We have these past few weeks been lingering over Romans 12:1-2 together. This is the great turn in Paul’s letter to the Romans. We began just looking at the word “therefore” and saw the beauty of how Paul laid out his whole argument, going from doctrinal explanation in chapters 1-11 to practical application in chapters 12-16. We then looked at the phrase “by the mercies of God”, how this is the motive of the Christian life. Meaning, because of these mercies of God Paul has laid out in the first eleven chapters, in them, from them, and through them we’re to live our lives for Christ. And last week we looked at the main image of the Christian life put forth in this passage, that of a living sacrifice. A continual offering up of ourselves to die on the fiery altar of our holy God, this is our worship. While this worship is a kind of death, it’s also how we live and please God every moment of our life before Him.

All of that is contained in v1. Today, we come to v2. So Church, hear the whole of v1-2 to see it in its context, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

As wonderful as the image of our life as a living sacrifice is to help us understand what the Christian life is to be, Paul doesn’t stop at v1. He continues to unfold what this really looks like day to day in v2. What does it look like? Life as a living sacrifice looks like transformation. But how are we transformed? Two things: negatively it happens by not conforming to the world, and positively it happens by the renewing of our minds. Or we could say it like this, especially keeping in v1 in mind: we can only present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable, if we don’t conform the pattern of this world but are transformed by the renewal of the mind.[1] So v2 doesn’t just connect to v1, it fills out v1 and give us more on what the Christian life is like.

Now that we’ve seen the gist of what’s going on here, let’s dive in and take a closer look.

The Negative Command

v2 begins saying, “Do not be conformed to this world…”

Here we find a negative command. The key to understanding this negative command is to understand two words in this phrase. First, ‘the world’, and second, ‘conformed to.’ If we get what’s being said in those two phrases, I think we’ll understand what we’re being commanded here. So first, what is the ‘the world?’ We might think it a simple or easy thing to explain, ‘the world’, but its been defined in many different ways by many different people. Scientists speak of the world as the totality of all space and time. Philosophers speak of the world as it is now, contrasted with the world as we each see it, and all of that then contrasted with how the world could have been. And psychologists speak of the world in terms of how we experience all that is in it. Even just in those three disciplines you can see how the world can be defined and discussed in a variety of ways. But in a general sense, the world could simply be defined as an all-encompassing term referring to everything that is as well as everything that can be experienced. So, naturally all of these views are summarized and represented in Aladdin’s song to Jasmine when he sings, ‘I can show you the world.”

But is this the Bible’s view of the world? In a sense it is, in that the Bible does speak of the world in an all-encompassing manner. But the Bible speaks differently of the world in a vastly different sense. Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible speaks negatively about the world. We see that here in our text today. Romans 12:2 is a command to “…not be conformed to this world…” Why does Scripture so often present a negative view of the world, as if the world is something to be avoided? It does this because it speaks honestly about the world. You see, the world and all within it was once very good, was once flawless, and was once absent of all corruption. This all changed when our first parents Adam and Eve, using their freedom, chose to believe the lies of the devil over the word of God and disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. In so doing, mankind and the world God made fell into death, ruin, and misery. Thus, the way the Bible speaks about the world reflects this fall into sin.

v2 shows this to us. It says the word world in English but the word in Greek used here is aiwni, meaning ‘age’, “…do not be conformed to this age…”  Meaning that what’s in view here isn’t so much the physical world, the planet earth, but this age or period of time we live in, which is characterized by the rule of the devil. This “…sin-dominated, death-producing age in which all people included in Adam’s fall naturally belong.”[2] Elsewhere Paul speaks of this too. In 2 Cor. 4:4 Paul calls devil the “…god of this world who blinds the minds of man from seeing the light of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.” He says the same in Eph. 2:2 calling the devil the “…prince of the power of the air, the spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience.” But, praise God, Paul also says in Gal. 1:4 that “Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from this present evil age.” And all throughout Romans 5-8 we saw how all who have been united to Christ by faith are raised and lifted up with Him in resurrection power into a new existence. One not characterized by death and sin but one characterized by life and righteousness.

