Today, we are going to talk about the Trinity.
I heard that Brother Daniel was on fire a couple of weeks ago. Were you blessed? If you would like to hear him preach more regularly, would you put your hands together and make some noise? I think this might be God’s confirmation. I used to be a second string preacher at this church but I think I just got bumped down to number 3.
The last time I spoke, I shared from the earlier verses of Romans 12. This is the climax of the book of Romans, and dare I say, the entire Bible. The body of Christ. Ekklesia. A gathering of believers. The local church. This is God’s redemption plan and the world as we know it will end with believers from each tribe and every tongue and every nation gathered around the throne of God in worship that will last for eternity. We might get discouraged or smug, depending on how you look at it, because we are about 50 people from maybe 5 different cultural backgrounds, but we mustn’t lose sight that this is the final destination that God is moving us to.
And we come to the conclusion of Paul’s theological treatise in Romans — the purpose of salvation is not to save individuals, but to form a new body of believers. And this body, as we have been learning over the last couple of months, was supposed to consist of diverse members — people as different as a hand is different from a foot — and these diverse members are brought under the headship of Christ and together they form a new body. And despite this diversity, there is an amazing unity as boundaries of race and social standing and age and gender are demolished and a new body, a new priesthood of believers, a new community of faith, a new spiritual household, a new creation, perhaps we can even say, a new species of God’s people is formed.
And this new species called Christians are to belong to one another, to embody a unity in the midst of seemingly incompatible diversity, and above all, to exemplify a deep love for one another. And toward that end of displaying the fullness of Christ, on our own, we fall short. Into that gap, the various persons in the Trinity have distributed various spiritual gifts to strengthen us for the common good and to build up the body of Christ.
And in this second half of Romans 12, we see some additional characteristics or marks of Christians in their ethical behaviour toward one another within the body of Christ as well as toward those outside the church.
So let’s now look at Romans 12:9-21.
When you read these verses, how do you feel? It’s a list of ethical demands. It comes at the heels of Romans 12:1-8 which are all about being part of the body of Christ. In other words, these are marks of those who are in Christ. And when I read this list, honestly, I felt completely overwhelmed. This list is utterly impossible to uphold on our own strength. God’s standard is too high. You and I can’t possibly live by these ethics.
Like in v9 —
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Love must be sincere, but our love is so fickle. We love when it is convenient. We love when we have something to gain from the other person. When it’s in our best interest. We love when our love is reciprocated. Hate what is evil and cling to what is good. Don’t we often do the complete reverse? Evil are things like being selfish, like being catered to, or taking care of your own needs before anyone else’s. The good are things like selflessness, love, virtue, character, sacrifice, obedience. But we often hate what is good and cling to what is evil. Because we are sinners.
Or what about v10?
10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
How does your life measure up to this verse? Are you devoted to others in this church like you would your own biological brother or sister? Because the standard is brotherly, sisterly love for one another in this body of Christ. Honor one another above yourselves. Don’t we honor only certain types of people who are more gifted or older or those in a position of authority? Do we honor others without prejudice, even the hidden, indispensable parts of this body?
Verse 11 —
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Zeal — is this something you are never lacking in? Are you as fervent today as you were when you first became a Christian? Do you still serve the Lord with the same energy and enthusiasm as you did when you were first amazed by the grace of God?
Verse 12 —
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Joy, being full of joy — does joy characterize your life always no matter what circumstances you are in because you have hope in God. Or does your level of joy fluctuate like the wind, based on your mood, how you did on your test last week, how much sleep you got last night? When you are afflicted, are you patient because you trust in God’s care over your life and believe He must be working on your character? Or are you impatient when you are afflicted and you just want the affliction to end as soon as possible? Are you faithful in prayer? Do you pray even when you don’t feel like it or you are too busy? Is prayer a non-negotiable in your life or is it the first thing to go?
Verse 13 —
13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Is it natural for you to share your time, your money, whatever to God’s people who are in need? To be generous because God has lavished the riches of His love on you. Are you connected enough to the brother and sister next to you to know what his or her need is? That’s hard enough. On top of that, it says to practice hospitality. Hospitality was a part of survival in those days because when people traveled, there were no hotels. You had to rely on the generosity of strangers to provide for you, a meal, a place to stay during your journey. When is the last time you opened up your home, your life, to a complete stranger?
