Unity In Times of DisagreementGoogle the phrase, “Battle for the mind” and you will find 120,000,000 websites that you can visit. Must be an important topic. Needless to say I haven’t read all of the information that is available for me on the internet about winning the battle of the mind, but I have spent quite a bit of time reading what people have to say about how to win the battle of the mind. There are many ministries offering advice on how to win the battle, but ministries are not the only providers of wise counsel on the internet. There’s lots of advice being offered by psychologists and psychiatrists on how to corral our destructive thoughts, how to think more positively, and how to use our minds to reshape our reality. Sports psychologists are there to offer athletes insight as to how they can change their thoughts to improve their performance. Entrepreneurial mentors are present to teach you how to use your mind to make money instead of excuses. There are people out there to teach you and me how to use our minds to lose weight. You are beginning to get the picture aren’t you? You can use your mind to reshape your reality and make whatever changes you desire for your life.

There are others who put a twist on the battle for the mind. They are mostly people who are trying to win the minds of the general population to build their business, bolster their political agendas, or gain support for their particular causes. You don’t have to read very long to realize that our minds are valuable real estate for those on Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and in the halls of political power.

When we come to Romans 12:1-2 we read Paul’s advice to the folks in Rome and to those of us who are followers of Jesus today. Paul writes,

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer 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. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)

Last week we focused our attention on Romans 12:1. We learned that everything that Paul urges us to do in Romans 12 is predicated upon what we have learned in Romans 1-11. These eleven chapters can best be summed up as an expression of “God’s mercies,” and that is why Paul urges us, “in view of God’s mercies” to present our bodies as living sacrifices to be used by God.

This week I want us to focus our time on taking a look at Romans 12:2. Paul says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Words mean things and it is vitally important that we understand what Paul means when he uses words like “conform,” “world,” “transform,” and “mind.” Paul’s first command is a negative–“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” The Greek word that is translated, “conform” is the word, “suschematizo” and it means, “to form or mold after some model.”

The easiest way to understand what Paul is talking about is to think about water. You can have ten different containers, all shaped differently, but when you fill the container with water it will “conform” to the shape of each container. The container shapes the water, the water doesn’t shape the container. This is what we, as followers of Jesus, are to stop doing–stop being “shaped” by our culture.

The word found here in Romans 12:2 is in the “passive” voice which means there is a force working on you to form you. With that understanding we can know that Paul is saying, “Don’t allow yourself to be conformed to, or to be shaped by, the pattern of this world.” What we are talking about is influence. We are not to be influenced by the mindset and pattern of life which is popularized by our culture.

That leads us to the second important word for us to understand, the word, “world.” The Greek word that is translated, “world,” is “aion” and it means, “period of time,” “age,” “a long time,” and sometimes it means, “world.” This is such an important word for us to understand because there is a tendency among us Christians to identify “world” with conduct instead of mindset. Make no mistake about it, we are not to emulate the conduct of those who do not follow Jesus, but here in Romans 12:1-2 Paul is taking us deeper than mere conduct. We’ll talk more about that, but first let me show you some examples of the different uses of the word so that you can better understand. In 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 Paul writes,

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (1 Corinthians 3:18-20 NIV)

The NIV nails it! In verse 18, “the standards of this age,” is the same idea that we are looking at in Romans 12:2. Let’s take a look at another use of the same word, but this time is means, “world.” Paul writes to Timothy and says, in 1 Timothy 6:17.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (1 Timothy 6:17 NIV)

The command is pretty straightforward isn’t it? Those who are wealthy in this world should never put their hope in their wealth, but they should put their hope in God. On a side note, Paul says that the wealthy are not to be arrogant or put their hope in their wealth, “which is so uncertain.” It’s that last phrase that I want you to think about. Wealth is so uncertain isn’t it? There are those who have wealth that think, “Now I have made it, it’s going to be clear sailing from here on in.” The truth of the matter is they don’t know what the future holds. The statement, made by Paul almost 2,000 years ago, sure rings a bell in the present economy doesn’t it? How many wealthy people have watched their wealth dwindle in the last couple of years?

There are those like former NBA player, Rumeal Robinson, whose clutch free throws won the National Championship for Michigan in 1989. When Rumeal left college he was chosen in the first round of the NBA draft by the Atlanta Hawks. He got a five year contract worth $4.29 million! Rumeal’s last season in the NBA was 1998. Just a couple of years ago, Rumeal was homeless after throwing his money away on strippers, guns, and tons of trinkets and toys. I read Rumeal’s own story and he said he use to spend $20,000 a night at strip clubs.

