Expository Sermon on Romans 12
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 11/26/2022
©2022 by Maylan Schurch
To watch the entire worship service, click this link:
Please open your Bibles to Romans chapter 12.
While you’re turning there, I would like to say two thank yous.
First, thanks to everyone who showed up at Sunday’s work bee. Carolyn Howson and Robert Sharer headed it up—and that’s all it took for the work bee to get going, people who are willing to light the torch, lift it up, and march forward with it. Thanks to the many helpers who followed.
Also, a big personal thank-you to Chuck Davis. I was under the weather last week, so I knew I would need a substitute preacher for that Sabbath.
I was already working on a sermon, but I was losing energy and therefore the ability to concentrate on putting it together. And anyway, I discovered that that particular sermon idea wasn’t a great one. So what I did was to go back and find a Thanksgiving sermon I’d preached several years ago, and update it.
But who should I ask to preach it? Shelley reminded me of something that had happened years when I was preaching an evangelist series using some pre-prepared sermons, I think with PowerPoint, which I had lined up on my laptop.
One night before Shelley and I left for the church, we decided to take a little walk in our neighborhood before we had to leave. I carefully hung my laptop case on the knob inside the front door. We locked the door, took our walk, and came back, and discovered we couldn’t get back into the house. The key wouldn’t work, and this was our only outside door besides our patio door, which had a piece of wood firmly wedged into it.
I was in a panic. I couldn’t get into the house. Later—after the locksmith had come—we realized that it was the weight of the laptop hanging on the doorknob that had jammed the locking mechanism.
Anway, the hour was approaching when I–or someone– needed to stand here in the sanctuary and preach that evangelistic sermon. I knew that Chuck had been attending the meetings, so I called him up and asked him to speak. There was a backup of the sermon and the PowerPoint here at the church, and with less than an hour’s notice, Chuck calmly delivered that message in the same thoughtful, deliberate way he preached for me last Sabbath.
So Chuck, thank you for coming to my rescue again!
As most of you know, this entire year I’ve been encouraging us to read the Bible all the way through. And pretty much every Sabbath I’ve preached, I’ve based my sermon somewhere within that week’s Bible reading range.
This week the reading range covered the last part of Romans and the first part of First Corinthians. And as I was trying to decide what part of these chapters to preach on, I saw a news feature online, which you might have noticed too. To me, it’s very disturbing, and even frightening.
The news feature was about two pro wrestlers named Beau James and Dan Harnsberger. If you know anything about entertainment wrestling, you know that a big part of it is making it so that one of the wrestlers is a villain and the other is a hero. You cheer for the hero, and boo the villain. Then everybody watches the two wrestlers toss each other around, and jump on each other’s bodies. Then everybody claps and goes home, satisfied with the evening’s entertainment.
But back in 2016 Beau and Dan decided to introduce politics into the matches. Beau played the part of a Republican, and Dan became the “Progressive Liberal.” Before their matches, they would each speak to the crowd about their views. From what I understand, this wasn’t so much to convince the crowds of their ideas, just to build up the tension and the conflict so that the crowd could enjoy the fight more enthusiastically.
At first, Beau says, this worked pretty well. Dan would give a little lecture on the liberal point of view, and sometimes about half the crowd would be on his side, and he would even get some cheers. This would happen even in deeply Republican areas such as the Appalacian mountains. Then Beau would speak, and then they would fight. It seemed that it was all in good fun.
But Beau and Dan have noticed that over the last five years, the crowds’ moods have turned far darker. Dan—who as I say, plays the liberal—says, “The crowd has taken on a more violent approach to me. I had rocks thrown at me. A lady pulled out a [cigarette] lighter [and] tried to light my trunks on fire while they [were] on me. And [I] had somebody else pull out a switchblade.”
One time a fan showed Dan a 9 millimeter pistol on his hip and challenged Dan to come and take it from him. Fights have sometimes broken out in the crowd, and spill out into the parking lot. Someone once got hit with a chair.
As I read that article this week, and as I think back on all the various kinds of turmoil people are in these days, all the mass shootings, all the people who just somehow snap and decide to do a lot of damage, and all the other bad things that are happening. I read Romans 12, a word came to mind: Reset.
We need a reset. Even those of us who don’t go to professional wrestling matches which use political labels to fire up emotions, even we need a reset. Even those of us who carefully keep our emotions inside us rather than let them explode. We all need a reset.
