Rev. Erik Veerman
A Mind Transformed and Renewed
Our sermon text this morning is from the book of Romans chapter 12 verse 2. You can find that on page 1126 of the pew Bible. Last week we considered verse 1 which was about being a living sacrifice. It was a call to pursue God and to seek to glorify and worship him in all areas of our lives. Like your work, your daily activities, your relationships, your studies, your hobbies, etc. Verse 2 answers the question, “how?” How do we do that? How can our lives reflect the “spiritual worship” to which we are called?
For context, I’ll start with verse 1, but we’ll focus our time on verse 2.
Reading of Romans 12:1-2
Bic Macs. Large Fries. Quarter pounder with cheese. Egg McMuffins.
On February 1, 2003, Morgan Spurlock decided to go on a 30-day McDonalds only diet. It was an experiment. That’s right. Every single meal, he ate double cheeseburgers and fries, or hash browns and sausage McGriddles or the McChicken or whatever else was on the menu including McFlurries and all sorts of coke products. As part of his experiment, if the server asked him if he wanted to super-size the meal, he did. He said he consumed about 5000 calories every day for 30 days.
His purpose was to document what would happen to his body in one month. You can watch his documentary, titled Super Size Me. In fact, that’s exactly what happened.
By the 5th day, Spurlock had put on 9.5 pounds. By the end of the 30 days, he added 24.5 pounds of body weight. For him, that was a 13% body mass increase. His bad cholesterol skyrocketed to 230. That’s really high. Certain types of cholesterol will clog your arteries and lead to heart attacks.
Not only that, he experienced depression, headaches, vomiting, and heart palpitations. I think he proved the maxim – “You are what you eat.”
After it was all over, he said it took him 5 months to lose the first 20 pounds and another 9 months to lose the remaining 5 pounds, all while on a healthy diet. That’s 14 months to reverse the effect of eating fast food for 1 month.
Well, Romans 12:2 is not about eating junk food, but it is about what you feed your mind. And the consequences are similar.
• When you feed your physical body with food that lacks nutrition and is instead full of fat and sugar, while it may taste good in the moment, it is unhealthy for your body, especially if you indulge over and over and over. Your body will deteriorate over time causing all sorts of life-threatening disease. It will take more time to undo the physical damage, than the time it took to cause it.
• It’s similar when you feed your mind with worldly ideologies, unhealthy pleasures, crass language, and all sorts of entertainment, some of which may seem innocent at the time. But if you indulge over and over and over, it will lead to a deteriorated mind. It will be harder to distinguish the things of God from the things of the world. It will affect your spiritual and emotional heath. It will take more time to undo the spiritual and emotional damage than the time it took to cause it.
On the other hand, if you constantly feed your mind with the things of God – certainly his Word, but also things that reflect God character in the world around you. When you turn your mind to those things, God will bless you with wisdom and discernment and peace.
That’s what Romans 12:2 is about. And it’s pretty straightforward:
• Don’t do this one thing, instead pursue this other thing, which will result in this benefit
• 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.
So let’s take this verse in those 3 parts: what to avoid, what to pursue, and what will be the benefit.
If you are taking notes, here are the 3 points:
1. Avoid being conformed (conformed to the world)
2. Pursue being transformed (transformed by the things of God)
3. Experience being informed (all the discernment the Lord gives you as a result)
1. Avoid being conformed
So first, Avoid being conformed, or avoid being conformed to the world. That’s basically what the beginning of verse 2 says. “Do not be conformed to this world.”
By the way, that word “world” is not talking about the physical earth. Rather it’s talking about the wisdom of the age, the philosophies and cultural messages that dominate the beliefs and behaviors of the culture.
David Wells, author and seminary professor, described the wisdom of world this way: “It is that system of values, in any given age, which has at its center our fallen human perspective.” He says, “[it] displaces God and his truth… [it] makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange. It… makes what is wrong seem normal.”
