Renewing the Mind

With little athletic experience in high school, I naively invested a year in college on the wrestling team. Small colleges like the one I went to needed bodies to fill slots, so you could probably guess, I learned far too much about the wrestling mat than anyone ever should have to ever learn.  But I did learn one important lesson from that experience that has proved helpful over the years.  “Where the head goes, the body is sure to follow.” Success in life is largely determined in the mind.

Now, I’m not talking about formal education. The world is full of highly educated people with no common sense. But it is about wisdom, and the way we think about things. If we think wrong, we do wrong. If we think right, we do right. So, how do we go about the process of right thinking?

The apostle Paul writing to the church at Rome from the city of Corinth (circa 56 AD), gives us in a compact statement, a simple formula for right thinking. In the 12th chapter of the epistle to the Romans, he writes,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Do not conform any longer 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. Romans 12:1-2 NIV84

Verse one of chapter 12, describes the kind of life God wants us to live, one that is lived in appreciation of ALL He has done for us. We are asked to calculate everything God has done for us in Jesus Christ, and out of a heart of gratitude present ourselves to Him as a living and acceptable sacrifice.

And so, Paul speaks of God’s mercy. The word is plural in the Greek text and should be translated “mercies,” because it includes all of the stuff wrapped up in our salvation, forgiveness of sin, reconciliation and peace with God, justification and a right standing before God, security and eternal life, freedom from the power of sin, hope of resurrection, our adoption as sons and daughters of God, the lavishing of divine love and grace on us, the indwelling, leading and intercession of the Holy Spirit, and on and on and on!

Sadly, we do not spend enough time thinking, pondering, meditating on these great and precious endowments God has showered on those who by faith receive them. But right thinking begins with calculating the goodness of God on us in Jesus Christ. It is helpful to take out a few minutes each day simply to list two or three things God has done for us, think about them, and verbally thank God for them. One might list two or three more things God has done for you, over the course of the week.

Now, offering our bodies to God, that is worshiping our Lord from head to toe, requires a radical transformation in the way we think. It begins with calculating the things for which we are most grateful to God, but there is more. Notice verse two of Romans chapter twelve carefully. Paul writes,

Do not conform any longer 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. Romans 12:2 NIV84

There are two things required which are really two sides of the same coin. The first looks at a negative and the second at a positive. Both relate to what goes on between the two ears, that is our minds.

Negatively, we are urged to stop allowing the philosophy of the age in which we live, to shape our thoughts and world view. The Message Bible has it,

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” The Message Bible Paraphrase

Paul knew something of the pressure, the intellectual bullying of the world, which seeks to force Christians into lockstep with an immoral and godless culture. That’s why he sounded this alert to early believers, one which is still relevant today:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 1:8 NKJV

Dr. Keith Krell, in his book entitled, Transformed: More than Meets the Eye, sums up the philosophy of our age pretty well. He writes,

The world’s philosophy is pretty simple: If you want something, go get it (partners, possessions, and power). People are important primarily because of what they can do for you. If they can’t do anything for you, don’t waste your time on them. Public opinion defines truth … popularity is more important than holiness. Faith and everyday living are unrelated. Live for the moment and don’t concern yourself with consequences. You are the center of your universe; don’t let anyone push you around!

            [Keith Krell, Transformed: More Than Meets the Eye].

We are not called to stick our heads in the sand, or to drop out of the world like the Amish. BUT we are called to think, to recognize what is false and know why it is false, and to recognize the source of what is false. To do that requires us to immerse our minds in the truth, and God’s Word is truth!

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 NIV84

Moreover, if we are to stop allowing the philosophy of the age to dictate our thinking, there are some things we must avoid, things we may be allowing into the eye gate, and the ear gate, things which we know are not pleasing to God, but things we may be allowing to entertain us. I’m talking about our recreational reading, our choice in music, and what we choose to watch on television or in the theatre, or over the internet. I’m not saying God wants us to shut out the media entirely. I’m saying shut out unnecessary and gratuitous exposure to the filth of the world.

