Renewing Our Mind
Romans 12: 1 – 15: 6
According to a survey for 2014 by the Bible app, YouVersion, Romans 12:2 is the most discussed verse on the internet. Is it the increasing realization that without a transformation of the mind, nominal Christianity becomes our perverse faith? Or is it its mystical procedure? Before getting into the verse and its context, we need to appreciate that to be transformed (Greek: to be changed completely in outward appearance as manifesting a change in inward nature or essence) by the renewing (Greek: the act of reestablishing something new or improved manner) of one’s mind (Greek: involving beliefs, feelings, values, dispositions to act in certain ways) is possibly one of the most difficult change processes in human behavior. This is largely due to the conditioning for years by our environment and community to think along certain well-determined lines of orientation and reasoning, which makes any lasting changes challenging.
The view that this process of ‘mind renewing’ is immediate and lifelong at the point of our ‘new birth,’ and nothing further needs to be done on our part, is sadly delusional. The necessity for our mindset’s transformation resulted from having been impacted by the reality of Jesus’ claims on us through the gospel (Rom 1-11), and our subsequent desire to offer ourselves to God for service (Rom 12:1). This would not have happened without the mercies of God, who drew us out of our own deeply entrenched self-centredness, thus enabling us to give up our rights to self-determination which forms the basis of a living sacrifice (3:1-12:1). What follows in the Epistle is a formidable, down-to-earth Pauline citation of what Christian godliness and our high calling in Christ, as practiced within a Christian community, look like (read through at one sitting Romans12:3-15:6). Paul’s vital statement is understandably followed by his immediate call to humility, without which character formation would be demanding. His second exhortation is the enduring conscious appreciation that we are part of the worldwide community of Christ, not just a local body, and whatever may be our giftedness, it is always to be used in serving others irrespective of their particular distinctive. This servant quality pervades Paul’s subsequent instructions, indicating his own attitude of selflessness in this final letter to the church he planted. How then shall we renew our minds?
Paul, a rabbinic scholar under Gamaliel, was not an educational or spiritual neophyte, especially after his Damascus episode, knowing precisely the training process required for a transformative renewal of the mind. I would not be surprised at all if he purposefully restudied the Scriptures with a renewed perspective before making himself available to serve his Lord. He knew that just passing on knowledge itself is insufficient – in fact, it may be detrimental (1 Cor 8:1). As People of the Book, separated to God as holy heavenly-oriented beings, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, our lives are changed because our minds have changed. Therefore, the renewing process entails an active, lifelong commitment – an engagement of both mind and heart in a disciplined, vibrant, and determined mastering of Holy Scripture. Significantly, this is to have us think in ways that aids in our understanding and agreement with what God wants of us, with a view to putting it effectively into practice; a critical balance of faith and works. The community element of discipleship, which includes accountability in every aspect of life under similarly schooled, gracious, and wise leadership, must not be divorced from this transforming process, for its exclusion subverts its appraised practical outworking. As living sacrifices, let us have this attitude in ourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).