One of the criticisms of the church today is that the people in the church are no different than all the other people in the world. Certainly, in one sense, we are just like everyone else. We are not perfect people by any stretch of the imagination. We struggle, fail, get discouraged, get angry, and do stupid things. The saying is true: “Christians aren’t perfect, they are just forgiven.”
However, when people look at the church and see nothing distinctive about it except it’s rules and regulations, something is drastically wrong. When they hear professions of faith but see no evidence of faith in the way people live, there is a problem. When people look at the church they should see people who work at kindness, people who are more committed to their marriages, families, job, and country than anyone else in the world. They should see some difference in us.
This is the message the Apostle Paul is trying to get us to understand at the beginning of Romans 12. He wants us to see that since we are people who were dead in sin and made alive by God’s Spirit and Sovereign grace because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we should live differently.
Paul begins the twelfth chapter by challenging us to respond to God’s wonderful mercy by giving ourselves to His service. He doesn’t just want us to understand what Christians believe (as important as that is). . . . He wants us to learn how to walk with Christ in newness of life.
Paul continues this idea in Romans 12 verse 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. [NIV]
The New Living translation translates the verse this way:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is. [NLT]
This verse is practical and to the point. I like the fact that it falls nicely into three parts: What we are to avoid (conforming the pattern of the world or letting the world squeeze us into it’s mold); what we are to do instead (be transformed by the renewal of our minds); and the benefit that comes from doing this (we will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –his good pleasing and perfect will). I want to take some time this morning to focus on three questions that this command of God raises in my heart and I hope in yours.
- What is the pattern of the world we are supposed to avoid?
- How does one go about renewing their mind?
- How does this process help us to find God’s will for our lives?
WHAT IS THE PATTERN OF THE WORLD?
Paul tells us to not to be conformed to the world around us. Unfortunately that is somewhat like telling me that I need to replace the timing belt on my car. I can nod and acknowledge that it is a clear directive. I can repeat it to others and memorize it. However, if I don’t know where the belt is located or how to repair it, I won’t be able to do as I was told. It’s important we learn to recognize worldly thinking. Here are four characteristics.
Man is the Center of everything. This is best illustrated by the obsession with the separation of church and state. It is OK to dabble in religious stuff as long as you don’t allow it to impact your daily living! The secularist (as this person may be called) does not believe in a God who oversees and rules the universe. They don’t really believe in an afterlife or eternal. The only thing that matters is the here and now.
In the last couple of weeks there was a verdict overturned in a court because the jury referenced the Bible in making their decision! This is a perfect illustration of the clash of worldviews. The Secular worldview has no room for a Christianity that impacts a life.
Experience is More Important that Truth. Our society tends to measure the importance of things by “how it makes me feel”. You hear people all the time say, “Well, it works for me!” What matters to the world is not whether or not something is true, it is whether or not it meets my needs and makes me feel fulfilled. This is often called pragmatism.
Images are Valued more than Words. Social scientists say we are no longer linear thinkers. In other words, our society doesn’t wrestle with arguments anymore. People get more of their beliefs from television, the movies, and the internet that from books..
We are living at a time that emphasizes sound bites over rational discussion. Think about the recent Presidential elections. Candidates use the debate time to try to look good, calm, and presidential. Questions are asked and sidestepped in order to get “sound-bites” out to the audience. The people running campaigns understand that a good image is better than a good program. A bad photo op will overshadow the most articulate of candidates.
Values Are Relative In our present society morality and values are determined not by a Divine standard but by human opinion. Values change according to the individual and with the flow of public opinion. The key character trait is sincerity. The most important virtue in our society is tolerance. It is important that we are sincere about our beliefs and allow other people to be sincere about their beliefs . . . even if they are contradictory.
This values neutral society opens the door to
- Immoral relationships (l am more fulfilled….pragmatism)
- Ripping off your employer, or stealing from others (I deserve more than I have been paid) or in the case of taxes (the government will waste my hard earned money)
- Billing your insurance for something that didn’t happen (insurance companies are over-charging us)
- Lying to get ahead (everybody does it)
- Terrorist acts are applauded (those people are devoted to Allah)
- Sanctioning and giving special protections to behaviors such as homosexuality. (But they love each other)
In each case (and in thousands of others) wrong behavior (according to the Bible) is rationalized in a way that makes it appear virtuous!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO RENEW YOUR MIND?
Paul says we are to not conform to this way of thinking but are to be “transformed”. The word for transformed is the word from which we get our word metamorphosis. This is the word used for when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. It denotes a radical change. It is the same word used for the transfiguration of Jesus; when Jesus appeared on a mountain with Moses and Elijah and His clothes and face were radiant.
How does this transformation take place? To help us understand we need to learn some things from the grammar of the text. Grammar can sometimes be a little boring but in this case it is very significant.
- Transformation is not a one-time event but a continuous process. The command in the Greek is in the present tense. Paul is saying, “Continue to let yourself be transformed”. This is not a decision we make one time; it is a lifestyle we pursue.
- This transformation comes by God’s power. The verb is in the passive tense. Simply put it means the one being changed is being acted upon by another. The verse should read, “let yourselves be transformed”. God’s Spirit brings this change in thinking. We need to let God do His work.
- Since the verb is in the imperative mood it means that though God brings the change our responsibility is not cancelled. There are things we need to do to allow God’s Spirit to work in us.
As any deadly poison needs an antidote, so worldly thinking needs to be counteracted. How?
