September 18

September 18
by Pastor Jim Bangsund



I appeal to you therefore, brethren, 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 you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

“Therefore.”  An important word.  You’ve no doubt many times heard pastors say, “When you see a ‘therefore,’ you need to check and see what it’s there for.” That’s because a “therefore” always means something has just been said that is the reason for what is about to be said.

In this case, Romans 12:1-2 begins a great turning point in the letter — a hinge, if you will.  In Romans 1-8, Paul laid out the wonder of all God has done in Christ on our behalf.  But then, after a momentary side journey in chapters 9-11, where he talks about the fate of his own people, the Jews, Paul returns to where he left off.  Because of all God has done for us in Jesus, therefore we should live lives of thankfulness to God.  “Do not be conformed to this world,” he writes; or, as J B Phillips put it in his 1958 paraphrase of the Bible, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

That’s always the danger, of course.  We can so easily just give in to the “squeeze” of culture or to its cozy warmth.  Like the proverbial frog in the warming water, we don’t notice when we and our convictions have simply drifted away from the roots of our faith.  But the gospel is always counter-cultural; if the culture seems totally comfortable to you, it may be time to check the temperature of your surroundings.

In the early twentieth century, the church at large started a slow, almost imperceptible drift away from its anchoring in the gospel.  The waters slowly warmed and the outcome might have been devastating were it not for a young Swiss pastor named Karl Barth (1886-1968).  Several things started alarm bells ringing for Barth.

First, as the theology of Europe became more and more man-centered it provided less and less that he could preach to his people.  The second alarm was the most earth-shaking, however.  In August 1914, he read a statement in support of Kaiser Wilhelm’s war policy written by a group of German intellectuals which included almost all of his former theology professors.

Barth was shocked, numbed.  What did it mean that their theological foundations were so weak that they could so easily be compromised?  Barth started on a theological quest that brought him back to the Bible.  Again it was Romans.  Paul’s letter to the Romans hit him like a splash of cold water in the face.  He started to write, finally producing a commentary on this grand letter of Paul — a commentary which, when published, fell, it is said, “like a bomb on the playground of the theologians.”  The rest is history, as they say, and this young, formerly unknown Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, became perhaps the most influential theologian of the 20th century.  Once more, Romans had done its work.

Have you read the whole letter yet?  Perhaps this last “bite of Romans” can be the one that launches you into that adventure.  And if you end up with questions, or would just like to discuss what you encounter along the way, I’d be most glad to hear from you … as my days become more open in weeks ahead!

Heavenly Father, so many things compete for my time and attention; so many things seek to squeeze me into their mold.  Help me — as one justified by grace through faith — always first to listen for your voice, your direction, your transforming and renewing of my mind, that all that I do may be pleasing in your sight.  For I pray this in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.


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