ROMANS ESSENTIALS, PART 2 – Locker Room Motivation
Textual Sermon on Romans 12:1-2
Bellevue SDA Church 8/12/2017
©2017 by Maylan Schurch
(Sorry–due to technical difficulties, and the pastor’s laryngitis, we didn’t upload the audio for this sermon!)
Please open your Bibles again to Romans chapter 12.
While you’re turning there, I’ll mention that the Bible passages for sermons I’m preaching this here come from the Bible reading plan in the back of the Andrews Study Bible. Pretty much each week, I choose a passage that shows up in that week’s reading plan, and preach on that.
Well, as it happens, Romans chapter 12 was the New Testament reading assignment for this very morning. So unless you read ahead on the plan, you would’ve had to have gotten up early this morning to read Romans 12 through.
If you don’t have the Andrews Study Bible, I have printed out the entire reading plan and put it on the counter beside the stairs.
If you’re the type of person who closely studies the sermon title in the bulletin, trying to figure out what the pastor will be talking about, you saw today’s sermon title: “Romans Essentials, Part 2 — Locker Room Motivation.”
If you are the type of person who has gotten acquainted with me a little bit, you are probably privately thinking to yourself, “What could this bookish and pretty much non-athletic pastor possibly know about locker room motivation?”
Well, you would be exactly right. I have never been in a locker room receiving motivation to rush from that locker room and pound another team into submission.
So I did the next best thing. I went on YouTube and hunted for a time when Pete Carroll gave a motivating speech in the Seahawks locker room. I played the first one I found, and found out what happened there. The Seahawks players were gathered around Pete Carroll in a circle, and he was not speaking in a wistful, uncertain, philosophical tone. Instead, he spoke in a loud and rather hoarse voice. He was telling the team that they faced a real challenge from the opposition.
And finally he said, “Guys, I’ve got a question for you. Can we win the game in the first quarter?” And all these huge guys shouted, “No!” “Can we win the game in the second quarter?” By this time, the team knew where he was going – he probably asked them these questions many times before in many locker rooms.
So even before he was halfway through the “second-quarter” question, they shouted “No!” And he was only a couple of words into the “third-quarter” question, and they drowned him out with another “No!” And then he shouted, “Can we win the game in the fourth quarter?” And they all roared, “YES!!!”
And even though I have never played a game of football in my life, my heart began to beat faster.
If you are fairly familiar with the book of Romans, you know that as chapter 12 starts, the mood of the book shifts. Up till now Paul has been talking about the gospel, and how we are saved not by our works but by faith in Jesus. In fact, let me recap last week’s sermon points for you.
If you were here, you might remember that we took a passage from Romans chapter 3, which is a great summary of the entire book. Here were last week’s two major sermon points:
Not only can I receive God’s righteousness apart from His law, but I can have God’s righteousness as a gift if I believe in Jesus.
One of the things pastors learn about preparing sermons is that every sermon point, or at least every sermon, needs to have what’s called an “application.” It’s the part that says, “Okay. Now that I know this, how can I apply it? What do I do with it? How can I make it practical?”
And Romans 12 is where the application starts. The first couple of verses of Romans 12 are a kind of pivot point. In fact, in the outline in your Andrews Study Bible, just before the chapter begins, you see that from Romans 12 on, the outline is called “Christian conduct.” And the headings are, “Christian conduct in relation to community and worship,” “Christian conduct in relation to the world,” “Respecting the differences,” and “Example of Jesus.”
In these chapters you have comments like, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love.” “Repay no one evil for evil.” “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” And so on.
All very good and practical “applications.” But are these technically “locker room motivations”? Not really. These are probably what you might call the practice sessions, the drills.
I believe that in the book of Romans, the major locker room motivation talk is found in the first two verses of Romans 12. Let me show you why I think that is.
If you’re like me, you can probably repeat much or maybe all of those two verses from memory. You probably know the little chorus that was written directly from these verses. In fact, since I have my guitar here, let’s sing it together.
I beseech you therefore brethren
By the mercies of God
That you present your bodies a living sacrifice.
Holy, acceptable unto God,
Which is your reasonable service.
What you’ve just been singing is, I think, one of Paul’s most powerful locker room talks. Actually, this is just the first part of it, because we’ve been singing only Romans 12:1.
The reason I think this locker room talk is so important is that, just like Pete Carroll’s speech to those Seahawks players, it provides powerful motivation to us to put the gospel into practice in very specific ways.
If you’re taking sermon notes, we won’t really have sermon points as such, just a series of motivational words. I’m going to go through a few of them and show you why they’re so powerful. And I hope that we all are motivated to go out into Earth’s final quarter and let Jesus use us to help win history’s most important contest – the great controversy between Christ and Satan.
There are so many powerful words in these two verses that we have to slow way down in order to feel their power. So here goes (Paul is speaking):
Romans 12:1 [NKJV]: I beseech you . . . .
