Renewing Your Mind
Are you a conformist or a non-conformist? Romans 12:2 tells us “not” to be conformed to this world. Any believer will discover quickly it’s not as easy as it sounds. One of the reasons is given – it demands sacrifice.
This is illustrated from church history around 1660 when the term “non-conformist” was applied to any Protestant who did not conform to the rules and regulations of the established Church of England. Famous non-conformists include Matthew Henry and Isaac Watts. Parliament imposed on non-conformists sanctions, called “disabilities,” which prevented them from holding public office, forced them to pay tax to the Church of England and forbade them from gaining a degree from the universities of Oxford or Cambridge. Non-conformity came with a price.
The believer in Romans 12 is more than just a dissenter who won’t conform outwardly. We must be equally transformed from within. Paul describes this as the “renewing of your mind” and it involves two things. If we miss the first, we will fail on the second.
(1) A Living Sacrifice
The words “I beseech you therefore” have not been used before in this letter and indicate a new section exhorting believers on real practical living. The gospel is now presented as impacting our daily walk with God, in contrast to the doctrinal explanation of chapters 1-8. This order is important because the reader has been taught his exalted position through the gospel and therefore God is reasonable to expect holy, sacrificial service. “The mercies of God” are all that the believer has been brought into as a result of the gospel, including justification, reconciliation and future glorification. In light of these, Paul now begs them to be practically sanctified and energised by the Holy Spirit, the subject of chapter 8, to present themselves in sacrificial service.
The word “present” (v1) means “to put at one’s disposal” (Kenneth Wuest). The sacrifice is offered unto God, a potent reminder of the mighty sacrifice of Jesus Christ who offered Himself without spot to God (Heb 9:14). Is it therefore too much to present our bodies on the altar of service for Him? This is well-pleasing in His sight, even as the sacrifice of Christ had a sweet savour. To the world, such a sacrifice savours of waste, and even believers can be small-minded like the disciples were as they viewed Mary’s sacrifice and asked, “To what purpose is this waste?” (Mat 26:8).
The mindset of the world says to present your body on the altar of business, pleasure or the sports field, and even the altar of fame. How many lives and marriages have been sacrificed on the altar of gambling or the lottery? The word “holy” means “set apart for God”; therefore, God has full ownership to do with us as He pleases.
In chapter 1 we saw how the reprobate mind used the body for an unnatural exchange – a sinful practice “without understanding.” What a difference salvation has made, for the spiritually-minded believer is able to serve “intelligently,” which means “approved.” God approves of lives placed on the altar for Him. The service of Jesus Christ was fully approved by God and ended in sacrifice. We may think that it is possible to place part of our lives on the altar, but this is a false economy because we have been bought with a price and we are not our own. The non-conformist Isaac Watts captured the sentiment in his lovely hymn, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my life, my all.”
(2) A Transformed Mind
We live in the age of the mobile, internet and social media, and as in every age, there are defined values, morals, words and images that combine to influence and colour our minds. The macro effect of this in any peer group can put massive pressure on the minds of young believers to conform and be like their friends, even if it means compromising godly principles. Their friends are wearing the gear, drinking the drink, having fun with the opposite sex and, in their mind, they are missing out. Marketing companies thrive on getting us to conform to their image. Nike says, “Just do it,” but Romans says, “Don’t do it.” BE NOT conformed to a worldly strategy, because God wants conformity to Christ. You imagine friends will think you odd. But “think” is exactly what Paul has in view. Your thought life needs to be totally renovated – a complete overhaul!
Our minds soak up like a sponge everything we see and hear. This intake is the cue for our actions and habits. That cue may tell me I need to get up for work, which is good; however, an image I see may give me a bad cue to watch a movie that may be harmful. The cue, in turn, will cause me to engage in a routine or behaviour that will have the promise of a reward, which might be a feeling of safety, pleasure, control or approval from someone else, maybe even a prize. We need our minds renewed so that we get the right cues and we look for the right rewards. The danger with social media is when the approval of our peer group matters more than God’s approval.
The Greek word for transformed is metamorphoo (v2). The same word is translated “transfigured” in the Gospels. The word means a change in the outward expression from that which is within. The Lord Jesus never needed to renew His mind, for He is sinless, and on the Mount the glory of His deity shone outwardly in the brightness of His countenance and vesture. We must be changed from within through the Holy Spirit by saturating our minds daily with the Word of God and by obeying it. This will transform our behaviour. The reward that should motivate us is a heavenly reward. Paul tells us to set our affection (singular) on things above (Col 3:2). But we must be careful that we are renewing and not recycling. Recycling our minds is changing our thoughts without actually getting rid of them. We need fresh thoughts of Christ from His Word, which means gathering manna daily to keep our minds clean and our trust in God.
The outcome of a renewed mind will be evident in the assembly, and Paul details from verse 3 onwards how we will love ourselves less and love others more. Renewal of the mind will not only produce conformity to Christ but unity in the assembly. Verse 16 says, “Be of the same mind one toward another.” What we need today in the assembly is not reformation but transformation through the renewing of our minds.
 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.