Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 10-20-03

Title: Believe and Behave

Text: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2).

 

Scripture Reading:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

Introduction

“Believe and Behave” is the central theme of the book of Romans.  Paul contends that what we believe has everything to do with how we behave.  If our belief is wrong, our behavior will be wrong.  Here’s an example of what I mean.  My father was at one time a professional boxer.  So until I was out of High School my dad trained me in the science of boxing.  When he was drinking, which was every weekend, he would take me to Boxing Clubs and announce to the crowd, “My boy can lick anyone in the place.”  I must have been a fair boxer, because I don’t remember ever losing.  But this is the point I want to make.  I believed that there was nothing wrong with fighting. 

In grade school I was constantly fighting on the school grounds and so my parents received a note from the principle calling me a gang leader at recess.  Because of a wrong belief, I was always in trouble. 

I know from personal experience that wrong beliefs lead to wrong behavior.  And if our behavior is wrong, our belief cannot be right.  Our behavior says more about our beliefs than our verbal testimony or our written statement of faith.

We often tend to emphasize either belief or behavior so that we exclude one or the other.  That makes for either a type of partial Christianity or an imbalanced one.  Paul was a person with a balanced faith and he assigned equal importance to belief and behavior.  We see that in his epistles. 

For example, the first eleven chapters of Romans deal with belief and the last five deal with behavior. In the winter of A.D. 57-58, Paul was in Corinth, where he had just finished his third missionary journey.  He was preparing to return to Jerusalem with an offering for the poor.  But one day, he met a woman named Phoube, who lived in a suburb of Corinth, who was preparing to sail to Rome.  So Paul saw an opportunity to send an important letter to Rome with her. Because there was no postal service in the Roman Empire, except for government business, personal letters had to be carried by friends.  Paul was not sure that he would get away from Jerusalem alive.  But he had a desire to leave a written letter of explanation of the gospel of salvation in the hands of the Christians at Rome, so he wrote this letter, which Phoebe delivered safely to the church. 

He realized that this may be his only communication with this church which was so strategically located in the capital of the world, therefore he stressed what he must have felt to be the two principal truths of the Christian faith—the belief that results in salvation and the behavior that results from salvation.

There are two points that I want to make today and the first is THERE IS A BELIEF THAT LEADS TO SALVATION.

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a few brief words of introduction.  Then Paul exclaims, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). 

However, this bold statement could lead to a question, “What kind of belief enables us to receive salvation?” We can be saved, first of all, because of a belief in the unlimited power of salvation.  Paul says that he is proud of the gospel of salvation.  He considers himself privileged to be able to preach it. 

My friends, that’s the way I feel too; I am grateful that you permit me to preach and teach God’s Word here at Laurens Memorial Home.

Now, when Paul made this statement, it sounded strange in light of all that had recently happened to him.  At Philippi he had been jailed, at Thessalonica he had been expelled, at Berea he had been smuggled out, and at Athens he had been whipped.  Paul mentions more than once how he had suffered for the sake of the gospel.  The gospel that Paul preached in Corinth was considered “foolishness” by the Greeks and it was a “stumbling block” to the Jews. 

In spite of the oppression and suffering that Paul met with, he could still say that the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation.”  It was the awesome and unlimited power of the gospel that made Paul victorious over every obstacle in his path. When Paul speaks of “the power of God unto salvation” he speaks from personal experience.  He tells us in his letters that at first he hated the Christian faith, and his heart was calloused against the call of God.  He even planned a journey to Damascus to arrest and persecute those who were followers of Christ. 

He described himself as a Pharisee of Pharisees and He believed that as a loyal follower of the Jewish faith that it was his duty to destroy this new religion, which at that time was called “The Way.”  If ever a man was unbending in his convictions, Paul was that man.  Nothing could change him, so you would think.  But he was changed in the same way you and I were.  He had a personal experience with Christ.  It happened on the outskirts of Damascus.  He was blinded there by a bright light, and Jesus spoke to him.  He knelt in the dust, blind and frightened, and called Jesus, Lord.  He had discovered the unlimited power of God that can change a person. God can change anyone, anywhere, and under any conditions.  The belief that results in salvation is a belief in the unlimited power of salvation.

There is a second quality to belief, which is that belief is unrestricted and it makes salvation available to all. 

