RENEWING YOUR MIND
Romans 12:1-8 CSB
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. 3 For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. 4 Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, 5 in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. 6 According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts: If prophecy, use it according to the proportion of one’s faith; 7 if service, use it in service; if teaching, in teaching; 8 if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity; leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
All the scriptures we are looking at this month highlight habits that we should have – things that we should keep doing as Christians. As a theme verse for the series, I noted Paul’s instruction for the Philippians to keep on doing all that they have learned from him (Philippians 4:9). My point is that the Christian life has a beginning, but we cannot say that now that we are converted, we can just stop serving God and rest on our accomplishment. The Christian life is a life – it is a permanent path that we are walking on (Psalm 1). It is a life that we are passing on to our relatives and friends (2 Timothy 1). It is returning to the Lord – over and over again – so that we always stay with him (Deuteronomy 4).
But I have a confession to make. The title I chose for today’s message is misleading, because…
We cannot renew our minds (2).
Let’s take another look at verse 2 so I can explain what I am talking about.
• Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
There are two options described by Paul for the Roman Christians. They can either be conformed to this age, or they can be transformed by the renewing of their mind. But did you notice that both of those options are passive?
An action that is passive is one in which the subject is being acted upon by someone or something else. Paul told the Romans not to be conformed to this age. Being conformed means that all the Romans had to do was passively allow the age in which they lived to conform them to its standards.
Likewise, the Romans could passively choose to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. But they could not actively renew their mind. They had to submit to God’s will, and let him renew their mind. In fact, if they did not submit to God, they could not even “discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” So, the Romans could not renew their own minds. Neither can we.
But this passage does teach us how we can cooperate with God and let Him renew our minds.
What we can do is present our bodies to God (1).
Let’s take a closer look at verse 1.
• Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.
First, let’s take a look at that first word: “Therefore.” What is the “Therefore” there for? It draws our attention to everything that Paul had said previously in the book of Romans.
In Romans 1, we learn that the gospel is the power of God which can save everyone – Jew or Gentile. But the Gentiles rejected that gospel and chose idolatry instead.
In Romans 2, we learn that the Jews also rejected that gospel and chose an outward religion instead of the inward circumcision of the heart.
In Romans 3, we learn that everyone is a sinner, but that anyone can be saved by faith in Jesus Christ as the world’s redeemer.
In Romans 4, we learn that Abraham is an example of this kind of faith.
In Romans 5, we learn that Adam’s sin resulted the death penalty to everyone, but that Christ’s obedience will result in a resurrection unto permanent life for those reconciled through his death.
In Romans 6, we learn that we can now present our current mortal bodies not as slaves to sin, but as slaves to God. We also learn that even though the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is permanent life.
In Romans 7, we learn that the flesh and the law cause us to struggle with sin in this life.
In Romans 8, we learn that the Holy Spirit can help us overcome those struggles, and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
In Romans 9-11, we learn that not all natural descendants of Israel are the true Israel. Instead God’s people are those who put their faith in Christ. We learn that “A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25).
So, everyone – Jew and Gentile alike – depends on something for their redemption. Paul calls that something “the mercies of God.” We cannot transform ourselves from sinners to saints. God has to do that. All we can do is present our bodies to him as a living sacrifice. This is what true worship does. It says “God, I have faith in you to make me become something holy and pleasing in your sight. I cannot renew my mind, but you can. I cannot change my habits, but you can. I cannot even figure out for myself what you want, but you can reveal it to me.”
Now, why would God want to do that for us? The answer is “the mercies of God.” He is merciful. He looks down on his poor, ignorant, dependent children and chooses to treat us with his mercy. God’s ultimate act of mercy will be seen when we are raised to permanent life when Jesus comes again. But we don’t have to wait until the second coming to show the world that we are recipients of his mercy today. We can cooperate with God and let Him renew our minds.
We can also think sensibly about our function in Christ’s body (3-8).
Verse 3 encourages us to “think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.”
God’s mercy has endowed each of us with a measure of faith, and a set of spiritual gifts by which we display that faith. The whole body of Christ functions properly when all the gifts are displayed.
But the body of Christ can become dysfunctional when certain gifts are regarded as more important that the other gifts.
For example, this passage lists four gifts that are traditionally understood as defining church leadership: prophecy (6), teaching (7), exhortation and leading (8). What we have done traditionally in our churches is that we have propped up these gifts by requiring a formal ordination process and giving people titles that reflect that process.
Now, I believe in properly trained church leaders. As a missionary, I trained people overseas to become church leaders. I teach seminars online to train people as church leaders now. I am currently an ordained minister, and a member of the Eastern North Carolina Conference ministerial committee which evaluates candidates for ordination. But I also believe that Paul’s warning here applies to us.
There is no function in the body of Christ which is more important, or more essential than any other function. When we start thinking of our gifts more highly than we think of others, we are liable to get proud. Pride goes before a fall.
Also, the miracle of the body is that it has many parts, and all of them are designed to function in tandem with all the others. Paul implied this kind of relationship when he said “we who are many are one body in Christ” (5a).
But Paul went a little further. He said that all of as individuals are members of one another (5b). That’s why we can’t get the big head and ignore other members as less important than us. Each of us has a gift that the other members of the body needs. And they have gifts that we need.
That’s why there are so many reciprocal commands in scripture. These are the commands that can only be obeyed in conjunction with other believers.
• Be devoted to one another
• Give preference to one another
• Be of the same mind toward one another
• Love one another
• Build one another up
• Accept one another
• Greet one another
[And that’s just the ones appearing in Romans!]
Also, the imagery of the body shows us that you cannot practice your gifts apart from others. A severed limb no longer functions at all.
Paul encourages the Romans to learn what their function is, and to use that set of spiritual gifts “according to the proportion of one’s faith” (6b). They should not all try to be like preacher so-and-so, or deacon what’s-his-name.
It is a matter of trusting God, really. It is trusting that God had a purpose for putting me in the congregation – a role for me in the community that he did not design for anyone else.
It is also freeing to know that my relationship to Jesus is not tied to the same result that someone else gets in her ministry. As hard as I try, I might not have the same effect on others that she does. But if I am thinking sensibly, I’ll realize that I am not supposed to evaluate myself based on her achievements.
So, I want to conclude by saying that there is some things we can do to present our bodies as living sacrifices, and if we do so in an attitude of trust, God will renew our minds regularly. Mind renewal is passive. We cannot do it ourselves. But body presentation is active.
Become living sacrifices for God (1)
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start.
• First, decide where God wants our feet to go, and sacrifice all other destinations. There are places we can go that we shouldn’t go. We are aiming for the permanent path. That means there are places we cannot stand – directions we cannot walk.
• Second, decide to bend our knees. Be always in an attitude of prayer and humble submission to our king. Someday every knee will bow. Today our knees should bow.
• Third, decide to surrender our appetite and desires to the kingdom. Seek first the Lord and his righteousness.
• Fourth, decide to use all your strength for the Lord, and stay strong not for yourself, but so you can be strong for him.
• Fifth, put God’s word in your brain. Memorize scripture, and meditate on it. Hide the word in your heart so that you do not sin against him.
As I said, it is a short list. But as we focus on presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we set him free to renew our minds day by day. Before long, we will begin to discern what God wants us to do, and what he wants us to say. We will understand how he wants us to serve him and one another in his body.
“God, we have faith in you to make us become something holy and pleasing in your sight. We cannot renew our minds, but you can. We cannot change our habits, but you can. We cannot even figure out for ourselves what you want, but you can reveal it to us. We surrender to your mercies. Renew our minds. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”