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The Christadelphian | July 2014

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial The value of history
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Meekness | Grahame A. Cooper
  • 100 years ago
  • Studies in Matthew’s Gospel 07 – The call of the Gentiles | John Benson
  • The wise men and their gifts | Jochem Hale
  • Ruth in the time of the Judges | Peter Forbes
  • Archaeology in focus Book review: Daily Life in Biblical Times | James Andrews
  • The purpose of the Ecclesia 06 – The ecclesia as the bride of Christ part 1 | Peter Anderton & Paul Tovell
  • Bible Companion | John Hingley
  • SPECIAL SECTION: 150 years of The Christadelphian magazine
  • Enhancing our worship Suggestions for July | John Botten
  • “Be transformed” Deb Lawrence
  • Book Review Leading a Funeral Service by Norman Fitchett | Stephen Whitehouse
  • 150 years ago
  • Faith Alive! Prayer: face to face with the uncomfortable truth | Amy Parkin
  • Signs of the times Momentous events | Roger Long
  • Israel and their Land Weakened resolve | Roger Long
  • Epilogue “I remember you in my prayers” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

“Be transformed”

ONE of my son’s favourite books is the tale of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and it has been read tirelessly for a couple of years. The story goes through the life of a little caterpillar, who eats and eats, until one day he goes into his cocoon. At this point he disappears to be replaced by a patterned butterfly that seemingly has no relevance to the rest of the story, at least when you’re two years old.

It has taken a lot of explaining to enable him to understand the change that the caterpillar underwent in its warm cocoon. In his eyes the change is so dramatic that he cannot believe that what started as a little caterpillar sitting on a leaf, is now able to spread its wings and fly.

Similarly, in Romans 12:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (verses 1,2)

The passage tells us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, just like the butterfly that to a little boy is unrecognisable from its former self.

What a parable it tells of our own lives. It makes us question whether our baptism, our walk and our devotion to God changed us. Can it be said that we are barely recognisable from the people we once were?

Connecting doctrine and discipleship

Paul has spent the early chapters of Romans exploring doctrines. He begins by talking about Christ (1:3-5), how sinful we are (5:12) and our dependence on God’s righteousness (6:23). All of these chapters set out doctrines, getting readers to understand the foundations of their faith. They ensure we connect doctrine and discipleship – we can only be transformed once we have come to terms with the teaching.

Romans 12:1 shows that our works, indeed our lives, need to be grounded on something. The basis of this chapter is what God has done for us through Christ, His compassion, His mercy, our redemption, and so we must present ourselves as living sacrifices.

The term “living sacrifice” is a paradox. Sacrifices in the Old Testament generally involved death, apart from two conspicuous exceptions: the Day of Atonement with the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) and the cleansing of leprosy (Leviticus 14). In the first there were two goats – one was killed, and the other released, and in the second there were two birds – one bird was killed and the other set free.

These passages are looking forward to Christ, his sacrifice and resurrection, but also our new-found freedom through him. There are also examples of people who were living sacrifices, such as Jephthah’s daughter, the Levites and those who took the Nazarite vow.

What does God want us to do with our freedom?

Romans 12 says that we should become holy (set apart, consecrated, be unblemished) and acceptable to Him. This is our “spiritual worship” or “reasonable service”. The words here do not mean reasonable as in fair or appropriate, but through reason (Greek, logikos, with logic, thought, consideration and sincerity).

God wants us to be transformed. The process of metamorphosis demonstrates that not only is the butterfly dramatically changed from the caterpillar, but that it is now more beautiful. So too with us. Have we been transformed? Are we, like the butterfly, more beautiful in God’s eyes?

The answer may be a resounding ‘No’, and when I examine myself I struggle to see any transformation in my life, or any demonstration of real difference between myself and ‘this world’. I worry that my friends and colleagues know I am a “Christa-something” because of the places I go and the things I do, rather than the type of person I am. I fear that our transformation can be limited to external acts and habits by which we log our spirituality: the number of meetings attended, the time spent in prayer and meditation, the daily readings ‘done’, visits to brethren and sisters completed, and even on a preaching week, leaflets the campaigners have ‘got rid of’.

I wonder whether we can fall into a trap of measuring service to God in these visible ways, rather than becoming the type of people He wants us to be. It is easy to understand why the Jews of Jesus’ time clung to the Law of Moses. The practices of food laws, washing of hands and tithing are all visible things that can be used to fool both self and others into thinking we are doing well. Provided we eat the right things, cook the right animals, touch the right things, dress the right way, then at least we can be seen to be doing the right thing. It prevents having to delve into the heart – a more difficult and troubling place to examine and change.

Nowadays it is too easy to retreat into our own version of the Pharisees’ legalism: counting our metaphorical righteous points and seizing on the failings of others; becoming proud and judgemental of those who are not doing the right things by our standards, whether it be behaviour, attendance at the meetings or other boundaries we have established to keep ourselves ‘safe’.

This can leave us feeling empty inside, because we are not ‘transforming our minds’ in our new life in Christ, but are measuring our lives by our own markers: we are okay on our walk if we are turning up to the meeting, coming out midweek to Bible Class, visiting the sick. All these things should help us to grow in grace, not chart our progress to perfection. We do them because our hearts are in the right place, not because we know they are the right things to do.

“Put on the new self”

God is asking us to renew our mind. Colossians 3 explores what this means more fully, once we have put off the old self:

“… and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (verses 10-17)

Paul is talking about what is inside our hearts: being compassionate, humble, patient, forgiving, thankful, “teaching and admonishing … in all wisdom”. It is more than behaving a certain way, it is being a certain way. It is not just that Christ was obedient to his Father, but that he knew and understood his Father so intimately. He did not just do what he was told, he loved his Father and this took him to the cross.

Hebrews 11 is filled with people who were called to act, and responded. These were people who lived a promise-driven life. They were motivated by the same promises that we have been given and responded with their whole hearts. The promises have not changed, but our response may seem so dull and lifeless by comparison.

The renewal of our mind

So how can we be transformed? We can try, but is that enough? It would be impossible to miss the example of the athletes in the Olympic Games. All of them try their hardest in each competition. Not one spends four years just thinking about how important it is to do well in the race. Not one turns up on the morning of the 100 metres thinking, “If I give it my best shot, if I try my hardest today, it will be fine”. Instead they train every day. They don’t just prepare in one part of their lives either – it is a whole-hearted commitment.

Against the background of games held in the vicinity of Corinth, Paul said:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Later verses in Romans 12 give us some suggestions of how we can train. We are exhorted not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and to use our God-given skills and talents to serve God and others: specifically, ministering, teaching, exhorting, giving in simplicity, ruling with diligence and showing mercy with cheerfulness. In all these things the message seems to be that it should be instinctive, not forced. And all these verses are about how to deal with other people. We cannot live the words of Romans 12 in isolation.

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7,8)

Our training is for a race where there can be more than one winner – through God’s grace. We look to, and long for, that time when His Son will return and we shall be transformed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52).

Deb Lawrence


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