your child. I want you to think back, if you’re a parent – if you’re not, just listen – and think about… This is what your parents were thinking. Every parent, I want you to go back to that first born. You didn’t have any kids and your wife was pregnant, or you were the wife and you are pregnant. And you thought about all the things that went through your mind about what this little boy or what this little girl might be like and the dreams, and the thoughts, and the hopes, and the aspirations.
And what I want to tell you is that God has a dream for His children. But what we do is we get sort of theological over there, and somehow we think He’s more like the transcendent force out there some day some way, and there are rules and standards to live up to. And so for you to capture the emotion of how God feels, I want to share a very brief and personal story about when I understood how deeply God plants desires and dreams for us for our kids.
It was our firstborn for Theresa and myself. We were at a banquet. Middle of the banquet, Theresa says, “Chip, it is time.” I said, “Theresa, let’s go.” You know, you don’t know what you’re doing. The contractions had been about three hours. We go home, get things set up, we go to Baylor Hospital. For the next 27 hours, Theresa and I will be together. It’s a long labor. There are complications.
For a number of reasons, they can’t take the baby. They find out something’s wrong. They put a monitor on this little boy inside of my wife and I sit next to her for 27 hours and that little monitor… If you know a baby’s heartbeat goes like this – beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep. And then she would have a contraction and it would go beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…beep. Then doctors and nurses would run in. Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep.
And we went through that, about three times in 27 hours. About every eight hours, we just stopped, and we prayed, and we cried, and we gave that little boy back to God. And I thought, “We may have him, we may not.” And then I start thinking about Theresa and I may not have her. What’s going to happen?
And with 27 hours, I had a lot of time to think about all the dreams I had for that little boy that came to the surface–that I thought I might lose. And I want you to know that something deep, deep inside of me was so fearful and grieving at what I might lose.
And then, when that little boy who was born 27 hours later, that nurse wiped him off. Theresa was wiped out. I think she said, “Hi.” And then, they put that baby in my arms . It was one of those places where they really thought the dad was important, and I got a half hour with my son. And I held that little baby and I just… I held that baby with tears streaming down my face, thinking, “I didn’t know if this was going to happen,” and I thought of all the dreams I might have lost.
And I still remember, it was a linoleum floor and I had such a sense of gratitude. I remember getting on my knees on a linoleum floor, and holding that little boy, and just crying and thanking God.
And I want you to know why – because I’m made in the image of God. And imbedded in the heart of a father and imbedded in the heart of a mother is a dream and a desire for your kids because God made you. And that’s how He feels about you.
And for many of us, when our kids are small, the dreams – and we’re sort of young, immature parents – we have dreams like, “I hope he’s a baseball player” or “I hope she’s musical” or “it’d be great if she’s, you know, athletic or artistic…” And then, as you get a little bit older and they go through some stages in life, then you, “Well, I hope they get a good job” and “hope they do well in school.” And a lot of the dreams are about kind of what they do.
Then the older you get and the older they get, you get to where, “I don’t care what they do. I just want a kid that loves me, loves God, tells the truth…” Your dreams turn into what kind of person will this be, because here’s what I will tell you. Potentially the greatest joys you will ever experience on this earth will be connected to the relationship with your child. And the greatest heartache and the greatest pain you may ever experience is related to your children.
No one can hurt you as deeply as your kids. They’re part of you. Your heart is tied up in them. And if I could get a microphone and pass it around here tonight and we could tell stories about kids that have made really bad decisions, or kids that are in addictions, or kids that don’t talk to you anymore, or kids that…
Tell you what – how many of us would say, “I could care less what school they went to, I could care less what kind of job; if we had a great, loving relationship and we were friends as they’re adult children, I wouldn’t care about any of the rest,” would we? Because see, at the end of the day, the real dream in your heart is not about what your kids do, it’s about who they become and it’s about their relation and genuine connection to you.
I want you to know this–that our heavenly Father has a dream for every one of His children, and God’s dream is to make you like His – write the word – Son. “Be ye mature or fulfill your design,” Matthew 5:48 says, “be ye perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
In Romans 8:29, he says God uses every circumstance, every up, every down, every relationship, everything we ever go through to conform us to the image of His Son. He says in Ephesians 4 that the whole purpose of the church is designed–so that through the relationships that we have and the gifts that God places in the body–that we would all grow up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
You need to understand – primarily your life with your Heavenly Father is not about what you do, not about what you accomplish, not about what kind of job you have, not how many points you’re scoring spiritually. His primary dream is the kind of person you become, the kind of relationship you have with Him. He wants you to be a loving, kind, gentle, holy person who walks in integrity.
