December 14, 2017

Transformation: the liberty of the renewed mind

Don Johnson

A continuing meditation on Romans 12.1-2:

Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Do you know that the world is legalistic? Christians often face that accusation, but it usually comes from someone who wants to force you into their mode of thinking. The world (and worldly Christians) have very demanding codes they expect you to follow. If you step outside their codes in public, heaven help you. You will be shouted down, insulted, berated, made to apologize, etc. This is sometimes called ‘political correctness’, but it is just a form of legalistic bullying.

Christians are called to reject the legalism of our world – “And be not conformed to this world: but…” First is the negative exhortation, then the word ‘but’ – a strong adversative, as the grammarians say – but, in contrast, do something else. That something else is not achieved by a “counter-legalism,” a Christian set of rules, but by a change of mind, a transformation.

To the call of presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, biblical Christianity demands a spiritual response, a spiritual development of the individual life, not keeping of the law by conforming to it, but living the law by the transforming power of the Spirit.

The transformation we are called to is a change from the inside out. We get our word metamorphosis from a transliteration of the Greek here, and the familiar illustration of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly is often used. A better illustration, perhaps, is the transfiguration of Christ. The same word is sued in Mt 17.2, where Christ was transfigured before his disciples. What that means is that his appearance changed, as if from some inner power, so that the outward shell became quite different.

In the same way, God expects us to be changed, to be transformed, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, into God’s ideal for the Christian, the Lord Jesus Christ himself (see Eph 4.13). Paul uses the image of Moses’ shining face, as he was transformed by his close contact with God on Mt. Sinai as another illustration. As Moses was transformed on Sinai, so are we to be transformed by close contact with Christ (2 Cor 3.18).

Before conversion (and even after, to our shame), we were conformed to the world. We submitted ourselves to its laws, yielded our bodies to its deeds. In the new life, we are to be changed from all that. Our text says this change comes from “the renewing of the mind.” Paul describes this more fully in Eph 4.22-24, putting off the old man, being renewed in the mind, putting on the new man. This renewal is the result of taking long looks into that ‘perfect law of liberty’ (Jas 1.25), the Word of God.

I ran across something in my reading that illustrated a mind transformed like that. Consider the following quotation:

When I was born, as I have oft heard my Mother say, I was very weak, and so sickly, that most thought I could not live, yet the Lord appeared for my Deliverance; it is today __________ years since I was born, and the Lord has preserved me ever since, blessed be his holy Name; blessed be God that I have had a good education, and was taught so earnestly to read my Bible. In the Year 1667, in April, Brother John, Sister Sarah and I, had all of us the Measles together; April 2. Brother John died, and it was thought by most that I should have died, yet contrary to the Fears of many, my Sister and I are alive, blessed be Free Grace, distinguishing Mercy. Matth. xxiv.40. (Allusion) One shall be taken and the other left. The same summer I had the Ague [fever], it hung long upon me, and yet God again delivered me.[1]

What do you think of that testimony? Doesn’t it reflect a mind saturated with the Word, conscious of his place in Christ and not of the world? Do you know who the writer is? It is the young Matthew Henry, who was then but thirteen years old.

You don’t need to be a Christian a long time to develop the renewed mind. You just need to be given to God’s Word and make it your mainstay every day.

If you will pay attention to these things, you will begin to manifest the will of God in your life more and more as you walk with him. It isn’t a keeping of the law, but a living of the law in the power of the Spirit that transforms you as God expects.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

  1. William Tong, Life of Matthew Henry, pp. 11-12, quoted in Allan M Harman, Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2012), 30–31. []

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