Central Text Romans 12: 1-2, ESV
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable, and perfect.
So Dave prefaced this sermon saying that a lot of people have a struggle with this verse. Some even hate it. And I don’t, because my issue isn’t what most people’s is: that they feel helpless and hopeless because they can’t transform their minds and so they feel like failures. They see only their sin and the verse adds guilt and condemnation.
For me, it’s the opposite. I remember what my mind was like before I became a believer as an adult. I was 21 years old, and I remember the revelation that God was RIGHT and I was wrong. His ways really were good and I had been living under a self-directed, self-sufficiency oriented humanism before that. Now I don’t claim to be perfect or to have arrived, but there is no way I can honestly sit down and self-deprecate and say he didn’t do any transforming. He changed me radically and he has continued changing me. As a new believer, that was such an exhilarating experience! I felt showered in his love and presence when I was newly accepting the transformation.
But I get so down from all the denial I hear from church members, who seem to not believe he really works that way. They won’t embrace the promises and walk with him—go forward, be the one who stops for the wounded, who loves the uncool people, who invests in a person beyond the superficial out of love for their God, who also made and loves those others—because they believe they must keep themselves inside some rigidly defined boxes of self-protection and perfect outward appearances. I want to get messy FOR the gospel, and let others ask how dare I break convention to do something bigger than just keeping myself looking formally and ceremonially good on the outside. I want to run free for Jesus and do stuff like he did—radical, outrageous, loving, hospitable, status- and gender- and race-crossing love that shows how the phrase “Christ is what we have in common” really does break those boundaries to let us love and know one another like blood brothers and sisters, because Spirit is greater even than blood.
But I don’t feel like any other person I know really believes that way. They say, “Yeah, in theory, BUT… I’m not transformed. I can’t go where he sends me. I have to keep myself clean and pure and no, I can’t be tested because he won’t really be there with me.”
I fear my comments will sound offensive. But to me, it seems to be denying God’s work to say that one who believes has had no victory in the process of his or her mind being renewed. And I cannot deny what he has done in changing and purifying and recreating my way of thinking about people and relationships. I’ve met offense every single time I try to effervesce about how transformational God is. The hearers don’t celebrate with joy alongside, as Paul seemed to. They don’t see God as a brace that helps us walk—walks with us as we lean on him. They see themselves as hopelessly boiling pots, about to boil over, and they’re holding their own lids on so tightly to try to keep it all in so that they won’t be bold to rely on his forever-love to go and be the church. They don’t see the Spirit as one who turns down the heat, changes the whole mixture, enables the transformation. Isn’t that what Dave meant when he said, “It’s a greater sin to think I can deal with my inadequacy better than Christ’s mercy can”?
God designed us to be active, relational people. He invited the first people to go into all the world, filling it with more people, making communities and working in the creation together. And even after sin corrupted us and that creation, he still didn’t rescind that invitation or mandate. Still go. Even you, who think you are about to boil over. Go, for me, with me. He reiterates it in Matthew 28: 18-20. He’s leaving, but he still has all authority and power. So go. He promises to be with us always. His people are the very means he has chosen to use to enact his will, to bring his kingdom. It’s his desire and his delight to transform us as we take those steps of testing even while saying, “I’m afraid I’ll mess up! I’m afraid I’ll fall! I’m not clean enough, pure enough, wise enough!” And he says, “Do it. I’m with you.”
How has your thinking been conformed BY the world even if not conformed to its patterns? How have you let your understanding of your sin nature paralyze you from opening yourself up to others’ needs and letting them reach out to you in yours? Do you believe God is transforming your mind to make you think more like him? Do you truly believe that God’s love is so certain, you won’t be lost again if you don’t pass a test with flying colors?