Romans 12:1-2 “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. 2 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.”
- The negative imperative “do not be conformed” assumes that most of the Roman believers were being tempted to be like the world around them. The same is true of us. Without intentional effort to avoid conformity with the world, our default setting is to reflect the sinful environment in which we live. Our flesh is the same as that of the world, but the difference is that we have been given a new heart and the Spirit of God within us to help us go to war against the flesh and the ways of the world. While we are redeemed from the Old Man (“the sin nature”), we have not yet been fully-sanctified (2 Cor. 5:17). We still have a tendency to wander from the things of God and imitate the things of the world. The truth is, we never remain stagnant. We are either imitating the world or we are imitating the word; we are either worldly or we are godly. There is no middle-ground. Conformity is neither neutral nor accidental. What we set our hearts and minds on determines what we reflect (Col. 3:1-3; 2 Cor. 3:18); essentially we are what we worship. As Greg Beale has noted in his book We Become What We Worship, “What you revere you resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (Ps. 115:4-8; Ex. 32-34; Is. 6; Ps. 115).
- The command is to not be conformed to the world. Conformity is not, in and of itself, bad. After all, the purpose of redemption involves God conforming us to the likeness of His Son (Rom. 8:28-30). In elaborating on this portion of the text, there is an idea that is slightly obscured by most English translations. In an effort to be thorough without being technical, I hope to tease out this obscurity. The literal translation of the term “world” in this passage is actually “age”. In Scripture, the concept of two distinct ages is presented (“the present evil age” and “the age to come”). The Pauline corpus, among others, provides multiple examples of this line of thinking: the present age (1 Cor. 2:6-8; Gal. 1:3-4), the age to come (Heb. 6:5), and both in relation to one another (Matt. 12:32; Eph. 1:19-20). As there is a war between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17), there is also a battle between this present age and the age to come. The tension comes between the one who “rules” this present evil age (Eph. 2:2; 2 Cor. 4:3) and the One who is the rightful, and Sovereign King who reigns from the age to come (Ps. 2; 1 Cor. 15:20-28; Col. 1:10-20; Rev. 19:11-16).
- Believers live in this present world (“age”), but are not supposed to be of it (Jn. 17:11-19). It is the purpose of the ruler of this age to distract our attention from the age to come and to blind unbelievers to the good news that the age to come has begun, and currently coexists, with the present evil age. Essentially, the kingdom of God has been initiated through the life and death of Christ. The ruler of this age as distorted the truths of the gospel and perverted many who would claim to walk as Jesus walked, but we know that this present evil age is passing away (1 Jn. 2:15-17) and soon all of creation will recognize the lordship of Christ when the kingdom of God is fully completed. While the believers are tempted to love the temporary, trivial, and ungodly things of this world, Paul instructs them to treasure the timeless things of God. We are sponges who either soak up the word of God or soak up the ways of the world, and we ring out the water of godliness or worldliness depending on what we store up in our hearts.
- Be transformed by the renewing of your minds reveals both the purpose and the process of God’s work to sanctify us. Since we live in the present evil age but are being conformed to the age to come, God has accepted us as we are (imperfect) with the agenda to change us into the image of His Son (perfect). The purpose is that we might be transformed into what we were created to be: holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4; Eph. 5:25-30) as those who reflect the image of His Son (Gen. 1:26-27; Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 3:18). Our creation, and subsequent redemption, has designed us to be mirrors that reflect the glory of God to the rest of creation and the praise of creation back to Him as the chief Object of worship. The process by which God accomplishes our sanctification is through the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the word in our lives (Jn. 17:17; 2 Cor. 3:18). Through reading, meditating, and obeying the word of God, we behold the image of Christ and are transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to another. In other words, God uses our study of Scripture to renew our minds (Ps. 19:7-14; Ps. 119). Thus, our sanctification (“growth in godliness”) is a progressive process of seeing Christ more clearly in Scripture and reflecting him more clearly in our lives. God shapes us as a sculptor diligently chips away at a stone in order to make it reflect the image of his design.
- Over time, the Holy Spirit will bless the transforming power of the Scriptures upon our lives in a way that applies the redeeming power of the gospel to our thoughts, our emotions, our character, our passions, our behavior. He will chip away the sinful habits and selfish motives that belong to the Old Man that was crucified with Christ. Instead, He will cause us to resemble the New Man who has been remade in the image of Christ. He has changed the very core of who we are so that we might better reflect Jesus Christ, but the transformation is not finished. One day soon the work shall be made complete when we finally see Jesus as He is and become like Him (1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 3:16-18; 1 Jn. 3:1-2; Phil. 1:6, 3:20-21; Col. 1:28; 4:12; Heb. 12:1-3). Let us therefore be transformed by the renewing of our minds… for “clarity in your thoughts breeds passion in your affections.” Clearly understanding who Jesus is will cultivate in us a passionate love for knowing, obeying, and reflecting His holy character. Instead of having our minds patterned after this world and Satan who “rules” it, we are to have our minds patterned after the world to come and Christ who rules all!!
Questions for Meditation:
In what ways/areas are you most tempted to conform to the world around you?
What do you resemble (the word or the world) and what does that reflect as the object of your worship?
Since the means of transformation is the renewing of your mind, how diligently have you read, study, and meditate on the word of God so that the Holy Spirit might grow you in grace and truth as you seek to obey the teaching that you’ve heard?
 George Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: “The present age is evil, but the Kingdom of God belongs to The Age to Come. The Kingdom of God, both as the perfect manifestation of God’s reign and the realm of completed blessing, belongs to the The Age to Come… His [Jesus’] mission, as well as His Messiahship, was a ‘mystery’; it was not to bring the evil Age to its end and inaugurate The Age to Come. It was rather to bring the powers of the future Age to men in the midst of the present evil Age; and this mission involved His death.” The theology of “already/not yet” was formally proposed by Gerhardus Vos and further elucidated by George Ladd. Articles/Illustrations on the “two ages”: Two Ages, Charts, Simple Illustration provide a helpful clarification of this theological proposal and its Scriptural evidence. I highly recommend reading George Ladd for a better understanding of this topic.
 Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
 Tullian Tchividjian has an excellent book entitled, Unfashionable, where he quotes D.L. Moody as to the relationship between the church and the culture: “The place for the ship is the sea, but God help the ship if the sea gets into it.”
 Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes: “…Light in the understanding breedeth heat of love in the affections. Claritas in intellectu parit ardorem in affectu [Clarity in your thoughts breeds passion in your affections]. In what measure the sanctified understanding seeth a thing to be true, or good, in that measure the will embraces it. Weak light breeds weak inclinations; a strong light, strong inclinations…” – Richard Sibbes, The Works, Vol. I, p. 59.