In Romans 12:2 Paul instructed us to not conform to the pattern of this world; to refuse to let the world dictate how we think and act; to resist being squeezed into the world’s mould.

As people who believe in Jesus Christ, we no longer belong to the world. We still live in the world, but we are also children of God and citizens of heaven.

The fact that before we became Christians we were part of the world, thinking the way the world thinks, prioritizing what the world prioritizes, living the way the world lives, means that now that we have a new identity and a new allegiance, significant change is necessary. Our previous way of life and our previous mindset and values are not appropriate to our new identity as children of God and citizens of the kingdom of heaven. The mindset of the kingdom of Jesus Christ is quite different from the mindset of the world. The operating principles of Christ’s kingdom are at odds with the operating principles of the world.

For some Christians this has always been obvious. For those of us who live in previously so-called ‘Christian’ countries, this distinction between the world and Christ’s kingdom was not always so obvious. Our world had lived for a few centuries with a superficial veneer of Christian values and the Christian worldview. But the ‘Christian’ ‘west’ has, first gradually, then more recently, quite rapidly, cast off this veneer, and our world also stands in stark contrast to the teaching and values of Jesus Christ. It has become a secular world, even in some respects, a pagan world. It is in any case, an unbelieving world, without any real awareness of the existence of God.

So the negative command is clear. It is urgent. And it is necessary. Do not be conformed to this world. Then Paul adds the positive opposite: be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The negative and the positive commands are separated by the word ‘but’. There are two ‘buts’ in the Greek language. One is what we might call a ‘soft’ ‘but’. The other, the one Paul uses in this verse, is a strong ‘but’. It places two opposing things in very strong contrast, so that one is the direct opposite of the other. Rather than be conformed to the world, we are to be transformed.

In order to stop conforming to the pattern of the world, we need to be transformed by a renewal of our mindset, and a radical change in the way we think and about what we value and prioritise.

The word Paul uses here is instructive: It is metamorphousthe.

It is comprised of the prefix meta which indicates change, and morphoo – a verb meaning to form or fashion.

It is the basis of our English words metamorphosis – which we use to refer to the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, and metamorphic – which we use in reference to rock hardened by volcanic action.

In its form in Romans 12:2 it is in the Present Tense – which means that the transformation Paul is commanding is on-going. It is not an instantaneous change. It is something that continues right through our lives.

It is also Passive Voice. This means that it is not something we do to ourselves. It is something done to us. We are the passive recipients/objects in and upon whom this on-going change is being done.

This on-going work of transformation has a specific location and focus – it is by the renewal/renovation of our minds.

This transformation is aimed at our minds – the place where we think and will and register emotions, the place where our responses to people and circumstances are processed, the place where we decide to obey or to disobey God. As our minds are brought more and more into conformity with the mind of Jesus Christ and with the Gospel of God’s grace and God’s gift of righteousness apart from works, then our lives will be progressively changed.

This continuing change is brought about in us by the Spirit of God and the Word of God.

It is the Spirit of God who changes us so that instead of all kinds of godlessness there is increasingly love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:16 – 25).

It is the Word of God dwelling in us richly that enables us to live as God’s children (Psalm 1:1 – 3; 119:11; Colossians 3:12 – 17).

This is the transforming work of the Spirit: He takes the word of God about the Son of God to transform the children of God into the image of God. As we contemplate Jesus Christ, revealed in the written Word, the indwelling Spirit is at work transforming (same Greek verb as in Romans 12:2) us from one degree of glory to another into the image of Christ (2Corinthians 3:18).

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020