MESSAGE FROM ROMANS 12:2 For June 4, 2000
We continue this week in the first two verses of Romans chapter 12. Last week, we saw that this chapter begins a new section in the book of Romans. In this section, Paul builds on all that he has said up to this point as he writes of the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the previous sections of Romans, he has shown that the gospel saves the unrighteous from God’s wrath, makes believers righteous in God’s sight, delivers them from sin’s power and vindicates God’s name with respect to his dealings with national Israel. In this next section, he speaks of another element of the gospel just as real as these others. Paul speaks to the truth that the gospel, when accepted by faith, results in a changed life characterized by increasing obedience to God. A person who has believed the gospel and is a follower of Christ will have a transformed life. In these next chapters, Paul shows us the very real, tangible areas in a believer’s life the gospel transforms.
Last week, when we looked at verse one we saw that in these first two verses Paul, in one brief statement, summarizes what it is to live as a child of God. All other statements about Christian living can be placed under this wide umbrella he opens here in 12:1-2. In verse one, Paul tells us who we are and what our fundamental duty is as Christians. As we said, who we are is seen in the image of a sacrifice offered to God. Paul takes a picture out of Old Testament temple worship and within that context portrays the believer as one who, alive in Christ and living in Him, presents themselves as an offering to God. We exist to be a blessing to God and our God-centered, joy-inducing obedience to Him rises before his throne as a pleasing aroma. We said that this image of us as a sacrificial offering is a powerful reminder that we are not here for us, but we exist for the pleasure of God. We also noted how refreshing it is to see ourselves as simply an offering before God. This takes the pressure off of us to try to be important or highly respected or wealthy or whatever else this world values. That’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to exist as an offering for God, the obedience of our life being a holy, well pleasing sacrifice given to Him. That’s WHO we were created to be in Christ.
What we are to DO, broadly speaking, is also seen in the image of a sacrifice. Sacrifices offer up their lives to the One to whom they are offered. Unlike a sacrificial animal that is presented by its owner to be sacrificed, believers knowingly offer themselves to God for obedient service, up to, and including, death. This is at the very core of Christian living. We exist to die for God. We are called to live lives of self denial, dying to our selfish desires and obeying God even up to a willingness to suffer physical death. That attitude is not reserved only for the martyrs or those who are in “high-risk” ministries. That self-giving, martyr’s heart is simply what the gospel produces in true believers in Christ. We said this willingness to die should not be looked at as a horrible cost, but an expression of our love for God. He is worthy of our obedience and our lives. And as we become more and more smitten with Him, we will more and more want to give ourselves totally to Him. In summary, that is both WHO we are as a result of the gospel and WHAT we are to do in response to the mercy of God seen in the gospel.
This week, we look into verse two where Paul tells us HOW we are able to live this kind of sacrificial-offering-life. He says, “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 rest and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” In order to understand what Paul is saying here, we must get a context for this by thinking back to what he has already written in this letter. Paul mentions here the “world” or “age” and warns us of being conformed to this world. The verb “conform” is, in my opinion passive and should be translated as it is in the King James version and others as “do not be conformed to this world.” The world is an active force which seeks to influence us to be like it and Paul says, to quote one translation, “don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”
You’ll remember from chapter six, that the Christian has been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. That is, we have been spiritually transferred out of this evil realm called the world. The “world” is a technical or spiritual term for Paul. He’s not talking about this planet, but an organized spiritual system that pervades this planet and is ruled by Satan. This world is a spiritually potent realm characterized by evil rebellion against God. As believers, even though we have been spiritually transferred out of this realm, our bodies still live here. Also, we continue to carry around this “flesh” part of us. This part is fallen and sinful and it is drawn like an electromagnet to the world and all the evil this world spews out. Our hearts are in heaven, so to speak, but our flesh is anchored to this world. That is, our new hearts in Christ long for God and his kingdom while our flesh is SELF-centered and wants to be influenced by this dark world system.
Both spiritual realms seek to influence us. The world seeks to conform us—to shrink-wrap us into its way of thinking and living. Our flesh seeks to anchor us to this world through its self-centered desires. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit seeks to influence us toward obedience to God. And we WILL be influenced by someone. Remember, we were not created to be autonomous or self-ruling. We are not created to be that way, we are a servant race. We will ultimately be influenced by God through the Holy Spirit for His glory or by the world through the flesh for our destruction. There is no middle ground.
