Non-Conformity, Transformation & Renewal

Romans 12:1-2
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. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This is our second week in Romans chapter 12. If you recall, these first two verses transition us into a fairly major shift. We are moving, based on 11 chapters of theological foundation, into a section of the letter that is practical – application oriented.  Chapters 12-16 move from exploring how we, as Christians should think, into what we should do.  

Based on the incredible mercies of God, live this way! Display the mercies of God in the way you live.

There were two major observations about verse 1: First, the therefore is important. We don’t move forward without it. If behavior was the most important thing, Paul could have simply written the practical stuff of these next five chapters to the church in Rome.  He didn’t.  What sets this way of life apart is that it comes as a response to what Christ has done – both in His death and resurrection, and subsequently by his saving power at work through the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Transform

Secondly we notice, especially when we glance through passages like 12:9-21, that this way of life is proactive. It takes initiative. It is intentional. We don’t simply adopt a new way of thinking and reacting to life’s situations as we cruise along. No, the stuff of Romans 1-11 marks a change. A change in lifestyle; a change in priorities; and it is action-oriented.

So, we move, therefore, into a section that is largely about doing.

But here’s the problem:  What I want to do, and what I ought to do, are not always the same thing.

The other night I was praying with my wife, and I prayed that God would change my heart in regards to my kids. I desire to be a father who intentionally pursues his children. This takes proactive work and time spent doing fun things with them. Often times, I just don’t feel like it. There are plenty of good reasons why I don’t feel like it – tired after a day of work, or even the simple fact that going outside to play when it’s 21 degrees out doesn’t sound very appealing.  Now, I can make a decision to spend time with them anyway, because I know it is the right thing to do. What I would love, however, would be to get to a place where my heart’s deepest desires really are in sync with what I know I should do.  At times this is the case, but quite often, there is some will-power involved.

I think this is common to all of us. We should be able to get on the same page with this. There is something broken in us – what we want to do, and what we ought to do are not always the same thing.

And so I need a deeper-level change of heart. This is where verse 2 comes in.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

If we have come to terms with the truth of the Gospel, and can agree with Romans 1-11, then we must agree that we are to be set apart. We are called to a new way of living – a new way of thinking. You cannot succeed if you continue to simply ride the wave. Conformity to this world is not an option. We must be transformed.

But this raises many questions: What does this look like? How is one to be transformed? What kind of transformation are we talking about? To help with this, a little greek:

The word used for Transformed in this passage is Metamorphoo.  And, it is only used in three instances in the entire New Testament.

The first instance is Matthew 17:2.  Jesus takes John, James and Peter up onto a mountain, and there he is transfigured (metamorphoo) before them. They see Jesus in his most pure form; His heavenly state; or perhaps his most truly human state. His face shines like the sun and his clothes are like light itself. This same radiance is used in scripture to describe what those who are in Christ will be like at the resurrection. Matthew 13:43 “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”  Philippians 3:21 “(Christ will) transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body…”

This is a very deep, supernatural transformation that begins in our lives right now internally, then at the resurrection, externally.

  • Transplanting an old set of rules with a new set of rules will not result in this kind of transformation.
  • Replacing a fleshly “to-do” list with a new “to-do” list will not result in this kind of transformation
  • Simply resisting worldly behaviors will not result in this kind of transformation.

If you recall, the Jews had worked it out this way as Paul describes in Romans 9-11. They had resisted the worldly list. They had refused to conform to the world, and instead aspired to conform themselves to God’s list – the Law.  But even amidst their best efforts, the kind of transformation God desires did not take place.

We need to have our minds renewed. We need God to give our desires, our thoughts, and our heart a makeover. This is a change only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Bottom line: If you want to break free from conformity to this world and be transformed so that what you want to do and what you ought to do are in fact the same thing, then you must pursue the renewal of your mind.

But how is the mind to be renewed?

To answer this question, we look to the third instance where this kind of transformation (transfiguration – metamorphoo) is used. 

2 Corinthians 3:18
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

As we behold, gaze upon, abide with Jesus, we become more and more like Him.  This is where the Spirit does a work in us. This is true for most things: What you look at is what you will become most like.

What are you looking at?
What are you filling your mind with as you watch TV?
What are you listening to?
How are you seeking affirmation through Facebook and social media?
And how much of your gaze is fixed upon Jesus verses these many other things?

There is some comfort here as well as some urgency:  You are not the only one who has a hard time with this. There is a reason why our minds naturally resist spending time in the presence of Jesus:

Romans 1:22-23
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Verse 28: And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Your mind has been hijacked.  It is not comfortable for the human mind to sit in the presence of a being who is infinitely more worthy of praise than we are. We don’t like being reminded that we are not in control, or that we are not lords of our own little universes.  Why? Because we have traded the glory of God for the glory of what we see in the mirror – or if not precisely what we see in the mirror, then mankind, or mankind’s achievements, or the things mankind has made.

