Daily Office Readings – NT ( Romans 12:1-8 )
The first few verses in this passage in Romans are often cited when people want to encourage others to focus on the good things, and to avoid the bad. In my experience, churches that focus on holiness tend to emphasize this passage, and, often, include the concept of being “in the world, but not of it.” That exact phrasing, of being in the world but not of it, isn’t actually in scripture, but is pieced together from various scriptures that refer to Christians being not of this world, and scriptures that tell believers not to love the things of this world.
Both of these concepts are good. The fact that we have been sanctified by Christ’s work on the cross makes us citizens in the kingdom of God, and by avoiding the trappings of this world, we can focus our minds on the things of God, which will both be our spiritual act of worship, but also allow us to discern God’s will more clearly.
But often, the tendency that I see with these passages is for people to avoid doing anything that might remotely cause them to start enjoying the “worldly” things. Instead of judging a movie by it’s merit, people just avoid all R-rated movies altogether. Or, instead of allowing children to wear halloween costumes, parents take their kids to “harvest festivals.” A whole slew of rules emerge that suddenly become things that “good Christians” don’t partake in, things that remove us from participating in the festivities of this world.
Moreover, once this idea of being “in the world, but not of it” has taken hold, people begin to develop this mentality of “us” vs “them,” with anyone who doesn’t believe as they do becoming one of “them.” I’m not talking about about “Christians” vs “non-Christians,” but instead about “those of us who are holy” vs “those who are worldly;” those who are “good Christians” vs those who are “conforming to this world.”
I think this is exactly why Paul coupled this talk of being holy with the imperative to remain humble, to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to. Everyone, Paul tells us, has a part in God’s kingdom, and everyone has a purpose. Some have gifts that help to lead, others gifts that help to cheer others up, while still others can teach and minister.
There should be no “us” vs “them.”
Paul seems to emphasize this point when he says that we are one body in Christ, and that individually we are members one of the other. What that means is that what affects one of us affects all of us, and that we cannot – or should not – consider ourselves better than anyone else, individually or as a group.
But we do. And we will continue to do so, especially in groups.
Which returns us to the concept at the beginning of the passage. If we focus on renewing our minds, then we can discern the will of God for ourselves. And hopefully, by retaining a sense of humility, people will seek to emulate us because they see something in us that is not found in this world. Especially people who are not believers. But that can never happen if we attempt to remove ourselves from the world.
We must focus on discerning God’s will by focusing on God, but we must not allow ourselves to remove ourselves from the world because we might become tainted by it.
Our job is not to keep ourselves pure by removing all temptations from our lives. Our job is to make Christ known to the world. And so if we start to think that we are “in this world,” but somehow not “of it,” then we are missing the point that we, just like Christ, were sent into the world in order that people might see God.