Paul proclaims that this salvation is available to all who believe.  But why does Paul say that it is “To the Jew first.”  It is because they were in the immediate proximity and they had the best religious background for accepting the gospel.  After all they were taught the scriptures from the time they were small children and they took pride in their knowledge of the Old Testament. 

Then Paul said, “And also to the Greek.”  The gospel reached the Greeks as well as the Jews. The Greeks were the intellectuals of the first century and they were often cynical.  They viewed this new religion as “foolishness,” and they continued to follow the old ways of Stoicism and Epicureanism.  These beliefs were 400 years old and in each of them the excitement had almost gone out of the movements, and decay had set in. 

Greek and Roman religion in the first century was confused and chaotic, with so many gods and deities that the cities even maintained “catch-all” shrines to provide for supernatural beings that might have been overlooked.  

But what caused the Greeks to become Christians?  The answer to that question can be found in Paul’s address on Mars Hill.  He declared, “(The) God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). 

Paul announced that he believed that they were too superstitious and, so much so, that he had even found an inscription To the Unknown God—“For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.”—Acts 17:23 (KJV)

Paul then declared to them that this Unknown God is the Creator, Governor, Savior, and Judge of the world. In essence, he was announcing to them that he knew the real God, who was unknown to them in spite of their extreme religiosity. As he faced the crowd, Paul had his back to the great temples of the city, which would be instantly observed by his audience to whom he then announced that God dwelleth not in temples.  Athens offered only randomness and an uncertainty about God, but Paul told the Greeks that his God can speak for Himself, and He cannot be contained by human thought. 

Jesus provides an unrestricted, universally available salvation. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that salvation is available without restriction because of several factors. 

First, he said that there was a need that required it.  All of us are sinners and fail to live up to God’s standard.  Paul wrote this in the third chapter, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Since all of us have sinned, salvation is available to all of us.  It is available without restriction because people have sinned without exception.  Sin can be defined by the phrase “to miss the mark” or “falling short of attaining God’s standard.” Sin is often identified as deeds, such as stealing, murder, adultery, or lying. However, a more basic attitude deep within the human heart lies behind all “sins” and is expressed as “I know better than God in this matter.”

This attitude led Eve to that first, fatal, disobedient act in the Garden of Eden. Adam had told her that God had forbidden the eating of the fruit, but when the fruit was presented to her as good, pleasant, and desirable, she allowed her own judgment to take precedence over the Word directly from God, and she ate the forbidden fruit. God has not given us His Word so we can make a reasoned evaluation of His judgment, and decide whether or not we want to obey. He has given us His Word because that Word is truth and life, and we are to obey it without question and with unhesitating confidence. To follow our own judgments in disobedience of God’s Word is to put ourselves in the place of God. 

But some may ask, “How can a holy God forgive guilty people? Is that lawful? If our judges did that, society would fall apart.” But God, who is the Law Giver and Judge obeyed His own law, and died for us, and paid the penalty for our sins. The Judge is now the Savior!

Next, Paul said that salvation was available to all because it is grace that provides it. 

He wrote these words to the Romans, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  Salvation is available without restriction not because of human goodness but because of God’s grace.  If salvation was available on the basis of our goodness, we would be in a hopeless condition, since God said that our righteousness is like filthy rags. 

The outcome of enslavement to sin is quite different from that of obedience to Christ. Payment is the principle by which we become heirs of death. Sin always pays a wage, and that wage is a drastic one. But just as payment is the principle by which we become heirs to death, it is by God’s grace that be become heirs to eternal life. Death is earned, eternal life is purely a gift.

The third reason that salvation is unrestricted is that the price of salvation has already been paid.  Paul said, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). 

Jesus’ love is unique. We have a name for this type of God-love; it’s called agape love.  It focuses on the nature of the one loving rather than on the good points of the one being loved. God’s nature is self-giving love, which always acts in the best interest of His creation, even of His enemies.

But some might ask, “How could God ‘prove His love to us’ through the death of Christ?”  The answer is, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). 

Christ died for us!  He died on our behalf, and He died voluntarily. John wrote about that in his gospel.  He reported that Jesus said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.  No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18). 
 
Friends, you can count on one finger those who are willing to die for you.  The Son of God died for you, because He loves you.  That’s something that no one else would even think of doing.

