Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
Author C.S. Lewis once described Christians as people who are living in “enemy occupied territory.” We are living “behind the enemy lines.” What he was trying to say is that, though our Lord Jesus may be the ruler of the universe, this world in which we live is in rebellion. We are surrounded by a world which has set up its own standards for what is important, what is acceptable, and what is desirable. It is, as Paul says here, the “pattern of this world.”
For example, our world never believes that it is time to say “enough.” It never wants us to say, “This house is big enough, this car is new enough, these possessions are plenty enough.” With very few exceptions, our world never believes that any personal behavior should be evaluated as “wrong,” or “sinful.” It condemns any such standards as “legalism,” or “loveless judging.” Our world doesn’t want anyone to be sure of what they believe. They equate certainty with self-righteousness, and they make doubt into a virtue. Our world thinks that greatness is measured in terms of wealth, or title, or power. It doesn’t think that humble service to family or friends is bad. It just doesn’t think of them much at all.
Sometimes we speak of peer pressure as though it were the special problem of children, especially teenagers. Paul is warning us all, regardless of age, of a peer pressure of sorts when he tells us not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world. Like the drug addict who wants to keep the same old friends, who keep dragging him back into the same old addiction, we would like to stay close to this world with its values and priorities. We don’t want people to think we are different.
But we can’t serve God properly while we are conformed to the pattern of this world. We are focused on the wrong things when we are obsessed with how much we have or how important we are. We are actively opposing our Lord if we are excusing our sins as the way everyone else is living. We need to keep on changing.
So Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Do you notice here that Paul doesn’t start with what you do but with how you think? The Lord knows that the real battle for our lives has less to do with behavior than it has to do with beliefs. And that always leads us back to God’s word.
I have heard of people who accuse our church of brain washing our members because of how tightly they hold to the beliefs which they have learned. But the careful, systematic teaching of God’s word we have received is not brainwashing. As long as the Bible is the source of that teaching, it is simply God’s way of transforming us and renewing our minds.
That transformation and renewal takes place as God’s word confronts our wrong ideas and brings them in line with his. In part that means changing our thinking about right and wrong and values and priorities. But more than this, that means changing our ideas about God himself. The Lord has led us to see that he is not some mean old kill-joy who spoils all our fun. He is the good and loving Father we can trust, who gave up his only Son for us and forgives all our sins. He takes care of our every need and supports us in every trouble. He protects us from every attack and ultimately will take us home to eternal glory in heaven.
The gospel doesn’t only make us feel good. It makes us different people. So transformed, we can understand God’s will and begin to put it into practice in our lives.