This is the second of two posts on my sermon on Sunday, on Romans 12:2, part two of a series on Living Sacrifices. Part one (Conformed or Transformed?) discussed the two commands of Romans 12:2. This post deals deals with Paul’s further teaching about transformation — how it happens, and why it is needed. Romans 12:1-2:
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
How are We Transformed?
This isn’t hard to see, really. Paul lays it out for us: by the renewing of your mind. This is perhaps broader than we tend to think of “mind”, encompassing what we think, the way we make decisions, etc.
It is not just what we think, but the way we think about it. It is possible to be “right” about a situation and be all wrong at the same time. You can look at the problems of the world, the problems in Christianity, the problems in families, and become very discouraged. You might be diagnosing the problems accurately, but it is always a mistake to leave God out of your calculations. He is building His church and is working His plan in the affairs of men. All the bad things in the world are, indeed, very bad, and it is right thinking to recognise them, but it isn’t thinking about them rightly to forget what God is doing and has been doing throughout all of human history, and to miss the fact that He is still doing it.
Perhaps the example of Anders Breivik (the Norwegian terrorist) will help here. If you read his manifesto (which I don’t recommend), there’s a decent chance that you will find something that he got “right”. But his thinking was so twisted about those things that he was all wrong even where he got it “right”.
Now, if you are reading this, you are probably a Christian, and you are going to get a lot of things right, because you have been influenced by the Bible and the work of God in your heart. But we can very easily forget or downplay God’s grace, holiness, or sovereignty in our thinking, and so our “right” thinking isn’t quite right after all. We need mind renewal even when we get it “right”, to enable us not only to know the truth, but also to think rightly about the truth, and to respond rightly to it.
The Scriptures tell us, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17). When we trust Christ, a new creative work of God happens in us, and we become new creatures (or creations). It tells us all things are become new — but verses like Romans 12:2 (and others) tell us that this renewing is an ongoing process. While God’s work in us began at salvation, it is not yet finished (see Philippians 1:6).
Five Agents of Mind Renewal
- The Work of the Father. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). David here, in repentance after his great sin, asks God to renew a right spirit in him. The wording is somewhat different, but the general concept of renewing, of being brought into line with God’s mind and will, is the same. Although some commentators might differ, I would see the reference in the following verse to “Thy Holy Spirit” as indicative that David is here addressing God the Father, and thus I conclude that the Father has an active part in renewing His people.
- The Work of the Spirit. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5). This verse tells us that the beginning of renewal, at salvation, is the work of the Holy Spirit, and in conjunction with Philippians 1:6, as well as other passages which describe the work of the Spirit, I think we can safely conclude that the Spirit continues to be very actively involved in renewing our minds.
- The Work of Christ. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:25-26). This describes the renewal of sanctifying and cleansing as the work of Christ.
- The Work of God’s Word. That same passage in Ephesians tells us that the Word of God is an agent in our sanctification. John 17:17 tells us the same: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”
Preaching point: This mind renewal thing is something we can win. No matter how badly you have fouled up your thinking, no matter how strongly sin has taken hold, God has begun this work in you, and He is going to finish it. The entire Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has an interest in seeing you renewed, and the Word of God is a powerful weapon in the hands of the Almighty. You may never get as far in this life as you might like, but there’s enough power to begin the work, to progress it along the way, and ultimately, to complete it. This may be a hard battle, but it is a winning one. Never get discouraged, and never give up, no matter how often you fall back into wrong thought patterns.
Now, if you were paying attention, you are saying, “Hey, Jon, you said five agents, but there are only four. Can’t you count?” (My kids are really good at picking up this kind of thing in my preaching :). I do it often enough that they expect it.)
Sometimes I can count. The fifth agent is us — we have a role to play in this renewing task. I’ll give four Scriptures.
Four Mind Renewing Responsibilities for Us
Ephesians 4:22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Here, being renewed is passive, because it is the work of God in us, but we have an active part in verses 22 & 24 — to put off the old and put on the new. The passive (be renewed) falls right between two things God calls us to do — we’re agents in this process, too.
