Transformed by the Renewing of your Mind

4th of 5 messages preached at EPC Youth Camp, on Maria Island, Tasmania,
29 Dec 2005- 3 Jan 2006

"1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 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" (Romans 12:1-2).

In our previous message in this series, we saw that though we are in this world, yet we are not of this world. Therefore, we must not be conformed to this world; or in other words, we must not allow ourselves to continue to be moulded by the fashion, expectations and principles of the world.

But the question is how can we be kept from being conformed to the world, especially when we are in the world?

The world is like a great big chocolate moulding machine that threatens to catch us and mould us into shape. What can we do to protect ourselves from being pressurised into conformity? What can we do to be inoculated against the moulding pressure of the world? Well, we might imagine that the apostle Paul would say: "Be not conformed to this world, but be conformed to the Church!" But he does not! If he did so, he would be condoning legalism or formalism. No, no, he says, rather:

…be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…

Do not allow yourself to be moulded by this world. Instead, be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." But what does He mean? How are we transformed? What are our responsibilities?


1. What Does Paul Mean?

Well, it is interesting to note that the word translated "be transformed" (metamorfou`sqe) is the very word from which we get the English word ‘metamorphosis’! You know what is metamorphosis, don’t you? Metamorphosis happens when a caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly.

It is, as if Paul is saying, "be no more a caterpillar, but be metamorphosised! Be the butterfly you ought to be! Why continue to crawl on leaves and eat bitter, yucky vegetable matter, when you can be flying free and drinking sweet nectar?"

Why continue to fill your soul with the bitter pulps of this world, when you can enjoy the sweetness of a godly walk with Christ.

Paul does not explicitly say what he wants us to be transformed into. But it is clear that he wants us to be transformed from being earthly-children of the world into heavenly-minded children of God.

He wants us to be transformed from being the kind of persons that the world loves to the kind of persons that please God and glorify Him.

A caterpillar that has been transformed into a butterfly will no longer love to munch on leaves. It would never again do so. It would spend the rest of his days drinking nectar and frolicking in the sun.

So too it must be with us. We must be transformed that we may be spiritual butterflies enjoying the warmth of the Sun of Righteousness and drink the sweet nectar of the Word.


2. How Are We Transformed?

Well, in the first place, let us realise that Paul is not interested in mere outward changes. Otherwise, we would have said, "Be conformed to the Church" or "Be conformed to the Law." But that would only make us Pharisees or legalists. Paul is interested in our hearts, not just our outward appearance and actions.

So he tells us that we must be transformed or metaophosised! That is, we must be changed not only in terms of outward behaviour, but internally!

You know, a caterpillar is not transformed into a butterfly simply by growing wings and a proboscis!

No, no, the caterpillar first becomes a pupa or a chrysalis, and then an amazing transformation happens within the shell of the chrysalis. If you ever cut open a newly formed chrysalis, you will not find a caterpillar inside. Instead you will find a soupy paste, for within the shell of the chrysalis, the caterpillar would,—as it were,—dissolve into a soupy paste. And there within the outward shell,— unseen to the naked eyes,—and this caterpillar soup is wonderfully reshaped by the hand of God into a butterfly with all its internal organs, tissues, legs, proboscis and wings.

So it is with us: We must be changed from within. We need a radical personal transformation, an inner change, a renewing of the mind. It requires a new attitude, a new perspective, a new disposition, a new way of thinking. In other words, we are to be totally changed from within.

Who can do this work, but God alone. Notice that the word "be transformed" is in the passive voice. This means that it is not something that we can actually do by ourselves. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one" (Job 14:4). No, no; it is something that must be done unto us.

And take note also that the Greek for ‘be transformed’ is not just passive, but passive present continuous. Literally translated, he is saying: "continue to let yourselves be transformed."

So this transformation is a continuous work that is done in us and to us. What is this work but the work of sanctification in our hearts. Our catechism teaches us that "Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness" (WSC 35).

And who may do this work, but the Spirit of God! For the apostle Paul teaches us elsewhere that "God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thes 2:13b).

Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Now, this work of sanctification is a continuous work in our hearts until the day that we meet the Lord. Therefore when the apostle Paul says, "be ye transformed," he is not suggesting that we could or should instantly snap into shape.

This transformation does not happen as a matter of impulse—for as the psalmist says, "my soul cleaveth to the dust" (Ps 119:25). We are made of dust, and we love the dust of the world. So it is not possible for us to be transformed at the snap of a finger. It is something that involves hard work and heart work. It is something that must be done by the Spirit of God.

But wait a minute, if it is the Work of the Spirit, then why does Paul speak of it as a command? ‘Be ye transformed’ he says. This is an imperative or a command.

What does that mean? It means that we must not be totally passive like the ‘caterpillar’ in the chrysalis. It is something that must be done unto us, but we must respond to the work that is done in us.

