The Radical Christian Life
Recently, my wife and I were on a crowded subway in Bangkok, Thailand. The four subway cars headed from the Bangkok airport to downtown were packed to the brim. Given how full the subway was, the atmosphere inside of it was impressively calm and subdued; folks were remaining very civil in conversation and at a respectable tone so that others would not be bothered. That all changed at a stop when a couple of young men from what seemed like a country foreign to Thailand, boarded our car and spoke in loud, vulgar language. They spoke in English, but the repeated swear words that emerged from their mouths were universally known. People began to look at each other to see if they too were in a state of shock by the abrasiveness and disrespect that this conversation ignited. It wasn’t just the swearing that was intrusive, but it was the blatant cultural insensitivity that boggled the minds of the fellow travelers. There was a collective sigh of relief when these two exited the car. And of course – on our way back from downtown about two hours later, who happened to come aboard but the same young men.
The behavior exhibited by these two young men stands in stark contrast to the ethic that Paul urges the Christian community to hold to in our passage from Romans 12:1-8. Various versions of scripture title these eight verses differently, from ‘The New Life in Christ’ to ‘The Basis of Christian Ethics’ to ‘Unity, Love and Community Living’, etc. The bottom line is that the Kingdom that Jesus has ushered in is identified by a way of life that stands in stark contrast to this present age, both for the original reader, and for those of us who read it today. Instead of presenting our bodies for self-aggrandizement, Kingdom living urges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. This posture of sacrifice recalls the language of John the Baptist in John 3:30 that speaks of Jesus increasing through our actions and our lives of worship and selfishness decreasing. As we as individuals follow along the Way, the betterment of the whole community takes place. Paul expresses this idea through addressing the community as a whole in his opening appeal in verse 1 and the presentation of all of the individual bodies to God as one living sacrifice. Mumford and Sons sang it well when they mentioned in the song Awake my Soul that “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die, where you invest your love, you invest your life.” Of course in this case, Paul is getting very specific and urging the Romans to invest their bodies in this loving, living sacrifice of worship. Paul doesn’t just refer to the intellectual or spiritual here, but he makes reference to the whole body being presented.
Most theologians agree that the therefore in verse one of our passage is the most crucial in the entire epistle. The therefore is hinged on the mercy and grace of God expressed by Paul in Romans up until this point. The Wesleyan reality of this passage cannot go unnoticed. Because of the prevenient grace expressed through the first eleven chapters of Romans, we therefore respond to that grace through lives of spiritual worship. Because of what God has done through Christ, Paul is therefore urging us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. This living sacrifice is an active one that takes place through each of the members of the body living into the unique gifts and graces that God created them with.
The process of sanctification in the new Kingdom is one that has already been mentioned above as living, and Paul goes on to express this active process by saying we should be progressively transformed by the constant renewing of our minds. The invitation into this sanctified life is one in which we need each other. We can’t go at it alone. Together as the corporate body of Christ, we engage in the ongoing process of renewing our minds on a regular basis. This stands in stark contrast to the lackadaisical church attendance of the Christian community in my current context of the USA. To go back to the Mumford and Sons lyric from above, if we invest our love and therefore our lives in things that are not leading to the constant renewing of our minds, we are being conformed to nothing but the ways of this world. Not to say that Paul is urging us into isolationism. But when the focus of our lives leads us further away from the sanctified life, Paul tells us that we won’t be able to discern what is the will of God, and further what is good and acceptable and perfect. If we place worship at the center, both individually and corporately, we will draw closer to God’s perfect will for our lives.
Paul closes our passage at hand today by reminding us of the reality that each of us is gifted uniquely to live out this life of individual and corporate worship. Again, Paul goes communal and says that we cannot live out this worship by ourselves, but just like a body needs the other parts to function, so we need the gifts and graces of other members in order to function in this life of worship. Paul reminds us that these gifts are not our own, but they are a gift from God. Thus, we have no reason to boast, for out of our boasting we confess that we firstly, don’t need God, and secondly, don’t need each other. Greathouse notes at the end of his commentary on this passage that “ministry must be the corporate task of the entire body of Christ, gifted to serve on his behalf.” Living lives of worship must be our response to God’s grace. And we can’t do that without each other. We need one another, and thus we need the Church where we live out this worship together!
 Greathouse, William M. Romans 9-16: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2008, 135.
 Ibid, 154.