Romans 12: 2
We would all like to make some changes, wouldn't we? Suppose you could change anything about yourself, where would you start? Lots of us would start on the outside. Would you be . . . Skinnier? Taller? Shorter? Better looking? Would you change . . . Your eyes? Your hair? Your teeth? Your legs? Your bulges?
Would it be a light touch-up or an extreme makeover? Would we even recognize you? We all go through periods where we desperately want to change our outward appearance. Teenagers live in a state of constant fear that they don't look good enough and so they tinker with this and try that and experiment with this or that. But when we grow older, we get smarter. Or do we? We spend hours trying to find just the right shirt or just the right pair of pants so that we will fit in with whatever crowd we're trying to impress. We diet obsessively and work out, which is good for our health but can be a losing battle because after we lose that weight and finally look good, it tends to come creeping back again. Finally, you reach the stage in life where it's easier to simply try to cover it up than to lose it. In extreme cases, we may just give up altogether and stop caring about how we look.
As hard as it is to change on the outside, it seems infinitely harder to change on the inside. If there is anything we know about human nature, it is that people change slowly, if they change at all. Think about the struggles of your own life. What would you change about yourself on the inside if you could? Would it be an impatient spirit? a critical tongue? envy of those around you? spirit of discontentment? lingering anger and resentment? uncontrollable sexual temptation? financial mismanagement? guilty conscience? tendency to look down on others? pride and arrogance? prejudice toward others? a quick temper? profound discouragement? inability to appreciate life? ungrateful spirit? a disorganized life? inability to say no?
We all want to change something, but we don't know how to do it and we don't know where to begin. We all dream of being something different and better than the person we are today. Advertisers know this. Change is hard, isn't it? That's why we watch Oprah and Dr. Phil. Go to any bookstore and you will see an entire wall of self-help books. Helping people change is big business nowadays. We get up in the morning and look in the mirror, we see the same old person looking back at us, "another day older and deeper in debt." That's why we move, change jobs, get a facelift, buy a new car, start a new career, get a divorce, find a new boyfriend, go to a new church, start working out, buy a new outfit, and on and on it goes. It's not as if those things are wrong in themselves. Sometimes we need to make outward changes. But it’s not the outward stuff that trips us up. It's the stuff on the inside that we can't seem to fix. Romans 12:2 tells us that we can be transformed when our minds are renewed. How does that happen?
1. We must be transfigured on the inside.
The Greek word for "transformed" is related to the English word metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly and a tadpole becomes a frog. It's a gradual change on the inside that produces a total transformation on the outside. Same Greek word is used for the transfiguration of Christ when the true glory of Christ began to shine through his humanity. The word means to be changed or transformed from one thing to another. When Jesus was transfigured, he did not cease to be Jesus. He was still who he had been moments before, but for a brief time, the curtain was pulled back, and James, Peter and John saw as much of the true divinity of Christ as any man can see and still live. In that moment they saw the "real Jesus," the true Son of God from heaven. He did not cease to be a man, but his true identity was revealed to them as "true God of true God."
Hold that thought and let's add to it what happens when a caterpillar enters the cocoon, only to emerge later as a butterfly. It is not that caterpillar changes its basic nature. Metamorphosis reveals what was always there in the genes of the caterpillar. Caterpillars can't fly. But they were born to fly. How do you solve this conundrum? Metamorphosis! When the caterpillar has been changed into a butterfly, it becomes what God always intended it to be.
Hold that thought and let's add one more to it. Tadpoles become frogs. They don't become butterflies. Only caterpillars become butterflies. Metamorphosis reveals the essence of a thing; it does not change the essential essence. Caterpillars can't hop like frogs. Tadpoles will never soar like butterflies.
Metamorphosis reveals the essential character of whatever was put there by the Creator in the beginning. Now let's apply this to every believer in Jesus. When we come to Christ, we have the "mind of Christ". That's an awesome thought. Paul says that because we have the mind of Christ, we can properly realise the real value of things.
Before we move on, let's consider one other verse— 2 Corinthians 3:18. Outside of the accounts of Christ's transfiguration and Romans 12:2, this is the only other place in the NT where this particular Greek word is used. Note that we are "being transformed" into the image of Christ. We have the "mind of Christ," which means we have the ability from God to estimate the true value of things. As we reject the ways of the world ("don't let the world squeeze you into its mould"), we learn over time to see things as God sees them. This isn't instant or automatic, but since it is God's desire, having a transformed mind is within the reach of every believer.