He wants to have casual conversations and have you talk with Him when you’re driving in the car. And when you come to the crossroads of big decisions and everyone says do this and your Heavenly Father says do that, He wants you to say, “Father, I want to do it Your way. I want to please you.” He wants intimate, loving, deep relationship with you.
Unfortunately, in our day, we have a crisis in Christianity. Something has happened in the last 40 to 60 years that is unprecedented, and it’s awesome, and it’s amazing. Literally, more millions and millions and tens of millions of people have come to Christ in the last 40 to 60 years than in the last two or three centuries.
The gospel’s gone around the world like never before. More people have authentically said, “Lord Jesus, I recognize that You’re the God of the universe. You paid for my sin. You rose from the dead. I trust in You.” And He comes into their hearts.
But in the words of John Stott, the former great statesman who traveled all around the world, he said, “Christianity has never had growth like it’s had in the last four or five decades. But it’s about 16 million miles wide and about a 16th of an inch thick.” He said, “The greatest need in Christendom today, in every country of the world except where there is persecution or focused discipleship, is spiritual maturity.
All the Barna reports, all the Gallup reports…many of our own experiences tell us what? About eight out of ten people who claim the name of Christ have very little family resemblance. You know what I’m saying? When you’re spiritually mature, you think like Jesus, and you walk like Jesus, and you love like Jesus, and you’re selfless like Jesus, and your priorities and your money and your time are just like Jesus living inside your body.
But for many, many, many people, the great vast majority, their words and their intellectual belief system about Jesus and God is over here and their actual lifestyles are over here. And that’s why there are an awful lot of people that are outside of Christ that look at Christianity and they look at churches and they meet people who are genuine followers of Christ and they say, “You know something? If that’s it, I don’t think I want it.”
I think it’s the greatest need in the world today is for Christians to live like Christians. And here’s what’s exciting. It’s not guesswork, it’s not about trying hard, it’s not about being religious. God gives us a very clear picture of what His dream is for your life in Romans 12. God’s dream for every child is to become a disciple or a follower – and you can write it in – a Romans 12 Christian. That’s His will. Are you ready?
His will for every child of God on the face of the earth, regardless of background, nationality, gender, denomination – God’s desire, God’s will for every single follower is that they would become a Romans 12 Christian.
Now, I’m not saying that Romans 12 is all there is to being a disciple, but here’s what I’m saying. I’m saying it is the executive summary. It’s the snapshot. It’s like this amazing mind that God gave the apostle Paul; he takes all the teachings of Jesus and for 11 chapters, he writes about the work of Christ and the sin of mankind and the theology. And for 11 chapters, he writes about all that God has accomplished and how much He loves people.
And then in chapter 12, he stops and he gives us a snapshot. And he gives us this very quick kind of Cliffs Notes snapshot.
It’s like some of those people in the venture capital world and someone has a big plan and they’ve got a new product and… You know, it might be 20 or 30 or 50 or 80 pages of research… but my experience when I talk with those guys is if you can’t give me on one or two pages the whole game plan, what you want to do, how you want to get it done, I won’t even read it.
And the apostle Paul gives us the executive summary of what it means to be truly spiritual. What we’re going to learn as we go through it, number one – are you ready for this – it’s relational. Look in your notes. Will you open your notes and just look at them completely open? And if you have a pen, circle a few keys words just as we go through the passage. All we’re going to do is give an overview and we’ll dig into each of these sections, but circle the word…
It says, “Relationship with God.” Circle the word God. Verse one is going to talk about what’s the snapshot of spiritual maturity, of true spirituality with God. Then, go down. It says… Look, it’s the relationship with the world. Circle the phrase “the world”. There’s a world system that we’re going to learn about; a world system that’s anti-God, that’s energized by the enemy of your soul, seeking to seduce you away from your love for Christ.
And then, it’s going to talk about your relationship with yourself. Circle the word “yourself”. We’re going to learn a little bit later that God wants you to have an accurate, sober, self-assessment.
Then notice that we talk about a relationship – on the second page – relationship with believers. Circle the word “believers”. There’s a way that spiritually mature, authentic followers relate with other Christians in a way that does amazing things in them and amazing things in others.
And then, finally, circle the last one. It’s a relationship with non-believers. There’s a way that people that love Jesus, where His Spirit lives inside of you, respond to the harshest, most difficult, painful evil that comes into your life.
The second thing you learn about a Romans 12 Christian is that it’s practical and it’s measurable. Okay? This isn’t just an ooey, gooey spiritual feeling. Follow along if you will. Notice what it says in verse one. “Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, wholly and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.”
