Reflection: Romans 12:1 – 2.
In this context, the first verse is subordinate to verse 2, for it would be impossible to offer our bodies as living and holy sacrifices without a renewing of our minds. Paul deems this sacrifice a necessity, as long as we have the ‘old man’ (Rom 1 – 8), with a mind that he determined to be ‘foolish’ (Rom 1:28). He then delineate the two thinking processes which are alien to each other: a negative, ‘do not allow yourself to be shaped by adapting to this world in every dimension of your life,’ and a positive, ‘permit God to change you inside, by giving you a completely new mind.’ The verb ‘transformed’ is the same word (transfigured) used in the transfiguration narratives in the Matthew and Mark gospels, and used only one other time again, where believers “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18). Clearly, this profound life-long renewing work by the Holy Spirit in our mental attitude is to sensitize us to God’s purposes, with resultant changes in the pattern, motivation and direction of our thinking.
Paul, then, clarifies the goal of his sacrificial imagery – that we “may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The qualifying word here is to ‘prove,’ as it expresses two notions that are not captured by a single English term, viz., the idea of testing and proving the value of something, and the aptitude to assess the value and approve it when we come across it. The NIV, however, comes closest to expressing this dual thought: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” Paul is saying that the renewal of the mind involves a continuing process of deep spiritual change in how the mind is able to mentally discern (tests, proves, assesses and values), as redeemed beings, the Divine perspective in this world.
Humanly speaking, discerning God’s will is challenging enough, quite apart from doing His will, which at times goes against the grain of human logic. And considering that we spend a major part of our lives ‘in the world’ making a living, and a further discretionary time relaxing, it is not difficult to understand that our minds, like the Romans in their day, will be fundamentally secularized according to the configurations of this age. One of those issues that Paul attempts to address in his theological buttressing of the gospel in the earlier chapters is to encourage the believers not to be intimidated by cultured Romans in the presentation of the Good News of their crucified Messiah, as their God’s mode of death can hardly be considered seeker sensitive to first century Romans. Hence, the believers’ minds need renewing to see that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16), irrespective of the Roman incredulity for the gospel.
In order for this renewal to progress, our part is to daily collaborate with God’s Spirit by seeking to feed into our minds information that will bring our thinking in line with the values of the kingdom, viz., through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study and meditation on His Word, worship, etc. To that end, our spiritual service of worship will be when our minds are so thoroughly renewed that we know, almost instinctively, what we are to do to please God in any given situation. Living life differently before the face of God was Paul’s goal for the Roman faithful, and ours’ too.