That word “beseech” isn’t used a lot these days. The New International Version says “I urge you,” and both English Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version say “I appeal to you.” In fact both the NIV and the New Revised say, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters (not just “brothers”).”
Now, obviously, Paul means both men and women here. We know this because in Romans 16 he calls out greetings to both men and women. For example, he has a commendation for a woman named Phoebe. He tells his readers to say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, who helped him in his mission work in Acts chapter 18.
So what’s the first thing he says to these brothers and sisters? He tells them that he “beseeches” them. Now in the Greek, that is a tremendously powerful word. Paul could have simply said “I ask you, brothers and sisters.” There is a perfectly good Greek word for “ask,” and he could have used that.
But Paul really wanted to motivate these people. So just as a coach implores, or beseeches, his players to go out and do the best they can, Paul’s doing the same thing right here.
Let me just give you a few quick examples of how powerful this word is. It’s the Greek word parakaleo. We won’t take the time to turn there, but read through Mark chapter 5 some time.
In Mark 5, Jesus has just landed on the shore of the country of the Gadarenes. He gets out of the boat, and a demon-possessed man rushes toward him. Jesus asks the demon inside him to tell him his name, and it turns out that the demons are plural. “My name is Legion, for we are many,” they say.
And then, in verse 10, those demons “begged him earnestly” that he would not send them out of the country. That phrase “begged earnestly” is that exact same word parakaleo. Then, in verse 12 those demons parakaleo Jesus again, this time begging Him to send them into a herd of pigs nearby.
And then, when the people who lived in that area hear what had happened, they rush out to Jesus and parakaleo Him to leave. They beg Him to depart. Then in verse 11, the man—who no longer has those parakaleo-ing demons inside him—starts doing some parakaleo-ing of his own. He begs Jesus to allow him to travel along with Him—the same word. But Jesus tells him to instead go around telling the great things that God had done for him.
That word parakaleo is used a lot in the New Testament. Later in that same chapter, Mark 5, Jairus parakaleos Jesus to come and heal his daughter. And on and on.
So here in Romans 12, when Paul “beseeches,” or “urges” the Roman Christians, he’s using the same intensity that these other people had when they used that word. Paul is begging them to do what the rest of the verse says.
So what’s the next motivational word? It’s not far away.
Romans 12:1 [NKJV]: I beseech you therefore . . . .
That English word “therefore” is the little Greek word oun. Paul could have just said “I beseech you” and let it go at that. But that word “therefore” means that what he is about to say follows logically from what he’s just been saying. The first 11 chapters of Romans talk about the great and wonderful and merciful gospel message. And Paul says, “You’ve heard what I’ve been saying to you about how good God has been. Therefore, I beseech you to do this and this.” It’s like a coach would say: “Okay, you saw what they did to us in the first half. Therefore, here are some changes we need to make.”
In other words, what has happened in those first 11 chapters impels us forward. It calls for follow-through. Paul is not introducing a new topic here, but he’s saying, “God has been incredibly good to you, therefore you need to do what I’m about to describe.”
So far, two powerful words – “beseech” and “therefore.” Let’s keep going.
Verse 1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God . . . .
Just a quick pause here to notice that word “mercies.” As I say, God has been so good and so merciful to those Roman Christians by offering them forgiveness because of Jesus’ death on the cross. And that’s why, “therefore” we need to follow through.
Look at the next bit of advice in this motivational talk.
Verse 1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies . . . .
Since we know the whole verse already, we know that Paul is going to urge his readers to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. But pause for a moment on that word “bodies.” That’s interesting. Because all through the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul has been speaking to his listeners’ minds. So right here, since he’s been trying to do all this convincing, he could’ve simply said “I beseech you to present your minds a living sacrifice.”
But instead, he uses the word “bodies.” It’s the Greek word soma. Any time you see the word “somatic” on a health product, it means that it’s claiming to be good for the body. Paul was into the “mind-body connection” a long time before modern health practitioners discovered it.
These days thoughtful motivators have discovered that it’s not always the mind that leads the body. It is often the body that leads the mind.
This past Wednesday and Thursday the conference pastors and teachers all met together on the campus of Auburn Adventist Academy. I got a chance to sit in on one of the presentations which was just for the teachers. We sat and listened to the experiences of a man who had spent 40 years teaching in the same one-room school in the tiny town of Stehekin, Washington, on the shores of northern Lake Chelan. He told us some of his experiences, and as he went along he gave us teaching principles that he had learned from his own interaction with students.
One of the things he told us was that, for younger students such as those in the lower elementary grades, the textbook-workbook approach was not very effective. He didn’t have time to go into what he did instead, but from volunteering at our two schools for several years, I’ve discovered that while our teachers do use textbooks and workbooks, they do a lot of other things to engage all of the students’ senses and learning styles. Because a student can read about the principle of the airfoil wing and how it keeps airplanes flying, but until they blow across the top of a curved piece of paper and watch it magically rise, they don’t really “get it.”