And the call here is to not be conformed to what the world says and believes contrary to God’s wisdom. I’ll come back to the cultural influences in Rome, but let me first ask, What are those influences here and now? What are the messages in our culture that are contrary to God and his Word? I’ve already touched upon a couple of them, but here are a few others:
• First, the world today has an addiction to self. So many of the culture’s messages focus on the individual - on your self-expression, your autonomy in decisions. What is good and right according to the culture is what you decide instead of external values of rights and wrongs. That goes against and undermines God’s moral standards which he has revealed to us. Today it’s the idolatry of the self. And as Christian, we often are unknowingly affected. One small example of that it we don’t consider our time and money as God’s where we are just stewards. Instead, we think of it as completely ours to do with it however we want. God is not in the equation.
• A second cultural problem is the confusion of true beauty with the perversion of beauty. We would say that beauty and values go beyond the “eye of the beholder;” beyond an individual’s conception of beauty. However, today, what is lewd and vulgar is considered beautiful. Pornography, for example, is seen by many as an art form, but it is gross distortion of art. You see, the world doesn’t distinguish between the two. It twists and perverts God’s good creation by denigrating it and by feeding upon the lusts that reject holiness and righteousness. And pornography is the extreme example. There are various levels of this distortion found within entertainment today. To be sure, beautiful art and literature does exist which honors God, whether created by a believer or not. By the way, I’m just touching upon these messages. We could spend a lot more time, of course. So first, the idolatry of the self, second, the perversion of beauty…
• And a third one is ungodly language. Our culture is not respectful and honoring, rather it’s often rude and demeaning. Joking is often at the expense of others. Instead of speaking words that are kind and gracious, our culture breaths out disgust and hate. Just like how images get seared into our minds, I don’t think we realize how words get engrained in us when we fill our minds with worldly language. And then we’re surprised when they come out.
I was thinking back to when I was a high schooler. I didn’t have many Christian friends. Really because my school in the northeast didn’t have many Christians. I spent a lot of time around people that used foul language. There was a lot of cursing. And it didn’t take much for me to start thinking and then using those words. We underestimate how easily we are conformed. I’m not saying don’t hang out with unbelieving friends and family – but you may want to ask them to be careful about their language.
• Besides language, online games, and movies, and shows today are full of gore and violence. Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of violent video games young men play and violent acts they commit.
And think about this, we’re constantly barraged with these messages, everywhere we look. Last year alone, 550 new TV series were released in the United States. Not 550 episodes but 550 series. I’m not saying they are all bad, of course, but a majority are full of these underlying ideologies. And you ask, are there enough people to watch that many shows? Well, the average amount of time that an individual in the US watches TV is 4 hours and 49 minutes per day.
And much if it is filled with humanistic philosophy and often with highly sexualized content, yet we’re surprised as a culture at how that leads to sexual abuse, pornography, pedophilia, and adultery.
Now, you may be thinking, “You’re coming on a little too strong. After all, the apostle Paul’s audience in Rome didn’t have all those things.” Well, you’re right, they didn’t have the pervasive content and screens, but ancient Rome was full of the real thing… orgies, child slavery, and sex trafficking. And we’ve all heard of the gladiator fights in the colosseum. It wasn’t fake death and dismemberment, no real human beings killed for the sake of entertainment. And that’s not to mention all the false God’s and the Roman sense of human power and accomplishment. There are many parallels between our culture today and ancient Rome.
The apostle Paul wasn’t saying that the church in Rome was being pulled into these things and beliefs, but as the church in Rome grew, as people came to faith in Christ, he knew the cultural influences would more and more affect the church.
And notice the verb here. Do not “be conformed.” Let me get a little technical here. That verb is a present, passive, imperative. What that means is that first, it applies now and ongoing – present tense. It’s not a future thing, it’s a now thing. Second, related to that, the imperative means it requires a response – it’s a call to respond. Seek now to prevent yourself from being conformed. And third, and I think most interesting, “do not be conformed” is passive. That means it’s not something you do, rather being conformed is something that will happens to you. Immersing yourself in these worldly philosophies and entertainment will cause you to be conformed to the world. So, what we are to avoid is being conformed to the world. To do that, we need to avoid filling our minds with those worldly ideologies and beliefs and practices, whatever form they come in.