Talk about “the heart of God”—resetting is at His very heart. God is in the reset business. He’s always been good at it, and loves doing it. Once upon a time He pushed “reset” on a rocky, waterlogged planet and seven days later He gave us the breathtakingly beautiful blue-and-white ball which the Artemis 1 Orion cameras are taking pictures of on the way to the moon. (As of last night, by the way, Artemis was over halfway to the moon, traveling there at 995 miles an hour.)
And all through history God has been doing resets. In Genesis 3, He provided substitute sacrifices for Adam and Eve’s sin. He pushed reset on Egyptian slavery, then the Babylonian captivity. The Sermon on the Mount pushed reset on God’s law, reminding us that (as it’s always been) the law is first internal, before it is lived out to become external.
And of course Paul, the author of Romans, himself went through one of the Bible’s most devastatingly powerful resets. A total re-boot.
So this morning we’re going to have the God-given, Paul-given chance to do our own reset. And this is actually a good time to do it, I think. We’ve just spent Thursday reflecting how thankful we are, and we have not yet plunged frantically into the Christmas holidays. Usually we tend to think about New Year’s resolutions just after we’ve emerged from the Yuletide tornado, when we don’t have a whole lot of life-planning energy left. This year, let’s get an earlier start, while we’ve still got some gumption.
Actually, Romans chapter 12 might be the Bible’s clearest and most concentrated spiritual reset chapters. The first few verses of Romans 12 tell us how to do this, and then Paul goes into great detail about what this reset will look like. After all, as he would probably tell you himself, he is the “reset king”—rebooted from chief of sinners to champion of the Savior.
And even though I never have, and never will, pull a switchblade knife on someone from a political party I don’t agree with, even so, my heart is a sinful, selfish human heart which needs a complete reset. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
So let’s find out what a Romans 12 reset looks like.
Romans 12:1 [NKJV]: 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.
If you’re taking down sermon points, here comes Sermon Point One. What’s the first step in a Romans 12 reset?
Dedicate your body to its Creator.
Now this is really interesting. We’ve got to be very careful that we don’t take the first couple of verses of Romans 12 for granted. There’s a bouncy little Christian chorus which uses these words, but we must not let those words bounce too glibly past us before we catch their meaning.
Present your bodies a living sacrifice. So, what does that mean? Back then, everybody who heard Paul’s words knew exactly what a sacrifice was. A sacrifice stopped being yours and was given fully to God.
And the Jews who had become Christians understood that Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, had become the perfect sacrifice for their sins. So when they heard Paul suggest that we need to present our bodies as a sacrifice, they understood that this was a total commitment. You presented your entire body, not just parts of it. It will be a living sacrifice, not a dying one as Jesus was, but a sacrifice all the same. Total commitment.
And here’s something else interesting. In the next verse Paul will tell us that our minds need to be renewed and transformed. But why wasn’t the mind mentioned first, rather than the body?
A couple of days ago I happened to read one of those online BuzzFeed articles where they mentioned the names of famous people who had lost a lot of weight. There were some pretty dramatic numbers there—thirty, forty, fifty pounds which melted away.
And the weight-loss methods most of these celebrities used sounded pretty much like the Bible health principles our church has been promoting for more than a hundred years. There was not an emphasis on “named” diets, or diet supplements. Instead, one person simply ate no food after 7 p.m. Someone else cut out all sugars from their diet. Still another person became vegan. Someone else faithfully exercised.
In other words, these people didn’t depend on mind-change alone. They brought their bodies along with them to the task of living more healthy. And if your body has built up healthy habits, it will sometimes take the lead, and your mind will follow. New habits can goad you into doing what you know you need to do.
Now let’s look at the second step in the Romans 12 reset:
Verses 1 – 2: 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. 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.
If the first step to a Romans 12 reset is to dedicate your body to its Creator, the second step is to let your mind be transformed to God’s will.
And it’s important to remember how important this is. We’re NOT supposed to simply present our bodies, period. We’re supposed to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. Every morning when we get out of bed, we need to remember: “sacrifice,” “holy,” “acceptable to God.” Sacrifice means we are offering ourselves totally to God, as Jesus our sacrifice did. Holy means that we are set apart from unholy things. “Acceptable to God” means that we should remember that we are sinful, and we constantly need Jesus’ forgiveness.
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.
So, what does it mean to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind”? First, Paul lets us know that it is the exact opposite of being “conformed to this world.” It’s either-or, not both-and. You’re either conformed to the world or transformed by the will of God.