But there is a positive action that must accompany the negative one. We must allow God to transform our minds. The world attempts to force us into external conformity. It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with the increasingly permissive mores of our culture, as long as you keep your lip buttoned about it, and appear to support those who disagree with you. The world tells us to play word games,  in order to bring us into the appearance of conformity. But God isn’t looking for that kind of thinking. He wants our minds changed from the inside out, so that our thoughts are His thoughts on any and all matters governing life and personal conduct. Expressed another way, He wants us to have the same heart He has. So, the “renewing” Paul speaks of (and this word in the Greek does not mean, to make the minds young again, but rather to make our minds totally different, brand new, like that of our Savior), we must learn to put all things to the test of God’s will.

In short this means, understanding what God’s will is, and then examining what His will is in any given situation. Three key questions must be asked:

  1. Is something morally good, consistent with God’s character as revealed in Scripture?
  2. Is something pleasing to God, something with which we are certain He would say “well done?”
  3. Is there something strangely lacking, something missing that says, “I have no certainty or confidence that God is in this thing or will bless it?

Now, it is not merely that God’s will is characterized by being good, pleasing to God, and complete or perfect. It is that God’s will IS good. God’s will IS pleasing to Himself. God’s will IS perfect, with nothing lacking. Some have said that Paul is referring only to God’s general or moral will as revealed in Scripture. Essentially, that is correct. But I do find this applicable to many if not most of the decisions and choices we make in life. Knowing what is God’s will, is in principle most definitely helpful in navigating decisions about careers, and whom to marry, or even how we handle our finances and so on. It always behooves me to ask three questions before making any major decision.

  • Is it morally good, because God’s will IS good, that is morally good?    
  • Is God going to be pleased if I take this course of action or make this choice, because God’s will, when it is obeyed, is always going to please Him?

If I feel like God is not going to be pleased with an action, even if might be permissible, it isn’t His will. Paul declares,

“Everything is permissible”  but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 NIV84

I would very much like to own a motorcycle. I know that sounds immature and selfish, but the truth is, I would enjoy it. But, owning and riding a motorcycle at 72 years of age would put a stress on my wife that would cause her to worry needlessly about me. Would God be pleased if I put that kind of stress on her? So, for me, the bike is out!

  • And, is there something missing in the equation that feels unsettling, because God’s will IS perfect, complete and mature?

When I made the decision to marry Lynn 22 years ago, I asked myself that very question. You see I made poor decisions in the past, contrary to God’s will because I failed to ask that question. If nothing is missing and the parts are all there, the heart isn’t troubled or doubting, and we can be sure we are headed in the right direction, according to God’s will.

Maybe you would join me and pray this prayer:

Lord God, in gratitude for all that you have done for me in Christ Jesus, I now joyfully offer up my body and my mind, all that I am for your service. I will saturate my mind with Your Word and ask you to enable me to discern and test what is true and what is false; to approve only that which is good, well pleasing to You, and perfect. Grant me the wisdom to live for you with all my body as well as with my heart, my soul and my mind. In Jesus Name. Amen.

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Ed has had over 30 years of ministry experience, sixteen of them at Greenwoods Community Church in the southern Berkshires of Massachusetts. More recently he has fulfilled an extended transitional interim assignment for the Alliance Southeast of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Leesburg, Florida. In addition, Ed has had nearly 13 years of experience in the field of geriatric healthcare. Ed’s is happily married to Lynn, having recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Lynn is a true partner in ministry, having served Greenwoods Community Church as its Children's Ministry Coordinator for over ten years. She is a decorator, colorist, instructor in furniture painting, and an artist in her own right. For over 20 years she had her own business, Whimsical Brushes, teaching and traveling throughout the Northeast. Lynn is also active as a women’s outreach speaker for Stonecroft Ministries in Florida. God has given Ed a burden to be a mentor pastor, developing leaders for the church in the 21st Century. One way in which he is fulfilling that calling is through Rockbridge Seminary, where he serves as an adjunct professor of Spiritual Formation. Ed has earned degrees from Cairn University (B.S. 1971), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M. 1979), and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (D.Min. 2007). He has published several articles on the Spiritual Heritage of Litchfield County, Connecticut, and led several tours of sites associated with the Village Revivals that spawned the Second Great Awakening in New England. In his spare time, you are likely to find Ed at the piano or pecking out a blog on his blog page

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