Christianity, Romans, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (May 26, 2019) Called to Be Transformed / Called To New Life In Christ Romans 12:1-8

Paul Turns the Corner From Theology to Praxis

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week we take a look at how God calls us to be transformed.  As we are called to new life in Christ we are required to make changes and alterations in our day to day living.  Students of theology call this change praxis.  It is the transformation from theory and thought to action in each of our lives.  That’s what chapter twelve is about as Paul turns the corner from the theology of chapters’ one through eleven.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Sacrifice

Praxis

Cooperation

Background: 

Over the previous three weeks I’ve repeatedly discussed how Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is written approximately 57 Common Era.  That was important because it helped establish that Paul was writing to both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  They were different groups that had different practices, customs, and cultures.  That’s still important but less so in this twelfth chapter of Romans.  In this chapter Paul has switched from writing doctrinal statements that helped Jewish and Gentile Christians understand how to work together.  In this chapter he switches to writing more about the practical application of previous chapters.  So what is discussed in chapter twelve is addressed to the believers in Rome but it applies even more specifically to all believers. 

In this chapter, Paul begins to put it all together.  He begins to tell us how to live the Christian life.  Townsend Commentary reminds us of some of the doctrinal journey through Romans.  “They have been “justified through faith” in chapter 5, “set free from sin” in chapter 6,  “released from the law” in chapter 7, and made “alive” in Christ in chapter 8”. 

Some important words to consider in chapter twelve include:

Sacrifice

Gifts

Cooperation

Review Of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week was the third of four lessons in Romans.  This week is the fourth lesson of Romans and the final lesson of the Spring quarter.  Last week’s study began at Romans 11:11.  Here Paul asks a question about his Israelite nation; “have they stumbled so as to fall”?  As he refers to the broader Jewish religion, He answers the question by saying “By no means”!  He explains that the Jewish religious nation has not fallen so far as to fall.  He is telling the Jewish Christians that “salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous”.   In verse thirteen he declares himself the Apostle to the Gentiles.  He hopes to use jealousy of the Christian’s salvation to win some of his Israelite nation to faith in Jesus Christ.  If jealousy works, if envy works, then Paul is prepared to use it.  Verse sixteen continues with a literary device using the first fruits of dough and the root of a tree as a metaphor.  These metaphors paint a mental picture that shows how both the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are Holy through their connection to the Jewish religion which was God’s first covenantal family. 

Verses seventeen through twenty-four use a different metaphor.  In these verses both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are branches of an Olive tree.  Whereas the Jews were broken off branches, the Gentiles were branches grafted into the tree.

After Paul notes the kindness and severity of God he closes this metaphor with a note of hope that the “natural branches would be grafted back into their own olive tree”. 

In this week we consider practical application of Christian doctrine.  Paul is writing in this twelfth chapter about praxis.  It’s about how to live the Christian life.  Townsend and Boyd’s, Commentary title this week’s lesson Called To New Life in Christ.  Standard Commentary titles it Called to Be Transformed.  The Scripture text comes from Romans 12:1-8.

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Paul begins by imploring, pleading with, urging, and what seems like even begging the believers at Rome to “offer their bodies as a living sacrifice”.  The imagery of a living sacrifice is placed against the imagery of customary Jewish animal sacrifices.  While Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrifice for all humanity we should bring our entire life, all of who we are, our entire bodies as a living, breathing, thinking, sacrifice in service to Jesus Christ. 

Note also that Paul says “therefore”.  He begins chapter twelve this way because he made his case in the preceding chapters.  He laid the foundation of justification by grace, redemption, salvation, and other doctrine in chapters one through eleven and now he turns the corner by essentially saying “this is what we are supposed to do, THEREFORE… present your bodies a living sacrifice.      

The King James Version ends verse one saying “this is your reasonable service”.  The New Revised Standard Version says “this is your spiritual worship” and the New International Version translates it as “your true and proper worship”.  The idea is the same in either translation; we are expected to offer our complete selves holy to God. 

Verse two tells us to not emulate or conform to the world but rather be transformed or changed.  It is this transformation that is the new life in Christ.  We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We are called to be transformed and we achieve transformation by following the Holy Spirit, not the ways of the world. 