There are those like Rumeal who throw their money away, but there are many more who watch their wealth dwindle through no fault of their own, but because of unforeseen changes in the economy. Markets change, consumer interests change, new products are introduced that drive the demand for other products down, new technologies make older technologies unwanted or even obsolete, corporations and businesses who use to be the hot item are replaced by other corporations and businesses who promise to do more with less, and the list goes on concerning the variables that contribute to the uncertainty of wealth.

Let’s get back to our task of trying to get a grip on what Paul means by “world.” The last example that I want to show you is found in Titus 2:11-12. Paul writes,

11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:11-12 NIV)

Dr. David Darnell writes,

We are surrounded by a particular ‘time,’ or ‘age,’ and we live in a ‘world’ of culture, that sets all kinds of examples and demands for people living in it. In different times and cultures, differing life-styles and habits of behavior become the ‘in thing’ to do, and culture exercises a heavy pressure upon everyone in society to conform. (Dr. David Darnell, Commentary on Romans 12, pg. 580)

Now, hopefully we have a better understanding of what Paul means when he says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” It is not just the world and its ways in general that he is talking about, but it is the specific cultural phenomenon, the cultural mindset, that is taking place in our time, in this place. What are those cultural trends that we are to resist giving into? Well, they are many, but some of the things I see as most prominent in our culture are relativism–the idea that all thoughts and ways of life are equal. It is all relative. Whatever fits you best is best for you. No thought is given to whether or not these choices are right, God-honoring, or for the benefit of the community. I shared two other cultural truths with you last week. Can you remember them? The first one was the philosophy of “I.” I am the center of the Universe and what I want for me is most important. Secondly, I shared with you the “pleasure principle.” Whatever makes me happy and brings me pleasure is what I should pursue in life.

I mentioned to you earlier that “conform” is in the passive voice in Greek which means that it is done to us. Most people that I know, including myself, never intend to allow popular culture to have such an influence on us. We didn’t “intend” to do what we have done or to become what we have become–it just happened. Which is exactly Paul’s point. There are those who intentionally set out on a quest to achieve what the world says is important, but most Christians that I know simply fail to live with intentionality for the cause of Christ. As times passes, low and behold they end up thinking like the rest of those around them. Our culture is determined to cast you and me into its mold and unless we live with intentionality, counter culturally, then you can bet it will accomplish its goal.

Let’s move on. Paul says that rather than allowing our culture to shape us, we are to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” The Greek word translated, “transformed,” is the word, “metamorphoo” and it means, “to change into another form, to transform, or to transfigure.” This is the word that we get our English word, “metamorphosis” from. Like the word, “conform,” this word is also in the passive voice in Greek, which means that something is being done to us. Probably the most well-known process of metamorphosis is the changing of a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. The change happens to the caterpillar. It is part of the plan of God for caterpillars. Just like God’s plan for the caterpillar, God has a plan for those who will trust in Him with all of their hearts–He will transform them into the image of His Son.

There are only two places in the New Testament where we can look to see this same word used. Both places are very helpful for helping us understand this process of transformation that Paul is talking about. The first instance is found in Mark 9:2-3. Let’s read together.

2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. (Mark 9:2-3 NIV)

Jesus was changed, He was transformed, or as Mark says, “He was transfigured.” Jesus didn’t decide that He would transform Himself right before the eyes of Peter, James, and John–God transformed Him. In the next Scripture I want us to take a look at we will see even clearer how this transformation takes place. Read along with me from 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV)

Did you notice that? We “are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory.” We don’t have the power to transform ourselves, but God is in the process of transforming us, sanctifying us, changing us more and more into the image of His Son.

How does this process of transformation take place? Great question. Do you buy a self-help book? Sign-up for one of Oprah’s online classes? Do we get serious about what we are doing? Make a chart? Write a list of ten things to do every day? You can do all of those things, but Paul has a different recommendation for us. Go back to Romans 12:2 with me. What does Paul say?

2 Do not conform any longer 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. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

Paul says to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This isn’t the only place where Paul speaks about the importance of the mind in battling old thought patterns which come naturally to us. In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul tells us,

20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:20-24 NAS)

The phrase, “in the spirit of your mind,” speaks to a deeper reality than simply examining the gray matter of our brains. D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones makes a very good point about the difference between our minds and the “spirit of our minds” when he writes,

This is a very important point because the mind, as such, is really just a neutral instrument. Take a man who is not a Christian, but then is converted. There is a sense in which he always has the same mind. A man who was rather dull and lacking in ability does not suddenly become a genius because he has become a Christian! Your faculties and powers are not changed when you are regenerated.