Psalm 119:9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
If “renewal” and “transformation” involves “cleansing our way”, this verse also tells us we have a part. When we “take heed thereto”, pay attention to our way according to God’s Word, we will cleanse it. In other words, if we give thought to whether our way (actions, thoughts, words, attitudes) matches God’s Word, with a desire to be consistent with the Bible, we’ll “clean up our act.” Do we clean it up, or does God’s Spirit, using His Word? Well, I understand it to be the latter, but the point here is that we have something we are supposed to do (take heed according to Scripture) that triggers that clean-up job.
II Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
We are to control our thoughts. One thought leads to another, leads to another. Don’t let your thoughts wander in paths that are not obedient to Christ. Take them captive, make them your servants rather than your masters. If you don’t control your thoughts and keep them obedient to Christ, your mind, instead of continuing to be renewed, is going to get fouled up faster than a diesel engine trying to run on petrol. This is a “negative” command — don’t let your thoughts go in bad patterns. We
CAN MUST control our thoughts.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
Not only must we control our thoughts to keep them obedient to Christ, we can and must direct our thoughts. This is the positive command which corresponds to the negative one above — train your thoughts in good patterns. If you want your mind to be renewed, spend your time thinking about the things God tells us to think about. If you are spending a lot of time thinking about your neighbours, your boss, the news, or your financial situation, and your thoughts don’t fit the description of this verse, then you either need to change what you are thinking about, or change the way you are thinking about those things. Direct your thoughts.
That gives us four things that we are to do, trusting the Lord that as we do them, He will do His work of renewal in our mind, and we will be transformed.
Interesting Side Note
There is a shift in number here. Paul said, “Be ye transformed” (plural, all of you), and then changes to the single (“your mind” rather than “minds”). Perhaps he wanted to stress the individual responsibility of each believer, or perhaps he is stressing that there is only one kind of renewing, and that we are to seek unity of mind, and so he used mind collectively. The reason for the shift isn’t clear, and lots of commentators a lot smarter than me seem to have jumped right over the question. So, having scratched my head and said, “Interesting. I don’t know why he did that,” I’ll follow their lead and move on. 🙂
Why do We Need to be Transformed?
Again, we don’t have to look far for the answer. The purpose of this transformation is in order that we may “prove” the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.
Paul is writing to believers, and he has just exhorted them to make themselves living sacrifices unto God. Here, he gets to the essence of being a living sacrifice — doing that which is God’s good, acceptable (or pleasing), and perfect will. This goes beyond mere obedience, as we seek to have the heart of love that desires to please the One who loved us.
The word “prove” here has the sense of testing out and approving that which is genuine. This also is a continuous process. The idea is that, by having a renewed mind and being transformed, we will be able to keep on accurately discerning the genuine will of God, that which truly pleases and is acceptable to Him, and thus live it out in our lives.
Entire books (more than I want to think about) have been written about knowing God’s will for your life. It’s not hard to grasp, really. All you need to do is be transformed by the renewing of your mind, and these things fall into place. Wasn’t that easy? 🙂 Of course, it isn’t easy at all. It is a
lifetime task that won’t be finished in this life.
A person who has been transformed, whose mind has been tuned to God’s wavelength, knows what God wants. The Scriptures tell us how to please Him, and when we get our mind in line with that, then we know.
Have you ever met an older believer who has immersed himself in God’s Word all his life, studying it and living it? That’s a person who knows God’s will. When faced with a moral or ethical question, he may not have the memory to recall the Scriptures that deal with the situation. But he is tuned in to the right channel, and he knows what to do. He’s been in this transforming process for a long time, and God has him on the right track going the right direction. Such a person may stray, but probably not because he didn’t know what God wanted. He’s walked with God long enough to know that pretty well by now.
Making good spiritual decisions is not an intellectual exercise based on good Scripture memory. God doesn’t care if you aren’t mentally quick enough on your feet to pull out the right Bible verse every time. That kind of recall can be greatly used by God. It can also be very self-gratifying and simply a tool with which we impress others. Some Christians seem to equate Bible knowledge with spirituality.
Please get this! Spiritual maturity isn’t measured by our ability to recall applicable Scriptures! It is measured rather by how well our mind is renewed by the Scriptures, how well our thinking is in line with God’s thinking, and how actively we are seeking to please Him.
So, it’s time to get going. Stop conforming to the world. Work on your mind-renewing responsibilities, trusting God that He certainly will do His part. As you seek to please Him, He will transform you, and you’ll know and do His perfect will, that which pleases Him.