“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12: 1-2 NKJV
Is this not the desire of every Christian who has given even a moment’s thought on how they should live in this world in light of the glorious Gospel? Paul has spent time condemning every human under the Law of God so that every mouth may be stopped. He has described God’s unfailing love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He vividly describes the Christian’s struggle with remaining sin; however, even with the reality of the continuing struggle, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Further still, our salvation is as secure as God is, for it is He who preserves. He has humbled us by describing the mysteries of God’s electing purposes; it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs but of God who shows mercy. It is only after staggering us with God’s overwhelming grace in His gospel through His Christ that Paul then tells us to do something – that is, live worthy of the calling that God has called us to, as seen in Chapter 12: 1-2. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul gives us much guidance in very few words on how to accomplish that very thing, do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
This exhortation seems easy enough, but the reality of roadblocks to our Christian walk is clear. At their core though, most roadblocks are a result of our desire in our fallen nature to be autonomous. Let’s give that statement, which is a mouthful, a few moments reflection. First of all, the fact that there is such a thing as “human nature” is certainly not in vogue now. Biblically, our nature goes to the very core of our existence. We are the way we are because we are creatures created in the image of someone else. God has instilled in us, in the very fabric of our being, certain characteristics that reflect our Creator. For example, humans by nature are religious, worshipping creatures. Even the most hardened atheist has things, ideas, beliefs, that they pursue with religious zeal – note the current crop of “New-Atheists” with their evangelistic zeal to convert people to their way of thinking. We will worship something, even if it is the most irrational object or pursuit we can imagine. But the point is that we worship because God created us as worshipping creatures. It is in our very nature. This has been challenged in the modern era by materialism and is codified in existential philosophy by Jean Paul Sarte by the phrase “existence precedes essence.” This simply means that man is born with a clean slate into an absurd world and his environment and choices define who he is. There are no pre-existing conditions within humans that give them a bent one way or the other. If a man worships, it is because he has chosen to worship.
However, Biblically we see that man is created in the image of God and bears the mark of that image in himself by nature. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the evening and enjoyed an intimate and unhindered relationship with God. The problem comes in the fall, when that image was ruined by sin. Man became “dead in our trespasses and sins” and “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Man’s total being fell, intellectually, morally, psychologically, physically and emotionally and his separation from God was complete. Since man by fallen nature rejects God, he becomes a law unto himself – in a word, autonomous. This is the definition of “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
The solution to our separation from God is Jesus Christ alone. And while our salvation that is found only in Christ does many wonderful and glorious things, we are not perfected in this life. Christians personally experience this imperfection, as the Apostle Paul records his own experience in Romans 7. Its purpose is to keep us humble, clinging to the cross and grow in an ever increasing love for the Savior. Yet Scripture demands that our lives should reflect something of the reality of God’s intervention in those lives because we are given Christ’s righteousness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Paul can exhort us to not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Our task is to flesh this out in our own lives and spheres of influence. So we come to our question, how does one’s mind become renewed? And how does the renewal transform us from conformity to the world?
It is interesting that Paul ties the manifestation of a changed life directly to the way we use our minds to think and reason. So to begin this process of transformation, we must first acknowledge our natural desire toward autonomy and intentionally submit our minds and reason to the authoritative Word of God. Simply put, the Revelation of God must inform our reason. Our minds must be saturated by the Word of God so that we may reorient our minds from ourselves to Him. Paul himself exhorts us in Colossians 3:16 to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord”. All 176 verses of Psalm 119 are the Psalmists’ desire for God’s wisdom, knowledge and righteousness which only come through His Law. And this is not isolated to a few verses of the Bible. The entire book describes our need for God’s word to richly dwell and inform our minds, that we might think God’s thoughts after Him. It is the Triune God that transforms. It is His word that conforms us to Him and not the world.
It is this area, how we think, that we must reflect upon first if we are to not be conformed to the world but rather transformed with a renewed mind. If we are honest with ourselves, we will find that our thinking usually goes in this order; first Modern, then Western, then American and then Biblically. We really are products of our time and place. I realize that at this point this is an unproven assertion that is just kind of hanging out there, however, if we give some thought to what or who influences us and to what end, the picture will become a little clearer. Do we spend more time listening to our favorite radio talk show host than in the Word? Do we read, understand and get more excited about constitutional republicanism or free market economics than we do learning about our Savior? Do we have more interest in these modern ideologies than in people? Are we caught up in some version of the “American Dream”, pursuing what we think is the good life? Are we running from one self-help program to the next to improve our lives rather than meditating on what Christ has done for us?
One section of Scripture that God has put on my mind recently is Colossians 3: 12-15.
“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
If you are like me at all, you see your need to improve in each of these characteristics. You determine you need to be more kind, look for opportunities to display kindness, perform a few random acts of kindness and about a week later are more discouraged about your lack of kindness than ever before. We then look for the “how to be more kind in 10 easy steps” program and try to implement it. And again, after some period of time, our motivation wanes and we are back to our old routine, only this time loaded with more guilt because we see our lack of kindness and our inability to change ourselves. What we overlook is the little phrase that Paul slips in: “as the elect of God.” Do we take time to contemplate what Jesus had to do that we might be called the elect of God? Do we think about His leaving His Father in Heaven, His Incarnation, His perfect life, His wrath bearing death on the cross, His taking the punishment that we deserve, His love for us? Do we have any understanding of how sinful sin is and how gracious and merciful God is? If you are looking for motivation to be more kind, humble, patient and all the others, look no farther than the cross.
The Gospel saves and sustains, it is all the people of God need to live righteous and godly lives faithful to their Redeemer. Meditating on Christ and what He has done for you is the ingredient for the transformation of your mind and the breaking away from conformity to the world. It is through the power of the Gospel that we are able to go into the world, using the gifts and influence that God has given us. There is no easy formula for this. We will all be given different gifts, different responsibilities and different spheres of influence. We will face many situations that are not explicitly described in Scripture and will have to use our minds and reason to faithfully work the works that God has set before us. But thanks be to God that He has not left us to ourselves, but has given us His Word that we might meditate upon His thoughts and principles.
Finally, as a Christian, it is easy to be conformed to the world. It is easy to accept things as they are because it is just the way it is. It is easy to absorb the world’s mindset about money, politics, entertainment, sports, lifestyle, or whatever the world has made an idol. Conforming to the world makes getting through this world an easier task. What is difficult is “above all these things put on love” because this means that you are going to start looking at people – the sinners you live, work and play with, the gross, rebellious God-haters, those that really don’t think they have done anything to offend a holy God – and love them. This often means jumping into the septic tank where they live and getting that stink on you and sharing the love of God with them. This is only possible if our minds have been renewed by the God that got into our septic tank and pulled us out. Dwell upon His word and meditate upon His goodness to you, dear Christian. This is truly mind transforming.