2. We must reprogram our minds.
How do you renew your own mind? It doesn't happen quickly or easily, but it can happen. Don't overlook the fact that it is our "mind" that must be transfigured. The "mind" includes the intellect but goes beyond that. Your "mind" is more than your IQ or your ability to understand complex problems. The mind by nature is darkened because of sin. It is depraved (Romans 1:28), filled with wicked thoughts (Jeremiah 4:14; Matthew 9:4) and evil imagination (Genesis 6:5), hostile to God (Romans 8:7), defiled (Titus 1:15), its thoughts are empty and worthless (Ephesians 4:17), and it is easily filled with human pride (Colossians 2:18). It would be good for you to stop and look up every single Scripture reference in the preceding sentence.
That is God's estimate of the human mind apart of his grace.
It is the truth about every human mind from the moment of birth.
It is true about you personally—not just about other "bad people" out there somewhere. Apart from God, and unless he somehow intervenes, that's your mind.
Extremes to Avoid
Even in that fallen condition, the mind still works, which is why unredeemed man is capable of enormous intellectual achievements. But because of sin, the mind now bends toward selfishness. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to reorient the mind in a new direction. How, then, will we ever "be transformed" by the renewing of our minds, if our minds are so utterly corrupt apart from God's grace?
A. We must not think that real "mind change" is impossible. Some of us may be so stuck in our lust or our bitterness or our general grumpiness or our immaturity or our selfishness or our greed or our pettiness or our irritability or our addictive behaviours or our love of money or our laziness or whatever else it is that bothers us and holds us back and keeps us chained or frustrated and unable to make any progress spiritually so that year after year after miserable year we seem to be in the same old ruts, if that's the way you feel about your own life, I don't blame you for thinking that real change is impossible. But you're wrong because God says you're wrong. You don't have to stay the way you are. You can be changed from the inside out. God intends to change you, and he is in fact doing it. So don't give up on yourself no matter how lousy you feel about your own lack of progress.
B. Don’t think that you need some sort of "miracle experience" or some crisis moment in order to be transformed.
For most of us, spiritual transformation happens over a long period of time, a little at a time, a step at a time, a day at a time. Seeking instant transformation actually can be dangerously misleading. I have no problem with calling people forward to "rededicate their lives" to Christ, but that's only the first step in a lifelong process of inner transformation. You don't have to walk an aisle or raise your hand to have your mind renewed by the Lord.
C. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if you just try harder, you'll get better. Trying harder generally sets us up for failure. This is not a call to pull up your bootstraps and just give it one more try. When Paul says "be transformed," he uses a passive form of the verb. He doesn't say, "Transform yourself," which would be utterly impossible. I don't have the power to change my depraved mind into the mind of Christ. Only God can do that for me. But does that mean I don't play any part in the process? Not at all. The work of renewing my mind is God's work, and ultimately only he can do it. But he calls me to cooperate with him by disciplining myself so that the transformation will actually take place. “Training means arranging life around those activities that enable us to do what we cannot do now, even by extreme effort. Significant human transformation always involves training, not just trying.”
Desire must be combined with discipline. The transformation of the mind takes time, and it takes a determination to develop those habits of holiness. I doubt that anyone will grow spiritually without being around others who can encourage you to make wise choices on a daily basis. For all of us, that will mean being part of a local congregation. For most of us, it also means being part of some sort of small group where we can develop relationships with other Christians who will both encourage us and also hold us accountable.
Let me close with the reminder that we have the "mind of Christ" and yet Philippians 2:5 says, "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus." We are to have what we already have, which is not a contradiction, but rather a call to continuing transformation so that we will little by little move from the caterpillars we are to the butterflies God wants us to be.
It will not happen by accident. It does not happen overnight. It cannot happen without the Holy Spirit. It happens when we make a personal commitment. It happens with the godly encouragement of other Christians. It happens as we become what God made us to be. It happens as we behold the glory of Jesus Christ.
"This is how the mind is renewed—by steadfastly gazing at the glories of Christ for what they really are" (John Piper). So we must pursue the Lord, to know him better and better. Then and only thing will be you be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Pray like this: "Lord, open the eyes of my heart so that I will know you better. Renew my mind so that I will estimate the true value of everything in the light of eternity."
May the mind of Christ, my Savior, Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling All I do and say.
May the Word of God dwell richly In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph Only through His power.
May the peace of God my Father Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort Sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing, This is victory.
May I run the race before me, Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus As I onward go.
May His beauty rest upon me, As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel, Seeing only Him.