To the Word

Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

My Photo
Location: Mud Creek, Tennessee, United States

Monday, January 03, 2005

Transformation and Renewal

Romans 12:1-2
Preached Sunday morning, January 2, 2005
New York Avenue Church of Christ

Paul’s letter to the Romans takes a significant turn here at the beginning of chapter 12. Up to this point, we’ve been dealing with the foundations of Christian righteousness. God’s part is grace, a free gift of righteousness that we don’t deserve. Our part is faith, in the Lordship of God and in his loving mercy to save us and count us righteous through Jesus Christ. Now, after eleven chapters of teaching on how we do not deserve our righteous condition, we begin to see what a godly response to God’s mercy looks like [1]. The tone of the letter here turns to exhortation, urging and encouraging Christians to live holy lives. It’s significant that Paul, with all his authority as an apostle, does not command the Roman Christians to live lives of true discipleship—he implores them, “by the mercies of God” [2].

The mercies of God. That’s still the true foundation of Christian behavior. All the right actions called for in chapters 12-15 are not intended to earn God’s favor. They are responses to God’s mercy. As one writer has said, Christian behavior is not, “Do these things and you will live,” but rather, “Live and you will do these things” [3].

One thing is worth noting here at the beginning of our study. This passage about presenting our bodies to God is addressed to Christians, as is the whole letter to the Romans. The first eleven chapters of Romans have dealt with God’s mercy toward believers. Christians have been saved by grace. That’s an impossibly good situation (although with God, all things are possible) [4]. How can we possibly respond to such a gift? For the rest of the letter Paul tells us. There’s something here that non-Christians would do well hearing also. Lest there be any confusion, here is what the Christian life looks like in practice: love, patience, peace, sacrifice, transformation. Jesus told those who would follow him to count the cost (Lk. 14:28). Here we begin to see what that cost involves.

In Rom. 12:1 Christians are implored to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. This is another way of saying we must deny ourselves daily, take up our cross, and follow Jesus (Lk. 9:23). A living sacrifice. As Christians we aren’t expected to be a dying sacrifice; Jesus already did that. Our spiritual service of worship as the church is to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. In doing this—sacrificing our time and money and energy and pleasure to the service of God—we are giving ourselves as a thank offering to the Lord [5]. When we offer our bodies to God, we put into action our confession of Christ by acknowledging God’s lordship [6].

Isn’t it interesting that Paul begins his exhortation with a call to sacrifice? As human beings we don’t generally like sacrifice. Oh sure, mature adults don’t mind sacrificing a little bit here and there. We’ll sacrifice a little change in the Salvation Army kettle, maybe a couple of hours to help a neighbor. We may sacrifice a whole year of Sunday dinners so we can afford a cruise next summer. But offering our bodies as living sacrifices? That’s asking a lot. But we’ll see here, as elsewhere in the Bible, that God asks for much only when he offers much more. To find that “much more” we need only look as far as the next verse, where we have a very powerful promise.

In Rom. 12:2 we are implored not to be conformed to this world—literally, to this “age.” This is probably the single biggest challenge to the Christian, in this and every age. As others have pointed out, if we know Scripture we can point out false doctrine relatively easily. But worldliness creeps into the church almost imperceptibly. Questions of worldliness are not always easy to answer in everyday life: When does watching TV become wasted time? How much money is too much to spend on entertainment? How much do we value what the world values? Do we have a Christian view toward justice and life? Do we put God first in our lives, or do our comfort and pleasure really take the lead?

Resisting conformity to the world is not a matter of making a “spiritual checklist” and checking off acts of obedience—no cussing, no smoking, no gambling, attend church, give money, etc. If you’re like I’ve been most of my Christian walk, you probably like a checklist. Checklists give us clear instructions on what to do, and they have the added pleasure of giving us a false sense of our own righteousness. As one preacher has wisely noted, however, “Transformation is not switching from the to-do list of the flesh to the to-do list of the law” [7]. Discipleship is really a much deeper matter—a matter of the heart and mind. We can give up a long list of bad behaviors, take up a whole mess of good ones, and still be “saturated by the spirit of the age” [8].

Not being conformed to the world begins with clearly seeing the world, this present age, for what it really is. Having that clarity of vision is extremely difficult, because nearly everything and everyone around us—television, radio, co-workers, neighbors, maybe even family members—are working at some level in trying to conform us to the world. That’s the nature of the world—it’s all around us—and almost everything is working to conform us to that world, the realm of Satan (Jn. 12:31, 14:30).

Now, we’re in dangerous territory when a preacher more or less tells you not to trust anybody or anything. The world doesn’t want us to question things too much. The world has a word for what religious groups do when they urge you to question everything you’ve held dear all your life—it’s called brainwashing. And yes, it’s dangerous to believe any human beings who tell you to be suspicious of everything you hear, except for what they tell you. That’s why you shouldn’t take my word for it. It’s not about what I say, or anyone else. It’s about what God says. That’s why we need to know and understand his Word. Let’s keep looking at the Word.