We are drawn to glory – made for it even.  Don’t believe me?  I can prove it:  How many of you watched the Super Bowl last week?  The glory of man was displayed all over – even in the commercials. I recall a commercial that used very biblical language to talk about technology: “Technology, bringing hope to the hopeless…” etc.  “The Seahawks were blazing in glory.”  Consider the amount of money and work that went in to making this – a football game – happen. The fireworks, the half-time show.

I am not saying whether you should or shouldn’t watch the Superbowl – or now, the Olympics. I am saying how to watch them.

In our northwestern culture, there seems to be a strong progressive attitude that claims to have graduated from religion or that which religion provides.  And yet Seahawks fans will pay $900 for a playoffs ticket in order to have a transcendent experience when they could watch the game for free on television.

And when you go to a game, you find a lot of religious elements: There is liturgy – an order of service. The fans have rituals, they dress a certain way, they talk a certain way, they get caught up in the unity of thousands of people coming together to rally behind a common entity – even if that entity is just a football team.  They participate using their bodies with hand-motions; they sing songs, clap, etc.

All of this to say that humanity has not graduated from its draw to glory. So, as you watch, let the glory be an echo – something that points to a Creator who is infinitely more powerful and glorious than any human athlete, accomplishment, or event.

There is something in our minds that is broken. It doesn’t immediately enjoy exposure to this higher glory. It’s easier to revel in the glory of man.  That is why many of you spent very little time pursuing your relationship with Jesus this week.

So how does Jesus respond to this?  Is he sitting idly at the door waiting for us to let him in?  What is His stance on our stance towards Him? The answer may surprise you.

I want to shed light on the urgency of this situation by sharing a story from John 2:13-22.  Jesus enters Jerusalem for Passover and goes into the temple. There he sees people selling animals – oxen, sheep, pigeons. He sees money changers sitting at tables exchanging currency. Jesus doesn’t like what he sees.  So he goes and makes a whip out of chords, and then he begins to drive out the animals, the people who are selling them, etc.  He dumps the coins of the money changers on the ground. He turns to those selling pigeons, and notice these strong words: “Get these things out of here! My Father’s house will not be a house of trade!” And the disciples remember what has been written about Him: Zeal for my Father’s house will consume me (emphasis mine).

Later, Jesus would be sitting by a well with a Samaritan woman and would tell her “There is coming a time when people will neither worship in the temple in Jerusalem or Samaria, but in Spirit and in truth…”

After Jesus ascends, the Spirit falls on and indwells believers.

And then we hear the words of the apostle Paul: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19

Your body is the new temple. It is meant to be set apart, made holy, offered as a living sacrifice, Holy and pleasing to God. Your body exists to ascribe worth to God (worship).  Now consider: If the parallel between the temple and your body is truly drawn in scripture, then can we also assume that the way Jesus feels about the temple in John 2 is how he feels about you?  I think so.

Now I want you to take a moment to close your eyes and imagine your body as a temple.  Jesus walks into that temple. What does He see? Take a moment and consider this.  Stop reading after this paragraph and pray right now that God would show you what He sees when he looks into His temple that is your body. Which tables are set up that are creating hindrances to worship? What are your roadblocks to beholding Jesus and being transformed by Him?

Are there addictions?  Attitudes? Morally neutral activities that are simply consuming your time and drawing your attention and focus elsewhere (idolatry)? Such things might include video games, recreational activities, Facebook, social media, etc.

Now how does Jesus feel about your temple?  He is zealous for it.  Hear his words as He marches in and says “Get these things out of here! My Father’s house will not be a house of… (sexual immorality, idolatry, resentment, etc.).”

Jesus wants to give your temple an extreme makeover. He wants to shine things up. He wants to cleanse you and make you Holy. We are so fearful of letting him in to do as He will, because our coins are too valuable for us to allow Him to pour out on the floor. If I am truly to expel this addiction, that means telling someone about it in order to seek accountability and prayer. That means risking my reputation, which is valuable to me – “Jesus don’t pour these coins out on the floor! They have worth!”

Our own glory, which we have traded for the glory of the immortal God, is a difficult thing to surrender. It’s painful. There are risks involved. There holes that get left and we fear the emptiness they leave.

But if you allow Jesus to enter your temple, you will experience true freedom.  After all, “It is for freedom Christ has set you free…” – Galatians 5:1.  What is freedom if not the ability to do whatever you want to do?  That is the key. When Christ enters and cleanses the temple – when we truly begin to behold Him and love Him and allow the Spirit to change us in accordance with what we see, then, and only then, are we truly free. What you want to do, and what you ought to do are finally the same thing, and you are free.

And so we are left with a choice. Will we allow Jesus to enter in and do His work?  Will we set aside our excuses and other priorities and truly spend time beholding Him and abiding with Him?  Will we allow Him to reveal the hard truths and grant us the humility to embrace them and make the appropriate changes?

Remember, Jesus comes that we may have life, and have it more abundantly, but the enemy comes only to steal, kill and destroy. The devil will do whatever he can to keep your eyes focused on lesser glories and fill your schedule with excuses for not spending time with Christ.

I end with a final reminder of the end-goal: Faces shining like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. God wants to transform you – to transfigure you – into His likeness, beginning now.  Will you let him?

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