Paul puts it this way in Philippians 2:12-13—

"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

Though it is the Spirit of God who works within us to transform us, we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We must respond to the gracious work that is being done in us. We have some responsibilities to fulfil if we would be transformed.

But what are our responsibilities?

3. What Are Our Responsibilities?

Paul says, "Be ye transformed… by the renewing of our mind." What does He mean?

Well, to appreciate what he is saying, we must first understand something about the Christian life that the apostle is here suggesting. He is suggesting that Christianity is not a mindless, emotional or mystical religion.

We cannot live the Christian life without thinking. Our mind is the citadel of our soul. Paul would be horrified by the kind of Christianity that is promoted in many circles today whether there is a lot of emphasis on the heart and on love, but no emphasis on teaching and the cultivation of the mind.

We noted how, even as he entered into this second division of his letter, he reminds us to use our mind to consider what is our reasonable service in response to what God has done for us. The word ‘reasonable’, as we noted, may also be translated ‘logical.’ The Christian life is logic on fire. Not a cold logic, but logic that blossoms into the flower of gratitude.

Every Christian must be a thinking person. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

But how can we renew our minds? Simply by continuing in the Word, as the Lord Jesus in His prayer unto his father says: "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (Jn 17:17). Transform them and make them holy through thy truth for thy word is truth.

And he tells his disciples:

"If ye continue in my word… ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn 8:31-32).

How to continue in the Word? Simply by hearing and reading the Word and then prayerfully putting it into practice. But we must begin by availing ourselves to the use of all the means of grace, especially the reading and hearing of the Word of God!

Growth in grace, you see, does not come magically. It is the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit which attends our faithful use of the means of grace. God causes the growth, but you have to water your soul with the Word of God. Jonathan Edwards has well remarked in his sermon on Christian knowledge:

"Christians ought not to content themselves with such degrees of knowledge of divinity as they have already obtained. It should not satisfy them, [to] know [only] as much as is absolutely necessary to salvation, but should seek to make progress. … all Christians should make a business of it. They should look upon it as part of their daily business, and no small part of it either. It should be attended to as a considerable part of the work of their high calling …"

Edwards goes on to explain that if we do not make it a business to improve our intellectual faculties and knowledge, but spend our time gratifying our animal appetites, then we would not only be behaving like unbelievers, but we would be acting as if we have forgotten that we are men and not brute beasts.

Make it the top priority in your life to increase in the knowledge of Christ, dearly beloved youths.

Do not allow the television to dumb down your mind!

Do not allow the pleasures of youth to rob you of time spent studying and listening to God’s Word!

And do not ever think that you know enough already. If you know enough already, then you ought to be a teacher of the faith. But if you want to be a teacher of the faith and yet have no desire to increase in the knowledge of the Lord, then you are a danger to the lambs and sheep of Christ!

Do not excuse yourself from hard doctrine by saying that it is only for those who love theology.

Remember that many of the Jews departed from Christ when he begun to preach hard doctrine (Jn 8). If you refuse hard doctrine, you will be following the example of the unbelieving Jews.

Remember, that it is only by the renewing of your minds, will your lives be transformed.

You know, many of us are so comfortable where we are that we have very little motivation to improve our spiritual life. We think that two hours every week spent sleepily attending a worship service is enough for our souls. But you can be quite sure of something: if all you receive from the Word is from the two hours of our morning worship, then you are backsliding.

The LORD, says, my people are bent on backsliding! If your mind is not constantly being transformed by the renewing of your mind, then you are backsliding!

Oh beloved youths, resolve never to excuse yourselves from the means of grace whether public or private. You know, if you want to find an excuse for not going for prayer meeting, for evening worship, for the doctrine classes, or if you want excuses for not attending family worship, or personal reading or study of the Bible, you will find an excuse. The devil has a bag full of excuses enough for all of us. And many of them are very good excuses indeed.

But the devil does not give his excuses for free. You have to buy them. You have to buy them with your soul!

Oh beloved young people in the Lord, do not give in to the devices of the Wicked One. When Paul says, "be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind," he is saying that you have to be transformed or you will backslide and be conformed to the world. The world we live in is like a slippery slope. We must either be climbing upward to heaven or we would be sliding downward. No one can remain status quo.

Christian young people, God has already laid the foundation for the work of transformation in your life! You soul has been made alive by the Holy Spirit. Though your metamorphosis is not yet completed, and will not be completed until you are glorified, you can already begin to enjoy the life of a spiritual butterfly. You must exercise your wings in prayer. You must feed on the nectar of the word. Oh do not starve your soul nor allow it to degenerate by a lack of exercise. Oh do not grieve the Holy Spirit by hardening your heart and refusing to feed your soul that He has made alive. Oh do not sell your soul to the devil by buying excuses to refuse to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.


And oh do not miss out on the blessing that comes with a transformed life, for Paul does not leave us to guess what will be the result of being transformed by the renewing of our mind.

But we will have to talk about that blessing tomorrow, the Lord willing. Amen.

—JJ Lim