“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…….” (Romans 12:2 NKJV)
In the Bible, in the Gospel records, we see that Jesus was first baptized by John the Baptist, then went out into the desert and fasted for 40 days, then was tempted by the devil. After this, he began to preach. In the Gospel of Matthew, we see that the first recorded words that Jesus preached was this: (Matt 4:17) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The original Greek word for “repent” used here is “metanoeo” and it means “to think differently or afterwards, that is, to reconsider” (this according to the Strongs concordance). Part of the root word that forms this Greek word for “repent” is another Greek word: “noieo” that means “to exercise the mind, comprehend, heed, consider, perceive, think, understand.” This same Greek word, or a variation of it, is used throughout the New Testament and translated as “repent”, “repented”, or “repentance”, depending on the context. When we decide to become a part of the Kingdom of heaven, when we enter into a relationship with the Living God through the Lord Jesus Christ and become a child of God, it is clear that we must change the way that we think.
Unfortunately, what is often communicated today, (I believe due to a change in the meaning of the word repent in today’s English language), is that the repentance suggested by the Scriptures is a onetime feeling of remorse, and then a “confession” of sorrow for sins committed. Having done this, we are then forgiven and “saved”, meaning we are now a “born again Christian”. As we then continue as a Christian, if we come to the realization of other sin, or if we stumble into sin again, we are to again have this moment of repentance, and then we will be forgiven and restored. To be clear, I am not saying that we should not express our remorse to God, or that we do not need to bring our sins to God and be cleansed by the blood of Jesus (in fact, we definitely must), but I am saying that I believe the repentance that the Scriptures is speaking of is much more than just a onetime moment of regret or remorse, but rather, it is suggesting a complete change in the way that we think, and then a transformation of who we are and how we act.
In the 2nd chapter of Romans Paul the Apostle rebukes those who would judge and condemn others without correcting the same problem behavior in their own lives. He points to the fact that we can’t just expect that knowing the correct behavior and teaching other this behavior is enough, we must make sure that we have taught ourselves and corrected our own behavior. Additionally, Paul warns them that we can’t presume upon God’s mercy and kindness either: (from the amplified Bible) “Or are you [so blind as to] trifle with and presume upon and despise and underestimate the wealth of His kindness and forbearance and longsuffering patience? Are you unmindful or actually ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repent (to change your mind and inner man to accept God’s will)?(Rom 2:4) And so, God’s mercy and grace towards us is intended to cause us to change our inner thinking, i.e., to repent. This change in thinking will then result in allowing us (or giving us the power) to correct our behavior, i.e, to deal with the sin in our lives resulting in us becoming like Jesus, holy and righteous.
Some Christians believe that it is impossible to become free from sin in this life, and that our only means of becoming righteous is by applying the righteousness that is accounted to us because of our faith. My understanding of the Scriptures is that this gracious act of accounting righteousness to us is for prior sins, but it is expected that we would then change our way of thinking, and then become freed from sin in our lives. Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight, but is a process (it’s called sanctification in the Scriptures) that takes some time. Much of the time is needed for us to reprogram our brains from thinking the way that the world thinks. (This worldly thinking is what traps us in the cycle of sin) Jesus came to set us free from the cycle of sin and the resulting bondage, and it starts with placing our hope in his promises for eternal life, and then by changing the way that we think and perceive.
I recently read a quote from one older preacher relating to this: “You know, people say today, ‘Oh, I’m just a saved sinner.’ That’s like saying you are a married bachelor, that’s like saying you are an honest thief, or a pure harlot. You can’t be a saved sinner. You are either saved or you are a sinner. He came, “Thou shall call his name Jesus. He shall save his people from their sins.” (Leonard Ravenhill) He also said this: “You know we live in a day when we are more afraid of holiness than we are of sinfulness.”
John the Baptist, who was the forerunner of Jesus, also preached a message of repentance that he established by the act of baptism in water. The immersion in water was suggestive of a cleansing or washing away of sin. It is clear that the external cleansing was symbolic of an inner cleansing that also suggested an inner change. In Matt 3:7&8, he rebukes the religious leaders and extremist of that time who he suspected of an insincere baptism without the inner change: “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance.’” As you can see from this statement, the change suggested by repentance should produce in us a “fruit” or a resulting change in our behavior.
