Monday, October 19, 2009

Transformation by the Word

"I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, your spiritual service of worship. 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." Romans 12:1-2

In this passage, Paul gives us the key to personal transformation - the renewing of our minds. Before we dig into this, let's see in what other ways the Greek word for transformation (Gk. metamorphoo) is used in the New Testament. Its first use in the gospels is used to describe the change in Jesus' appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration. Mk 9:2-3 says, "Jesus took Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured (metamorphoo) before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them." In this passage, Jesus is physically transformed in the sight of three disciples. The body of Jesus is changed by the glory of God. Now this is different from the kind of transformation than the one we read in Romans, but the idea is the same. The divine glory (an outward manifestation of the nature of God) makes Jesus appear to be far different than he appeared before. It is like when Moses came down the mountain from God's presence and his face glowed with the glory of God. A similar thing can happen to us as well. "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18) Once again, the idea is one of profound transformation, but here we are being transformed into the image of Jesus Himself. So to be transformed is to become like Christ Himself.

So a transformation is a complete change by which the Spirit makes us into a new person, not conformed to this world, but reflecting the glory and image of Christ. Now when we speak of being a new person here, we are not saying that one becomes a new creature in Christ by the renewing of the mind. We are make new creatures by the new birth. Every person who receives Jesus as Lord is instantly born-again as a child of God. He has a new heart, a new spirit. (Ezek 36:26) It is our spirits, not our minds or bodies, that are born of God. What Romans 12:1-2 says is that this new creature must do something with his mind and body. The body is made a living sacrifice and the mind is renewed. (We are spirit, soul (mind) and body (flesh.)

I have made a distinction between the new creation in Christ (the new birth) and a new person who, being transformed, manifests in thought and action what God wants him to be. As Rom 12:2 says, he proves what the will of God is in his own life. Many Christians try to do the will of God without renewing their mind and they struggle as a result. They continually fall short and agonize over their failures. The problem is not that they are not good Christians, but that their minds are not renewed. In order to be transformed into the image of Christ we must set about this task of the renewing of the mind.

So now we must explore how the mind can be renewed. The first thing we notice in verse 1 of Romans 12 is that there is a prerequisite to renewing one's mind. First, one must offer one's body a living sacrifice. Paul and others speak of this same thing in various places in the NT. Expressions like "crucify the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24), "mortify your members which are on the earth" (Col 3:5) and "your pleasures that wage war in your members" (James 4:1) show us that our bodies must not rule our lives. We must rule over our bodies.

Now we come to the question, 'what exactly is the renewing of the mind?' and 'how is it renewed?'. Although the expression 'renewing of the mind' seems to be unique in the Bible, expressions with the same basic meaning are found as well. In order to show this, we must be aware that 'mind' and 'soul' are parallel terms, just as 'heart' and 'spirit' are parallel terms. (We do not have space here to demonstrate this.)

Psalm 19:7a, "The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul". We see that the soul is restored by the law of the Lord. We could say that the mind is renewed by the Word of the Lord. The words 'restored' and 'renewed' mean about the same thing. So it is the Word of God which can renew our minds. Does the NT confirm this renewing of the mind by the Word? It does. James 1:21, "Putting aside all filthiness and wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls." The expression 'save your souls' is used in the modern church to refer to the new birth. But it is not so used here (or anywhere else in the NT). Never does the NT refer to the new birth or eternal salvation or justification as 'salvation of the soul'. It is a misnomer. The new birth is the rebirth of the human spirit, not the soul. The soul must be renewed or restored or, here, be 'saved'. The word 'salvation' or 'saved' is used to refer to eternal salvation, temporal deliverance, healing and other things, including the renewing of the mind. So this verse is saying the same thing that both Romans 12:1-2 and Psalm 19:7 are saying. Like Psalm 19, it is the Word that restores (saves) the soul. ("The implanted Word is able to save your souls.") In Romans 12, the body must be a spiritual sacrifice first. ("Put aside all filthiness") So, James 1:21 puts together the ideas of Psalms and Romans and adds another 'twist'. He calls the renewing of the mind 'salvation'.

Think about that. A person who is already 'saved' still needs his 'soul saved'. James is speaking to Christians who are on their way to Heaven so he cannot be telling them how to get to Heaven when he tells them their souls need to be saved. The salvation of the soul is the deliverance of the mind from worldly thinking and the strongholds that the Enemy has put there. And it is the emotional deliverance of the human soul from the ravages of whatever evil thing has happened to him in his past life. Christians are saved from past sins when they are born-again, but they often need to be delivered from their past lives as well. And the purpose of this deliverance is so that one can accomplish the will of God.

If you were not convinced before about the need for all to have their minds renewed, I hope that you are now. But how do we get the minds of church people renewed to the Word of God? Is there some program that we can institute that will bring our church to this point? How about our ministers? Should they not, most of all, have their minds renewed? Can seminaries renew our minds?

We have to go back to these passages and see who is responsible for this. From looking at the context of each one, something stands out. The responsibility for the renewing of the mind rests on each individual Christian. Look at verse 3 of Romans 12. Paul is telling to 'every man' not to think of himself too highly. This is clearly addressed to the individual Christian. It is the responsibility of every Christian to have his mind renewed. Now the Christian is not said to renew his own mind but to have it renewed. And it is clear that the Word of God must do this.

How do we get the Word? We get it by reading it and hearing it. We must read and study the Word ourselves and we must listen to good teaching also. God set teachers in the church so that we can learn and have our minds renewed. So the minister of the gospel has a responsibility as well. He must minister the Word. The teaching of the Bible must be a major part of what the church is doing.

But the minister cannot renew the minds of his hearers but he can foster it to a great degree. He is not responsible for the renewing of the minds of his congregation but he is responsible for making it possible and available.

Another thing that can be said about the renewing of the mind is that it is a continuous process throughout one's life. It is really a process, or a key to the process, of sanctification. Transformation does not take place all at once. It occurs over time. We should never get to the point where we think we have 'arrived'. Too many Christians get to a certain place in their spiritual development and think that they need go no further. They stagnate. Others may wish to continue to grow spiritually but they do not do what they need to do to grow. One key thing is the continual renewal of the mind. Becoming like Christ is not a once-and-for-all thing. It is a process of growth. Some Christians do not bother with Sunday School or Bible study and some do not even take time to read the Bible for themselves. They won't even listen to teaching tapes or read books about the Bible. But your mind cannot be renewed unless you devote yourself to it. You have to put yourself in a place where your mind can be renewed. And the church must make it available.

Finally, even if you are in Bible study and all that, and you do not seem to be making much progress, do not give up. Stay at it and become a 'doer of the Word' and not a hearer only. It's vital to act on what you know. Then God will reveal more of the Word to you. Eventually, you will be transformed. Some seem to be transformed right away and that frustrates the rest of us who seem not to. Others just take more time. I spend more time than most studying the Bible because I must prepare to teach it. However, my own spiritual development has seemed very slow to me. Yet, over the years I can see growth and there are many temptations that I no longer struggle with. But I still see the need to grow in many areas. So the renewal is far from complete. It is, as they say, not a destination but a journey. And it is a journey with a glorious end.

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