Now we get to the harder verses. Verse 14 —
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
People who persecute you are those who want to mock you, to inflict bodily harm on you, who want to shut you up. And to those people, we are expected to bless and not curse. Think back to all the people in your life who have wronged you. Have you released them from your bitterness? And have you blessed them? Or to this day, are you still cursing them in your heart because you have not forgiven them?
Verse 15 —
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Is your life so intertwined with others that you can feel their joys and pains? And when good things happen to someone else, you don’t become jealous but you can actually rejoice even if that person has what you really wanted for yourself. Like you may be unemployed but a fellow brother or sister gets a job, can you really rejoice with that person? Or is it pouring salt in the wounds and being reminded of what you still don’t have?
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Are you a good witness? Can it be said of you that you bring peace when you walk into a situation? Or when people hear your name, do they get angry because you bring division and criticism and judgment? Are you willing to associate with the poor and those who are lower in position? Lower in terms of finances or lower in educational background, or lower in position in terms of career? Or are you conceited so you only think about yourself and you only relate with others who will benefit you in the end?
Verse 17 —
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
Here’s another verse that talks about our response to evil. When evil is done unto us, doesn’t it result in retaliation? Which is responding to evil with more evil. Again, a verse about our witness — do what is right in the eyes of everybody, not just some people, not just your friends or those you like, but everybody.
Verse 18 —
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Another verse about being a person of peace. Peace seems to be really important in the life of God’s people.
Then, the final verses, v19-21 —
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Do you take vengeance into your own hands when you are wronged? Do you gossip and tear down others through your words? Or do you trust God? And if you trust God, then even to your enemies, you can give them food and drink because you and I are not the judge. And we believe God will judge them in the end. Have you shown this kind of concrete love to your enemies?
These are the verses that immediately follow the section about being the body of Christ. And frankly, when I read this, I get discouraged. These verses are really hard. How can I live this way and how can our church be this way? It seems impossible.
Why did I go through these verses?
To show that, yes, Christian life, Christian living, holding to various ethical standards is impossible on our own strength. If people singled out this text from Romans 12 and said, here, these are the marks of a Christian, now go and live it out, I’d probably say no thank you and quit. Because there is nothing appealing about leaving the bondage of sin only to enter another bondage of religion. Either way, I’m still a prisoner.
If living out the Christian life were possible by brute force or willpower, then we would just be practicing religion just like Islam or Buddhism or positive thinking. Following rules and regulations, that’s all that Christian life would be. Religion. And some who have more self-discipline and self-control would excel and others with problems adhering by these rules, those with addictions and character flaws would fall behind. And of course, those who are better at living religiously, we’d make them the leaders. And those who are not as good at following religious laws, they’d be the followers.
Paul, before he was a born-again Christian, was a religious man. Let me read his resume before he met Christ.
Phil 3 – 4 …If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
If you want to know what religion looks like, here it is. Religion involves rituals, it involves heritage and tradition, it involves laws and rule keeping. But religion has its limits.
At the height of his religion, while being a religious professional, or clergy, someone who has devoted his life full-time to live for God, Paul shares vulnerably in Roman 7 —
Rom 7 – 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
No matter how much Paul delighted in God’s law, no matter how hard he tried to please God, his zealous adherence to Judaism left him with a murderous hatred in his heart. He was teaching others about a God of love and mercy, yet he, as a teacher of Old Testament law, lived a life persecuting and killing Christians.
This is the sad fate of religion. It’s nothing more than moralistic advice at best. And because we are sinners, when religion becomes our focus, we can be quite cruel to one another. These verses in Romans 12 are hard enough to follow, but we have a way of imposing even more regulations and restrictions on one another. And we end up policing one another and we move from one master, sin, to another, religion.
So let’s be vigilant about our religious tendencies. Religion cannot change you from the core. You can make behavioral modifications, you can clean up the exterior and put on your Sunday best, but the real problem is within, in our hearts, and religion is unable to reach that deep.
I have spent many stretches in my Christian life just settling for religion. I worked hard. I engaged in the spiritual disciplines. I exerted a lot of effort. I lived by my flesh and I beat others over the head with do’s and don’ts. In the end, I was merely practicing religion.