It begins with a different foundation. We must recognize that we are not here by chance. The antidote to secularism is to believe the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God…” The world did not “just happen” it was designed by the Creator. We must have an eternal perspective. We believe that right now counts forever. What we do here and now has an eternal impact.
The antidote to relativism is to recognize that God has spoken. God has given us His instruction in the Bible. The Bible is our standard of authority. We may not always understand and we may not always agree as to how to interpret certain passages, but what we do understand we obey.
Wouldn’t it be great if Christians studied the word of God as carefully as a football player studies his play book or as a young man studies a catalog filled with beautiful women? Consider how our thinking would change if we studied the Bible as carefully as we do the videotape of our golf swing or the medical report from our Doctor. If it is the standard of truth we must become acquainted with the standard.
Second, we must think critically. That doesn’t mean we should criticize everyone. It means we should listen carefully to what people are saying, whether it is an author, teacher, newscaster, or friend. Here are some simple principles for thinking more critically (or biblically):
- We must study our culture diligently. We need to identify the presuppositions of our society.
- We must evaluate everything theologically. In other words, in every situation we should start with a simple question: “Has the Bible spoken to this issue already?” If it has spoken we must hear and obey.
- We must engage the culture wisely.
Dr. Boice illustrates this kind of wise discussion by a conversation he had on a plane. Notice how he confronts the worldly thinking not with aggressiveness but with a question. After sharing the gospel, the listener responded with, “That’s just your opinion!” (a very popular retort among moral relativists). Boice wisely responded, “You’re right that this is my opinion but that is not really what matters. What matters is: Is it true?” “Well” said the person, “perhaps it is true for you, but it is not true for me.” Boice again said, “It is true that I feel that this is true, but the issue is not whether you or I feel it is true . . . the question is: is it truth.”
Sometimes when we say something is wrong behavior we will hear people say, “You don’t know the situation this person is in. If you were in their situation, you might do the same thing.” The proper response again is, “You may be right. I don’t always do the right thing. The question is not what I might do . . . the question is, “What is the right thing to do?”
Others might say, “Hey, a person cannot help the way they are!” It sounds noble but it’s wise to respond, “Do you believe that to be true about child molesters or psychotic killers? Don’t all people have to control urges of some sort? What is the standard of right and wrong?”
Others say, “But those people aren’t hurting anybody.” We respond, “If what they are doing is moving them further from the Lord, aren’t they at least hurting themselves and those who love them? Aren’t they hurting our society by eroding the foundations of truth?”
The wise person engages the culture with questions rather than declarations. Our goal is to help other people think and to see the implications of their words and ideas.
HOW WILL THIS HELP US FIND GOD’S WILL?
Paul says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Let’s turn this around and state it negatively: if you do not renew your mind and do not turn from the thinking of the world, you will not be able to discern the will of the Lord.
Paul seems to say the will of God is found when we hear what God tells us in His Word and begin to obey by faith. It is not found simply through knowledge, but through knowledge that is applied!
Think of it like having a flashlight in a dark obstacle course. You will only be able to see part of the course at a time, but if you move forward in the light you see you will navigate the course without trouble.
Gerald Sittser writes,
The will of God, as it turns out, is not something we need to discover, for it is as plain as the nose on our face. Rather, it is something we need to do.
In the rare moments when I am ruthlessly honest with myself, I realize that my anxious efforts to discover the will of God distract me from facing the real issue. I simply do not do the will of God that is already clear to me. I would rather assign the will of God to the far-off future, where I can safely or anxiously contemplate it as a range of options from which I must choose one. That option seems far safer than treating it as it really is, a set of commands (e.g., the general principles of the Ten Commandments) that show me in no uncertain terms how I should live my life every day in the light of God’s grace. My problem is not that I do not know the will of God; it is that I do not do the will of God I already know. It is not ignorance that plagues me; it is lack of faith and stubbornness of heart. I am like a child who worries about what she is going to do on the weekend as a convenient excuse for not doing the chores assigned for the day.
Do you remember the time Jesus told his disciples, if you are not faithful in little things you will not be entrusted with big things? To put it in today’s terms: if you don’t serve well in the mailroom you will never make it to the boardroom! We discover God’s will a step at a time. We discover God’s will as we follow Him on a daily basis. As we follow and serve the Lord we find that His will opens up to us. We begin to understand what He is doing and what He wants us to do. We discover that God’s will is good, pleasing, sufficient and fulfilling.
Every one of us is an imitator of sorts. This is easy to see in little children. A child hears someone say something and that child will mimic what he/she hears. This is how we develop our language skills. As we are growing up we like to pretend that we are our favorite athlete, musician, or celebrity. We cringe when we see kids imitate our bad habits. We recognize peer pressure among teenagers. We’ve heard the studies that sex and violence on TV has an impact on the behavior of those who watch.
We continue to be imitators as we grow up even though this imitation may be more subtle. If you travel down south for any period of time you will most likely find yourself beginning to speak with a bit of a drawl. We tend to mimic the people we hang out with. We adopt their catch phrases, pick up some of their idiosyncrasies, and can easily absorb their values (because we want to be accepted).
The Apostle Paul recognized the impact our culture has on us. He challenges us to be alert to the influences around us. His admonishes us to be deliberate in the models we imitate. He calls us to hang out with God so His character begins to wear off on us. He calls us to surround ourselves with Godly thinking so that others may see Christ in us.
If we want the world to notice the difference that Christ makes in a life, we need to consciously allow Christ to make that difference in our lives. We begin this process by taking control of our minds.