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"Don't let the world squeeze you into its mold" -- Romans 12:1, Phillips' New Testament in Modern English
In 1956, a program called "To Tell the Truth" premiered on Amerian television. Through the years, it's been produced off and on and, in between times, always seems to be in sindication. ca On that program three guests claimed to be the same person engaged in some unusual occupation. In actuality, only one of them was engaged in that occupation. The other two guests were impostors. A four-member panel on the show would ask questions of all three guests. After a round of questions, each panelist selected which one of the persons he believed to be the real "flypaper maker" or whatever. The panel rarely reached consensus.
The true identity of the guests -- the one real and the two impostors -- was revealed by the moderator asking, "Will the real (_______) please stand up."
This phrase of identification became a well-known expression in American culture. Even today, the expression will be used to encourage someone to quit pretending and be done with charades. For instance, a person talking with me -- if they began feeling I was less than authentic -- might say, "Will the real Jerry Hull please stand up." Such a confrontation should require me to assess, Am I authentic or inauthentic?
Howard Culbertson invites us to take a careful analysis of ourselves. He rightfully reveals that being a Christian is more than assuming some role. Rather, being Christian means being totally me in Christ.
Christian living is not a special coat or jacket worn only on select occasions and easily removed when the setting is not conducive. Missionary Culbertson announces that being a disciple of Christ includes 100 percent of me for a full 24 hours every day. Howard, thanks for laying it on the line. Thanks, also, for modeling the discipleship you describe.
: -- Jerry Hull
by Howard Culbertson
You can't become an Italian by eating lots of spaghetti. Or even lots of pizza (although an encyclopedia will tell us that Italians do eat a lot of both)!
You won't turn into an Italian by learning to sing "0 Sole Mio" or by driving a Fiat car or by taking three-hour lunch breaks. You won't even turn into an Italian by going insane over soccer (although our encyclopedias tell us that Italians do all of these things).
In the same way you will never turn into a Christian by deciding you won't smoke, drink, chew, or go with the girls that do (although mature Christians can certainly assure us that these things are not part of a saintly life-style).
Being an Italian -- or being a Christian -- is not something you do (or don't do). It is you, or it is not at all.
During the ten years we spent in Italy, we had frequent contact with tourists, particularly American ones. Some of the more brash would sweep in and, after two or three days, be instant experts on the Italians. (I'm still undecided as to whether I should laugh or cry over their superficial snobbery.)
Certainly, the typical Italian is different in lots of ways from the typical American. However, those differences run far deeper than the "quaint" things a tourist would see in two days. A person's nationality is determined by far more than his or her passport. To be Italian means sharing the worldview of other Italians. It means basing our thinking on certain presuppositions. It means our priorities and values approximate those of other Italians. It is out of this that flow the more obvious things such as social behavior, diet, dress, and language. [ explanatory graphic ]
Encyclopedia writers outline a people and their culture in bite-sized pieces. But this should not obscure the fact that one's nationality affects his total person. One is not an Italian because he eats a lot of spaghetti. But because he is an Italian, he eats a lot of spaghetti.
Being a Christian is a bit like our nationality. We are called to let the Lordship of Jesus Christ reign in our entire beings. That means much more than being active in church. It means being different -- different from the world and what we once were. We have become, by choice, citizens of the kingdom of God. Thus we find ourselves sharing with other Christians a bunch of basic principles and motivations which determine direction, and life-style.
Let's not try to seal our spiritual selves into vacuum-packed bags. In a sense, we have taken on a new nationality -- one which affects the total us 24 hours a day.
Now, it is true that I don't lie, steal, or involve myself in sexual immorality. But that's not because I made a New Year's resolution not to lie, and a separate one not to steal, and still another to be chaste. Rather, I've let Kingdom power invade my whole life. My worldview -- the way I look at and evaluate the world -- is Christian. I've asked the Holy Spirit to shape my presuppositions and priorities and values. My honesty, integrity, and cleanness in specific situations are only the result of this new "nationality."
Young Christians sometimes get hot under the collar at specific ethical guidance. And it probably does need to be clear that Christianity is more than mere wooden conformity to a long list of rules. However, because I have changed "nationalities," my life-style will be different from those outside the Kingdom. And that will include the way I dress, my language, and even what I eat and drink. G.I.G.O. -- letters used by early computer geeks when programming errors crept in -- may once have been "garbage-in-garbage out" for me. Those letters can also stand for "godly-in-godly-out."