Verse three is a gentle reminder and warning not to boast.  It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise his own pond, yet, praising your own pond is entirely different from bragging about and holding yourself in too high esteem.  Paul encourages us to think soberly, not boastfully about ourselves.  This is no doubt wise advice for people in an environment of different cultures, customs, and practices who need to work together. 

In verses four and five, Paul uses the body as a metaphor for the church.  In the same way the body must work together with arms, legs, eyes, and ears; so must the church work together with different people doing different but necessary things to work together. 

Verses six through eight expound on the idea of working together by mentioning six different gifts.  Those gifts are:

Prophecy

Ministry

Teaching

Exhortation

Leading

Mercy

Note that various gifts are given to each of us by grace.  Paul mentions other spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

Context:

God’s word is for our transformation and inspiration not just information.  That’s the point Paul is making in chapter twelve.  He has given a lot of doctrine in chapters one through eleven.  He begins in chapter twelve explaining how to put the doctrine to use.  For Christians today that means praxis.  Praxis is taking theory and thought to actual practice.  It is applying what is said to what should be done.  It’s taking what is heard in the pews to what should be done at home, at work, and in everyday life.  Praxis is moving from thinking about it to being about it.  When Paul says “therefore I urge you” it is almost as if he is begging us to do the work of living this Christian life.  It’s this kind of practical application that chapter twelve requires of us.  In short, Paul is asking at least five things of us in this chapter.  Those include: 

Be a living sacrifice

Renew our minds

Think soberly of ourselves

We belong to each other

Use our various gifts for Christ

If we can make these actions in our living and not theory or just thoughts we are certainly on our way to being transformed and called to new life in Christ.

Key Characters in the text:

Paul – Originally known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion to Christianity.  He was the most influential leader in the early days of the Christian church.  Paul was a primary instrument in the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles.  His letters to various churches and individuals contain the most thorough and deliberate theological formulations of the New Testament (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible). 

Gentile – A term used by Jews for one who is not Jewish by racial origin.  In the Old Testament, “the nations” is used.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion): 

Sacrifice – Something of value offered as an act of worship or devotion to God.  Sacrifices were offered throughout the Old Testament, accompanied covenant making, and were of various types. 

Praxis – A term used in liberation theologies for a combination of action and reflection which seeks the transformation of oppressive situations and the social order.  It marks the beginning place for theological reflection and focuses on the dialectic of theory and practice. 

Gifts, Spiritual – Those abilities given by the Holy Spirit to persons in the church for the up-building of the church.  Examples are listed in Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:11; and I Peter 4:11.

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. Don’t talk about it, be about it.
  2. Ubuntu – I am who I am because of who we are.

Questions

1.  A living sacrifice is a contradiction.  What is Paul really telling us to do in this verse?

2.  Cooperation for the good of the whole seems to be an important point Paul is making.  How can we cooperate with fellow believers today?

Concluding thought:

Our call to new life in Christ requires transformation.  Our transformation is achieved though renewing our minds to become more like Jesus Christ.  That is an ongoing process that cannot be achieved with a single act or in a single week, month, or year.  We grow, we learn, we get better and sometimes we have to repeat the process when we sin and get it wrong.  Our call to be transformed is a call that takes practice.  It takes daily and sometimes moment by moment conscious effort.  As we renew our minds, sometimes we alter our life.  We alter choices and make decisions that don’t come naturally.  They are often decisions that benefit others more than ourselves.  That’s the way it is with new life in Christ.  A transformed life is a living sacrifice that does not have too high a regard for its own wants and desires but an humble life that realizes that we belong to each other.  It realizes that whatever spiritual gifts we have we should use them for the up-building of the work of Jesus Christ. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week is the first lesson of the summer quarter.  The summer quarter will focus on aspects of covenant.  The first nine lessons come from the New Testament so we will view covenant from a New Testament perspective before three lesson in the Old Testament that view it in a more general perspective. 

The June 2nd lesson comes from the Gospel According to Mark and Hebrews.  We will consider how Jesus institutes a new and better covenant made on better promises.

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