I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller this morning. Before I get into what Keller said, though, allow me to share the verse I was meditating on before I listened to Keller. and some thoughts I down to write this article. The verse is:
“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 12:2 ESV
As I meditated on this verse this morning, I was first struck by the the command, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This is something Paul was telling the Romans to do.
As I went on in my meditation, I became aware that the patterns of this world and the renewal of our minds happens from agents outside of us. We either allow ourselves to be conformed to the patterns of this world, or we allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
We have a choice to make, but the choice is in the allowing, in the submitting either to the patterns of this world or to the renewing of our minds. It is something that happens to us that we participate in.
The HELPS Word study (on biblehub.com) of the Greek word, sysxēmatízō, explains that “be conformed to the patterns of the world” means to be identified with those patterns and to assume a similar outward expression by following the same patterns. This may happen consciously or unconsciously.
Paul is urging us to be conscious, to be willful and intentional, in resisting conformance to the patterns of the world and to submitting ourselves to the transformation (metamorphóō ) caused by the renewal of our minds.
The transformation Paul means is a metamorphosis. The Greek word means literally metá “change after being with” and morphóō “changing form in keeping with inner reality”. Like the caterpillar that changes into a butterfly, this is something that happens to us (within us), but only if we submit to it.
We will be influenced one way or the other. We will conform to the patterns of this world unless we take a stand against them. We will not be transformed by the renewal of our minds unless we choose to submit ourselves to God’s renewal process.
Although my first thoughts focused on the fact that this is something that we do and do not do, that fact is that we are acted on by outside agents either way. Yes, we take participate in our own condition, but our participation is merely a matter of what we choose to submit ourselves to.
I am reminded of the words of Jesus that broad is the way and wide is the path that leads to destruction. Narrow is the way to life. The patterns of this world are the broad way and the wide path. The narrow path is what we choose when we submit ourselves to God and allow him to renew our minds.
Paul also tells us that the purpose of this exercise is simply so that we by testing can discern the will of God. The point of the transformation by the renewing of our minds is to get to know God and understand Him, to spend time with Him and identify with Him. If we do that, then we will be changed.
Another way of looking at this is recognize that the patterns of this world impose upon us from the outside in. Those patterns will influence us, and mold us, and conform us to its mold whether we know it or not.
The renewal of our minds takes place within us. The agency that causes that renewal is not within us. That agency is God working through his Holy Spirit as we submit ourselves to him, but it happens within us.
It also occurs to me that there are no other choices. We will either be conformed to the patterns of this world, or we will be transformed by the renewal of our minds – by the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
If we have not submitted ourselves to God, the patterns of this world will conform us. We have to take a stand: we have to choose not to be conformed to the patterns of this world.
How do we do this? We need to make a conscious choice. We need to spend time with God in prayer. We need to read God’s Word on a regular (daily) basis. We need to marinade in it, meditate on it, absorb ourselves with it. We need to spend time in fellowship with other believers.
Paul says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33). Who we hang with on a regular basis influences us, molds us, and conforms us. We can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid all contact with “the world”, but we should be conscious in choosing to spend more time with fellow believers: to “encourage one and another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11); “not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25); and doing this daily (regularly) (Heb. 3:13).
After I wrote some notes down for writing this article, I listened to the beginning of a Tim Keller sermon. Tim Keller referenced an interview with Holly Hunter in which she was asked whether she believed in God. She said she did not know who God is, but said she is spiritual. She said she believes in a higher energy that she called a collective unconsciousness.
Keller observed that this kind of spirituality is just a projection of ourselves. In the context of the verse I have been meditating on, it is a projection of the patterns of this world. Hunter, Like many modern people, seeks spirituality in conforming to the patterns of the world around her – the collective consciousness.
Keller says that real spirituality is not in seeking, but in responding to God. Just as we are influenced by the patterns of this world pressing upon us, God is there to impress Himself upon us. Unlike the patterns of this world, though, God is a true Gentleman: He does not force Himself uninvited.
Love does not coerce. Love does not force itself on you. Love is patient and kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4) God is love. (1 John 4:16)
Ultimately, God invites you to get to know Him. As you get to know Him, he way your heart works and the way your mind thinks will be transformed, your mind will be renewed, and you will discern the will of God.
It will take time. It will be a process. There will be testing, trial and error. We don’t just change without putting the transformation and renewal to the test. If you stick with God, though, He will prove Himself true to you, and you will be transformed, changed from the inside out, as the Holy Spirit works within you.