Tuesday, November 08, 2011

In Christ

In Christ
Romans 12:1-5
A Living Sacrifice
1 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. 2 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.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others."

If there is one magic phrase in the Bible, one open sesame to transformation, it is this one: “In Christ.” “In Christ” stands as one of the Bible’s simplest, yet most profound statements. 
When Karol worked at the Assemblies of God Foundation in Springfield, MO, while I was in school, she had a secretarial position.  She was told that she had to end all letters and correspondence which required a signature with the signatory “In Christ.”

She asked why and was told the entire meaning of living life as a Christian can be found between the little preposition “in” and the name “Christ”.  It also denotes that we are living Christianity out together, we are “in” this together.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new Creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.” 2 Cor. 5:17 

To be “in Christ” means to let the Spirit of Christ so infiltrate our being that our very essence is affected. Every cell in our body becomes permeable to Christ’s spirit, transforming us from the inside out. 

The gospel requires more than cosmetic changes in lives and in lifestyles which have grown comfortable, predictable, and inconspicuous.  It is not enough to merely change outward behavior.

In South Africa, one of the pastors, Ian O’Brien, told me that we Westerners (he was white and English-speaking), need to learn from Africans.  We in the west value people for what they do, but in African culture, people are valued simply because of who they are.  Their value is not dependent on doing, it is dependent on simply being.  

Simply being a Christian is not so simple for the Christian.  We each have to let God in and allow him to change us from the inside out.  This is going to cause a great deal of growth and change;  God will likely tear up those rotten floors inside us on which we walk.
The last thing some people want from their religious experiences is disruption and a challenge which will require growth or change. What many really want is what Karol calls the “Jesus Jollies”.  An experience with the Holy Spirit which will make them feel good.
Our Christian walk cannot rest on how we “feel”.

We need an old fashioned altar experience but that should be a beginning of God working within us, not a single emotional experience.  

The promise to those truly “in Christ” is that everything will become new. How many of us long for just such a fresh start on life, a second chance at becoming the person we always hoped to be?
That is what Paul says that Jesus offers us. The “old things” in our cluttered lives do not miraculously disappear as if they never existed; difficult people still confront us, jobs still put pressure on us, bills must still be paid, and family responsibilities met. 

But as people in the process of being (here’s that word again - being) transformed by God, problems and situations which appeared impassable before can suddenly be seen in a different light.  

Once we are “in Christ” we are able to grow outside the pettiness of our previous self-absorption. “In Christ” we no longer are forced to see relationships and responsibilities from a “human point of view.”

To be “in Christ” has an ecclesial (ekklesia, church or a gathering an assembly) as well as an individual and eschatological dimension. Romans 12:5 makes explicit the connection between being “in Christ” and being “one body in Christ.” 

We are given a new set of relationships not only within the body of Christ, but also in terms of our relationship with those outside Christian or church  communities. If we are “in Christ,” we no longer live to oneself but to Christ. 

What does it mean to really live “in Christ?” It means to live for others, to serve others, and to love others. 

"After World War II, a group of German students volunteered to help rebuild an English cathedral that had been severely damaged by German bombs. As work progressed, they became concerned about a large statue of Jesus, whose arms were outstretched and beneath which was the inscription: “Come unto Me.” 

They had particular difficulty trying to restore the hands, which had been completely destroyed. After much discussion, they decided to let the hands remain missing and changed the inscription to: “Christ has no hands but ours.” 

The work of Jesus Christ in the world is in the hands of those who belong to Him. In that sense, He has no hands but our hands, no feet but our feet. 

The Lord commissioned His earthly ministry to His followers, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:20) 

The purpose of offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices is not mystical or complex but extremely practical. We are to work together with others who are living their lives as a living and holy sacrifice to God to carry out the work of the kingdom of God through the church.
We BE-come the hands and feet of God here on earth.  

When we give ourselves over to God, it will have not only profound effects on ourselves, but it will also have a profound effect on others. It will affect our relationships with God, the church and those who don’t yet recognize God’s lordship over their lives.
We cannot be truly successful in His work without being genuinely devoted to Him.

Romans 12:3-5 underscores the fact that we cannot be committed to Christ, yet inactive in the work and life of the church. Many people will claim a close relationship with Jesus, yet they will not be an active part of His kingdom!

When the life of each individual Christian is a living and Holy sacrifice to God, we will all be focused on working together in God’s church. Being able to work together will require a proper attitude, a proper relationship which is unity in diversity while using our gifts.

The gifts we have are not of our own working, they are from God.  When we give ourselves over to Christ, when we allow our lives to become a living and holy sacrifice to God, we become part of the body of Christ.

What we find is we are each a part of one body with many parts. All the parts are very important and all parts are needed for the church to run like God intends it to.  