So, Christians live in two worlds. We still live life in this fallen world, the sin-dominated age, but Jesus has raised us up in it, put His Spirit in us, and given us an identity and an inheritance in the age to come, His great Kingdom. Which, produces a tension in us. We now feel a pull upward from the Spirit of God who dwells within us and is ever at work to bear His fruit in us, fruit of holiness and godliness, and day by day we grow in these things. But at the same time we feel the pull downward, the temptation to return to the sin we once loved and gave ourselves to freely. And straight into this tension between this present fallen age and the age to come, Paul commands us to resist, to fight, and to not return to and live in the ways, the pattern, and the customs of this fallen age.

Which brings us to the second word in our verse we need to understand, conformed. “…do not be conformed to this world…” What is it to conform? To conform is to copy, to imitate, to give way to, to become like, to fit in with. So when Paul commands us to not conform to this world he’s commanding us to not be like the world, to not live like the world, and to not imitate or copy or fit in with the world. Because to do so is to align yourself with this present age of death and sin rather than the age to come which God has brought us into by grace, through Christ. Whether you’ve resisted and still feel tempted, or whether you’ve already given in and have given room to worldliness in your life, v2a is a call to forsake the world, to turn away from it to Christ, to seek Him, and set your eyes on Him, to seek His Kingdom, and be influenced and gripped by Him and what belongs to Him instead. Church, we’re to be ‘age to come’ people rather than ‘present age people.’[3]

Ok, but what does this look like in day to day life? Does not conforming to the world all boil down to ‘don’t drink, smoke, and chew, or go with girls who do?…or guys who do?’ Not at all! Because this word…world, age…is such an all-encompassing word for all that exists in the fallen realm ruled by the devil, we cannot just boil it down to a small list of things to avoid, and somehow convince ourselves that we’re being obedient to God because we don’t do this or that.[4]

Church it all really boils down to this, “If all our calculations, plans, ambitions are determined by what falls within life here…in this age…then we are children of this age.”[5] If our values, treasures, priorities, schedules, habits, desires, spending, plans, etc. look like everyone else around us…if we fit in well with the world, we’ve conformed to the world. Yet here is the call, “Do not be conformed to this world…”

Examples abound of what it looks like to conform to the world. Remember Paul’s companion Demas? In 2 Tim. 4:10 Paul says Demas fell prey to this, and deserted him because he in was in love with this present age. Many Christians fall prey to this. Many churches fall prey to this. Some do so through a slow drift, others do so through a desire to reach the world by becoming like the world. Let’s be warned, when we conform to the world we not only lose our witness to the world, but we could lose ourselves as well if we continue down that road far enough. Church, do not conform to this world.

That is the negative command, now let’s see…

The Positive Command

Right after telling us “Do not be conformed to this world…” v2 continues on saying, “…but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…”

I am very glad this positive command comes after the negative command. Far too many people think Christians are just those who are against things, too many people think Christians are those who don’t do things, people who are mainly known for what we don’t believe. Many people believe this about us. Sadly, this is what many Christians think Christians are to be. This shouldn’t be. Yet, see here in the positive command the rest of the story about our life as living sacrifices. Yes, we aim, by God’s grace, to not conform to the world. Yes, we are against things. Yes, we say no to things. But see more, we are also for things, and we also say a wholehearted yes to the best things. What things? We say yes to transformation. We say yes to the renewal of our minds. That’s what this positive command is after.

Why though, does Paul state that we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds? Don’t you think it would make more sense if Paul were to say ‘heart’, ‘soul’, ‘life’ instead of mind? Why then did he say mind? Two reasons, I think, at least.

First, the mind is prominent in v2 because Paul wants to show how the gospel reverses sin. In the end of Romans 1 Paul lays out some of his most honest and most severe descriptions of sin. What it is and what it does to us. One of the consequences of sin mentioned in 1:28 says, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” A consequence of sin is that our minds are debased, corrupted. They don’t think God’s thoughts after Him, but instead they reject His thoughts and replace them with our own. This is the fallen mind. But, what happens to the mind of a sinner when they believe in Jesus? A redemptive reversal. The mind that was alive to sin and dead to God is now dead to sin and alive to God. And in its new awakened state this mind is ever eager to know, to learn, and take in as much of God as it can.

