If you’ve been in church very long, there’s no doubt you’ve heard one or more sermons on Romans 12:1-2. It’s a very popular passage because of its practical application to our lives in any age, but particularly today in the world in which we live.
There is often an emphasis, and rightly so, placed on the phrase “renewing of your mind.” Preachers will emphasize the necessity of thinking like Christ and being in the Word of God on a consistent basis so that we think like He thinks regarding all of these earthly issues.
However, if we are not careful, we can miss what is truly happening in this passage. This passage is not merely calling us to think differently. It’s not just a simple rebuke to not think like the world. There is a deep-seated issue that requires transformation and that transformation is done through the renewal of our mind.
2 Corinthians 3 sheds some light on this topic of transformation that I believe can help us more fully understand the purpose and process of renewing our mind in Romans 12.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
There are a couple of things I want to point out from this passage and tie back into Romans 12.
First, this transformation is not a result of our effort but is rather a work of the Holy Spirit. Notice how the last phrase says, “this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The “this” is referring to us being transformed into the image of the Lord. So, the transformation is not something that we procure or enact upon ourselves but is a direct work of the Holy Spirit.
It is the same in Romans 12. The transformation is something being done to the readers, not something done by the readers, nor is it a result of the readers’ action. It is not we who are renewing our minds through our own efforts. The word “renewing” is in the dative case which is used to show the receiver of an action, not the one performing the act. So, our minds being renewed is not an action we take, but rather one that is done to us.
The transformation of hearts and the renewing of minds is solely an act of grace worked in us by the Holy Spirit.
Second, we must note the means of this transformative work. Notice the words, “beholding the glory of the Lord.” The transformative work of the Holy Spirit is done while we are beholding the glory of God. Transformation into Christlikeness does not come from creating lists of what God likes and what God hates and trying to do the one and reject the other. Rather, thinking like God comes from beholding God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.
As we gaze at Him, the Holy Spirit uses the truths about God to transform our minds (and hearts) to think like Him so that we are not conformed to this world but are rather transformed through that renewal of the mind. Understanding this process in correlation with Romans 12 becomes even more necessary when we consider the problem found in the beginning of the book in Romans 1.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
In verse 18 we see that we are under God’s wrath because they suppressed the truth about Him, both His existence and His preeminence as Creator. Then in verse 21 we see that we knowingly refuse to honor Him as God and thus our thinking became futile and our hearts darkened. Then the final blow to our hearts and minds occurs in verse 28 when God gave us up to a debased mind, one that seeks after that which we know is wrong.
It is only in seeing God for Who He truly is as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit using that revelation to break through the self-centered, sinfulness of our thinking that our minds can be renewed and our hearts transformed. This opening of our eyes to the glory of God is necessary not only for salvation but for sanctification as well, because we are still prone to walk in the flesh, yielding to a fallen, darkened heart and mind that seeks our own glory above that of our Creator and Redeemer.
Is it any wonder that this call to be transformed by the renewal of our mind is given in conjunction with verse one’s call to present our bodies as sacrifices to God as reasonable worship? It’s almost as if the author knew that we could not actually fulfill that command while being conformed to the world’s darkened heart and mind but rather a transformation needed to take place in our hearts through the renewing of our minds so that we might know the will of God and worship Him rightly.
So, what is the point of all of this?
It is not enough to merely read Scripture to find motivations for morality. We must read Scripture with the purpose of “beholding the glory of the Lord.” It is only when we do that, that our minds will be renewed with a right understanding of Him, and our hearts will be transformed through the work of the Spirit and we will be conformed to His image and shine as lights in the world.
So, as you read the Word today, this week, this year… look for the glory of God. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you through His Word. Bask in the wonder of Him and let Him transform your heart and your mind.