Studies in Romans 12

Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

This part of Romans teaches us not to let the world around us squeeze us into its mold and not to live according to the fashions of the times. The term “world” here means the society or system that man has built to make himself happy without God. When we come into the kingdom of God, however, we should abandon the thought pattern and lifestyles of the world and adopt a new worldview that places Christ as Lord reigning over the earth. We can understand this as the believer not being ruined for God by living in the world, but ruined for God by the world living in Him. As believers, we should never feel fully at home here on earth, rather, we should be storing up treasures in heaven where our eternal home will be.

This “world” can be described in two ways. The first is what we see in John’s writings, as an evil world. This is easy to detect and avoid in our current society in the world. John says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him.” He also describes the world as the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1 John 2:16) Secondly, there are other aspects of the world which are not necessarily evil, but if over-indulged will bring spiritual leanness to the soul. In Hebrews 12:1-2 it instructs us to “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” Some common examples of these “weights” or idols in our own lives might be our work, our hobbies, our sports, or other conformities that are not in and of themselves bad things, yet when overindulged create idols for ourselves, replacing our worship of the Lord.

In 2 Timothy 1:10 we see how Demas apparently forsook Paul’s missionary zeal, leaving him behind: Paul says, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” Paul also criticizes John Mark for loving the world of comfort and security more than the hardships of missionary work. (See Acts 15:36-40) In Genesis 13, 14, and 19, we see that Lot chose to pitch his tent toward Sodom, a city at that time. However, he was ultimately swallowed up by the life of the cities, his own prosperity in them, and the temptations of the world, leaving them reluctantly despite threatening judgment from the angels. Lot was spiritually bankrupt and did not grasp the seriousness of his sin and temptations. In spite of his training in Abraham’s household, he still hankered after the world while financially prospering in the city. Yet despite Lot’s poor decision-making and deteriorating faith, even Peter still names Lot as “Righteous Lot.” (See 2 Peter 2:7-8) He is still spared from the city’s destruction and named as one righteous there. As believers, we are all capable of being called righteous before the Lord while simultaneously sinning and being tempted by the world. This story should be a warning to us that lying latent in each of us is the same desire to prosper with worldly things. Yet these examples all show us that it does not pay to be pressed into the world’s mold.

Separation from the world is absolutely essential to please God. It is necessary also for spiritual progress and prosperity. Several scriptures can attest to this fact of separation and bring to light our devotion to Him once we become believers. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If any man be in Christ Jesus he is a new creature.” Paul also teaches us in 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers…Come out from among them and be separate.” Mention of the unequal yoke reminds us of Deuteronomy 22:10: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” When the people of Israel were wandering in the desert with God leading them through Moses, the ox was considered a clean animal and the donkey unclean. Their step and their pull were distinct and unequal. God forbade their relationship because they were unmatched for accomplishing tasks effectively. By contrast, when believers are yoked to the Lord Jesus they find that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (See Matthew 29:30) Yet when matched with unbelievers, they are ineffective and unable to do what they were created to do, which is bring glory to the Lord! So then, the teaching of this passage is that the believer should separate himself from unbelievers, and additionally from iniquity, darkness, Belial, and idols in our lives. We should not be separated from believers unless they are living in sin or teaching false doctrine and causing us to stumble. Another example of an unequal yoke would be a believer marrying an unbeliever. A believer should not go into partnership with an unbeliever. In fact, our love for God should surpass any of our relationships here on this earth. Jesus says in Luke 14:26-27, “If any man comes after me he must love me more than he does his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yea and his own life also, otherwise he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, he cannot be my disciple. Our love for Christ should indeed far exceed our love for anything else, yet most of us need to put our priorities straight in our lives. Again, in Matthew 10:37-39, Jesus says, “He who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” The consecrated person of Romans 12:1 who “presents their bodies a living sacrifice” will be detached from the world and wholly surrendered to the Lord.

Our passage in Romans reads, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The way to transformation is through a renewed mind or a replacing of the natural mind. In Philippians 4:8-9 Paul reminds us, “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Just as Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely said, “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap your destiny.”

Look at Acts 6 and 7. Stephen was an example of a mind that was renewed. He was a consecrated man, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and transformed through his faith. During his trial, his accusers hurled their false accusations at him; Luke says that his face was transformed and his accusers saw the face of an angel. Others threw stones that killed him, and those who looked on actually saw a transformation, something of the glory of Christ reflected in His servant. This image in Acts should also remind us of Moses in Exodus 34:30, whose face shines with the glory of the Lord after being in His presence. Yet another example of this is during the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain in Matthew 17:2-9, where “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” Many of the martyrs had the same experience as Christ did here, their faces shining with the glory of the Lord God.

The word “transformed” is interesting and noteworthy in the scriptures, as it only occurs three other times in the Word of God aside from our passage in Romans 12. In Matthew 17:2-9 and Mark 9:2, as we have just examined, it is used while talking about Jesus transfiguration: “He was transformed before them.” The other occurrence is in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where we see it as describing our own transformation: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are changed more like His own likeness! The word used in the original Greek text is the word “metamorphoo” from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” This process involves the somewhat loathsome caterpillar spinning an unattractive cocoon for himself, producing after some time a gorgeous, transformed being: the butterfly. For the believer to accomplish this metamorphosis he must renew his mind. This means that we replace the natural mind with the mind of Christ, feeding on and hungering for the written and living Word, and absolutely surrendering to the claims of Christ, resulting in our complete transformation.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, knew of the transforming power of God as he toiled among the Chinese for many years before seeing lives transformed by the gospel. Isaiah also knew this power as one of the men in scripture who met God and heard His word spoken to him. When Isaiah is called to be a prophet for the Lord, recorded in Isaiah 6, Isaiah says, “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple…So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.” We see here that Isaiah is profoundly impacted by his own appearance when faced with the glory and holiness of the Lord. God’s power was evident in him and through Isaiah by this transformation. When we, as believers, reach the state of having a renewed mind and a transformed life, we will know what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God as our desires become more and more like His.

Paul is urging us in Romans 12 to a complete surrender, to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Jesus Christ is standing at your heart’s door awaiting your response. Will you refuse to conform to the world? Will you renew your mind and be transformed? Will you present your body as a living sacrifice? A heart opened to Him will cause Him to rejoice. A closed and unresponsive heart will drive another nail into His loving heart. Let us consider Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.” Paul is now beseeching each of you, by God’s mercy, to present your entire lives and bodies to Him as a living sacrifice for His glory. The Lord is saying to each one of you: “Son, give me your heart.”