Monday, 15 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #5 – An Amazing Possibility


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

It’s a gloomy picture, and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but Paul won’t have it any other way. Back in the early part of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul writes about bodies being degraded, minds being darkened, and men and women suppressing the will of God. All this, he makes clear, amounts to a refusal on the part of humanity to glorify and serve God, to worship God acceptably.

But what we have here at the start of Romans 12 is a reversal of that story. With the gospel comes the remaking of human beings – bodies and minds and wills – into God’s new people. And when God puts us back together, he does so in order that we might worship him, might give him his proper due.

The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to the day when God would make a new covenant with his people by putting his laws into their minds and writing them on their hearts, when all would know him (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Likewise, Ezekiel spoke of God putting his Spirit in his restored people and moving them to follow his decrees and keep his laws (Ezekiel 36:27). Paul’s language here echoes these promises and invites us to see that what the prophets looked forward to has now come to pass in the creation of a new people – Jew and Gentile – in Christ.

As we might expect, there is continuity as well as discontinuity with what went before. Christian life and worship is no longer focused on the sacrifices in the temple, and no longer determined by the law. There is still sacrifice, and there remains a desire to know and do the will of God; but these now come through the ongoing sacrifice of our whole selves, through the constant renewal of our minds, and through the alignment of our wills with God’s will – ‘his good, pleasing and perfect will’.

The vision offered here for working out the will of God is not following a list of dos and don’ts, but of God’s people – individually and together – walking in God’s ways.

As John Stott wrote, ‘if God has a purpose for the lives of his people, and if his purpose is discoverable, then nothing could be more important than for us to discern and do it’.

The apostle Paul holds out that amazing possibility.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Credo 8, 3 (2018) on Holiness


The current issue of Credo is available, this one devoted to ‘Holiness’.

According to the blurb:

One of the greatest challenges of the Christian life is the pursuit of holiness. Christians tend to compartmentalize life, separating their devotion to God on a Sunday morning from every other facet of their lives. Jesus, however, calls the believer to an obedience that is radical, one that extends to every aspect of life. But what, exactly, does it mean to be holy? How is the Spirit at work within us to conform us to the image of Christ? What does it look like to be set apart, consecrated to God in a way that draws others to the holy God we worship? In this issue, pastors and theologians alike explore the diverse ways scripture describes holiness and the opposition every believer faces to the pursuit of a sanctified life.’

Individual articles, along with interviews and book reviews, are available to read from here.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #4 – Changing Our Minds


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

‘There is no longer a Christian mind’, wrote Harry Blamires in his classic book, The Christian Mind, first published in 1963. The high number of publications on the topic since then suggests it’s an ongoing issue. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as each generation seeks to discover afresh what it means to love God with all our mind.

For Paul too, the ‘true and proper worship’ to which we are called involves not just the offering of our bodies but the renewing of our minds. The two go together. It’s possible, though admittedly not easy, to be disciplined with one’s body – to control it, to exercise it, to curb its appetites. But what’s in view here is not merely an outward rule over the body without also an inward renewal of the mind.

Negatively, it means not being conformed to the pattern of ‘this world’ where (as Paul describes in Romans 1:18-32) our minds and hearts are turned away from God. Positively, it involves being ‘transformed’, a verb Paul uses elsewhere only in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where he writes about believers being progressively transformed into Christ’s image. In both places, what’s in view is nothing less than a fundamental makeover at the deepest level of our humanity – a new creation!

So, being renewed in our mind is not first and foremost about being clever. It’s a whole new mindset, a radical shift where everything is viewed differently because of who we are in Christ. That in turn involves a whole new desire to live a different way, which may well go against the prevailing current, and a whole new set of habits.

To be sure, the old habits are still around, and I may well spot some of them at work in me today: preserving the ongoing rift in the family because of my pride; jealousy and insecurity with the more-talented colleague; self-pity; chronic ingratitude. But where the mind’s habits and dispositions used to go one way, following the pattern of this present age, they can now be reshaped according to the new age which has broken in with the events of the gospel.

