We return to our theme this week: Christ Centred. We only have this week and next week left before we begin our Advent services. Today will be in two parts, with communion in the middle. Our passage from Romans comes towards the end when Paul has put together his argument concerning the grace of God in Jesus Christ and then turns towards practical outworking of that grace in our lives.
Romans. I wonder what you perception of this letter is? We all know that it contains some key quotes:
All have sinned and are justified freely
Abraham believed God…
We are justified through faith
Therefore there is now no condemnation
We could go on quoting verses that are dear to our hearts. If we have read Romans through from beginning to end, quite possibly we had forgotten what Paul was saying in the first part by the time we have got to the second; or we have found his argument a bit of a challenge. However, it has been foundational to our Christian theology and in it we find the doctrine of salvation through faith alone, argued from the OT and in particular the story of Abraham.
What Paul is doing with Romans is laying a Christ focussed foundation as he builds his argument going through. It is an argument that points to the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ towards his rebellious creation. Throughout he makes the contrast between the sinfulness of humankind and the faithfulness of God towards his creation in the face of that sinfulness. He gradually builds to the declaration of chapter 7
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
as he explains the working of law and grace. It is in that declaration that he presents the helplessness of humankind to deal with the central problem that leads to sin – the human heart. Of course it doesn’t end there because then in chapter 8 we have this declaration:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.
Paul is only too aware of the struggle that all face to live a life faithful to God, but reminds us all that in Christ there is no condemnation, because he has become the sin bearer. He is not naive in saying that from now on for the Christian all will be smooth sailing; just reading the rest of chapter 8 demonstrates that. It is in the midst of the struggles and suffering that come in life, that we can be confident God is at work in us. It is in the midst of the temptations we face, that we can be ‘more than conquerors through him who loves us.’
By the time we reach our passage his argument concerning the free grace of God and its outworking is complete and he turns to our response as believers. Remember he is writing to those who are already Christians. As he lays out the grace of God he encourages and urges on the Christian believer to respond in the only way possible. If we have understood what God has done in Christ we will respond as living sacrifices. THE sacrifice has been made by Jesus; that is what we remember each month in communion. Our sacrifice is a free response to the mercy and grace we have been shown. From chapter 12 onwards he is talking about our behaviour and response to this sacrifice on our behalf. It is not a response of fear or of working our way into God’s favour, but of acceptance of the supreme love shown to the world in Jesus and in taking that on for ourselves, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us. Paul is not saying this is a passive response.
There is a Christian poster from years ago of a gull gliding high in a clear blue sky with the caption ‘Let go and let God’. Whatever that may have meant – and it seems to suggest you just wait for things to happen – it is not what Paul is suggesting here. The sacrifice has been made and if we have accepted that sacrifice by asking for forgiveness and declaring Jesus as Lord, we can know we have been accepted by God. The Holy Spirit lives in us, because as Paul says in
if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Our response is to work with the Holy Spirit allowing him to change our outlook. This means seeking to understand the world from a Christian perspective, and responding as Jesus would respond. The process of transformation is continuous and the sense of the Greek here is to go on being transformed as our minds are renewed and our actions alongside. What does the transformation look like?
- If you have difficult colleagues at work your goal is not to fight them, or wish them harm, but as Paul says to overcome evil with good. When I was at my first headteacher’s post…
- Have you noticed the increase in lotteries available…are you sometimes tempted think…but the lottery plays on our greed and a materialistic view of the world…
- Or perhaps someone has seriously hurt you. Whilst not condoning what has happened or putting yourself in a position where they can do it again, how are you going to respond?
If you read to the end of chapter 12, you will see there the practical pointers as to the outworking of being transformed.
Of course this leads us to the importance of what we are remembering in communion. While we were still sinners, still enemies, still far from being transformed, Christ died for us. We are reminded that Christ’s prayer as they crucified him was ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ So let’s move to sharing in this act of remembrance, yet more than just remembrance.
We have just heard the words:
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ and that is clearly seen as we celebrate his death and resurrection, declaring him Lord and Saviour. We receive the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, but Paul makes it clear our response doesn’t stop with the prayer of commitment. Our relationship with God has been transformed and so has our relationship with one another. I have called this message Christ Centred: beyond individualism, because being a Christian isn’t an individualistic affair – JAM. We have tended make the mistake of making it all about me and Jesus, when the first Christians would not have understood Christian commitment in that way and certainly Jesus would not have seen it in that way.
What is clearly shown as the early church got to grips with living out their faith in Christ, is that we are part of the body and being a Christian is about being committed to serving Jesus Christ through the body of the church. Those words we heard in the communion service were written to the Corinthians who were failing to demonstrate this transformed understanding of their relationship with each other and were being selfish and individualistic. This emerged amazingly in the celebration of communion. If you’re not clear about this read the second half of 1 Corinthians 11 through to the end of 13. Paul refers to this commitment to the body of Christ in Romans 12 when he talks about the transformation that should be taking place in the Christian community. There are two particular verses that point to this commitment:
so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. V.5
Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. V.10
Here, as in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the body of Christ and us all having something to contribute. The list of things he has included is not meant to be exhaustive, as they aren’t in his other letters. They are illustrative, but what he is saying is that we all have something to contribute. Now in case you are muttering to yourself, ‘I can’t do anything.’ we all can.
- We can all encourage each other, simply by showing an interest in someone and finding how their week has been, what they are going to be doing in the coming week, praying for them and then speaking with them next time we meet.
- We can all be a listening ear when someone is finding life difficult and just wants someone to offload to – not to solve the problem but share the burden.
- We can offer practical support when people need it.
- We can all learn to love each other, and in particular those who irritate us.
- We can all be a friend.
You may have a particular skill or gift that you can use within the community of the church.
- It may be the ability to welcome and chat with people – although that doesn’t excuse others from doing that.
- It may be cleaning, fixing or catering.
- It may be organisational skills, technical skills or musical skills
No-one is unimportant in the life of the church. We are called to serve. Jesus set the example of service to others. The Son of God got up from the meal table to put on an apron and wash the feet of his friends. The Son of God took upon himself the sin of the world. We know that one of the attractions of the early church was its commitment to one another, and they showed commitment beyond the boundaries of the local church to those further afield. The church down through history has looked outside of its own walls to meet the needs of others and serve the local community and people in communities far away.
For us to be effective at EBC both as a place that encourages and builds up to be Christians in 21st Century, and as a place that looks beyond its own walls, we need to grow that commitment to body and each of us take personal responsibility. This where the sermon series goes after Christmas as we continue to explore what it means to be Christ Centred and Community Focussed: how do we ‘do’ church? As we move from communion out into the new week, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to be the transforming power in our lives, so that we live like Jesus and are able to share him with others.