Now that we are completing another year of Confirmation, a year that was not interrupted by a global pandemic, the question comes up “What’s Next?” Once you have been through the process of Confirmation, what comes next? Have you graduated from church, and now you don’t have to go anymore? No! Absolutely not! You are saying yes to your baptism, yes to faith in Jesus Christ, yes to salvation, and yes to the church. You are now becoming full members of the church. With membership comes responsibilities. We do not approach the church with a consumer mindset, thinking, “What is in it for me?” Instead, we approach it with an attitude of “How can I contribute to the greater good of our church and community?” What gifts do I have to contribute to the church, and how can I plugin?
Today I want to look at two verses from the letter to the Romans. Paul is the author of this letter, and he is writing to Christians in Rome in anticipation of him being able to visit eventually. We will find ourselves in chapter 12 but let’s consider all that Paul has written up until this point. In fact, he starts chapter 12 with a “Therefore,” which throws us back to chapters 1-11 as building up to this point in the letter. Chapters 1-11 can be seen as teaching the Romans the basics of the faith. He begins the book by stating his thesis:
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘the righteous will live by faith.’
Paul then outlines how humanity is lost in their sins, and no one has the ability to save themselves. All are guilty of sin before God. Then, he explains how salvation comes only as a gift from God through the work of Jesus. Once a person is established in the faith, the Holy Spirit comes into them to transform them to be more and more like Jesus. We are adopted into God’s family, and there is nothing at all that can separate us from the love of God. God is constantly working in our lives to make us more like Him.
With all that said, Paul’s letter builds up to Chapter 12 with a big “Therefore!”. He is essentially saying, “Now that we know all of this, What’s next?”
Paul says in verse 1, “I urge you, brothers”! This Greek word translated as ‘urge’ is a strong word that admonishes, encourages, and exhorts the readers to do this! This word was used in classical Greek to exhort troops about to go into battle.
He then addresses this exhortation to his brothers. This would be seen as anyone who considers themselves believers in Jesus. This is seen as a bond connected to our faith. We are brothers and sisters in the faith. This part of the letter is being directed specifically to Christ-followers.
Before Paul gets to his exhortation, he gives us two things to motivate us to follow through with what he is about to say. He says,
Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy.
It is in fully understanding that our salvation is totally seen as an act of God’s mercy towards us. We were lost in our sins, and there was no way for us to save ourselves. Instead, Jesus came to defeat sin and death once and for all and provide the only way in which we could be justified before God. When we fully understand the mercy of God, this becomes the greatest motivator to live into a holy life. Paul is totally in awe of how merciful God is towards us.
The second motivator in this passage is seen in his statement:
This is your spiritual act of worship
Paul is telling us that what he is about to say is a reasonable and rational response to all that God has done for us in his mercy. And when we do this right, our life becomes an act of worship. What we do, who we are, becomes an act of worship.
So, let’s get to it! What do we have to do in light of God’s mercy and as a way to live a reasonable life of worship to God?
Paul urges us to:
Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.
In his commentary of the letter of Romans, the late John Stott comments on this by saying that “No worship is pleasing to God which is purely inward, abstract, and mystical; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies.”
Our faith is an embodied faith! Our bodies matter, and what we do with them will speak volumes about what we really believe. We cannot say we believe all this stuff about Jesus and not allow it to impact our bodies. We can not separate the spiritual from the physical. Our faith will impact the physical reality we live in if we are serious. To try and separate the spiritual from the physical has been seen as a heresy throughout church history. Yet here we are in the 21st century, still doing this very same thing. We compartmentalize our faith to the spiritual, then we act and behave however we want in the physical world at home, at work, and in our lives.
It is also interesting to note that Jesus offered himself as a dead sacrifice so that we could be LIVING sacrifices. Dead sacrifices are a one-time event whereas a living sacrifice is a lifetime event. Therefore, we continuously get to be living sacrifices with our lives as an expression of gratitude for God’s mercy. When we do this, we become holy and pleasing to God!
So, the question becomes: How do we offer ourselves as living sacrifices? Paul touches on this in verse 2. He makes two statements. One involves a negative action, and the other involves a positive action. He says:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.
What is the pattern of this world? It is to live in active sin and rebellion against God and his creation.
Instead, Paul exhorts his readers, telling them:
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Once again, this embodied faith begins to act itself out by changing how we think. It is a renewing of the mind. We don’t give in to the anger, divisiveness, and hate that is encouraged in our culture and politics. We don’t give in to conspiracy theories that only stoke fear and hate of others. We are to be different. We are to be people of love and grace and mercy. We are to embody a new way of living that ought to attract and inspire others because it is so antithetical to the ways of the world.
In fact, the Greek word for transform is the word from which we get metamorphosis. We are to completely transform ourselves in the same way a tadpole transforms to a frog, a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, or Bruce Banner changes into the Hulk! What once was, is no longer. We are now a new thing. We are transformed. How? By the renewing of the mind. How we think matters. What we think will act itself out in our behaviors.
When we go through this process of changing how we think and behave, in light of God’s mercy, Paul then goes on to say:
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This is what should be driving our thoughts and behaviors, doing all we can to align our will with God’s will. So the question becomes, what is God’s will for my life?
If we had time to go through the rest of this chapter, you would see Paul encouraging the Roman Christians to make room at the table for all believers. Exercise your spiritual gifts in the context of the church. And to genuinely love each other. He also tells us to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. In fact, we are supposed to take this so far as to love everybody, including our enemies.
So, my encouragement to our confirmands and all the believers here is that we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, seeking to align ourselves with God’s will for our life. The way we do this is to be actively engaged in the church. We need to discover our spiritual gifts and use them for the greater good of the church and the community. Confirmation is not a graduation from the church. It is an initiation into being a full member of the church. Get plugged in. Get involved. Find out how God has designed you to be a blessing to others. Don’t give in to the hate and anger that is so prevalent in our culture right now. Instead, live fully into being kingdom people right now! Let’s create a youth group and a church that helps us transform to be more like Jesus in our minds and in our bodies! Let us become a people defined by our love and care for each other.
So, What’s next? There are a lot of opportunities for you to get involved. Serve in children’s ministry, connect to a small group in the youth group, and participate in mission opportunities, including Summer mission trips. Find what makes you passionate about God and his creation, then pursue it! My hope for you is that you discover what God’s will is for your life and that this gives you direction in your schooling, including your pursuits, after you graduate from high school.
Adults, I ask that you lead by example. Think about what you are watching, what you are posting, and what you are doing, and make sure that you are not conforming to the patterns of this world. Instead, actively pursue ways in which you are transforming yourself by the renewing of your mind; to think and act differently that speaks more about the love and mercy of Jesus in your life. You have a responsibility to the youth and children of this church to show us how to embody your faith in real life. So please be actively pursuing God’s will in your daily lives, for yourself, and for future generations to continue the kingdom work here at Epiphany.
Alright! Are you ready to be confirmed in the faith?