Such a transformation – a change of mind – comes about not by screwing up our effort or focusing ever inward, but by drawing on God’s mercy shown in Jesus, who makes it possible to live a renewed life from the inside-out.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Calum Samuelson on Redeeming Sport


The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online here (from where a pdf can be downloaded and where a short lecture on the topic by the author can be watched), this one by Calum Samuelson:


Here is the summary:

‘Sport is a distillation of the God-given impulse to play. It is experienced within a microcosm of self-imposed rules, which points beyond itself to a grander reality. This microcosm of sport can lead to various ills if idolised or violated. For Christians especially, sport raises difficult, perennial questions. We approach this complex topic with a biblical worldview, which helps differentiate between what sport should be and what sport currently is. Ultimately, we argue that sport should be engaged as a conduit for common grace and a symbol of redemption.’

Friday, 5 October 2018

Myths of Vocation #2


The De Pree Center at Fuller Seminary has made available the second volume in their resource on calling – ‘Myths of Vocation’ – this one devoted to the myth that ‘my calling = my job’.

As they write:

‘While God certainly calls us to our careers, we’d be mistaken to think they are the only or most important areas of God’s call. This myth, however, is prevalent for many of us today, especially in the Western world. In this volume, we’ll explore where this myth comes from and attempt to reframe our understanding of how our jobs fit in with our callings.’

The Center is creating a four-volume study guide series that includes pdfs with journal prompts, videos, and suggested practices. The resources are available via a pain-free sign-up process here.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Centre for Public Christianity (April 2018)


Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio interview in which Greg Sheridan, long-time foreign editor at The Australian, talks to Simon Smart about his new book, God is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times – ‘about why he wrote the book, where religion is headed in the West, the fallout of the sexual abuse scandal in the church, his personal faith, and more’.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Bible Project on an Overview of the New Testament


I haven’t posted on The Bible Project for a while, but their collection of videos goes from strength to strength. Their overviews are so clearly based in solid biblical scholarship and also (in my experience at least) communicate brilliantly well to lay audiences.

The latest one is an overview of the New Testament which, in their own words, ‘breaks down the literary design of the entire New Testament and how it continues the story of the Hebrew Scriptures’, and I think it’s a model of skill and succinctness.

It can be viewed here.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Romans 12: God’s New People #3 – Body Matters


Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:1-2

Paul uses the language of the temple here – in words like ‘offer’ and ‘sacrifice’ and ‘worship’. But that earlier way of doing things is now transformed.

What is it we offer? Our bodies, says Paul.

As Christians, we can have a lingering ambivalence about our bodies. It’s all too tempting to think that the ‘real’ me is something ‘inside’ me – the ‘soul’ bit or the ‘spiritual’ bit. But Scripture often insists and everywhere implies that the ‘real’ me is embodied.

So, as Paul writes in Romans 3, human fallenness reveals itself through our bodies: in tongues which practise deceit; in lips which spread poison; in mouths which are full of bitterness and cursing; in feet which are swift to shed blood; in eyes which turn away from God. Then, several times in chapter 6, Paul calls us to ‘offer’ (the same word as in 12:1) our bodies as an ‘instrument of righteousness’, while in 8:23 he looks forward to ‘the redemption of our bodies’.

If Christianity involves a recovery of what it means to be truly human, it should come as no surprise that the body is caught up in that restoration. God has saved us – the whole of us. And the whole of us is to be offered back to him – hands, feet, eyes, ears, and mouth. The challenge is to take seriously what we will do, even today, with our hands or our eyes or our tongue or our brain. The delight is that all that makes us who we are and are becoming in Christ – all the joys as well as the limits of bodily life – can be seen as an ongoing act of worship to God.

But there is something more going on here. We are physically embodied, but we are also socially embedded. Paul’s appeal that we offer our ‘bodies’ (plural) as a ‘living sacrifice’ (singular) suggests he has in mind the whole community of Christians in Rome. This is not a sacrifice made by a wealthy patron on behalf of others in the church, but an act in which all God’s people take part.

So, it’s not just that the body matters, but that every body matters! And there is something about the goal of this sort of worship that allows the church – you and me, even today – to be the embodied presence of Christ in the world.