The word ecosystem is relatively new. In fact, it's not even in an older dictsionary on my shelf. Ecosystem is used today to describe a given area and the relationship among all the living and nonliving things in that environment. In describing a particular ecosystem, emphasis must be placed on the contribution that each thing -- living or nonliving -- makes to the system. There is a completeness, a wholeness, to an ecosystem.
The emergence of the ecosystem concept has helped highlight the complex problems that pollution can cause. External pollution entering a balanced ecosystem will often start a destructive chain reaction. Eventually, the whole system may collapse. Recognizing the inter-dependency that exists in nature reminds us of our responsibility to be stewards -- rather than exploiters -- of God's creation.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus the Messiah never used an "ecosystem" for a parable. At least, no example is recorded in the New Testament. But Jesus did often stress the wholeness of man. He pointed out the interdependence connecting our thoughts, our motives, and our actions. For examples of this kind of teaching, take a look at Mark 7 and the last few verses of Mark 9.
For an ecology-conscious world, an ecosystem can be an excellent illustration of spiritual truth. When I describe myself, I can talk about all the different facets of my life. These could include church, hobbies, family life, work, play, sports, music, school, and extracurricular activities. Many of these seem totally unrelated. Yet, in my life they are all knit together into the tight bundle that is me. What I do with my body, my thought patterns and daydreams, my social behavior, and my performance at school or on the job are all interrelated. Inconsistencies, sloppy ethics, and questionable moral decisions in one area will spill their polluting effects over into the entire me.
Take, for example, cheating in school. If I give in to that temptation, I've more to fear than just the punishment by school officials if they catch me.
And on and on the list could go of ways in which one ethical decision can affect many areas of the total me. Obviously then, a wrong ethical decision is more than a bothersome pimple on otherwise unblemished skin. It is more like a cancer deep within.
Ecologists warn us against compartmentalizing. Saying, "It won't matter" is a superficial and often dangerous justification. When it comes to the environment, long-range consequences must always be investigated and weighed. In fact, many large construction projects today can proceed only after a costly "environmental impact statement" has been issued. The purpose of these environmental impact studies is to make federal agencies consider the possible long-term effects on the environment that might result from a project under their jurisdiction.
Maybe we, too, need to occasionally work on some environmental impact statements; especially when it comes to life's key decisions: career, choice of partner, use of leisure time, and the way I spend my energy and money. These decisions need to be approached in the light of the possible long-term consequences on the total me.
All this sounds good, huh? Good . . . but difficult to put into practice? In fact, if we know ourselves as we really are, we may be tempted to think that the radical demands of Jesus exceed our capabilities.
Fortunately, we are not faced with only His demands. God's Word gives us the "how" as well as the "what." Romans 12:1 says it this way: believers are to offer their bodies, or their total selves, as "living sacrifices" to God (NIV). Thus, it becomes clear that the Lord God is not merely demanding something from me. He wants the total me.
Students of Latin will recall (won't you?) that the root of sacrifice means "to make holy." So it is that in absolute abandonment to God our whole bodily existence can become holy. Theologians within my tradition call this crisis moment of abandonment "entire sanctification."
We're not talking about starting to attend prayer meeting. Nor do we mean beginning to read our Bible on a regular basis. We're not talking about learning to pray effectively. Rather, we mean committing our entire earthly existence to doing God's will. That will include all of the above. But it is also much more; it is wholeness in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The phrase "living sacrifice" would have been pregnant with meaning for first-century believers. For both Jewish and pagan worshipers of that day, relationship with God meant offering sacrifices. Cain and Abel were the first ones to offer such sacrifices. The Old Testament goes into very specific detail on the divinely ordered sacrifices. The sin offering always came first. Then, and only then, could other offerings be made. These included the burnt offering, emphasizing consecration, and other sacrifices, expressing fellowship and thanksgiving.
The author of Romans, Paul, had been trained in the best Jewish schools of his day. "A Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee" is how he once described himself (Acts 23:6, NIV). That would be like saying he was more American than the flag, motherhood, and apple pie. Paul was an observant Jew. Therefore, the words "offer your bodies as living sacrifices" were much more than parts of a well-formed phrase.
It's possible that Paul was making an intentional parallel with the burnt offering. There are similarities in both the totality of the offering required and in their being offered only after a sin offering had been made.
