Sermon preached on Romans 12:1-2 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/17/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Transformed by the Renewing of your Mind”
It’s been said that right thinking leads to right action. This passage as well, tells us the importance of right thinking. It also warns us that there is a battle for our minds. The world wants us to think and act one way. God would have us to think and act a different way. Our sanctification is that very battle lived out, with God ultimately having the victory in the end at the day of Christ. But until then, we are to look to cultivate our minds in the way Gods calls us.
Keep in mind the context of verse 1 as we study verse 2 today, as well. The context that we are to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, in light of what God has done in our salvation. The command of verse 2 continues to describe how we are to respond to what God has done in saving us.
And so let’s dig into verse 2 and begin to think about what this passage has to say about our minds and our thinking. Verse 2, “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.” Verse 1 mentioned particularly the body — we offer our bodies as a sacrifice. Verse 2, however, hones in our minds. I wouldn’t want to exclude our minds from verse 1. I don’t think Paul’s trying to do that. Rather, verse 1 seems to focus on our whole self as being sacrificed to God. But verse 2 very specifically wants us to think about how we think. If anything, verse 2 helps to apply verse 1 specifically to our minds; that our minds would be offered holy unto the Lord. If we are to consecrate ourselves in sacrificial service to God, it will especially need to start with our minds. That’s likely why Paul says what he says in verse 2, right after he said what he said in verse 1.
And so the first command in verse 2 is to not be conformed to this world. Jesus said in John 18 that his kingdom is not of this world. We too, if we a Christian, are not of this world. We are in this world, but not of it. There’s a difference. When Scripture talks this way it’s thinking about the world in its sinful, heathen, status. It talks about how the world does whatever it thinks is right in its own eyes. The world sees humans as supreme and is not in submission to the one true God. We must not be conformed to such a world. We must not be conformed to the unregenerated man’s way of thinking.
You see, what’s behind this is what we saw all the way back in chapter 1. Paul had talked about how the world in its rebellion against God had become corrupted and depraved. This meant that not only did they engage in wicked actions, but their minds and hearts had been horribly affected. They had debased minds and darkened hearts. In other words, the problem with the world’s wickedness was far more than just in what they did. It’s the way the world thought about things — that was fundamentally flawed. And so when Paul talks about not being conformed to the world, we need to be concerned not merely with our behavior. We need to especially be concerned with how we think.
And so the point here is that sin is behind this all. The world thinks wrongly because sin has clouded its judgment. This is the same problem that each of us has experienced, because we are all sinners. Apart from being born again, we will be conformed to the world, both in its thinking and in its actions. But when we are born again, God renews our minds. He enables us to truly begin to live out verse 2. He makes it so we can begin to stop being conformed to the world.
And so that then leads to the opposite command here. If we are not to be conformed to the world, verse 2 goes on to tell us what we should be conformed to. It says to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. I like the contrast here between conforming and transforming. The idea is that when we are first saved, we are saved as one who has been up to this point conformed to the world. Before we were saved, our minds had been darkened. Our understanding had been affected by sin. Before we are born again and turn to Christ in faith, we think with minds totally diseased by sin. And yet when we become a Christian, the Bible describes our point of initial conversion as new birth. We are born again into a living hope. At that point, we really do begin to think differently. But the Bible shows that it is also the beginning of a time of mind renewal. It’s the beginning of transformation. The word transformation in the Greek here is metamorpho. It’s where we get the word metamorphosis. A Christian is undergoing a metamorphosis. Think of the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. That’s biological metamorphosis. Well, we are to be changing from one thing to another. Spiritual metamorphosis. We are being transformed from conformity to the world to conformity to Christ, Romans 8:29. And as this verse points out, that especially has a priority on our mind. How we think about things needs to be changing. That will in turn lead to changed actions. It’s like how Jesus said that out of men’s hearts comes our various sinful actions. And so our transformation from being like the world to being like Christ especially needs to focus on the inner self. On our heart and mind.
Well, the verse says that a result of this renewing of our mind is so that we can be proving what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. This proving idea here in the Greek is about proving something to be true by testing it. And so the idea here in verse 2 is that as our mind is renewed, we’ll be able to experience firsthand Biblical thinking. It’s like it’s one thing to read the Bible and mentally comprehend the truth. It’s another thing for such truth to really become a part of you. That the biblical truth renews your mind in such a way that it colors how you interpret the world around you. The difference is profound. It’s why an unbeliever can read a passage of Scripture and not find a use for it. It’s truth that hasn’t affected their unrenewed minds. But its why the man of God can take that same passage, and by the grace of God, finds it to be transforming them, renewing their minds. The result being that they then begin to think about things differently, afterwards. And so the proving idea here comes out like this: After your mind begins to think differently about such things, you’ll begin to experience things differently, from a different perspective. As you live in the world you begin to see and understand firsthand how much better God’s will really is. You begin to see how the world’s way of thinking is so backward, or destructive, or empty. You begin to see instead that God’s way is better; that it’s wiser, more morally attractive, more beautiful altogether.
