When I was in high school, I became pretty heavily involved in Young Life, a parachurch youth ministry. Things weren’t really happening at the Episcopal Church of my upbringing (a well rehearsed trope, to be sure), so I chose instead to hang out with the hundred or so kids who showed up on Wednesday nights for Club. A smaller number of us, maybe 12-15, would take part in a Friday morning Bible study, which also had a name, but I can’t remember it all these years later. A part of the mission of that smaller group was to be leaders in our school, and to be the model for Christian discipleship among our peers. One of the key pieces of that discipleship was Bible memorization.
I suck at Bible memorization.
Dutifully, however, I went down to our local Bible book store and bought this exact set of Bible memorization flash cards, red plastic pouch and everything.
I should have known, given my inability to memorize the multiplication tables and my spelling lists, that Bible flash cards weren’t going to do any good, but I bought them, and then proceeded to feel guilty when I failed to memorize a verse a week. One of the few that I did manage to set deep in the recesses of my mind was the opening two verses of Romans 12 that are appointed in Sunday’s lectionary. Of course, I didn’t yet know of the gloriousness that is the NRSV, so my version of choice was the NIV.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform 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.
Having successfully memorized it, and not yet knowing was exegesis was, I really had no idea what Paul was calling for in this admonition. A living sacrifice? Be transformed by the renewing of your mind? God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will? It sounds like the stuff of discipleship, to be sure, but like memorizing Bible verses, it can just be fluff-n-stuff, unless there is some real intention, some real meat behind it. To be a living sacrifice for God doesn’t just mean memorizing Bible verses, but getting down and dirty in bringing the Kingdom to earth. The fact of the matter is that most of us, myself very much included, would like to follow Jesus in the easiest way possible. We don’t necessarily like to take risks, but sometimes God calls us to become living sacrifices for the greater good. Standing up for justice, reaching out in care and love, doing the right thing when you know that the wider culture will punish you for it: these are the living sacrifices that disciples make everyday, whether they’ve memorized Romans 12:1-2 or not.