Relational Theology

Relational Theology: Transform to Triumph- Rev. Mark Whitlock Jr.

This is the first of a series of teachings on relational theology. The term "relational theology" is a relatively new one, but the idea is not new. If we have a right relationship to God, we will have a right relationship to the people who are a part of our lives. A right relationship with God leads to a triumphal life. We are the righteousness of God. Righteousness/Justification means right relationship with God. Relationship is a covenant word that specifies an attachment between persons for a common purpose. Justification means being bound to God and one another in mutual commitment. The righteousness of God is, therefore, the inner character of God that relates to people and creation by binding them together in right relationship to one another. Our righteousness is the inner character. To receive God’s blessing to triumph, one must be reckoned righteous, to possess the inner character of God. To be in that way is to have faith. This faith is the gift of God, a work of grace, and also the act by which we respond and relate to the righteous, faithful God who has come and comes to us. God transforms us to have triumphant outcomes. 

Our Relationship to God (Ro 12:1-2). This passage is one of the best known and most loved passages in Romans. Paul deals with what it means to live a justified life. The new life should be a life of worship. The person who receives God’s grace their total life being belongs to God. Such persons live in service to others as a way of pleasing God. The dedication and concentration of the physical, mental, and spiritual will to God are the beginning of intelligent worship. Though believers have a tendency to stress the spirit and neglect the physical, mental and spiritual will side of life, Paul emphasizes the connection between the bodies, minds, and spiritual wills as crucial for worship and a relationship with God. Christian’s dedication involves three practical steps: 

You give God your body (Romans 12: 1). Before we trusted Christ, we used our body for sinful pleasures and purposes, but now that we belong to God, we want to use our body for God’s glory. The Christian's body is God’s temple (1 Co 6:19-20) because the Spirit of God dwells within them (Ro 8:9). It is our privilege to glorify Christ in our body and magnify Christ in our body (Php 1:20-21).

We are the light of the world. People must see God’s light in us. We are called to transform lives darkened by sin, so we must yield our bodies to Christ that God’s light works through us. We must yield the members of the body as "instruments of righteousness" (Ro 6:13) for the Holy Spirit to use in the doing of God's work. The Old Testament sacrifices were perfect unblemished and dead sacrifices, but we are to be living sacrifices. They would sacrifice dead unblemished bullocks, lambs, and birds. God required the best of the first fruits for sacrifice.  

There are two "living sacrifices" in the Bible and they help us understand what this really means. The first is Isaac, the son of Abraham (Genesis 22); the second is our Lord Jesus Christ. Abraham lay his son on the altar to sacrifice. Isaac willingly put himself on the altar and would have died in obedience to God's will, but the Lord sent a ram to take his place. Isaac "died" just the same - he died to self and willingly yielded himself to the will of God. When he got off that altar, Isaac was a "living sacrifice" to the glory of God. We must die to ourselves to live in God in Jesus Christ.

Of course, our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect illustration of a "living sacrifice," because He actually died as a sacrifice, in obedience to His Father's will. But He arose again. And today He is in heaven as a "living sacrifice," bearing in His body the wounds of Calvary. He is our High Priest (Heb 4:14-16) and our Advocate (1 Jn 2:1) before the throne of God. The word “expiation” derives from the practice of animal sacrifice, in which God accepts the sin offering as full payment for sin. Christ’s crucifixion demonstrated God’s righteousness; his death became the expiation for our sin.

The verb “presents!' in this verse means "present once and for all." It commands a definite commitment of the body to the Lord, just as a bride and groom in their wedding service commit themselves to each other. It is this once-for-all commitment that determines what they do with their bodies. Paul gives us two reasons for this commitment: (1) it is the right response to all that God has done for us - "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God" (italics mine); and (2) this commitment is "our reasonable service" or "our spiritual worship." This means that every day is a worship experience when your body is yielded to the Lord.

You give God your mind (Romans 12: 2 a) The world wants to control and use your mind, but God wants to transform your mind (see Eph 4:17-24; Col 3:1-11). Paul calls for the transformation of the mind, because he knows that actions are generated by attitudes. This transformation is not a one-time event but a constant struggle. This word transform is the same as transfigure in Mt 17:2. It has come into our English language as the word "metamorphosis." It describes a change from within. The world wants to change your mind, so it exerts pressure from without. But the Holy Spirit changes your mind by releasing power from within the mind. If the world controls your thinking, you are a conformer, if God controls your thinking, you are a transformer. We are transformers…God’s heroes’ in disguise!

God forgives our sins to transform us. Repentance from sin is a form of transformation. Forgiveness is creative transformation, related to a transformed mind or conversion. We are converted from a life of drugs, alcohol, sexual addiction, promiscuous behavior, over eating, depression, and failure to a life of triumph.

God transforms our minds and makes us spiritually minded by using God’s Word. As you spend time meditating on God's Word, memorizing it, and making it a part of your inner man, God will gradually make your mind more spiritual (see 2 Co 3:18). We recommend meditating twice daily for twenty minute sessions. 

You give God your will (Romans 12: 2 b). Your mind controls your body, and your will controls your mind. Many people think they can control their will by "willpower," but usually they fail. (This was Paul's experience as recorded in Ro 7:15-21). It is only when we yield the will to God that His power can take over and give us the willpower (and the won't power!) that we need to be victorious Christians.

We surrender our wills to God through disciplined prayer. As we spend time in prayer, we surrender our will to God and pray, with the Lord, "Not my will, but Thy will be done." We must pray about everything, and let God have His way in everything.

For many years I have tried to begin each day by surrendering my body to the Lord.

Then I spend time with God’s Word and let Him transform my mind and prepare my thinking for that new day Then I pray, and I yield the plans of the day to Him and let Him work as God sees best in me. I especially pray about those tasks that upset or worry me - and God always sees me through. To have a right relationship with God, we must start the day by yielding to God our bodies, minds, and wills.

Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt Jr. says, “Unlike many scholars and pastors who are skeptical of using Paul’s writings as a resource for political engagement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used the Pauline tradition to preach sermons with profound social implications. For example, his sermon, “The Transformed Nonconformist,” was based on Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Kind recognized the difficulty many of his contemporaries faced when trying to avoid conforming to their surrounding cultures and peers. Christians, though, are called to walk to the beat of a different drum. Though they hold dual citizenship in the worlds of both time and eternity, they owe ultimate loyalty to eternity alone. That eternity is a realm ruled by God in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, then, the call to become a transformed nonconformist comes not only from Paul but from Jesus Christ, “the world’s most dedicated non-conformist” (Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981], 11). King subsequently offered a variety of sayings of Jesus in order to contrast human conformist attitudes and behavior with his teachings. He used scriptures as a descriptive and interpretive tool for explaining the nature of present human difficulties and as a norm for future human behavior. He depicted conformism as a tyrannical force that prevented many sincere people from taking a stand on crucial matters such as racial segregation, the cold war, the evils of capitalism, and other oppressions. Conformists are afraid such prevailing mores because they fear being ostracized.”