With that understanding, we see that much of sanctification—that process of our becoming progressively like Christ, is a process of liberation. As believers, we belong in heaven, our hearts desire God, but our flesh is anchored to the world through indwelling sin. The process of sanctification, broadly speaking, involves being more and more liberated from the pull of this world through the flesh. Imagine being in a zero gravity environment. If we were left to ourselves, we would float freely. We would be free to move where we wanted, unaffected by the pull of gravity. That’s like living in the freedom of the Spirit, unfettered by the influence of this world through our flesh. And that is the goal of every Christian--to be so free from the pull of this world on our flesh, that we would do whatever God wanted, whenever He wanted it.
The WORK of liberation has already been done for us by Christ at Calvary. There, He broke the power of sin for us so that it would no longer have the capacity to dominate us—to drag us down. The work is done, but our experience of that freedom grows as we grow in faith or trust in Christ. Our faith is the conduit through which this liberating power or grace flows to us. We will never be completely free from the power of indwelling sin in this life, but we can know increasing and glorious new levels of that freedom in this life by faith in Christ.
As we said, our problem in this life is we have this ball and chain called the flesh and the world is able to pull us down through that. A faithful believer is one who is being progressively cut loose from the pull or bondage of the world through their flesh so they are more and more living in the freedom of obedience to God. In chapter six, Paul spends 10 verses explaining this freedom we have in Christ by virtue of our union with Him. Then in verse 12, he tells us “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies so that you obey its evil desires.” Verse 14, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” You hear that when Paul is speaking of the power of sin in the world and which resides in our flesh he uses words like “reign” and “master” to describe its agenda for us. It desires to reign in us and be our master.
It wants to keep us in bondage to this world system which is godless, self-centered and self-destructive. But that’s not who genuine believers are. Believers are not part of this world system, we have been transferred out of that realm according to the first ten verses of chapter six. We are “in” this world, but we are not “of” this world. Paul’s regular argument as it relates to the Christian life can be summed up in four words: “BE who you ARE.” If you are in Christ, you are part of the realm of heaven, set free by the blood of Christ, joined to Christ. Now, LIVE like it. He is saying, “don’t allow the enslaving power of sin in world system to get hold of you and anchor you to this world through your flesh.” Sanctification is liberation. Its liberation from the pull of this world through our flesh so that we can BE the people we ARE in Christ, living in obedience to God.
That is what Paul is reiterating here in chapter 12 when he says in verse two, “Do not be conformed to this world,…” That is all he is saying—the world seeks to put you in bondage to its ways of thinking and acting—Don’t allow that ball and chain to weigh you down. Don’t allow yourself to become like a piece of shrink wrap, tightly conformed to the satanic shape of this world. That’s the command or prohibition. The question is, how do you keep that from doing that? How do you resist that pull which can be so incredibly strong at times? What do you do to cooperate with and facilitate the upward, sanctifying pull of God to obedience? How do you progressively cut those chains which anchor us to the sin of this world?
Paul gives the answer when he says, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are not to be conformed—squeezed to fit into the pattern of this world, we are to be transformed. Notice the verb is passive. We are to allow this other influence—the influence of God in our lives to transform or literally, to metamorphose us. Earlier we said that sanctification was liberation. Here we see more of the picture. That is, that this sanctification is transformation…through liberation. The question is—“If I am to be transformed through liberation from the sin of the world, what is the liberating agent? What is this awesome force that can come and set me free –that will cut me loose from the anchor of my flesh to this world?”
We see from the next phrase, “by the renewing of your mind” this transformation through liberation from the world’s pull on our flesh is done through the mind. Our minds are the central part of this transformation. But what is the liberating agent that is sets us free and is connected to the mind? The liberating agent or power that sets us free is…THE TRUTH. Jesus said, “You shall know the TRUTH and the TRUTH shall make you free.” The truth is what cuts the chains of this world and frees us to be transformed into the image of Christ. The transforming, liberating agent in our sanctification is the truth. Jesus prays to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” There Jesus says that it is truth that transforms us. The truth sets us free to be more and more like Christ who is the truth. The point Paul is making in this verse is simply, Totally giving ourselves to God is done as we, by faith allow God to shape us through the His truth, instead of the lies of this world.” All this talk about the cosmic forces pulling on us from both the world and from God can be narrowed down to 1. the downward pull of the lies of this world and 2. the upward pull of the truth from God.