So let me ask (and this is for adults and kids!) Are you filling your mind with the world? What social media do you look at? What podcasts do you listen to? What underlying messages and what content fills your favorite shows? Are you binging on junk food for your brain? Or, are you careful in what you consume each day, so as not to be conformed to the world?
Avoid being conformed to the world.
2. Pursue being transformed
That brings us to point #2. Pursue being transformed. Instead of being conformed to the world, we are to be transformed in the things of God. This is a contrast to the first part of the verse.
Look at verse 2 again. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Instead of allowing the world to conform you, you are to be renewed in the things of God and not the world.
The two verbs here are very similar. Did you notice that? “conformed” and “transformed.” In fact, sometimes they are used interchangeably in the scriptures. For example, we’re to be conformed to the image of Christ.
And actually, “being transformed” is also present, imperative, passive. The same sense of not being conformed to the world applies to being transformed. It’s a now thing, it’s imperative, meaning make it happen, but it’s also passive, it’s not something we do to ourselves, it’s something that’s done to us. We are to be transformed.
In the Greek, the word is metomorphao. It’s where we get the word “metamorphosis.” Like when a little caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly. It goes through a metamorphosis.
It literally means to change one’s form. To undergo a spiritual transformation.
Another use of the word metomorphao in the Bible is found in 2 Corinthians 3:18. In this example, the apostle Paul was describing how Moses had to veil his face after seeing the glory of God. The brightness was too much for the people. And Paul related that to God’s law – how holy and glorious God’s law was. But then he says this. 2 Corinthians 3:18 “and we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed,” There’s our word again, we are being, as it goes on, “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
So being transformed means being changed to reflect the glory of God in you.
And Romans 12:2 says you do that by “renewing your mind.” Instead of filling your mind with the world, you are to fill your mind with the things of God. Like 2 Corinthians 3 say, when you behold the glory of God, you are being transformed.
• Considering God in his perfect holiness and justice and goodness will transform you.
• Beholding the glory and beauty of God’s creation will transform you
• Reflecting on the wonder of God’s salvation in Christ, will transform you.
In fact, the main way to renew your mind is filling your mind with God’s Word, with his precepts, with his plan of redemption which he is fulfilling, filling your mind with his promises, and his character, and his call for you. That’s all in his Word and it will transform you.
Here’s an interesting statistic. The Center for Bible Engagement (it’s interesting that there’s even such an entity)… The Center for Bible Engagement found that people who read or listen to the Scriptures at least 4 times per week, are much less likely to fall prey to temptations. They cite drunkenness, pornography, gambling, and adultery... 57-74% less likely. And that is compared to people who only engage with the Bible just 1-3 times per week. In fact, they found that people who don’t read the Bible at all are similar to people who engage with the Scriptures only 1-3 times per week.
They didn’t do a study on the worldview impact, but I bet the results would be similar. The more we engage the Scriptures, the less impact the secular ideologies and philosophies have on us.
God’s Word will transform and renew your mind.
And the way that God transforms you is through His Spirit. The Holy Spirt applies God’s Word in your life. I know that Romans 12 doesn’t mention the Spirit, but the first 11 chapters are full of how God fills us with his Spirit, how the Holy Spirit calls us to faith. How he unites us to Christ by faith. It is part of the mercies of God mentioned in verse 1. And God’s Word and his Spirit go together. The more we are in the Word, the more we are transformed by God’s Spirit.
My transition from high school to college was very radical. In high school, I hardly spent any time reading my Bible. Our school was very secular and that came out in many different ways. When I got to college, I was blown away. It was a Christian college. The professors prayed and gave devotionals in class. We had Bible classes and chapel services. I started to read the Scriptures. And in four years, I was a different person. I’m not saying I wasn’t a Christian before. But I was being transformed… thinking about the things of God, beholding his Glory, in his Word, and removed from the worldly philosophies and practices.
Are you being transformed? Are you reading and meditating on and memorizing God’s Word? Are you hiding God’s word in your heart, As Psalm 119:11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart.”
