Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
As I was reading over this passage of Scripture again the other day, I realized that all too often, I focus on the wrong half of it. Maybe that’s because EVERYONE focuses on the wrong half of it, or at least seems to.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world” – OK, we got that. “Don’t conform” means “don’t be the same”, “don’t do the same stuff”, “don’t live the same lives.” Don’t conform to who or what? Don’t conform “to the pattern of this world.” Basically, as Christians, we are called to live differently from the way the world lives. We aren’t to be lovers of ourselves or seekers of pleasure. We aren’t to lie and cheat, steal, rape, murder, kill. We aren’t even supposed to do little things like gossip and hold grudges. OK, got that too. “Don’t conform to the pattern of this world” means “Christian, live a different life from the ones you see being lived around you – you aren’t a worldly man, you’re a godly man.” Got that.
So then, what can we do? How can we then live?
But be Transformed!
Ah ha! There it is! “But be transformed!” That’s how we can live! By being transformed!
~ Wait a second. Exactly how can we be transformed? Last I checked, we aren’t really very good at changing little bad habits, let alone transforming ourselves. And that there is the problem of focus on this verse. Too often we focus on transforming ourselves, but there are two main problems with that.
First, “ourselves” takes God completely out of the picture. If we could transform ourselves into holy and righteous human beings, we would have no need of God, and therefore, conversely, no real need of holiness or righteousness in the first place. Living separate lives from the world (i.e. not being “conform[ed] to the pattern of this world”) would be pretty meaningless if we could do it all ourselves. That’s why self-help books will never get the job done either. To quote Billy Bob Thorton in School for Scoundrels: “You can’t help yourself because your self sucks!” Self-help books take God completely out of the picture. But, at least as Christians, we should all know by now that our selfs really do suck (Romans 3:23), and we can’t help ourselves at all apart from Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).
Secondly, as already mentioned, we can’t transform ourselves. We aren’t some space alien robot cars that can shape shift at will. We have a hard enough time changing little bad habits, like smoking, or eating too much chocolate, or criticizing ourselves when we look in the mirror. And we have an even harder time developing small new good habits to replace the little old bad habits – like exercising, or dieting, or positive self-talk, or even reading rather than using the computer so often. Transformation – especially from the inside out – is completely a God thing. And he does a radical reworking of a Christian’s life when they give themselves fully to his work of transformation: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).”
But there is still one more element of transformation that must be understood before we can bring this subject to a close. Transformation is NOT for our sake: “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone’ (Ezekiel 36:22).” The previous passage is oft-quoted in showing that God promises to transform his people from the inside-out. But one element we often overlook is listed just four verses earlier. God performs this transformation NOT for the benefit of the Christian (although his work does have beneficial effects upon the Christian), but for the sake of Himself and His own glorification. Therefore, God has no interest in transforming a self-serving Christian. He will receive no glory from such a transformation, for although the Christian may boast of “God’s work” in his life, what he’s really saying is, “My faith is much stronger than yours, and I’m much holier than you, because God has transformed me sooner than you.” That kind of Christian is a hypocrite of the kind Jesus rebuked (Matthew 6). The Lord takes no pleasure in transforming any old Christian just because they carry the title “Christian.” No, He transforms those who will bring him glory. He transforms those who seek His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). He transforms those who are humble.
So, transformation in sum is simply:
- “Be transformed” – we cannot
- Self-seeking transformation – we cannot (& God will not)
- Without seeking God’s glory – God will not
So then how can I be transformed?
Continue on with me in the verse, “…by the renewing of your mind.” Ah. So that’s it. Renewal of our minds is the step that we can take in order to encourage God’s transformation. And how do we renew our minds?
- By putting on the new self (Colossians 3:10)
- By putting our hope in the Lord (Isaiah 40:31)
- By seeking God’s will (Psalm 51:10)
- By growing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 3:10)
- By communing with the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)
- By devoting ourselves to Jesus and to doing what is good (Titus 3:6-8)
- Day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Come on, do you really want me to spell things out for you? Again? Christians all know they need to read the Bible, pray, have devotions, fellowship, worship, go to church, and so on. I don’t really need to rehash those things. But what is worth mentioning, that doesn’t get a lot of attention these days is that often what we do looks more like a “technique” than genuine faith. Sometimes what we do looks more like “Christian duty” than faith. The key to everything hinges on one single element: God’s glory. If we focus on the “technique” to meet God and renew our minds, we only become disciplined in technique. If we get caught up in our “Christian duties,” then the Christian life becomes dull and lifeless and religious. But if we seek God’s ultimate glory as our number one prerogative in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31), if we seek His will over our will (Luke 22:42), then when we set our minds on Christ Jesus, it will not be a technical, boring task, but we will find it full of life, totally fulfilling, renewing, and transforming. Seek God’s glory first, then everything else will follow. Say, isn’t there a Bible verse about that somewhere?…
(Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.)