Let me explain this “proving” idea once more in a slightly different way. I want to make sure we get this concept. Essentially, when it talks about how we are figuring out what is good, and acceptable, and perfect in the will of God, its saying that on the one hand this is what God thinks. God thinks his law and his way of thinking is good, acceptable, and perfect. So our renewed mind will start to think that way too. But this proving idea is more than that. It’s getting at how we’ll experience this to be the case as well. We’ll experience that God’s way is good, acceptable, and perfect.
What we should see here in all of this is that we are talking about cultivating a Christian worldview. We are wanting to think Christianly. We want to have Christian minds. We want to evaluate the world around us as God would. We want to think God’s thoughts after him. What I mean is we want to think about things the way God thinks about them. And if we do that, then our actions will surely follow. This is all to recognize a great antithesis between us and the world. There is to be an antithesis between us and the rest of the world from now on. This will just carry on until the end of this world. 1 John 2:17 says, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
Oh how the church needs this exhortation. The world and its influence can be so powerful. The world is constantly telling us as Christians how to think. We see how this has affected the church. The church should be an influence on the world. The church should be declaring how man ought to think as it proclaims the word of God. But far too often the church can find itself being influenced by the world as well. A big culture war right now, of course, is on homosexuality and the definition of marriage. The world around us is waging a war to get even churches to conform to the world’s thinking on the subject — not just tolerance but even acceptance and celebration of homosexuality. That’s an easy example to point to today, but there are so many other things we could point to. So many other things where the world is trying to influence the church to think the way the world thinks. For example, surely, that’s why biblical views on male headship in the home and at church have been discarded by many churches — the world has told the church that this is backward and obsolete. Or take divorce — our culture has become more casual about it, and so have many Christians, but the Bible does not take it casually. Or, think about this — the world’s postmodern thinking tends to reject traditional authority structures and institutions. Postmodern thinking elevates the individual. But this too has influenced the church and its members. The result is that the church as an institution along with the authority of the church government has been greatly downplayed, if not altogether rejected by many. Now, in many circles, it’s virtually all about your individual relationship with Christ, and the church has a minor role. In a similar vein, often the focus is not on what the Bible says objectively, but what the Bible means to “me”. The problem with all these different trends is they are veering off from truth in that they are taking the church in a way that is not consistent with Biblical truth.
This is all the opposite direction of how things should be going. The church should be influenced by God, not by the world. We should look to think about things how God thinks about them, not as the world does. We are to not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to embrace God’s will for our life. It’s for us to embrace Psalm 1, that the way of God is the best, happiest, path for our life. That the way of the world is the way to destruction and death. We belong to God. We have embraced the age to come. We are a part of God’s kingdom which is not of this world. We have become heavenly minded. We have embraced the spiritual things of God. And so Paul exhorts us to live consistent to our new identity. To see this new identity being realized in your life. That means, in part, that we must challenge how the world tells us to think about these things. We have to evaluate how the world tells us to think, with the Bible. To see how the Bible tells us to think about each thing.
And so I gave several examples of how this might challenge the church. But this idea doesn’t just cover big church-wide issues. This exhortation is full of practical application on the individual level. Just pick any number of subjects ask what the world thinks about it, and how God would have you to think it. See how God’s way is the best. Take the example of going to church. Maybe before you became born again, you couldn’t see any value in going to church. It was just a waste of time to you. Or maybe it’s value was for the wrong thing — like just a social experience. That’s how the world might think about church. But after you became a Christian, suddenly you begin to experience the real value of going to church. You begin to experience the sorts of spiritual blessings God would have you to experience there. Your mind tells you in faith that there is great value in Sunday worship, and your experience begins to confirm it more and more.
Or taking lying. Maybe before you became born again, you thought it would be more valuable to lie whenever it was convenient. The world says that little while lies don’t have to hurt anyone. Now that you’ve been born again, you see that lying ultimately causes more problems than telling the truth.
Or take getting ahead in life. The world might say things like the end justifies the means. If you rip someone off to get farther ahead, well, you have to take care of yourself first. If you break your commitment to someone else, because that’s more convenient for you, well, that’s their problem. But, Biblical thinking calls us to work hard in an honest way. That we should be people of integrity in our work. That we should not steal as we serve our bosses. Sometimes people can cheat there way ahead in life for a time. But things eventually catch up to them. What goes around comes around. If not in this life, then in the next for sure. God will see to justice. As we find our minds renewed, we begin to acknowledge that more and more. To see it more and more to be true.
