Note: This is Post # 2 in the series titled “The Transformed Life” based on Romans 12. Please click here for previous posts: POST # 1.
After calling believers to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice as a result of receiving God’s mercies in Romans 12:1 [see HERE], Paul moves on to command them to offer their minds as well in Romans 12:2, “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.”
If the mind is not yielded to God, the body which does what the mind desires to do, cannot be offered as a holy and pleasing sacrifice to God! That’s why Paul calls believers to offer their minds to Christ if they seek true transformation. In the medical world, doctors say “You are what you eat.” In the same way, in the spiritual world, the Bible says “You are what you think.” So, Paul addresses the mind which is the source of all our thinking and says there needs to be an ongoing renewal of it for the body to be offered as a pleasing sacrifice.
This verse, in essence, can be broken down into 3 parts: 2 commands followed by the consequence of obeying these commands. Command #1 focuses on the negative, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” It focuses on “What we should not do.” Command #2 focuses on the positive, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It focuses on “What we should do.” And finally the consequence of obeying these 2 commands, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Let’s see each of these parts closely.
Command # 1. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”
The word “conform” comes from a word that was used to describe something to be conformed or patterned after a mold. Sort of like cookie dough, when poured into a tray with different shaped holes, will make cookies like the shape of the hole it was poured into. The hole in the mold or in the cookie tray controls the shape of the end product. In the same way, if we let the world control us, we will end up living what the world tells us—that’s Paul’s point. One paraphrase by a man named J.B. Phillips rendered this phrase in this manner: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into it’s own mold.”
The Bible describes at least 4 reasons as to why we cannot conform to the world.
Reason #1. We cannot conform to the world because: Fundamentally we don’t belong to this world as a result of our conversion.
Jesus in his prayer to the Father in John 17:16 said these words, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” So, we have to resist the pressure to conform to this world because we don’t belong to this world.
Reason #2. We cannot conform to the world because: Satan is the god of this world.
2 Corinthians 4:4 describes Satan as the “god of this age” [or world]. Jesus called Satan the “prince of this world” in John 14:30. 1 John 5:19 declares that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” So, if we conform to the patterns of this world, we are essentially living as if we are still under Satan’s control and as though we have not been set free from his power.
Reason #3. We cannot conform to the world because: This world is passing away.
1 John 2:17 says that “the world and it’s desires are passing away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” And that is why John earlier in v. 15 gave this command, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” If we are those who exhibit a lifestyle of conformity to the world, then we don’t truly love the Father. This means we are not truly saved and we will perish along with the people of the world.
Reason #4. We cannot conform to the world because: There is a loss of testimony.
Jesus calls us to be his witnesses since we are “the light of the world” [Matt 5:14]. If we live like the world, then there is no light to share. And this defeats the purpose for which God has left us amidst this dark world.
So, you see through these 4 reasons why Paul is stressing that if we are to be living sacrifices, we should continually resist the pressure to conform to the world. But that alone is not enough. We also need to say “Yes” to God who works to transform our minds which is the 2nd command in this verse. Real and lasting change occurs only when the minds are transformed.
Command # 2. “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Transformation by the renewing of the mind is not something that we can bring about by our own efforts. It is something that is done to us by the Holy Spirit even though there is no reference to the Holy Spirit in this verse. This truth will become evident as we look at the two words, “transformed” and “renewing” more closely.
Transformed. It is the word from which we get the English word, metamorphosis. It is used to describe the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, or a toad becomes a frog. It has the idea of changing one’s form. It occurs 2 other times in the New Testament.
The first occurrence is found in Matthew 17:2 where this word is used to describe the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration.
The second occurrence is in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where we read, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Here we find a description of the Holy Spirit progressively changing believers to become more like Christ as believers keep thinking more about the glory of Christ.
Renewing. This word occurs only one other time in the New Testament and is found in Titus 3:5 “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Notice who causes the rebirth and the renewal? It is the Holy Spirit.
So, we see how the Holy Spirit does both the renewing and transforming work. And given the language structure of 12:2 where this transforming and renewing of the mind is in the passive sense, we can safely conclude that it is the Holy Spirit alone who can bring about change in our thoughts and eventually our actions.
So, Paul is calling believers to yield to the Holy Spirit’s work of transforming our minds. Now, it’s important to understand though it is the Holy Spirit who does the transforming work, we are called to do our part of submitting to him as well. We must allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds. He will not transform us against our will. There is a human responsibility involved here as well.
