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Sermon July 3, 2016

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1263

July 3, 2016 Romans 12:1-3

Dr. Ed Pettus John 17:6-19

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)


“The Church in the World”


As the American attitudes have changed over the years, the church has had to find its way. What started as a Christian nation has moved into something that does not seek to reflect the ways of God. Things of the world have changed and most drastically they have changed much faster in the last 50 years. Technology has changed the world faster than anything in any other time. Modern life of speed in mobility, shorter attention spans, and mass amounts of information have challenged the church to find its way in new ways. But the one thing that does not change is in what God has given in His Word. God has given us all that we need in his Word, a Holy Word, our Sacred Word, that reveals God's character and the character of the world that has fallen into sin and rebellion. What God tells us is for the life of the church and for the life of the individual believer. Two of many passages bring clarity to how we are to find our way in the world. Romans 12 and John 17 teach us the way of God, to not be conformed to the world but be transformed in our minds and to know that Jesus has prayed for our way to be in the world but not of the world. Jesus and Paul build us a way of life in which we discern and measure faithfulness to God who is always faithful to us.



  • Do not be conformed

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. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned (Rom. 12:1-3).



JB Philips says it this way, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold”.

Eugene Peterson says this, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking”.

The appeal of Romans 12 is to avoid having our lives shaped by the patterns set forth by the world or ideas fashioned by our culture. Every day our culture pressures us to conform to something: consumerism, materialism, political ideologies, immorality, and on and on.


Paul teaches us to renew the mind so that we will be able to discern what is God’s will. I believe that includes the ability to discern what we need to resist in the culture in which we live. This is how we resist the temptation to conform to this world. This involves a serious look at what the world is about, what areas the world is seeking to assimilate into its image. These images are taking the form of distorted anti-biblical views of human existence. They take the form of confused ideologies of power and justice. They take the form of all that is against God's Word and ways.

One of the ways we present our bodies before God is to think about how we live in our culture. Think about what effect the culture has on our life of faith. Our lives can become so busied by the pace of our culture – the speed of technology, the flood of information, the fads that change with the tides, or the ideas that challenge our faith. Because it all comes at us so fast in the modern life, we fail to stop and think. Maybe that’s the first sign that we have become well adjusted to the world – we live within its frantic pace, torn away from godly things which are, more often than not, only known in slowing down, in solitude, or in quiet, in prayer and study.


Paul helps us learn how to begin to change our lives and turn ourselves toward God, to present our bodies as living sacrifices. I cannot tell you how to do that or what to do. That takes discernment on your part and my part. Each of us has to decide what activities will help our life in Christ and which will hinder our life in Christ.


The mainstream and dominant media and political voices of our society are powerful forces for bringing conformity to their ideas of living. We see how these ideologies are hostile to Christian life and faith. It is becoming more clear how Romans 12 is so deeply important to our world.




  • Be transformed


Renew our minds, renew our thinking, renew our attitudes, renew our paradigms, renew our direction, renew our goals. How and what we think sets the direction we will go. In the work I have done in Christian spirituality I assume three things about our situation:

  1. the ways in which we have learned to think affect how we read the Bible,

  2. how we read the Bible affects how we imagine God,

  3. how we imagine God affects how we live out the faith.

If our thinking is aimed at a God who is distant, the “big guy in the sky” image, then our faith will be distant, but if our images center around a God who is personal, intimate, and relevant to our life, then our faith will be relevant to our living. Paul understood that if we transform our thinking we would not become overly concerned with self. We will not be conformed to the culture – but we will live a radically different life than those who live by the ways of the world. For many years living as a Christian was not so different than just living as an American. This is no longer the case, certainly today. This transformation of the mind is no longer a practice of our society or political landscape. What has become so foreign to the American way is how Paul tells us to be transformed.

Healthy churches are made up of people who have been thoroughly transformed in the mind through biblical truth, Christian tradition, and faithful practices of discipleship.


How can we transform our minds? Paul says this,

Do not think too highly of yourself.

Do not misrepresent yourselves” (The Message).

Psalm 131 says it this way, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”


Transforming the mind means humbling one’s self before God. We submit ourselves to God presence. Our nation is failing to humble itself before God. Politicians are failing to humble themselves before God. The notion of being a public servant has lost all meaning. Every sector of American life has left godly practices.


Humility is a lost trait in the world. So many voices tell us to lift ourselves up, to look out for self before considering anyone else. Perhaps the most asked question when we deal with situations is, “What’s in it for me?” It is a question that dominates our culture. Everything is about me, about the individual. My life is to be looked after first, and then I will concern myself with God. This is the way of the world and so often the way of our culture. I take care of myself – I make myself who I am – I am responsible for who I am and who I will be, then I will check with God to see what God can do for me.

Humility sees it quite differently; humility means placing our lives at God’s feet; “a living sacrifice” is Paul’s term. Nothing comes ahead of God, nothing comes before God in priority, but our whole being is given over to God – for God’s care and love. I lay down my life, my priorities, my hopes, dreams, cares, concerns before God in prayer. I present my body a living sacrifice, which is my spiritual worship.


  • In the world


The night before Jesus was crucified, he prayed for the disciples and by continuation, the church today:

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.


Jesus says that we are indeed in the world. But that condition is not one that we look upon as a problem to be solved. Paul tells us to make sure we are not conformed to the world and Jesus reveals one of the reasons we are in the world – to be sent. We are sent into the world just as Jesus was sent into the world. Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God and the arrival of the Messiah. We are also sent to proclaim the gospel.

What Jesus prays for is that we are kept safe from the evil one. It seems that the evil one is busy today getting people to conform to the ways of the world to keep them from the gospel. The church cannot fall prey to this deception of the evil one.



  • Not of the world


It is clear that Jesus says we are not of the world. When we are not of the world, the world hates us. Sounds just like the way things are going today as our justices and political leaders are trying to engineer social trends to which all must conform. This is where Paul's teaching becomes so critical for us. To be not of the world means not conforming to the ways of the world. We need to strengthen our churches for the sake of standing against the wiles of the devil. We need to strengthen our discipleship, our witness, our knowledge and understanding of scripture, and realize that we are not of the world and therefore cannot conform to it. The Bible says elsewhere that we are crucified to the world, set free from it, in order to be sent into it to set it free in Jesus, by proclaiming his redemptive power. We are not of the world because we have been crucified with Christ, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Because we have been crucified, we now boast only of the cross. This is what our part of the world needs to hear, the cross of Christ and its meaning for life and for nations.