When my wi-fi router isn’t working right, I unplug it for a few seconds, then plug it back in. I can’t do a partial reset. It’s got to be total, for everything to work right.
And when Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that is literally what the Greek word says. “Renew” is the word for “new,” plus another little word tacked on to the front which intensifies that “new.”
Yesterday I had to type this sermon on a laptop, because my desktop PC is right now in the computer shop being “reset.” Evidently some viruses had somehow slithered into the machinery, and the computer was slowing down.
And when I get that computer back, hopefully this coming week, I do NOT want it to return with any of those viruses, those glitches. I’m not holding onto those viruses fondly. I want them all gone. And while even though the computer itself won’t literally be new, it will be renewed, reset. And that’s the way I like it.
It’s the same way with our minds, which God wants to renew. The apostle Paul didn’t WANT to hold onto any of the evil viruses which had previously had a home in his mind and heart. He was glad they were gone. He had devoted his entire body, and his entire mind, to the One who had showed such great mercy to him.
One of the things I find so delightful about Romans 12 is that Paul gets very practical. For the first 11 chapters he’s been presenting the gospel in great detail. And in the first two verses of chapter 12 he’s giving us the theology of the reset. But now he is going to tell us exactly what it will look like in our lives if we allow the Holy Spirit to do this reset within us.
So buckle your seat-belts. Because if you’re like me, you’re going to be reading along, and once in awhile you’re going to squirm. You’re going to say to yourself, “Whoa. Wait a minute. There are some things here I hadn’t thought about, that cut too close to home.” You’ll find yourself scanning your own behavior patterns to see if they match up with what you’re reading.
Which is exactly Paul’s point. This is exactly why he puts so much practical detail into the verses we’ll be reading. (This is what I hope the computer tech is going to do with my PC. I want everything possible renewed.)
As I studied through the rest of Romans 12, and a bit into Romans 13, I tried to spot some kind of a pattern, some sort of organized plan. And the basic idea I found was that as Paul describes the practices of a “reset” person, he starts with what’s inside us, and then moves gradually outward to how we should deal with other people. Let’s watch him as he does it.
Verses 3 – 13: For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
Here comes Sermon Point Three.
If the first step to a Romans 12 reset is to dedicate your body to its Creator, and if the second step is to let your mind be transformed to God’s will, I think the third step is to learn to humbly unite your abilities with others.
Jesus’ own disciples had to learn—as the chill footwashing water splashed against their ankles on Passover night—they had to learn not to think of themselves more highly than they ought to have thought. Earlier that same evening, each of them had been thinking, “Guess who’s the most indispensable person in this room? I am! Therefore, I deserve the highest possible role in Jesus’ kingdom!”
They didn’t stop to think that this was the very spirit of Satan hissing and bubbling in their hearts. Lucifer himself, standing beside the throne of God, had felt exactly the same way—only in his case he was coveting the very top role, the throne itself.
It’s fascinating that humility and unity were the first things Paul mentioned as a signal of a true spiritual reset. But these are the first issues which need to be solved before a true reset can happen.
Now for another “reset” step.
Verses 14 – 21: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The steps to a Romans 12 reset are to dedicate your body to its Creator, to let your mind be transformed to God’s will, to humbly unite your abilities with others. And the fourth step is to be kind to your enemies.
Which is why what’s been happening at those wrestling matches I talked about is so blood-curdling. I’m assuming that a certain number of those rock-throwing wrestling fans are Bible-carrying churchgoers. Sunday morning they’re singing gospel songs, but Saturday night they’re hefting rocks.
But so were the religious people of Jesus’ time. Sabbath mornings they went to synagogue, yet on more than one occasion, they were perfectly willing to pick up their own stones to try to execute Jesus.
And as we know, it’s important to widen the definition of “enemy.” In my life right now I don’t have someone who would be cheerfully willing to stone me to death, and you probably don’t either. But let’s take another look at verse 10.
Verse 10: Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;
If we behave like this—and by the principles in the rest of the Romans 12 verses–it’s will be extremely difficult for grudges to grow, and rocks to sail through the air.
So what’s our next step? Our next step is to publicly testify that we want this “reset” change to happen within us. We each need to do this privately, of course, but we can do it publicly through how we behave, and through baptism. If you’d like to be baptized, let me know and we will make it happen.
And we can do it through song as well. Our closing song gives us a chance to declare to each other our desire for the Romans 12 reset to happen within us.
Why don’t we stand and sing it together. It’s called “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” – #319