The Battleground: the Body, the Mind

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.          Romans 12:1-2


In “The Silence of Dean Maitland,” the author tells how the dean fell into sin and then committed one sin after another to cover up his first sin; and worst of all permitted an innocent man to be punished and imprisoned in his stead. All kinds of disasters broke over him. He lost his wife and children; his home became a wilderness; yet he would not repent.  He said, “I cannot, I will not, I dare not, I must not, repent.”  But at length, the man, who had spent a great part of his life in prison for the other’s crime, wrote him a letter telling him of his forgiveness. It was that letter that broke his heart and brought him to repentance. “God called to me,” he said, “through many years, by many judgments; but I repented not – until I was forgiven.”           McCartney

In Romans 12, St Paul begins his last major division of the Book of Romans.  In Chapters 1-3, he reveals how whether with God’s law or without it, we cannot escape being condemned.  We are utterly helpless, God’s grace is absolutely necessary if anyone is to be saved.  The Good News is that His free gift in Jesus, to anyone who will submit to God’s way, is to be given an absolutely clean history with God.

In Chapters 4-8, he wrestles with what that means as we consider what life is to be like with this precious gift from God.  As we begin to realize its depth of meaning, attitudes are changed and a different path of life has been opened to us.  In God’s wisdom we are not made perfect yet, but chapter 8 explodes with the statement: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who turn away from living according to the flesh, but who seek to please the Spirit.”  From that point on the chapter rejoices in what God has put in place for our encouragement and our future,.

Chapters 9-11 remind us that we are superior to no one, but for Jew and non-Jew alike, we stand entirely under the gracious mercy of God,

Now Paul turns his attention to how we are to live in this world.  He reminds us that our bodies and minds are to express a great difference to the rest of the world – and in reality these will be the battleground of daily life.

To begin with, the body is to be “a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God.”  Modern science has revealed how much the body becomes a focal point of what happens in our lives.  Often the preciousness of this gift from God is ignored; abused by lack of sleep, improper diet, and much more.  But most of all, it becomes the depository of many feelings and reactions which the body was never intended to store up.

We internalize, locking up resentments and anger, reactions to things people did or didn’t do to us, sometimes accumulating little offenses, but also brutal experiences, loathsome actions, the hateful insults, and other ways in which we have been hurt deeply.   We hide our guilts and yet struggle with growing depression and frustration within ourselves.  Inner tensions break through, we are afraid of confrontation, especially confrontation with ourselves because we know we have no answers; so we run away into any of the multitude of addictions for which we are vulnerable.  Grief saps the energy out of us as we dwell on the emptiness left behind.  Worry changes the chemistry of the body, and we begin to worry about worrying as we spiral out of control.

Often the saying “Eat your heart out” is used in regard to jealousy, but all of these things can destroy our physical hearts and leave an empty hole where our emotional hearts are. Our bodies were never intended to carry such burdens around and they cause such internal destruction, physically and mentally.

So then how can we “present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service”?  The situation becomes like a father who was coaching his son in tennis:

He tossed the ball, swung his racket, and pitched his first serve neatly into the net.
“You’re hitting it into the net,”  I called.
He shifted his stance, took another grip, and tried again.  Same thing.
“It’s going into the net,” I told him again.
He glared, and made another try.
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“Look,” he told me.  “I can see that it’s going into the net as well as you can.  You don’t need to sound like a broken record about it!  Tell me what I can do to keep it from going into the net!
Henry L. Jordan, *Toastmaster*, quoted in Speakers Book of Illustrative Stories (Maxwell Droke):  Droke House, Indianapolis  (1956), 206

It is easy to say that we should control our resentments and anger; our guilts, depression, and frustration; our grief and worry.  It’s easy to say “Don’t worry!” but as one person replied, “How do you ‘don’t’???”

Some of the fast and easy solutions the world gives us is that we “look within,” trying to convince us that we have the strength in ourselves.  That is appealing because we don’t want to depend on anyone else.  We will take care of it ourselves.  This is desirable, because we struggle first of all to not expose anything which is unpleasant to us, which we desperately fear will be utterly rejected by others.  Therefore we try half measures which only fail and even sometimes draw attention to the very thing of which we are ashamed.

Like the boy playing tennis, “looking within” is just not enough.  Yet, it frustratingly may seem that Paul is doing the same thing when he says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”  Many have tried to change and yet only seem to fall deeper and deeper into clutches of these destructive powers.

However, elsewhere Paul tells us that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and now we begin to get a solution: yes, the answer is within, but not in our human nature, but with the Creator Lord Who has chosen to make His home within us.  We are to depend on His strength.  But how do we know what that strength is?  Well, it is obvious and yet hard to really recognize.  The strength is simply forgiveness, but is a forgiveness which must deal with a true repentance or else it is nothing.  This is not a repentance which must necessarily be loud, or highly emotional, or anything which demands a great show.

The difference here with merely “looking within” is found in that story I opened with.  The man had said, “I cannot, I will not, I dare not, I must not, repent.”  He just could not bear to look at what he had done.  Yet it was a letter from the man wrongly condemned which changed the course of his life – it was the most meaningful letter he could even have received which gave him the freedom to say, “God called to me through many years, by many judgments; but I repented not – until I was forgiven.”

We also have received an extraordinary letter from the heart and mind of the One Who suffered unjustly for our sakes.  No, the letter was not to belittle us nor to condemn us.  The letter was to let us know how much He not only was prepared to forgive, but also to let us know that every possible thing was made ready so that that forgiveness could be given as we approach Him in repentance.

This is the kind of repentance which brings out before the Lord, perhaps cautiously, all which was well hidden all along.  Give yourself 15 minutes of prayer each day, to look at everything even which we fear being exposed, facing the unpleasant mental and physical consequences which have resulted from these hidden problems.  It is to without reservation examine everything in the presence of the Lord.

But not in fear!  That’s what the letter of forgiveness, the Bible, is ultimately about – that everything we bring before the Lord: the resentment, anger, and all the rest, are absolutely forgiven.  There is no tension, no dread.  God isn’t afraid of negative feelings, thoughts or actions – He knows you have them – He’s not going to be shocked or horrified.  What a wonderful way to be permanently rid of all these things which have been stored in our bodies: as we pour out resentment – it burns off; as we pour out anger and its desire to hit back – it dissipates; our depressions, frustration, grief, and worry begin to fade away.  But only as we uncover everything and fully expect that we are doing this within an atmosphere where forgiveness will never be withheld.

Because we need such physical demonstrations of God’s love to remind us of what surrounds us, here in Holy Communion is no mere letter of forgiveness but rather the very presence of the One Who was wrongly condemned and still comes to declare to you and me the absolute full forgiveness of God, the forgiveness which throws the things which you lay before Him behind His back and remembers them no more.

And if He deliberately remembers them no more, then why should we waste any more time, any more energy, any more of our lives, any more of our bodies, any more of our minds for that which no longer exists?  After all, when you are all finished and finally surface again and look around you – you’ll find that God and His love are still here – He has weathered the storm; He has absorbed all the junk you had collected inside and it didn’t faze Him a bit.  Yes that is just how much God does love you.

And then He surrounds you with other forgiven people so that you may be strengthened and comforted by knowing just how much you are not alone, sets into a relationship built on a bridge of forgiveness and love, where you and all the others can enrich our lives without the anger, resentment and all the rest.  That’s the real worship St Paul talks about – present your bodies – not as towers of anger, storehouses of resentment but as living sacrifices, HOLY and ACCEPTABLE to God.

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