Last Thursday our men’s group looked at Romans 12:1-2. Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, maybe the greatest preacher in Great Britain during the twentieth century, preached ten consecutive sermons on these two verses. If you’re interested, you can listen to each of those sermons here. I don’t intend to do that with our men’s group, but Jones’ exposition of these two verses demonstrate the depth of what Paul says here.
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. 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. (Romans 12:1-2)
Conformed versus transformed; that’s where I want to go for a few minutes. What is the difference? How do you know one or the other is taking place? To conform to something means to bend the same way that everything else is bending. It means to go the same direction as the majority. Conformity is the path of least resistance. But where conforming means to look and act like everyone else and go with the flow, transformation means becoming something that is unlike what you were. It is frequently, if not usually, counterintuitive and contrary to what comes naturally. Being conformed doesn’t really require any effort. Being transformed is a constant work in progress.
The NIV translation of the Bible says it like this: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” I like that translation. Because there’s a pattern, we can recognize it and trace it back to its origins. What is the pattern of this world? Who set the pattern for us? As with many things, in order to understand it, you must return to where it all started.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given every tree their eye could see for food, except one. God chose a tree in the garden to represent his only rule in the whole world for men and women to obey. Adam and Eve had a whole planet full of fruit trees to enjoy, except this one. There wasn’t anything magical or special about it. The only thing that made this fruit tree special was that God had forbade them to eat from it. God chose it and set it apart, and it was called The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
What did that mean? The fruit didn’t make them smarter. Rather, the day that Adam and Eve ate of its fruit was they day that they began deciding what was good for them, rather believing what God had decreed as good. And there is our pattern. The pattern of this world, at its foundation, is that we believe we are better judges of right and wrong than God. Believers in Christ and unbelievers alike have this problem. To conform to the pattern of the world is basically to do what you want to do without any regard for what God has said is right. The mantra of our culture is follow your heart. The mantra of God’s Word is follow your Lord. And when God’s desires and your desires butt heads, whenever you choose your desires, you are conforming to the pattern of this world. Conforming has no power to change anything. It only leads you to the natural end of everything in this world. Death.
Transformation, by definition, must lead us to something different. To be transformed is to start off as one thing, but end as another. To say that transformation is the opposite of conforming isn’t enough. That would imply that all you would have to do to be transformed is always choose to follow God’s desires. Obedience is part of it for sure, but any Christian who is honest about their spiritual life would tell you that it is rife with missed opportunities, failures, and outright disobedience. We cannot transform ourselves through obedience because if God left that up to us, we would never be transformed.
Real transformation is a work of the Holy Spirit, through and through. He uses our obedience AND our failures to transform us into what God intends. That is a mystery in itself. I don’t know how to explain the way God is using my failures to accomplish his ultimate work of transforming me into the image of Christ. I simply know it is true, and because I believe that, my failures do not discourage me the way they would if my transformation all depended on my obedience. I am not becoming like Christ because of my obedience despite my failures. I am becoming like Christ through both my obedience and my failures.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
When you translate the English phrase all things back to the original Greek you get the word ????? (panta), which means . . . all things. (It’s a root for the word pantheism, which means god is in everything therefore everything is part of god.) If God is using all things to work for my good, then that includes my mistakes, my sins, and my failures. And note, God doesn’t do that for everyone; he only does it for those who have trusted Christ for salvation . . . those who are called according to his purpose.
What is our work in transformation? Clearly the Holy Spirit is doing the heavy lifting here, but isn’t there a responsibility on our part? Our only responsibility is to renew our minds. Renewing the mind is simply filling the mind with the Word of God, with prayer, and nurturing our friendship with the Spirit of Christ within. Having your mind renewed means that your thinking is changing, capturing the thoughts that are contrary to God’s will for your character. If your thinking changes, everything else will follow, and the Holy Spirit brings the growth in your character and countenance. You won’t be the same person anymore.
Are you being transformed? Or are you still conforming to the pattern of this world? Had God transformed your character in the last year? Or are you still doing what you feel is right, regardless of what God has said. Maybe spend the next several days praying and thinking through this. Which is it: conformed or transformed?