The apostle Paul presents our marching orders directly. We are to sacrifice our bodies while we still live, that is, we are to submit ourselves wholly to God and to His way of life, which is only reasonable, since having redeemed us, He owns us completely. In addition, we are to reject this world's attempts to pull us back into its ungodly lifestyles, despite its many allurements. Instead, we are to engage in the transformation of our minds into perfect alignment with God's will.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Paul calls it "the renewing of your mind." This renewing is not making the mind new in the sense of time. For instance, to say one has a new bike suggests that it was recently purchased; someone else has not used it. The renewal of Romans 12:2, however, speaks to quality. We might understand it better by using the terms "refresh," "revive," or "rejuvenate." When a tool—say, a chisel—is old and dull, a craftsman will renew it by cleaning off the rust, sharpening the edge, and perhaps putting on a new handle. Essentially, this is what God is doing in renewing our minds. He is taking an old, ill-used mind, cleaning it, sharpening it, and putting it to use in His work.
Consider that another spirit has had many years to shape our minds to follow his way (Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 12:9). Satan the Devil's way of life is that of pride, vanity, lust, greed, envy, deceit, murder, adultery, and covetousness—all the evil things that we are supposed to be putting off. While he had a hold on us, Satan impressed his ungodly way on our minds, but now God has called us and is now in us by His Spirit, transforming us, refreshing our minds, so that we can change the quality of our minds from carnal to spiritual. The transformation that we are undergoing will take us from the self-absorbed, degenerate, sensual mentality to the outgoing, pure righteousness of God's own mind.
The last part of Romans 12:2 can be paraphrased as, "so that you may test or experience all the benefits of His will." Without His mind being formed in us through the Holy Spirit, we would have no way of truly understanding His will or His way. Our minds must be transformed so that we can have even the capacity to understand the differences between God's way and Satan's way, as well as the overwhelming benefits of living as God prescribes. Only then, as it says in Deuteronomy 30:19, can we truly "choose life." This process is happening in us so that we can make the choices that will allow us to live eternally.
Paul covers this transformation of our minds in I Corinthians 2:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (I Corinthians 2:7-8)
Without the ability to distinguish between God's way and Satan's way, the leaders of Judea put their Savior to death. What He said and did was a mystery to them, as they had no basis within them to comprehend Him. Without God's Spirit working in them, they had no understanding and therefore no ability to make proper judgments. As we will see, truly converted Christians do.
But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (I Corinthians 2:9-10)
The apostle proclaims that, by God's Spirit, not only can we understand some of the things of God, but the Spirit is so powerful that we can plumb their very depths! Of course, we do not know these things just by having the Holy Spirit in us; we learn them over time and through much experience in using the Word of God (Hebrews 5:14). This is why conversion is largely a process, as transformation into Christ's image occurs over years of study and growth.
For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:11-14)
In verse 11, Paul explains the Spirit's work in us by an analogy. Just as the human spirit enables us to understand material things (Job 32:8), God's Spirit works on a similar but higher plane, allowing us to grasp spiritual matters, specifically, "that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (I Corinthians 2:12)—the benefits of doing God's will, as Romans 12:2 suggests. Of course, this spiritual insight sets us apart from people in the world, so we should not expect them to understand either our doctrines or practices. Frankly, Paul says, it is beyond them.
But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For "who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:15-16)
At this juncture, the apostle reaches his goal in this passage: the subject of judging or discernment. With the Spirit working in us, we now have the ability to discern true from false, right from wrong, good from evil from God's perspective. By writing that "we have the mind [Greek nous] of Christ," Paul means that we can have the thoughts, intellect, or understanding of Christ! However, in this context, the meaning of nous is even more specific: "the faculty of judgment; the ability to discern." In other words, we can learn to judge just like Christ. This is overwhelming to consider, but it is ultimately the goal of the work of God's Spirit in us.
Obviously, this fact places tremendous responsibility on us, as well as an extraordinarily high goal before us. It requires us to exercise our spiritual faculties of understanding and judgment far more than we probably do, but what great purpose does not call for equally great effort?
Next time, we will tackle the daily grind of the conversion process.