Through it and through God’s Spirit, you will being transformed.
3. Experience being informed
So, point #1 - avoid being conformed. The world’s philosophy with its anti-God and self-focused agenda will conform you. And worldly entertainment with its violence, sensuality, and crudeness will conform you. Avoid them.
Point #2. Pursue being transformed. By reflecting on God and his glory and by studying the Scriptures, you will experience God’s transforming and sanctifying grace.
And finally, the last point, number 3. The result. Experience being informed.
Besides being transformed – there is another benefit of renewing your mind. God will also give you discernment of his will. In other words, you’ll be informed.
I think everyone has asked the question, what is God’s will for my life? What school should I go to? What job should I take? What church should I go to? Where should I move? Who should I marry? Those are all questions about God’s will in your life.
Have you ever done this… you’ve been praying for God’s will. So you take your Bible, you close your eyes, you pick a random page, and point to a verse and then you open your eyes and read it. And it says something like “Absalom was riding his mule, and his head gut stuck in an oak tree, and he hung there suspended.” And you’re like, Lord, you didn’t answer my question!
That’s because that’s not how you begin to seek the Lord’s will.
The idea about God’s will in this verse is more fundamental, it’s where you begin. In fact, I would say, it’s the basis that helps answer those specific questions. It’s about how God desires you to live, and how to evaluate beliefs and philosophies. Some people have called it God’s preceptive will. That comes from the word “precept,” you know, God’s precepts which are his instructions and commands. It’s the principles that God reveals in Scripture so that we can live and believe in inconformity to his will.
Look down at the second half of the verse and you see that sense.
It says, “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” You see that description of God’s will. In fact, that word “acceptable” connects to verse 1. Seeking in all areas of your life to be acceptable to God, a living sacrifice. In other words, discerning God’s will begins with what God calls you to believe and think and say and do.
So, when you are “testing” (that’s the word used), you are evaluating ideas and actions with God’s Word, his precepts. And here’s the connection to this whole verse: The less you are conformed to the world and the more your mind is transformed to the things of God, then the greater discernment God will give you about what is good and acceptable and perfect.
• You’ll have greater discernment to understand worldly philosophies and greater discernment to avoid worldly entertainment
• You’ll have greater discernment on how to spend your time, who to spend your time with, what you watch and read and listen to.
• And you’ll have greater discernment on those questions I mentioned – what job to take? what school to go to? Where to move? I’m not saying you’ll have direct answers (sometimes you will), but you will be able to evaluate your motives. You’ll be able to test them and test whatever else you are considering.
In short, you will be informed. God will give you discernment from his preceptive will.
So, Avoid being conformed
Pursue being transformed
And experience being informed
As we come to a close, I want to end by going to a different Scriptural text. It’s related. It’s in the book of Colossians. And actually, turn there. Colossians 3 (page???) Colossians was also written by the apostle Paul. This letter is to the church in Colossae. But it’s a very different book than Romans.
In Colossians, Paul weaves doctrine and application together.
And he presents this beautiful picture of our ingrafting into Christ and what that means.
And in chapter 3, he writes what it means to put on Christ… In verse 10 he says this, “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” There’s one of our words, “renewed” “Being renewed in knowledge.”
And two verses later, verse 12, he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” You see these verses are very similar to Romans 12:2.
A call to focus on the Lord and his Word and to avoid worldly things that go against God.
And then he writes this: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
He answers the question for us, why? Why shun the things of the world and dedicate time each day to the things of the God? Why? Because if you are a believer in Christ, your life is hidden with Christ in God. You know him. You have him. He’s redeemed you. You are transformed. You’ve been given a new heart. You can focus on the things of God, and reject worldly philosophies and put away sin. And as it says, when Christ appears again, you will be with him in glory.
You see, we seek to be conformed to Christ, not the world, because one day we will be fully transformed with him in glory… and we can look forward to that day when all will be good and acceptable and perfect in eternity.
So may we avoid being conformed to the word, pursue being transformed in Christ, and experience the discernment of being informed to the things of God.