Or take another example. Take relationship conflicts. You can find all kinds of ideas on this out there in the world. Some of the advice is not bad. On the other hand some is sinful. But far too often we can go to the world’s advice first. I mean before we seek what the Bible has to say about resolving conflict. Or if we do use the Bible, we might use some single concept in the Bible that appeals to us, without really seeking out what the Bible really has to say. Without really becoming a student of it. Dealing with relationship conflict can be messy and complex, and the Bible has a lot to say about it. We should look to really dig deep on the Scriptures and weight the different principles and ask how they apply to your given circumstances.
Or take another example. Take the example of sin in general. Just pick whatever sin you are struggling with. How might the world tell you to deal with it? Sometimes the world might be very pragmatic about it. It might care only to restrain the sin so as to minimize its destructive effects in your life. Other times they might explain away your sin by blaming your behavior on your parents. Or at other times, they might not even agree that your sin is a sin. But again, what does God say about your sin? And what does God say about how to handle your sin? Surely he tells you to put it away. To put it off, and replace it with the righteous equivalent.
The examples could go on and on. God’s way is best! This is all about learning first hand that God’s way is good, acceptable, and perfect. At the heart of all this is a concern to think about things the way God’s Word tells us to think. You know, as a pastor, I have opportunities to provide biblical counsel, obviously. This is something that all Christians should look to provide, actually, in varying capacities. Biblical counsel is essentially to answer this question we’ve been talking about: What does the Bible say about any particular issue we are going through? What commands or teaching of wisdom from the Bible apply to any particular circumstance we are facing. As I mentioned, this is something all Christians should look to grow in, the ability to provide this kind of counsel. And as a pastor this is what I want to be able to do with people when they come to me for counsel. But I have to admit, this is an extremely rare thing that I get asked. I mean, I often get counseling requests, but it is so rare that someone actually asks me that question. Often our counseling sessions can get sidetracked with other things. It would warm my heart as a pastor if I had people regularly coming to me with that particular question: “Pastor, I have this trouble in my life and I’d like to know what the Bible says about how to handle this kind of trouble.” You would think that would be a regular question given to a pastor, right? Sadly, it is frankly rare in my experience.
Now, I could speculate why that kind of question is rare. Maybe people don’t want to look like they don’t know the biblical teaching on some subject. But a mind being renewed by God will recognize that it’s wise to seek counsel. Even if you think you know the Bible’s teachings on a subject, the point of having someone else give counsel is to see if maybe you’ve been misapplying the Word to your given situation. We tend to do that when it comes to our own struggles. It helps to have an outside perspective. But the truth we want to be informing our minds with is the truth of God’s word. And so that’s the point in all of this. If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, then we’ll need to be reeducating our minds. You’ll need your mind to be filled with God’s Word. You’ll need to root out the lies of Satan and the world from your mind and replace them with biblical truth. You need your minds to feast on the holy Scriptures! The world might call this indoctrination or brainwashing. Well, we might look at what the world tries to do to us in the same way. But the question we have to ask is what truth and doctrine do you want in your mind? Who do you want to indoctrinate and brainwash you, so to speak? I want God to reprogram me! Not the world!
Well, brothers and sisters, let me encourage us in this with one final thought. Notice that the commands in verse 2 are in the passive. It does not say, “Do not conform yourself to the world.” It does not say to “transform yourself by renewing your mind.” No, these are in the passive. It says, “Do not be conformed.” It says to “be transformed.” These are things that will happen to you from the outside. Either the world will conform you. Or God will transform you. Either you will let the world shape you, or you will seek God to remake you. What an amazing verse. Commands that are in the passive voice. This tells us what we see elsewhere in Scripture. There are forces working on us. And yet there is a responsibility for us to act in it all too. When it comes to the world’s influence, we must fight against it. When it comes to God’s amazing work on us, we are called to seek it out. But the encouragement I want to bring out then is that it is still God who is at work here when it comes to our transformation. Surely this is a continuation of his mercies in our life. It’s God’s grace that is transforming us. God is the one at work to renew our minds more and more. He makes his Word come alive in our hearts and minds. He excites us to its beauty. His Spirit impresses its truths upon us.
And yet we are still commanded here to be conformed. Be conformed to all of this. The idea is that when it comes to our sanctification, God works through our actions that look to grow in him. And so the encouragement is that God’s ultimately the one at work. He grows us. He renews our minds. See his grace in this. But he also commands us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. What this means is we are told how it is that God will grow us. We know how to be receive his gracious work of mind renewal. He tells us how he normally transforms us, so it’s no mystery. And so seek that mind renewal in the ways he tells us that he will work. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Ask for it in prayer. Seek for it through the Word, especially the preaching of the word. Knock by being persistent in this all. And you will be transformed. You will find your mind being renewed. You will see that you are able more and more to rightly divide the word of God and discern truth from error. Be transformed by God. And he has told us how to transformed. Let us make use of these means, especially of the Word and prayer and the sacraments. Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.