I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
A friend of mine once preached a challenging sermon about how God was calling people to be changed by their faith in Jesus and be bolder in their work as Christians in the world. The sermon must have been a powerful one and had an impact. But the impact was not all positive. The music director of the congregation came up to him afterward and accosted him, “Don’t you ever preach a sermon like that again. I have enough stress in my life already. I don’t come here to feel uncomfortable. I come here to be comforted!”
Paul’s letter to Romans provides a challenging picture of Christian faith. Baptism joins us with the death of Jesus. We die with Christ so that we can be renewed in the resurrection life. (Romans 6) It also provides a comforting picture of the Christian faith. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8). So, Paul’s letter lifts up both a comforting image of the faith and a challenging one. You can’t have Romans without having both comfort and challenge. We may want only the one, but the gospel brings both. It is life-giving and life changing.
Part of what faith does is a paradox. We are loved and affirmed as children of God, exactly as we are. Grace and forgiveness and new life come as a gift. Our faith tells us this. But we are also challenged and even prodded by the Spirit to not stay where we are but also set free to risk becoming the people God created us to be – far more than we are yet. Our faith tells us this as well.
The gifts of grace are to be used to shape us and guide us in God’s ways. Transformation is the expectation – not just an optional bonus. You are loved exactly as you are. But God loves you too much to leave you exactly as you are, too.