Jesus calls his disciples to be in the world but not of it (Jn. 15; 1 Jn. 2:16). God made the world good (Gen. 1), but Satan is now the illegitimate ruler of the world (Jn. 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; Eph. 2:2). Because Satan is, during the present age, exercising influence over the world order, it is impossible without the Word of God to see the world for what it really is. Paul went so far as to tell the Corinthians, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).

So where is the hope of not being conformed? By being transformed by the renewal of our minds. That means, fundamentally, that we must be willing to change [9]. Those are our only choices—conformity or transformation. Remember, this passage is to Christians. When we first begin our walk of discipleship, we haven’t been transformed very much from our worldliness. When we’ve been walking for years, we still have a lot of transformation to do. All Christians are called to grow, to be transformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). As Paul told the Ephesians, “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 the hardness of their heart” (Eph. 4:17-18).

Christian discipleship is not about adding salvation to our “good life list”— put in a good day’s work, put a little money in savings, buy a nice house, help other people, go to church, smile. That’s worldly thinking. Christian discipleship is about a whole new way of life—a life of the Spirit. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). Christians aren’t better people. They are new creations in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

New creations. That’s really quite wonderful. On the one hand, we won’t enjoy many of the benefits of being Christians until the end of time, at the resurrection. On the other hand, one of most wonderful gifts from God right now is being transformed by the renewing of our minds—learning to think and act in new ways that the world cannot teach us. Can you look back over your life and praise God for the change he’s made in you since becoming a Christian? If so, please take a moment and thank him right now, and pray that your friends and family members who don’t know the transforming power of Jesus Christ will come to a knowledge of the truth.

As we’ve said, Christian discipleship is not a matter of a to-do list; it’s a matter of changing our hearts. Yet the next four chapters of Romans give the details of what that transformation looks like [10]. Why, if it’s really a matter of the heart, do we need a list of virtues? Because the Word of God transforms, and we need to know what good discipleship looks like. Note that we don’t transform ourselves. The two verbs in Rom. 12:2 (be conformed, be transformed) are passive. God does the transforming. We either resist or cooperate. Over the next few weeks we’ll see in Romans 12-15 what that cooperation looks like. Right here, though, we are promised a wonderful gift if we choose to cooperate with God’s transformation of our minds: we may test and approve the will of God.

Have you ever had an important decision to make and wanted to know the will of God? Have you ever wondered how to find out what God’s will was in a particular situation? Here’s how—through being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It’s not a matter of looking for signs or hearing a voice of revelation. It’s much better, really. It’s a matter of having God’s will down inside, something that grows in us and we take with us everywhere we go. God can certainly give us a sign or speak in an audible voice to us if he wants to. But he does better than that. He gives us wisdom. He gives us not only his will, but his mind, so to speak. “God’s aim is a new mind, a new way of thinking and judging, not just new information. His aim is that we be transformed, sanctified, freed by the truth of his revealed Word” [11].

This idea of “testing and approving” the will of God is more than simply intellectually knowing it, by the way [12]. Proving the will of God has a component of action. Knowing God’s will without doing it is useless. If we’re transformed by God, however, we not only know the will of God, we put it into action. Although we are not saved by doing good, God will be pleased with us at the resurrection for having lived out his will (Phil. 1:9-11).

Knowing and doing God’s will is also part of a joyful existence right here, right now. As Christians, the more we’re transformed, the more we can deal effectively with troubles in the world: mistreatment, injustice, sickness, declining health, death. Being transformed in the renewal of our mind is another way of describing the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 3:22-23). As much as we have those qualities rooted in our lives, the world can’t really do much to shake us.

So by giving ourselves, body and mind, to God, we’re transformed. God does the transforming, but we cooperate by immersing ourselves in the Word of God, by lifting up prayer continually in the name of Jesus, by being willing to change our thoughts and actions. When we do, we begin to see the world as it really is, and to find “the depth of the riches and wisdom of the knowledge of God” (Rom. 11:33). Then we begin to know and do the will of God, and to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

God urges us to give ourselves to him. Not as a sacrifice that kills, but as one that gives life—new life as the men and women, boys and girls he created us to be.

1. Jack Cottrell, Romans, vol. 2, College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press, p. 307. See also Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Road to Renewal,” online study at
2. Deffinbaugh.
3. Leon Morris in Cottrell, 307.
4. Mt. 19:26, Mk. 10:27.
5. Deffinbaugh.
6. Thomas Constable,
Dr. Constable’s Notes on Romans, 2004 edition. Online commentary at, p. 130.
7. John Piper, “The Renewed Mind and How to Have It,” online sermon text at
8. Ray C. Stedman, “Living Day By Day,” online sermon text at
9. Deffinbaugh.
10. Cottrell, 317.
11. John Piper, “What is the Will of God and How Do We Know It?” online sermon text at
12. Deffinbaugh.

Copyright 2005, A. Milton Stanley


Post a Comment

<< Home