When I was a young believer, I was mentored by someone who stressed to me the importance of memorizing Scripture. One of the first passages I learned was Romans 12:1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Most commentators recognize that Paul makes a major shift in his thought in the twelfth chapter as he moves from talking about what has happened in Jesus to exploring the impact this new reality has in the life of those who recognize Christ as Lord. What difference does it make that in Jesus the Gentiles have been brought into the covenant community previously restricted to the children of Abraham, or that there is a new humanity formed in Jesus, the new Adam, or that life in the Spirit transcends what Jew and Gentile alike have understood about living faithfully as God’s covenant community? What difference does it make that God’s mercy has been shown to all of creation through Jesus?
For Paul, the world has dramatically changed. The promised new age has begun and this changes everything. Paul’s admonition to the church is stated both positively and negatively. “Do not be conformed to this world” he says. The language is evocative. It pictures an artist pressing clay into a mold forcing the clay to take the shape of the mold (schema). The mold Paul is concerned about is the pattern of “this world” (aeon), this old age, rather than the new world Christ has brought into being. As C. E. B. Cranfield argued in his magisterial commentary on Romans, the Greek construction here implies that their lives were already being conformed to something. The issue is not ‘whether” to be conformed but “what” mold to be conformed to, and Paul wanted them to stop being formed by the mold of this age.
“Be transformed,” Paul says. There’s a new pattern. There’s a new mold into which believers are to be pressed that will shape us by its patterns. This is the shape of the new age, the patterns of the promised age which the Jews anticipated as the kingdom of God. That mold is the form and pattern of Jesus, the crucified Messiah. And we are transformed by making our minds new again.
Paul knew that the old age deeply formed the way his readers thought and acted in the world. As if by default they were shaped to think about and interact with each other in ways that now were simply inappropriate. Changing these patterns would take a lot of effort. It would be hard and possibly even painful. They would have to be diligent yet patient with each other. But this work would be worth the effort as their life together reflected more and more of the truth of the new age Jesus has brought, and the future which was coming upon them.
Please join us next week, as we continue to explore Romans 12 and how Paul calls attention to a renewing of our minds.