For example, Karol always says that she can kill cactus.  She can’t work with plants anyhow because she is allergic to so many of them.  But, God has blessed this congregation with people who bring life and beauty to plants.

When we realize God gifted each of us for a purpose, we should want to use what God as given us to the best of our ability.  In verse 5 we are reminded that we are all one in Christ and individually members of one another.

This idea of Christians needing other Christians contradicts the self-sufficiency of our culture.   I can understand what the early church fathers meant when they said that no one can have God as their father unless they also have the church as their mother, that there’s no such thing as a private Christian faith with no group expression.  

Within the church we are interdependent and connected to each other.
“Melos” is the word translated “belongs” in the NIV or “members” in the KJV.
Literally “melos” means “limb” or “part of the body.” We belong to one another like my arms belong connected to my shoulders, or my feet are properly connected to my ankles.
If my hands were connected to my cheeks, how many of you would realize right away they didn’t belong there?

When a puzzle is put together each piece is interconnected to the other pieces. Alone a piece is inadequate; a single piece cannot show you the whole picture.
Likewise, if one or more pieces of the puzzle are missing then it is defective; it’s lacking an essential part and is incomplete.

Christ is building His Church, so YOU BELONG HERE! 
You are not here by chance; God brought you here. This is where you belong.
That’s one of the reasons membership within the local church is so important. Through membership we acknowledge to God and the local church that He has placed us within that church.  

When believers offer their entire life as a sacrifice to God, a change will happen in their relation to the world. We are called to a different lifestyle than what the world offers with our behavior and customs.  

However, there is one big problem with a living sacrifice; it keeps crawling off the altar.
Why did the Apostle Paul choose to use something as imperfect as our material body to illustrate something as mystical as the church of Jesus Christ?

And so we are His body, but the question remains what is his body?
1 Corinthians 12:12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body. So it is with the body of Christ.

1) We have something in common. Each part of our body has something in common and that something is you! Your leg doesn’t belong to one person and your arm to somebody else.

A body isn’t made up of a whole bunch of tongues, or feet, or hands, or eyes or ears but instead it’s made up of a combination of each of the parts of the body, one this, a couple of these and some of those. Even though God insists on unity, he complicates the matter by also insisting on diversity.

God didn’t make us identical at the first birth and I don’t think he intended to make us identical at the second birth. To listen to some people all Christians ought to look alike, dress alike, think alike, have the same haircut, read the same translation of the Bible, enjoy the same type of music and raise their children the same way.

In other words those people think that all Christians ought to do things one way, and you know what way that is don’t you? That’s right their way. But let’s just stop and think about it for a minute and let’s be honest, do you really think that we need another you? We certainly don’t need another me.

So then not only are we all the same and not only are we all different, but we are all essential to the well being of the body. Paul is very adamant that each of us in our diversity plays a vital part in the body of Christ.

The responsibility of the local Church lies with you, me, the board, the person next to you, and so on.  However, we are each only responsible for ourselves before God.

So where are you at? What role will I play? What member of the body will you become? What function will you perform? How will you help to make the body what it ought to be?
Jesus received the bread and fish from Andrew, gave thanks for it, and then distributed it to the disciples, who in turn distributed it to all those were present that day, until all 5,000 were fed, and 12 baskets of leftovers were collected.

One thing this story reminds us of is that God is able to work miracles. But I want you to hear something else that’s really important - I firmly believe that this story is included in the Bible not principally as yet another illustration of the fact that Jesus had miracle-working power.

Jesus does have miracle-working power, and that is an important truth to realize. But I believe the central reason this story is in Scripture is because that little boy has an important lesson to teach us about how people like you and me are most often the instruments God uses to appropriate Jesus’ miracle-working power in everyday life.

That little boy had very little to offer, but out of what he had, Jesus found the building materials for a miracle. The way this story reads seems to indicate that if that little boy had not come that day or if he had withheld his lunch when Andrew asked for it, Jesus would not have fed the 5,000, because no one else had thought to bring lunch.

A critical truth in the Christian life, is that Jesus needs what we can bring. We may not have much to bring Him according to the world’s standards or even according to our own, but He needs what we have. It may be that the world is denied miracle after miracle because we will not bring to Christ what we have and who we are.

Jesus wants to use every person in Christian ministry. Are we qualified? Of course not.  But little is much when God is in it.  It’s as simple as this - Jesus wants what you have, and who you are. He wants to use you to heal the pain, share the good news, offer His love.
It’s all a part of living a life of love through Jesus.

I don’t know what God is calling you to do.  But I do know that God is calling us to BE a part of something larger than ourselves.  All members of the Body of Christ have a place in God’s plan.  And as part of that body we are to:

Be open, Be expectant, Be available, be willing. Give God your lunch everyday and see what great things God can accomplish with it...

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