There are men and women in our world who are brilliant, who have wonderful brains–quick and alert. Yes, but they are using that ability to some base and unworthy end. That is one of the great tragedies of life today, is it not? You must not say that these people who blaspheme and utter foul things on the television are unintelligent. That is not their trouble–The trouble is not in their minds, it is in the thing that controls their minds. The thing that matters in a person is ‘the spirit of the mind,’ that essence, that ultimate power of control which determines everything else. (D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Exposition of Chapter 12: Christian Conduct. The Banner of Truth Trust: Edinburgh. 2000. pg. 106-107.)

Our mind begins to be renewed as we relinquish control, stop allowing our culture and our desires to control us, and submit our minds to God. We are born with a certain mindset, it is a mindset that is set on us, but once we come to know Christ that mindset is incompatible with the life we are now called to live. Turn with me to Ephesians 2:1-5 and you will be better able to understand what I am talking about. Paul writes,

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV)

Paul says that all of us use to follow our sin nature, its thoughts and desires. “Use to” is past tense. Present tense we belong to God, He has claimed us as His own, He has set His Spirit in our hearts, and He is shaping us, molding us, not according to the pervading culture, but into the image of His Son.

We must train our minds. Like an athlete trains his body. Like a surgeon sharpens her skills. Like a speaker strengthens his command of the English language and rapport with the audience. Like a singer shapes her voice. Like a craftsman honing his abilities. A follower of Jesus must train his or her mind as God works to mold our minds. If you will remember last week Paul urged us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. He said that this offering is our reasonable act of worship or service. Our bodies, like our minds, must be trained. They were once used for ungodly purposes, but now they have been called into God’s service. This is why Paul wrote,

25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:25-27 NIV)

The renewal of our minds is both a passive and an active transformation. God initiates the transformation when Christ comes to live in our hearts. Apart from God’s power we might alter our behavior to some degree, a reformation might happen from time to time, but there would be no hope of a transformation apart from God’s work in our minds. At the same time we are called to actively work with what God is doing. In Colossians 3:2-3 Paul wrote,

2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:2-3 NIV)

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” What are we to set our minds on? What is the transformation that God is bringing about in our lives? That’s a great question. We need to know the answer. The transformation is from being oriented to our will, to embracing God’s will for our lives. This is why Paul says in Romans 12:2,

2 Do not conform any longer 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. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

By not conforming, but being transformed by the renewing of our minds, then we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will. Paul is telling us that those who renew their minds will be able to discover certain things about the will of God. We will be able to know that God’s will is good, absolutely good, the best plan for our life that could ever be. We will be pleased with God’s plan for our life instead of second guessing God all the time. We will be able to know that God in His Sovereignty has planned a perfect course for our life. Not our will, not our plan, not our desires or wants, but God’s will alone is all of these things.

This is so important for us to understand. For most of us, we believe these things about God and His will for our lives as long as things are going well for us. When the bills are paid, sickness is still visiting someone else’s house, our kids are well-behaved, and our team is on the winning track, then God is good and His work in our lives is good as well. When things go “south” and we lose our job, we find that our health is failing, our spouse walks out on us, or our kids are struggling then we begin to question God. We certainly wouldn’t have done it that way. We think our plan is so much better than God’s plan. The person who willingly works with God in the training of their mind learns that God’s will is good, even though it may not be enjoyable, it is pleasing in that we are satisfied that He knows what He is doing, and we know that it is perfect, even though we continue to suffer from many imperfections. That is why Paul was able to write in Romans 8:28.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29 NIV)

Aw, there’s that word again. The word, “conform.” Did you notice? We are not to conform any longer to the pattern of the world because God is in the process of transforming us so that we are conformed to the likeness of His Son. Wow! What an amazing truth! Erwin Lutzer says, “The difference between worldliness and godliness is a renewed mind.”

Some people believe that information is what is lacking for us to fix what is wrong with us and our world. Others believe that the reformation of our ways, policies, and practices will bring about the desired outcomes. God’s Word is quite clear–it is not information or reformation, but rather it is transformation that can bring about lasting change in our hearts and minds.

Real change begins at the Cross. When we surrender our lives to Christ, lay down our fixation on ourselves, humble ourselves and admit that not only are we not right, but we don’t even begin to know what “right” is, then and only then can God begin to work in our hearts and minds to transform us more and more, with each passing day into the image of His Son. I hope that today is the day that you will hear His voice and surrender to His plan for your life. Won’t you ask Jesus into your heart and allow Him to transform your mind?

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 15, 2014

The Transformed Mind
Romans 12:1-2
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