We must realize that we have been programmed from birth to think like the world. Even more profound in more recent times is the influence of worldly philosophies and ways of thinking from teachers, television, movies, newspapers, books, magazines, and countless other bombardments into our minds. Advertisements are purposely intended to get us to be afraid so that we will buy the product being promoted to remove the fear. For most of us, even our family and friends, as well meaning as they may have been, contributed to our worldly thinking and worldly viewpoint that conformed to this world’s way of thinking. Absent of our faith and the truth of the Scriptures, this worldly thinking is very logical and makes perfect sense to adhere to, but it is completely opposite to the thinking of the Scriptures. For example, we are told in the Scriptures that the greatest among us is the servant, and the last will be first in heaven, and to love our enemies, not hate them, and that revenge should be left up to God and not taken into our own hands, and that we should turn the other cheek or go the second mile, and that we should store up our riches in heaven, not on this earth in this life, etc.
Let’s look closer at the Scripture verse from Romans 12, in the context of the surrounding Scriptures. Here we are told explicitly that we need to renew our minds, rather than conforming to the world, and that it will cause a transformation in us.
From the amplified version:
“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and facilities] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideas and new attitude] so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].”
In the context of presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice unto God, we are also exhorted to renew our minds so that we can be transformed, rather than be conformed to this world, or rather than being molded into what the world wants to make us. Seeing ourselves as a bond servant of God, totally submitted to doing his will and pleasing him is part of the change in our way of thinking and our attitude. But there are many parts of this renewed way of thinking. Simply put, we need to incorporate the truths as revealed in the Scriptures into our lives, and replace or erase the existing lies of this world.
Remember that this world is under the direct influence of the devil. We don’t like to think this way either, but it is the truth according to the Scriptures: Ephesians 2:1-2 “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”
The devil knows quite well that if he can negatively influence the way we think, then our actions will also be negatively impacted. The truth is that the way that a man thinks directly impacts the way that he feels, the decisions he makes, the habits he forms, and the actions he performs. Everyone has established in their minds some sort of a view of how this world works, or what some call a “world view”. Others would call this a “philosophy of life”. This view also impacts how we think, and therefore how we act. If this viewpoint is molded by the world, then we will be trapped in the death spiral of sin and death. As Christians, we need to totally revamp our world view. We need to recognize the spiritual realities that exist around us but are not visible to our senses. We must begin to see with the eyes of faith. By faith we must recognize the existence and influence of God in our daily life and circumstances, and see our own situation as new members of a future Kingdom that God will establish and reward those who honor Him.
For some reason (probably because it is easier) we want to focus on the external rather than the internal. We want to concentrate on our actions, rather than the root cause of the actions. The action is like the “fruit” that is produced by the root of the tree or plant. If the tree is not producing good fruit, the problem is not to focus on the fruit, but to look at the root. There is a parable in the Bible about a tree that wasn’t producing fruit so the owner wanted to destroy it, but the servant/gardener convinced the owner to dig a trench around the root and add manure. Upon doing this the tree started to produce good fruit. We too need to focus on the root problem: our mind and thoughts. If our thoughts and desires are not changed, then no amount of will power, determination or self restraint will give us the power we need to be totally transformed as the Scriptures require.
Jesus said this to the religious, hypocritical, Pharisees: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” They were more concerned about following religious rituals and external activities than dealing with their inner thoughts and desires, or aligning their inner thinking with the truth. Here again, Jesus makes it clear that if the inward part is corrected (or “cleansed”) then the outside will follow suit. As you see from this example of the religious hypocrites from the time of Jesus, if we focus on our external actions, we end up prioritizing the superficial, meaningless rituals (these things we can control because they are in line with the world), but our inner wickedness is left unchanged, so we become blind to it.
The real question then, is how do we go about accomplishing this inward change or “renewal of our minds”? First, we need to change the input, as someone has said it “garbage in, garbage out”, this applies to our minds also. If we don’t start feeding our minds with the truths of God’s word (and I mean directly from God’s word, not from someone else’s interpretation) instead of the garbage from this world, then this renewal will not happen. (By the way, my job is to direct you to Him and His Word, not replace it.)
As we begin to allow the truths of God’s Word to become a reality in our lives, and we begin to change our way of thinking and viewing ourselves and our circumstances and surroundings, we will begin to transform into the beautiful creatures that God has intended us to be. We will begin to take on the very nature of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will begin to have the “mind of Christ”, as the Scriptures suggest. This is my desire.
There is much that could be said about the way we should be thinking as Christians, and what our world view should be, or what truths that we should be aligning our thoughts with. It is up to us to allow or faith and hope to encompass our inner thoughts and transform us completely. The original Greek word that is translated to “transform” in Romans 12:2 is “metamorphoo” meaning to change, transform or transfigure, or “metamorphose” which is the root for the work metamorphosis, the word that is used to define the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The transformation can be just as dramatic and drastic for us if we would focus on renewing our minds to become spiritually minded rather than carnally minded. Lord, I pray that you would help us to do this. Amen.