The second reason why the mind is prominent in v2 is because of how you and I function, how we operate. The only way truth enters into us is through the mind. A truth may be just in the mind and not in the heart, but there’s no way a truth can be in heart without having gone through the mind first. Or we could say, the heart cannot love what the mind doesn’t know.[6] In this sense, the mind is the doorway to the heart. Which means, the way to transform the life is to first renew the mind. That’s what v2 is saying here.

Some greatly struggle with this reality of the mind being the doorway to the heart. Many struggle because they view the strength of true faith is tied to how close we feel God, how a song made us feel, or a sermon, or our daily devotion. In this sense, I think it’s believed that the heart is the doorway to the life and not the mind.[7] Yet here is v2, stating that transformation comes from the renewal of the mind. I think we know this almost intuitively.[8] How many of you enjoy drinking coffee? Tell me, how is coffee most enjoyed? Do you do so by just drinking gallons of it? No, you enjoy coffee by learning more about coffee. Learning about the whole bean to cup process. Where it’s from, how it grows, the soil it grows in, how its harvested, how its brewed, and on and on. We enjoy a thing, not just by repeatedly experiencing that thing but by learning about its origin, history, and nature. How much more true is this about God?! We do enjoy God by experiencing God, but we enjoy God most, not just by having more experiences of Him, but by knowing Him more, by growing in our knowledge of Him. Now it is wicked to grow in our knowledge of God for the sake of knowledge, absolutely. But growing in the knowledge of the God who’s loved us and saved us, to add more fuel in the fire of our worship, always results in transformation. Church, thinking deeply about God is the only way to consistently feel deeply about God. 

How fascinating, right? Paul has made this great turn in his grand argument in this letter to the Romans, from doctrine to practice. And as he begins practice, he doesn’t really begin with practice. He begins with the mind! Ephesians 4:17-20 makes this clear, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” Do you see how godless or godly behavior is directly tied to the understanding and the mind? How central the mind is!

I really could say the same thing from another direction too. v2 says the result of a renewed mind is glorious. It isn’t just alteration, or adaptation, or modification, but transformation. This word in Greek is metamorphous, which is of course where we get the word metamorphosis from. What is metamorphosis? Becoming entirely new! What a result from the renewing of the mind!

Now, knowing that’ s the end result of a renewed mind, begs the question: how can our minds be renewed? I think it’s simple really. When one becomes a Christian, one becomes a new creature, new creation. This doesn’t just happen in the soul or spirit of a person it happens in the entirety of the person, including the mind. What happens to the mind in conversion? It begins to see everything differently.[9] It begins to see everything no longer from the world’s perspective but from God’s perspective. It begins to see everything through the lens of Scripture.

Conclusion:

And I mean everything. How you think about yourself changes. How you think about others changes. How you think about the world changes. Our whole view of life changes.[10] No longer are we smitten by the philosophies of man. No longer do we care about what so and so thinks and says about this or that, we want God! We want to know what God says about everything! We want to believe what God says about everything! We want to live in light of what God says about everything!

In this manner, God’s Word slowly but surely begins not just to influence us here and there, it begins to govern us, to rule us, and rearrange the whole of us in line with what God says. When the mind is renewed like this, what’s the result? Transformation of the life. 

So Church, don’t just be mere negations. Living as if the zenith of Christianity is to say no to things, be against things, and not do certain things. Be those who say no to sin, yes indeed. But also be those who say to the best things, the things belonging to the Kingdom of Christ.

“This is the way in which the Christian faces the problem of how to live in a world such as this.”[11]


[1] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 773-774.

[2] Ibid. Especially footnote 60. Emphasis mine.

[3] N.T. Wright, quoted in Ibid., 775.

[4] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – Christian Conduct (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 77.

[5] John Murray, Romansvol. 2, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 113.

[6] Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2014) 31.

[7] Wilkin, 29.

[8] Wilkin, 31-33.

[9] Lloyd-Jones., 120.

[10] Ibid., 121.

[11] Ibid., 126.

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