In other kinds of Jewish sacrifices, various parts of the sacrifice would be eaten by the priests or even by the offerer himself. Only a portion of the sacrifice was actually consumed on the altar. The burnt offering was different. Here the entire animal was consumed by the altar fire as a sign of complete consecration. All of the offering ascended to God for a "pleasing aroma" (Exodus 29:18, NIV), as opposed to the stinging smoke which an incomplete consecration would make.
These burnt sacrifices were offered in the Temple twice daily. On the Sabbath they were doubled, and an extra large burnt sacrifice was offered once a month. Furthermore, it was the fat from the burnt offerings which kept the altar fire burning around the clock. So, in a sense, the burnt offering never ceased.
Knowing all this has made Romans 12:1 a lot clearer to me. The consecration signified by the burnt offering could only be made by someone who had taken care of his sins through the sin offering. So it is here. Paul is not talking about our conversion, about being saved. Here he appeals to the Christian to offer himself in complete consecration. We are not free to keep back part of ourselves to enjoy as we wish. Rather, following our conversion (our sin offering), God expects us to offer our bodies; that is, our total selves, to Him (our burnt offering).
What happens then? Well, on the day the Hebrew priests were consecrated in the Sinai, divine fire fell on the Tabernacle altar and consumed the burnt offering (Leviticus 9:24). At the dedication of Solomon's Temple, divine fire fell and consumed the burnt offering (2 Chronicles 7:1). There is a "Pentecostal fire" that will fall on us. Our total self -- social relationships, sexuality, intellect, career -- was once polarized, twisted, and even warped by sin. This total me is now to be consumed by the fire of the Holy Spirit. A genuine "living sacrifice" will be totally enveloped by God's sanctifying fire. But all must go on that altar: priorities, values, relationships dreams. Only then can all be transformed and purified. [ more on entire sanctification ]
Let's use our work as an illustration. It's possible that some of us may even hate our job. However, there is a paycheck coming. So we force ourselves to put in the hours at McDonald's (or wherever). While on the job we do try to please the boss, or at least keep him from yelling too loudly. We may find ourselves forced to adopt certain work patterns we do not like. But come quitting time, we punch that time clock. And we're free! Our boss no longer controls us.
Satan will tempt us to live our Christianity like that. But it can't be done. If we try it, we can rightly be labeled a "hypocrite." For being a citizen of the kingdom of God is more than trying to satisfy a "spiritual boss" by putting in time in Sunday School, in midweek prayer meeting, and even in daily devotions. True, there is a "paycheck" coming someday. But not because we've put in the right number of hours.
A "living sacrifice" means recognizing that God should rule over our entire life. That's not to say we should turn into "Howie Halo" or "Shelly Sanctimonious." But it does mean being holistic. That's not having holes in our head. It's simply seeing ourselves as a whole, rather than separate bits and pieces.
Don't ask God where His time clock is. The Christian life isn't a job. It's a world view and a life-style. However, it will be frustratingly impossible to live unless we've taken the step of Romans 12:1 and offered our total selves as "living sacrifices."
The New Testament talks some about fruit bearing. Jesus mentioned the vine and the branches (John 15). Paul listed the "fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23).
I did not grow up on a farm. But I did take enough biology in school to learn that a tree doesn't bear apples one year and lemons the next. 4-Hers cannot con me into believing that if a lemon tree gets less sun than normal, it will produce apples. Or, that if it gets too much water, we'll be harvesting bananas.
A lemon tree produces lemons because it's a lemon tree. It's every inch a lemon tree -- not just the fruit itself. Our spiritual fruit ought to reflect the fact that we're every inch a Christian. Certainly, external conditions may affect somewhat the quality of that fruit, but not the type!
An orchard farmer's goal is not to have trees free of worms, blight, and disease (although he does work on that, too). His goal is to produce healthy fruit and lots of it. Similarly, just avoiding all the wrong things is not our goal as Christians. To be sure, some areas are marked off that we ought to stay away from. But as Christians, our ultimate goal is fruit production. When we say no to something, it is so we can produce more and better fruit.
What about us? Do we find ourselves trying to produce both apples and lemons? Being a Christian should not seem strange and uncomfortable. Being a Christian is simply being me in Jesus. It means being the kind of tree that I am. A Spirit-filled "tree" produces the fruit of the Spirit. We are living, decision-making "trees." We have the privilege of each moment committing ourselves as living sacrifices to Him. When we do, He will live His life through us and produce a bumper crop of fruit for His glory.
From Living Out of the Mold, compiled by Jerry Hull, Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City (now called The Fouindry).
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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
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