We must desire to be changed in our thinking by offering our minds entirely to the Lord if we want to be a living sacrifice. The mind has to be renewed because before conversion the mind was in a corrupted state [Eph 4:18]. At conversion, God starts the renewal process. And this mind-renewing process is a life-long process which culminates when one day, we will be made fully like Christ [1 John 3:2; Phil 3:20-21]—an event the Bible calls as “glorification” [Rom 8:30].
It’s also important to understand that the means the Holy Spirit uses to bring this transformation of the mind are the Scriptures that record the glories of Christ. So, the Holy Spirit uses the external Scriptures to change our minds. Also, he also does the internal illuminating work of understanding the Scriptures [1 Cor 2:13-14] so we can understand the glories of Christ.
It’s the truths of the Bible that save us, and it’s the truths of the Bible that sanctify us on a continual basis. Jesus himself in his prayer to the Father said, “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth” [John 17:17]. Unless one commits to having the Scriptures dominate their thinking as they study God’s word and in turn pray for God to help them put the truths to practice, the mind will not be transformed.
Too many Christians experience minimal transformation because they allow their mind to be exposed to so much of the world and its entertainment. Practically if you put them side by side with an unbeliever, it would be hard to tell the difference based on their lifestyles, their pursuits, and their talk. That’s why believers have to be deliberate in committing themselves to spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, serving, evangelizing, reading books by writers that explain the bible better in order to experience greater spiritual transformation.
We need to remember that spiritual growth does not automatically happen. Holiness does not happen by accident. Growing older physically does not equate to growing spiritually. Spiritual growth occurs only as believers day by day give their minds to proper spiritual disciplines. We cannot allow the world and it’s thinking to control our lives, and at the same time try to practice spiritual disciplines and somehow hope it will even out, and we will come out spiritually strong. One cannot keep eating junk food while trying to eat a healthy diet at the same time! What does not work for the body does not work for the soul either! Many in vain try to keep a balance by saying ‘Yes’ to the Holy Spirit and ‘Yes’ to the world. The Bible calls them as “adulterous people” [James 4:4, 7]. Saying ‘Yes’ to the Holy Spirit without saying ‘No’ to the world will lead only to tremendous frustration.
So, we need to resolve from this day forward to commit ourselves to training in godliness as we yield our minds to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. We need to put the truths of Philippians 4:8 continually into practice: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” We are the product of our thinking! It’s essential to keep our minds filled with right thoughts. Many who will not outwardly do evil, however, boldly sin in their thoughts—be it thoughts of lust, hatred, wishing evil on others, greed, worldly success and power, thoughts of jealousy and so forth. We may deceive ourselves by thinking as long as we are not necessarily acting out our thoughts, there is not much of an issue in just thinking it. We need to remember, God judges the thoughts as well and that being a living sacrifice includes having a clean mind! Plus there’s always the danger that sooner or later we will act out our thoughts. We are what we think!
Hence, the stress here to give our minds to be continually transformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. And the result? The 3rd part of the verse states it plainly.
Consequence of Obeying Commands # 1 and # 2. “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The phrase “test and approve” comes from one word that was used to the describe the process of testing metals to determine their worth. What Paul says here is this: As we yield our minds to be renewed by God’s truth, we will be able to determine “God’s will—his good, pleasing and perfect will” for our lives. Here God’s will includes a greater understanding of God’s plainly revealed will through the Scriptures as well as getting a clearer understanding of God’s will in the day to day life issues.
Hasty bible reading, very rarely taking time to meditate on a verse or a passage, a few minutes of prayer when the body is tired and eyes are half asleep will not work if we seek the transformation of the mind. If we are guilty of such a lifestyle, we must repent. We must ask God to stir us up to the importance of giving time to proper reading of the Scriptures and praying. The question is never a lack of time. We always find time to do what we like or what we consider as important. Is there anything more important than giving our minds to be transformed by the Holy Spirit?
You see, often people seek to know God’s will in their lives while refusing to surrender their bodies and minds as living sacrifices. Why will God guide people in life issues when they blatantly refuse to obey his clearly revealed commands?
So, it’s vital to commit ourselves to give our bodies and minds to God 24/7 if we desire to experience God’s will in our lives. But it’s not only for that purpose. It’s also the only way to offer the kind of worship that pleases him. And that would be the best and only response for tasting all his good mercies—especially his mercy as displayed on the cross where the Son of God bore the punishment for our sins so that we could be rescued from hell and experience everlasting life with him in heaven.