This sinful world system is fueled or driven by lies. This only makes sense because the ruler of this world is Satan, the Father of lies. Jesus said the truth is not in him and when he speaks, deception is his native tongue. He is “THE deceiver.” The appeal of all sin is in its ability to deceive us. Just as a fish bites on an artificial lure because he has been deceived into thinking it’s food, sin deceives us by offering something it can never deliver. Every time we sin, its because we have chosen to believe the lie of sin instead of the truth of God. We covet because we believe that having the object of our covetousness will make us happy—that’s a lie. We gossip because we are deceived into thinking that the feeling we get from sharing juicy information about someone is better than what we will receive by keeping our trap shut. That’s a lie. We lust because we buy into the lie that temporary pleasure is better than the pleasure of God found in a pure heart.
Paul calls us to be transformed by having our mind renewed. Think of it this way. As we’ve said, our bodies are in the world, but our hearts are in heaven if we are a believer. The way our flesh tries to drag us down and anchor us to this world is by influencing us to believe the lies of this world. Our flesh loves the lie and the lie of sin is ultimately the force that seeks to influence us to do its sinful, self-centered agenda. So what is the force that compels us to heaven?—the truth. Just as the lie is the language of Satan, truth is the language of God. And what part of us is it that receives either the lie or the truth? Our minds. Our bodies are on this earth, but our minds can keep us moving toward heaven as they choose to resist the lies and be informed by the truth and believe it. Just as the lie tries to drag our flesh down to earth, the truth, if our mind knows and believes it, lifts our hearts to heaven. And the truth is STRONGER than the lie. That is the verdict of Calvary because Jesus, who is the Truth sent the Father of lies down in flames.
Now, with respect to applying all of this, what does all this mean in our day to day lives? What do we do about this? It means that if we are to be transformed into the likeness of Christ means we must have our minds renewed. And since the renewing agent for our minds is the truth of God, it means we must inundate, saturate and infiltrate our minds with the truth of God. As our minds are soaked with the truth (and the best, most concentrated source of that true is the Scriptures) they are conditioned or programmed to delight in the things of heaven and hate the things of this sinful world. As our minds are influenced more and more by the truth, the power of the lie that fuels sin, the allure of that lie, the influence of the lie is progressively broken. The conforming agent of the world, the power of the lie is broken in our life. The lie is what conforms people to the world but the truth transforms them to be like Christ.
As we renew our minds by continually saturating them with the truth of God, the transforming power of truth will change us more and more into the image of Christ. The Being who changes us through that truth our minds take in is…the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians six where Paul tells us about the armor of God necessary for us to stand against the dark forces of this world, two of the pieces of armor are truth. First, there is the belt of truth that holds the sword and gathers the tunic while the soldier is marching. It keeps the soldier from being impeded in his marching. The truth brings all things together and enables us to stand. Second, there is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, the most powerful source of truth. The sword cuts through the power of the lie, revealing it to be an empty fraud and cuts the chain which holds us to the sin of this world. The word exposes the lies within us, “judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
As we saturate ourselves with the truth, the lies of the flesh which tell us of the pleasures of sin are renounced and cast aside. We are set free by the truth to BE who we ARE in Christ. This is seen in the final result of a person whose mind is renewed by the truth. Paul says, “Then [as your mind is renewed] you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” As our minds are renewed by the truth of God instead of polluted by the lies of this world, we will know what God wants us to do. AND we will WANT to do it. That’s what this word “approve” means in verse two. We “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…” This is the fulfillment of the New Covenant promise of Jeremiah 31 where he says that this New people of God will have the law of God written on their minds and hearts. As our minds are renewed, we will know and want to do what God wants us to do. This will include the so-called “major” decisions, but also the moment by moment decisions as we are in touch with God’s leading by the Spirit of truth.
