“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.” –Brennan Manning
Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder. The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart. That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians. That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all. When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow. Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian. The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful. Some of these molds are:
- We have to go to church every Sunday
- We have to wear the right clothes
- We have to say the right words
- We have to smile the whole time
- We have to act like nothing is wrong
When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do. That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued. Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral. Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.
I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members. I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo. Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally. But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.
Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold. So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?
We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God. We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays. In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about. I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.
- God is all-knowing!
- God is beyond our comprehension!
- None of us know His thoughts!
- He doesn’t owe us anything!
- He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!
How does this fit into our lives? Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything. Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory. By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship. In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God. In order to do this, we have to do a few things.
First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father. Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins. After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.
We need to experience a renewal of mind. What does renewal mean? Well, according to Google, to renew means:
- Resume (an activity) after an interruption
- Reestablish (a relationship)
Why do we need a renewal of our minds? Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ. We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes. This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us. In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions. When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith. By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by. When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us. Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed. Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.
According to Google, to transform means-
- Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.
When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before. In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation. The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives. When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful. When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed. Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot. Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes. This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed. In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.
In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.
- Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
- (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”
When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives. This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on. Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not. Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites. When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond. We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why. Some questions I have found useful are:
- Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
- Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
- Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
- Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?
In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers. Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics. Do we live these everyday? Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged? When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great. Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ. When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ. This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess. God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles. We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide. Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?
When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching. But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade. My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.
Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her. The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off. How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us? When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic. When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare. My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God. I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-21