Digging in Deeper: Romans 12:2

“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

One of the joys of engaging regularly with the Scriptures is that they are always fresh. Always. Even when you have read and studied a certain passage many times, still there are depths to be explored as you allow the Holy Spirit to lead you further and deeper into an understanding of the God who is revealing Himself through these ancient words. This reality greeted me the other morning as I looked at Romans 12:2, a verse I’ve spent a lot of time with in the past. Let me share with you this morning what new (to me) perspective the Spirit shared with me.

Romans 12:1-2 are very familiar to many folks who have spent much of any time studying the Scriptures. Now, I didn’t include v. 1 here because my focus is going to be on the end of v. 2, but they are best taken together. This pair has been studied from multiple different angles over the centuries. It’s hard to find anything truly new to say about them. And, what I have to say this morning is almost certainly not a thought that hasn’t been had many times before by many other teachers and preachers and studiers of this text. But it was new to me. As I said, I want to focus in on just the end of the verse here, but let’s walk through the verse as a whole to have a better sense of what’s going on when we get there.

Paul calls followers of Jesus here to be different from the world around them. He uses the phrase “this age,” to talk about his own time period, but that phrase applies equally to every time period. No matter where and when a follower of Jesus has lived out her time on earth, the culture around her is not reflective of the kingdom of God toward which she should be living. Because we are swimming along in a giant school of fish that all look the same and think the same and live in the same water, though, it is uncomfortably easy for us to simply blend in. After all, while the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the tallest nail gets pounded. We don’t want to be the tallest nail. At least, we don’t want to be the tallest nail in a way that will get us pounded. It is possible to stand out from the crowd by being the most like the culture around us. That brings great cultural acclaim and celebration. Given the choice between the two options, most of us are going to inherently lean in that direction.

Jesus, however, was different. He stood out like a sore thumb everywhere He went. He stood out so much because everything He said and did was so radically different from the culture around Him. Yet His differences were not off-putting. They were – and are – incredibly attractive. He was the perfect balance of grace and truth (that balance was found in being 100% of both). He constantly accepted people just as they were, but He was also unfailingly committed to not leaving them as they were. When Jesus called His followers to be salt and light, He was calling them (us) to follow His example of being different from the world, of not conforming to it as Paul would later say.

Being different like this, though, is not something we can do on our own. We have to be transformed from what we were into this new thing. Fortunately, this transformation is exactly what Jesus comes to do in us through the Holy Spirit. In another letter, Paul said that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come. This is transformational language. We go through a metamorphosis in Christ. We start as one thing, and He makes us into something else. We become kingdom citizens who are fit for heaven and standing in the presence of a holy God.

This isn’t a physical transformation, though, but a spiritual one. More specifically, it is a transformation found in a renewal of our minds. If we are going to live and behave as citizens of the kingdom of God, this will only happen when we stop thinking like a citizen of this world. Thinking leads to doing. If you tell me what a person believes, I will tell you how that person is going to behave. If you show me a person’s behavior, I will tell you what that person believes. Believing and doing are intimately connected. There is a direct, one-to-one correspondence between the two. We can profess to believing anything we want, but our actual beliefs will always be the thing controlling our behavior. This is why Paul says this transformation process comes by way of a renewal of our minds. This is only something Jesus can do. And He can only do it if we are willing to trust Him enough to take on these new beliefs.

That’s all background to what I want to share with you this morning. What caught my attention as I was reading through this verse this time is the results of all of this. As much as Paul was a spiritual giant, He was nonetheless still a realist. He recognized that getting our hearts and minds around God’s will isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. Yes, there are things in his letters about which Paul is clear that they are His will, but sometimes in a day-to-day sense, we struggle to know where God wants us to go, or what God wants us to do in a given situation. Honor Him, sure, but how?

When our minds are renewed, Paul says, we are able to discern the will of God. How many times do we wish we knew what God’s will was in a given moment. Now, we have several verses in the New Testament where the author spells out that one thing or another is God’s will for us in Christ. We can lean on those general visions of His will in nearly all of our circumstances and we will keep ourselves on track with it. But if we are really going to ever fully discern what it is God wants for and from us, that will only happen when we are discerning it will a Spirit-renewed mind.

The reason for this is fairly simple to grasp. If we want to understand what God is doing and wants us to do, we have to think like God thinks. That same basic principle applies in all sorts of different places in our lives. If you want to understand what anyone really wants, learn how they think. When we think like God thinks, we’ll do what God does. And when we are doing what God does, we’ll always be in the center of His will. That won’t always (or even often) be a safe or comfortable place, but it will always be a place that leads to hope and peace and joy and life in abundance. My invitation to you this morning is to find ways to live with a renewed mind today. Think like God thinks and see what kind of changes that brings not only to your life, but to the lives of the people around you. You will indisputably be glad that you did.

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