Our Vacation Bible School programs do exactly the same thing. One group of kids is out tumbling on the grass, acting out the gospel principles that are being taught. Another group of kids is watching a live Bible drama with real people as the actors. Other kids are watching video presentation about kids just like them who face challenges. Other kids are up in the Fellowship Hall creating lunches for themselves and for the other kids – and those lunches are specifically designed with Bible principles in mind.
So what Paul is saying to these Roman Christians – and to us – is, “You need to give not only your minds but your bodies to God.” In other words, if you act on what you believe, that will help those beliefs make more sense over time than if you had just read about them and intellectually agreed with them.
So far we’ve seen three words and phrases Paul has used during his motivational talk—“beseech,” “therefore,” and “present your bodies.”
Now, the next bit of motivational talk must have really astounded these Roman Christians. Some of this group of course were Jews who had discovered that Jesus was their promised Messiah. Other Roman Christians had been converted directly from paganism.
Notice the words Paul uses to stun these people into a new understanding of what they were supposed to do.
Verse 1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice . . . .
As I say, these Roman Christians were either converted Jews or converted pagans. Both of these groups understood the idea of a “sacrifice.”
In the Jews’ case, they understood that when it came time to offer a sacrifice, you chose the best lamb from your flock, or the best goat or bull, and you took this healthy, unblemished animal and you presented it to God.
And if you had been a pagan, you also brought sacrifices. You took food into the temples of your gods, and you put that food on a plate in front of the god or goddess. That food would stay there for a few hours, and then a priest would come and take it away, and maybe sell it at a little farmers market in the temple courtyard.
You see, the whole idea of sacrifice to these people was that you brought it to God and left it there. It was either killed or consumed, and your soul and your future were secured.
But here, Paul is telling his readers that they themselves need to become a sacrifice for God – not a sacrifice which is consumed, but a sacrifice which is alive. It must’ve been difficult for these people to wrap their mind around the idea that they themselves were to be offered completely to God.
And when it comes to the idea of the sacrifice being a top-quality one, Paul doesn’t let his Roman friends off the hook. Notice what he says next.
Verse 1: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
Now Paul has already made it very clear in Romans 1 through 11 that nothing we do can make us righteous. Jesus gives us His righteousness when we accept Him into our hearts and accept His death as payment for our sins.
But notice how Paul says that presenting ourselves holy and acceptable to God is our “reasonable” service? That’s the Greek word logikos, which is where we get the word “logical.” That word means “reasonable” or “rational.” In other words, it makes sense to offer ourselves wholeheartedly to God, because He (in His great mercy) has offered Himself wholeheartedly to us.
But what about this “holy and acceptable” part? That’s a very daunting challenge to somebody who has discovered his or her own sinfulness.
Well, Paul now goes on to give us more details about what we need to do. Look at verse two.
Verse 2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
By the way, that word “conformed” in the Greek is where we get the English word “schematic.” One of the definitions of “schematic” is “A structural or procedural diagram, especially of an electrical or mechanical system.”
A schematic is a pattern or a diagram. So when Paul tells us not to let the world’s diagram or plan of how to live take possession of us, he is warning us of a serious danger. “Don’t be conformed,” he says.
But he immediately goes on to give us an antidote. “Be transformed,” he says. Many of you know that in the Greek, this word is where we get the word “metamorphosis.” So how can we have a metamorphosis in the right direction? Paul tells us it is by “the renewing of your mind.” So we present our bodies as living sacrifices, and allow the Lord to renew our minds.
Recently I’ve been re-reading Ellen White’s popular little salvation handbook Steps to Christ. Just last night I came across a passage which I think can be really encouraging right here. I’m going to read you two paragraphs, which are right next to each other in the book.
The first paragraph could be thought of as a great summary of Romans 1 through 11—the gospel story. And you could call the paragraph right after it a summary of Romans 12 through the end of the book, talking about the follow-through God wants from us, and how He can provide it for us. This is from pages 62 and 63 of Steps to Christ.
Here’s the first paragraph:
“Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law. We have no righteousness of our own with which to meet the claims of the law of God. But Christ has made a way of escape for us. He lived on earth amid trials and temptations such as we have to meet. He lived a sinless life. He died for us, and now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.”
Which is the first part of the gospel, right? Romans 1 through 11. Now here’s the second part of the gospel, the Romans 12 through the end of Romans, part. You can’t have one without the other. People talk about the “full gospel” message. This is it.
“More than this, Christ changes the heart. He abides in your heart by faith. You are to maintain this connection with Christ by faith and the continual surrender of your will to Him; and so long as you do this, He will work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. So you may say, “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. So Jesus said to His disciples, “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” Matthew 10:20. Then with Christ working in you, you will manifest the same spirit and do the same good works—works of righteousness, obedience.” — White, E. G. (1892). Steps to Christ (pp. 62–63). Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Isn’t that encouraging? Doesn’t that stimulate us to want to be faithful to the God who has been so faithful to us?
What about you? Do you want to ask Christ to work in you, so that you can have His same spirit? Raise your hand if that’s what you’d like to have happen.