In Romans 12:1 Paul has instructed us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. This, he says, is the reasonable response to all the mercies of God that we have received in Christ. It is, he says, the logical expression of worship towards the one who has been so merciful to us.

But what does it look like? How does this presenting of ourselves to God show itself in our daily lives?

Paul, in verse 2, gives us two answers to these questions, one negative, which we will look at in this meditation, and one positive, which we will look at next week.

Firstly, he tells us what not to do: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world ...’ Do not let the world squeeze you into its mould any more. Do not run in tandem with the world’s priorities and the world’s schemes. Do not think the way the world thinks. Do not so identify with this world that no one can see any difference between you and this world.

And here we must face a number of very real problems:

(1) The world is always there pressing its mindset upon us. It surrounds us. We cannot escape from it. It is our habitat.

(2) Before we acknowledged Christ, we were part of the world. We thought its thoughts. We valued what it values. We lived according to its accepted norms.

(3) The world reacts badly when someone does not fit into the norms or departs from those norms.

(4) We personally value acceptance. We do not like to be considered ‘different’ or ‘strange’. We like to feel part of the crowd.

All of these make Paul’s command difficult to obey.

But his command issues from the biblical truth that when a person believes in Christ deep, fundamental change has taken place.

The person who believes in Christ no longer belongs to the world: they belong to Jesus.

Jesus spoke of this in his prayer to his Father. ‘I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world ... I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. ... They are not of the world, even as I am not of it’ (John 17:6, 14, 16).

Paul spoke of it: ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price’ (1Corinthians 6:19).

The person who believes in Christ has been spiritually regenerated. Before faith in Christ we were spiritually dead. We were simply ‘flesh’. Upon faith in Christ they are ‘born again’ – born of the Spirit – and possess eternal life.

Jesus spoke of this: ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (John 3:6).

Paul spoke of it: ‘ were dead in your transgressions and sins ... but God ... made us alive in Christ’ (Ephesians 2:1, 4, 5). And ‘So from now on we regard no one according to flesh. We once regarded Christ this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone’ (2Corinthians 5:16, 17, composite translation).

The person who believes in Christ is now a citizen of the kingdom of Christ, where grace and mercy reign, not human merit. The operating principles of Christ’s kingdom are not the same as the operating principles of the world. The world rewards those who merit rewards. But in Christ’s kingdom, God acquits and accepts the wicked (Romans 4:5). The world’s performance-based expectations and perceptions are out of place in the kingdom of which we are now members.

So Paul says: Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mould any more. Stop thinking and relating to people the way the world thinks and relates.

Similarly he says elsewhere:

‘So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking’ (Ephesians 4:17).

‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ’ (Colossians 2:8).

‘Since you died with Christ to the basic principles to this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules’ (Colossians 2:20).

'But now that you know God - or rather are known by God - how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?' (Galatians 4:9)

Next week we will look further at Paul’s command that we be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020