Romans 12:11-12 —
11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Ephesians 4:17-24 —
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20But that is not the way you learned Christ! – 21assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Greetings, readers! Walking through Romans 12 has been an eye-opener for me, and it continues to challenge me the farther we walk through it.
We are continuing today in the characteristics of Christ’s Church found in Romans 12:9-21, and I want to remind you of the way we framed these characteristics in last week’s devotion: a wellness check with the Great Physician.
It is rare for me to submit to a doctor’s visit, and this means that those visits nearly always show me things that I need to get back on track when I leave that office.
My prayer for you is that these characteristics create an opportunity for you to sit down with Jesus and talk about your life and your walk with Him. I pray that God works on you through reading this like He did on me in writing it.
Before we dive into today’s characteristics, I want you to check out the Ephesians 4 passage above for context.
First, if we are saved, there needs to be a distinct difference in our lives in that we “no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17). In our lostness – spiritual death – our thinking was futile or worthless, our understanding was darkened by ignorance, and that produced a “hardness of heart” (4:18). So, when Christ saves us, we need Him to give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) and transform/renew our minds (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23).
Second, we see that the battlefield for change in our lives is inside us. We see that we need: 1) to look back at how we learned about Christ to return to that way of thinking, and 2) to see that we are to continue taking off the old self by putting on the new self in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit inside of us will not abide with our former way of life! He has a plan for us that begins on the inside with the Life and overflows into our everyday lives!
How we think affects how we live. Faith is – at its most basic – in the mind and heart. And that is where our actions begin. Let this impact our understanding of our service of the Lord in today’s characteristics.
Look back at verse 11: “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in [the Spirit], serve the Lord.” The first two take place in one’s heart and mind to produce the third. Let me translate it a bit differently and put it in our everyday language: Do not be lazy (but instead be eager) in your beliefs/convictions, be bubbling over with the Holy Spirit, and let those things lead you as a bondservant of Jesus Christ.
Zeal here is our passions, beliefs, and convictions. We all have things that inspire that in our lives. The things we believe and feel strongly about often go to the core of who we are. Yet, since we still live in our sinful flesh in a fallen world, it is easy to fall back into futile thinking. My pastor, John Goldwater, describes this as our minds getting hijacked. Just like someone who would forcibly and violently take control of something, we allow our former way of thinking to grab the reins of our minds. “But that is not the way you learned Christ (Ephesians 4:20)!” We must guard our minds and hearts! The only way to keep from being hijacked is to guard our minds and hearts with the Word of God (Psalm 119:9).
Our beliefs – our zeal – should be inspired by our time in God’s Word and in prayer. Yet this is the area that I believe most Christians are “slothful”. We have opportunity for intimacy with God in His Word like never before in history, but we allow more distractions from that pursuit than ever before. Our spiritual lives are like our gym memberships – they look good on paper but do not work if we do not show up and exercise. We have to get up off of the couch and have God’s Word run through us daily so that we are zealous for the right things.
Next, is to be “fervent in spirit”. This word “fervent” literally means to bubble or boil over. This is the word to describe what happens when something is cooking on the stove and the heat makes the liquid literally boil up over the edge and out of the pot. The Holy Spirit is convicting you – firing you up – through the reading of God’s Word (if you are not in God’s Word, that is why you have no fire), and that belief should be boiling over into your life. You will not be able to contain it! What is inside of you will ultimately be what comes out, or at least that is what Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance (overflow) of the heart the mouth speaks.” If we are loving and pursuing the Lord, it will be abundantly evident in what we talk about or post to social media (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
All of that should result in service of the Lord instead of service to self or someone else. This has really worked me over and caused me to look at who I serve – God, man, or myself.
For our next characteristic, let us look back at verse 12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” I feel that this characteristic flows out of the service of God from verse 11. Let me translate this for you: Be glad you have hope in Christ, have faith in Him through your troubles/sufferings/persecutions, endure through prayer.
Praise God that we have a hope and a future in Christ. If He has saved us, that means that we have trusted Him alone by grace through faith and have been made alive in Him (Ephesians 2:4-8). The hope we have in Christ is worth rejoicing over because it will “not put us to shame” because He has already won the victory (Romans 5:1-5)!
Hope in Him will sustain us through any suffering. That’s good news because there is suffering ahead. Paul lays this out clearly in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted….” Jesus suffered and was persecuted, and we will endure the same because of Him (John 15:20). Following Jesus has a cost, and Jesus Himself warned us to count it and consider it when deciding to follow Him (Luke 14:25-33). But, hear me out, it is worth whatever suffering. He is worth it all.
So, how do we rejoice in our hope in Him during the sufferings we will have to endure? How can we feel close to Him during times where we will feel so far apart? We need to “be constant in prayer”. You cannot feel close to God if you are not close to Him. There are countless stories of people being martyred for their faith (Foxes Book of Martyrs, DC Talk’s Jesus Freaks books, etc.) that show people in times darker than I hope you have to endure who were closer to Jesus in their suffering than we are in our pews.
Think about Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael. They were ripped from their homes. They were castrated. Their godly names were taken away and given names of idols. They were slaves. The powers-that-be tried to hijack their minds. And literally everyone around them was hijacked – every, single, other person they knew. What protected them? What made them different? All throughout Daniel 1-6, they are shown to be praying – it was their custom. They were constant in prayer on the random Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays when nothing was going on. They talked with the Lord everyday because they had a relationship with Him. Their everyday faith was already in place when the extraordinary days happened.
Hear me on this: if your faith is not necessary to get through a random, mundane Monday, it will not stand when persecution comes. So, how can we prepare? What diet and exercise regimen do we need for spiritual health? It is simple:
- Spend time in God’s Word daily
- Spend time talking to Him daily; if you do not know how, Jesus teaches you in Matthew 6:5-15.
- Let the beliefs and convictions you find in reading the Word and praying lead you to serve Him.
This week’s devotion has weighed heavily on me and convicted me. I pray that God will grant me repentance in these areas and for you to have the same as well.