A little boy made a toy boat, but soon he lost it in the street gutter in front of his home.  It was swept down the street and wound up in a sewer.  Later, he saw it in the front window of a pawn shop.  He saved his pennies until he had one dollar, then he bought back his precious boat.  As he left the shop he said, “Little boat, you’re mine twice—I made you and I purchased you.”

Friends, Jesus made you, and he purchased you with His own precious blood.

There’s a fourth reason why salvation is unrestricted, and that is because there is a great love that insures it.  As he pondered in silence, suddenly he cried: “Hold, daughter, hold, my Master calleth me.”  He asked that the Bible should be brought, but his sight failed him and he could not read.  “Cast me up the eighth of Romans,” cried he, and he repeated much of the latter portion of this scripture till he came to the last two verses: “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor heights, nor depths, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  “Set my finger on these words,” said the blind dying man; “God be with you my children.  I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus this night.  I die believing in these words.”

Friends, I believe that for belief to be valid, it must accompany the right behavior.

The second point that I want to make today is that THERE IS A CERTAIN BEHAVIOR THAT RESULTS FROM SALVATION.

Belief results in salvation, but a new behavior results from salvation.  In other words, belief saves us and behavior proves that we are saved. 

Paul points out that our belief in the gospel will affect three areas of our behavior.  So let’s look at what Paul had to say.

First, he says that the gospel will affect our conduct. 

Listen to what he said to the Romans. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).  

Paul begins by saying, “I beseech you therefore.”  Whenever we see the word therefore in Scripture, we should ask, “What is it there for?”  It always looks back at what has been said before.  Paul is saying, “In light of the belief that results in salvation, I now want to speak about the behavior that results from salvation.  You have believed, therefore, you should behave.” 

He doesn’t say, “I command you!”  He says, “I beseech you.”  After all, he is writing to those who have already believed in Christ, and therefore should of their own accord behave as believers. There may be many things we cannot do, and there might be much that we cannot give, but by the grace of God we can all behave. 

Friends, the verses that I just read have three points to make about our conduct.

First, our conduct should be voluntary.  Paul said, “Present your bodies.”  We should give God all we have, and that includes more than our hearts.  We need to act like His children; and seek to do what pleases Him.

Another point made by these verses is that we should not allow our conduct to be molded by others.  It says in verse 2, “Be not conformed.”  Christians are not to be like everyone else, because we are not the same.  We are indwelt by God’s Spirit.  We are to be like our Savior, who was different from those around Him.

Finally, these verses tell us that our conduct should come from within.  We read, “But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Until we have genuine belief that results in salvation, we lack the power within us to behave.  But when Christ comes into our lives, we become new creatures.  Christ becomes the center of our lives, and we have the power that He gives to help us behave. 

So you see, belief in the gospel does affect our conduct, but it also affects our citizenship.

Paul wrote in the fifth chapter of Romans, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.  For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 5:1). 

Our citizenship refers to the way that we relate to those who have been elected to positions of authority.  Our citizenship may be one of the greatest testimonies that we have.  In God’s family, there is no place for the destructive spirit of rebellion.

Now, we have arrived at the last point, “The gospel has an affect on our concern.”  In chapter 14, Paul said, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Romans 14:21).  The gist of this verse is that salvation enables Christians to place the concerns of others above their own selfish interests.  When we reach this level of behavior, the criteria is no longer merely “Is it right or wrong? But rather “Will it cause a brother of sister to stumble?”

If our belief in Christ is genuine, we will behave as Christ would.  We won’t be out to please ourselves, to prove our point, or to insist on our own way.  Rather, our lives will be characterized by the Christian love that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians 13.  “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). 

D.L. Moody said, “God hates the great things in which love is not the motive power; but He delights in the little things that are prompted by a feeling of love.” 

Love puts quality into service for the Lord. When you have love, your words and actions amount to something and help other people. Love also puts maturity into character. The Corinthians were impatient with each other, suing each other, tolerating sin in the church, and creating problems because they did not have love. Whatever qualities you may have, they are nothing without love. Love puts eternity into life. Love lasts, and what love does will last. Love is the greatest and does the greatest because “God is love”

Conclusion

Believe and behave!  That’s the message of the book of Romans.  “Believe and behave”—not “Believe or behave.”  When we understand and then get a hold of both of these truths, so that they become part of our everyday lives, then Paul’s letter to the church at Rome has accomplished its purpose.  So let’s listen to what God tells us in His word, and then obey Him.  And let’s act like children of God, and be more like Jesus.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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