The Methodist Covenant
Theocentric or Egocentric?
Two weeks ago we looked at some verses from one of Paul’s prison epistles,
Today we had 2 verses from one of his epistles where he expounds his ‘gospel’, Romans, which encapsulate the meaning of the Covenant Service and the renewal of Baptism vows
‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God— this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ Rom 12 v 1 - 2
Martin Luther described the Book of Romans as the "most important piece in
the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while
not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it
daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul".
In 1738, while reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, John Wesley famously felt his heart "strangely warmed", a conversion experience which is often seen as the beginning of Methodism.
The Book of Romans is clearly a hugely significant book of the bible. In the words of the more modern scholar Tom Wright, the Book of Romans is "neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul's lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece…”
And in this immensely important letter of Paul, Chapter 12 is a turning point in the whole epistle; marked by the fact Paul starts this section with the word ‘therefore’
So to understand what follows the therefore we need to understand what’s gone before. What’s gone before is Paul’s summary of the Christian message of salvation – that faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only grounds of acceptance by God – a God who treats all alike, Jews and Gentiles.
Through Jesus, God offers us forgiveness and a new life. An opportunity to make a fresh start with the power of God at our disposal, His love and forgiveness spurring us on to live up to our new calling.
If we accept the fact that faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only grounds of acceptance by God then there are two key implications according to Paul
The first is that if out of sheer love, and at great cost, God has saved His people’s lives we should then offer them back to Him so that He can continue to transform and renew them.
Obedience to God is our natural response for what He has done for us; our motivation is gratitude for God’s goodness in Christ
In theological terms, we leave the world of egocentricity behind and enter the world of theocentricity.
We are no longer at the centre of our lives, purely motivated by the desire for self aggrandisement and superiority. God Himself is at the centre of our lives and our Christian actions are non other than the outworking of the grace of God in our lives.
It’s almost as if we are not in control. It’s perhaps more like we’re just letting God be with our lives and doing with us as He desires; the only credit we take is allowing Him sufficient control so that we don’t get in the way with our own selfish desires and motivations. We offer ourselves afresh to God as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him.
This is what is described as our ‘spiritual act of worship’, or our ‘logical service. The Greek adjective is derived from a word that can either mean ‘reason’ or ‘word’ and hence ‘understanding’ is sometimes used to translate this phrase. It’s our natural, logical response to a God who has shown us His love.
However it gets translated in the various version of the bible, it is clear that to Paul it is in offering ourselves to God (repeatedly) we are truly worshipping Him
Without obedience to God in our lives on a Monday and the rest of the week worship on a Sunday becomes empty and largely meaningless, merely ‘cultic’
The second implication for Paul is that if we accept what God has done for us, as we offer our live back to him so there is an impact on how we think and behave as we no longer conform to the world but are transformed by the renewing of our mind
As we respond to the touch of God in our lives our perspective on life changes
It’s not a question of slavishly and unthinkingly being obedient to God. As we respond to Him, we allow ourselves to be transformed so that our desires and God’s desires are increasingly aligned. Following God’s precepts is not a chore, its something we actively want to do.
We become theocentric and not egocentric as our hearts, minds, lives and relationships are reshaped by God’s Holy Spirit
And as it is, it becomes easier not to be subsumed in the values and ideals of the world around us
As we renew our Covenant and Baptism vows we are living out the call that Paul issues in Romans. We are offering ourselves to God, renouncing the things that separate us from Him and each other.
We’re offering to be used in His service
But if we’re serious about our words and actions of today, then we should expect our perspective on life to continually change as our minds are transformed and renewed. It’s a sign of our transformation.
It’s a continual process, and through it we grow. We should expect our minds and faith to be challenged as we live out our lives in a society that, by and large, does not conform to the will of God.
It’s a sign that we are continually being renewed and that our faith has not stopped developing. It’s in being challenged that we are able to wrestle with God’s knowing what He wants for our lives and the world.
It’s by testing that we will come to know what God’s will is for us in our lives, and in that context it becomes one of our Christian responsibilities
As we say the words of renewal a few minutes later in our service, implicit in them is the requirement and responsibilities to explore what it is that God wants us to do, what He has in store for us, in the year ahead until we meet again to renew our vows
To be truly theocentric not just egocentric