We will be sensitive to what He wants us to do because our mind will be on the same frequency as His, the frequency of truth. The Spirit of truth can be so much more easily heard by a mind that is conditioned, renewed by the truth because that’s the language God speaks. The will of Jesus, who is the Truth is so much more easily discerned by a person whose mind is regularly being drenched with the truth. But a person who is regularly listening to the lies of this world, being anchored to this world through their flesh will NOT be able to hear God correctly. This helps us to understand why fleshly people so frequently miss God and can do downright stupid things in the name of God. So called Christians husbands believe it is the will of God to leave their wife and kids for another woman because they are so conditioned by the lies of this world, that to believe one more is perfectly consistent. The power of deception has ruthlessly taken hold in their lives so they are not even able to discern a HUGE lie anymore. If you were to look into their lives, you would find they are regularly exposing themselves to the lies of this world’s value system. They go to the same movies as the world, watch the same television, log on to the same web sites. Their mind is a garbage receptacle for the lies of the world. How are they supposed to act when they are so conformed to this sinful world?
People who call themselves Christians regularly hate and harbor unforgiveness and steal from their employers and the IRS and feel no guilt because they are conformed to this world by the power of the lie. Their flesh, instead of being crucified through self denial, is charting the course of their life and dragging them down to the pit of hell. They don’t know the will of God because the organ by which we discern the will of God, the mind is soaked NOT with the truth language of God, but the language of Satan, the lie. Naturally, they will be conformed to this satanic world than the kingdom of God.
What this boils down to is this. If we want to know what God wants us to do and if we want to have a strong desire to do it, then we have to change what is going into our minds. So many Christians live in defeat, constantly being plagued by feelings of helplessness in their walk with God. Part of them wants to do what God wants, but they persistently give in to the evil desires of their flesh. It’s a tortured life for a person who is a true believer. The problem is they are fighting the battle on the wrong front. They fight the battle (and lose) on the front of the temptation and although some battles must be fought there, if that is the only place we are fighting with sin, we are living in defeat. They fill their minds with the lies of the world through television and the rest of the media and then they can’t understand why they fail when faced with temptation. They are conditioning their minds to give in to the lie and when the lie of temptation comes, they give in to it and wonder why they can’t stop that certain sin.
The main battle is fought on the front of who has control of my mind. Why do you think Satan works so energetically to control the media and the music industries? The question is: am I feeding my mind the lies of this world’s value system by what I watch and read and who my human counselors are? Or am I inundating it with truth. Am I a daily STUDENT (not just reader) of the word? Am I memorizing the word, stamping its truth indelibly on my mind? Am I reading the empty pith of this world or am I reading meaty Christian literature? We need to be reading John Bunyan and A.W. Tozer and Oswald Chambers and Packer and Piper and other substantial devotional literature. Stuff that makes us THINK, perish the thought.
If you’re reading a book and you don’t have to think—if its just Christianized brain candy—it may not be hurting you, but its not renewing your mind. How can your mind be renewed when you are not really using it? Christian fiction can be wonderful if stimulates us to think, but if its purely entertainment, its not renewing our mind. It may be fine entertainment and that’s not unimportant, but we mustn’t think we are in any significant way being built up by it. The same is true for superficial, highly repetitive Christian music. It may be fine for entertainment, but its not effective as a sanctifying tool because the TRUTH is the sanctifying tool and the truth is brought into the mind as we THINK about it. Now, we must never take in this truth simply to fill our heads with knowledge. That’s not the goal of renewing our mind. The goal of renewing our mind is obedience—to be that pleasing sacrificial offering to God--to know God and be transformed by him.
Parents, you are the gatekeepers of your child’s mind. You are responsible to keep the lies of this world out of it and fill them with the truth. Are you doing family devotions together, reading the word together, doing the catechism together? Are you keeping them away from the Harry Potter’s and the Pokemons of this world? If we aren’t gate-keeping their minds, keeping the lies out with their power to conform them to this world, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover someday in the future that they have little or no interest in the truth of God.
If we want to be living sacrifices with lives characterized by obedience, the way to do that is not complicated. We simply, by the grace of God need to draw a line in the sand and commit to making our minds a haven for truth and an unfriendly harbor for the lies of this world. And then we need to eliminate all those sources that vomit the lies of this world into our heads and increase the inventory of truth-bearing sources, beginning and ending with the word of God. May God give us the grace to do this that we might be holy, well pleasing sacrifices for Him.
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