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This article continues an on-going, verse-by-verse series on the exhortations in Romans 12.
2Do 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 (Rom. 12:2).
In Romans 12:1, Paul exhorted us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. However, in order to do that, we must be "transformed" so that we behave as a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, rather than as one who belongs to the world. Thus, Paul exhorts us strongly to conform no longer, but be transformed and renewed.
He starts with the words "Do not". This is in contrast to the exhortation in verse 1, where he "urged" us to offer ourselves to God. In verse 1, he was telling us something that we, as Christians, should do; in verse 2, he is telling us something that we must not do. There are things that Christians are urged to do, and there are things that Christians are commanded to avoid. The words "Do not" constitute a command.
Thus we, as children of God, are not by any means to "conform" to this world. Peter tells us to "live as strangers here, in reverent fear" (I Pet. 1:17). He also calls God's elect "aliens and strangers in the world" (I Pet. 1:1; 2:11). Our new birth into the kingdom of God necessarily should cause us to feel as if we are strangers and out of place in this world. For instance, our values are different than those of the world. They desire material riches; we desire the riches of God. Moreover, our morals are different than those of the world. Their morals are based on what they consider right in their own eyes; our morals are based on the Word of God. Furthermore, our attitude toward death is different than those of the world. They see death as the end; for us, the death of our earthly bodies will bring us into the presence and glory of God.
Thus, our attitudes should set us apart from those of the world. Having been introduced into the glorious kingdom of God, a kingdom that will never perish nor diminish in its glory, what a shame it would be if we clung to this dying world.
Pauls says that we should not conform "any longer", suggesting that we did conform to the world in the past. Men naturally conform to the world. Men strive for the approval and accolades of other men. But man has fallen. To conform to the world is to conform to those under the rule of the "prince of this world" (John 12:31), that is Satan. Since we naturally do conform, we must make a conscious effort to avoid conformance. It is not easy to be set apart. It brings hostility and ridicule from those of the world. "They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you" (I Pet. 4:4). They desire that all conform, because the saints who do not conform "are a sign to them that they will be destroyed" (Phil. 1:28). We convict them by pure lives set apart for God and they resent this.
It is "the world" that we are to avoid being conformed to. Note "the world" is different than the earth. The earth is the planet on which we live. "The world", as used in the Bible, is the secular, carnal system of existence that controls fallen man. John describes it as "the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does" (I John 2:16). We are not to "love the world" because "if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15). Also, "anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Though we are commanded not to love the world or to be friends of the world, nevertheless, "God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son" (John 3:16). Despite the fact that the world has turned its back on Him and followed evil, God, in his longsuffering, still has love for the world, enough love to give His Son in order to bring the world back to Him.
Paul says: "but be transformed". Yes, it is hard to avoid conforming to the world, "but" we are given an alternative. The world would tell us that because of God's prohibitions, we are somehow missing out on the joy of life. But Paul points out: "When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?" (Rom. 6:20-21). Godless joy is fleeting. It may be satisfying for the moment, but later it brings shame. In the book of Job, this is summed up: "Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since man was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment" (Job 20:4-5). In contrast, Jesus says: "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete" (John 15:10-11).
Paul says to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind". Notice that he does not says to transform ourselves, but to "be transformed". The transformation does not originate in ourselves, but is accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes to Titus: "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Our role in the process is to seek and to yield to the renewal by the Spirit.
It is the "mind" that is to be renewed. Clearly, as can be seen from his writings, Paul does not view Christianity as a mindless, merely emotional religion, but a thinking religion. The mind is involved. Paul used his intellect to proclaim and defend his faith: "He reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks" (Acts 17:17). Likewise, Peter says to give "the reason for the hope that you have" (I Peter 3:15).
But, unfortunately, our minds have been corrupted by this fallen world and thus, need renewing. Note that it is the renewing of our minds that will lead to our transformation. "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6).
Going on, Paul says: "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is". Thus, the result of our transformation is the acceptance and approval of God's will. One cannot know the complete will of God for his life without being transformed. Conversely, if you are transformed, you will know what God's will is. If you live for God and not for the world, seek God and not the things of the world, then the will of God for your life will be revealed to you. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Prov. 3:5-6).
Once you know God's will, Paul is confident that you will "approve" of it, for he says that you will "test and approve" it. The extent to which you desire to please yourself rather than to do God's will is the extent to which you still belong to the world. But if you would only "be transformed" so that you would be able to "test" the will of God, you will certainly "approve" of it. The Psalmist says: "Taste and see that the LORD is good" (Ps. 34:8).
Indeed, God's will is "good, pleasing and perfect". His will is "good" because it is always in our best interest. If we are in God's will, then all things will work together for our good (cf. Rom. 8:28). God loves us; thus, His will is for our good.
His will is "pleasing" to us also. Some hold back giving themselves totally to God because they are afraid that He will have them do something that is not "pleasing" to them (such as be a missionary in a remote jungle). Christ, however, points out: "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:9-11). Certainly, God does not send his children into service for which they are unprepared. Indeed, if you are involved in service that you do not desire to do, odds are that it is not God's will for you.
It is God's "perfect" will that we shall "test and approve". God has a permissive will and a "perfect" will. God is sovereign over all but, clearly, much happens in the world that is not in accordance with His perfect will. For instance, man sins. It is not within God's perfect will that man sin; but, if God prevented man from sinning, man would lose his free will to choose between good and evil. It is part of God's perfect will that man have free will. Thus, because God desires for man to have a free will, He allows man to sin. So, God permits man to sin; man's sin is within God's permissive will.
Man's sin, of course, is not within God's perfect will. It is God's "perfect" will that we shall "test and approve" when we are transformed. It is God's "perfect" will that we should strive for. God, in His patience, bears with us when we serve Him half-heartedly. He bears with us when we have one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world. He bears with us when we fall short of His perfect will. Seek God's will! Seek God's perfect will in your life. Oh, how we take advantage of God's leniency! We fail to realize that when we step out of God's perfect will, it is we who miss out. God's will is, indeed, "good, pleasing and perfect". Taste and see!
How can we find God's perfect will for our life? "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8).
So, Heavenly Father, show us your perfect will. Put it in our hearts and guide us by Your Spirit so that we may never stray from the path You have set before us. Give us the strength and desire to avoid conforming to this world. Transform us by Your Spirit; continually renew our minds. Purge our minds of the wisdom of the world; fill our minds with the knowledge of You. By the power in the name of Jesus we pray these things. Amen.
(In the next issue, we will continue with Romans 12:3)
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