Well, look at this. But this word for “offer” is at a point in time. And what he’s going to say is that here’s what you can know practically and measurably. A spiritually mature, authentic follower is surrendered to God. On a certain day, at a certain time on their spiritual journey, a man or a woman or a student has realized how great and how powerful God is, and that His will is good, and you have bowed the knee, and bowed the heart, and said to God, “I’m all in. I will do whatever You want me to do. Your Word will be the guide of my life. I want to arrange my life, my relationships, and my priorities around whatever You say.”
And that answers one of the biggest questions that you’ll ever face in your life. And that question is this – how do you give God what He wants the most? Have you ever thought about that? God is a person. He’s not some invisible transcendent impersonal force. He’s a person. And if you have a good friend and they have a birthday, don’t you ask questions like “I wonder what he or she would want for their birthday?” Or if you’re married, you say, “I wonder what my mate would want the most?” Or if you’re a parent, “I wonder how I could really help or bless my kids the most?”
Have you ever asked yourself, “I wonder what God wants the most from me?” And you know what you’re going to learn? He wants you. He wants you. Not your religious activity. I mean, there’s a place for Bible study, there’s a place for church, there’s a place for prayer, there’s a place for all kinds of things. But you can do all those things and Him not have you.
My observation is in most Christian’s lives there’s a missing ingredient. And Romans 12 not only is relational and practical, it answers this big question and it also gives us the missing ingredient in every relationship. And the missing ingredient in most Christian’s lives – and you just jot this on the side of your notes – is power. We’re anemic. So many Christians try really, really hard.
I remember getting an email and we taught this series a couple of times on the radio in years past and we literally have thousands and thousands of emails of people that have gone through this material. We’ve had tens of thousands of small groups in America and around the world go through this material, so I’ve got like research. And there’s still one email that I remember reading and thinking, “Wow.”
A lady said, “I was at the kitchen sink, doing the dishes, and that morning I woke up and I felt kind of distant from God. I’d been a Christian about 22 years. And for some reason, I just thought about… I wonder if any friend described me, if they would even use the word good Christian or someone who really loves God with my name.”
And she said, “You know, I’ve tried, failed, tried, failed, tried, failed. I know that I’m born again. I’ve been a Christian 22 years. I have an alcohol problem that I presently have right now and I have an immorality problem and a porn problem. And I don’t like me.”
“And those thoughts, that guilt because of how I’m living were popping up. And I’m doing the dishes, and the radio was on, and this message comes on about becoming a Romans 12 Christian, and it was the one on surrender.”
And she said, “As I was doing the dishes, the tears just started streaming down my face.” And she said, “I’d never heard that before. I’d never understood that before.” And she talked about drying her hands, going to her bedroom, kneeling by her bed, and telling God, “I can’t do this. I can’t live this life. I surrender to you.”
And the rest of that email was, “That was four and a half months ago and let me tell you what God did in my life since then.” Power.
You know, if you’ve ever been in one of those water fights in the backyard and someone starts with a squirt gun, right? And if you’re smart, what do you do? You get the hose. And so they’ve got one of those guns and you get the hose… But what does someone really, really smart do if you get the hose? They go over here and they grab the hose and they kink it. And when they kink it, how much water comes out? None.
What I want you to understand is you can be a legitimate, sincere, born again believer in Jesus, and if your hose is kinked, if your life isn’t surrendered, you don’t experience His power. And so all it becomes is this moralism and attempts to live a life that’s absolutely impossible.
Becoming a Romans 12 Christian begins in your relationship with God by being surrendered to Him. But notice, beginning in verse two, it says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you’ll be able to test and approve what God’s will is – that which is good and pleasing and perfect.” There’s a negative and a positive command, and we’re going to develop this and talk about it.
But in essence, what he says is with regard to this world’s system that tells you that money and stuff and sex and power and prestige will deliver on security and significance and great relationships, he’s saying, you’ve got to live separate from the world’s values. You can’t let it… But notice, he doesn’t say try hard to be a good Christian. He says, “Let your mind be transformed.” Then you’ll test, you’ll experience.
Do you know the big question in life this verse answers? How do you get the very best from God? How do you get the very best from God? Verse one answers, “How do you give God what He really wants?” Verse two says, “If God really loves me and He died for me and He rose from the dead, He has a plan for my life.” How do you tap into that? We’ll explain from this verse exactly how it works.
And the missing ingredient I find in the great majority of Christians I talk to is not just lack of power because of an unsurrendered life, but a lack of peace. There are Christians that can’t come in, you’ve got to turn on the TV. You’ve got to go to the refrigerator. When you get in the car, you’ve got to put sound and music on because absolute dead, deathly quiet times make you very uncomfortable.
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.