“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.”
A pastor was called to a new church. The first Sunday she preached on having a spiritual life. The message was well received, but as far as she could see, it made no real difference to anyone. So the second Sunday she preached the same sermon. Again the message was well received but again people left the church pretty much the same as they had come in. So the Third Sunday she preached the same message yet again. By this time the session was concerned, and they met with their young preacher to discuss her choice of sermons. One elder asked, "Don’t you have any more sermons?" The new pastor responded, "I have plenty of sermons; however, I am going to keep preaching this one until you get it right. Then, we will move on to something else.” Now that is an old story I have heard many times, in several versions, but it illustrates a certain truth, when it comes to spiritual things: All of us have trouble getting it right.
Most people are not even aware in any real sense that they have a possibility of a spiritual life. They sort of wander through life. They may hear about a spiritual dimension. They may sense somehow that there must be something more than this world of selfishness and materialism. They may even go to church and hear words of faith, even say the words, but none of it penetrates. Many Christian theologians and scholars describe them as asleep. They are sleep walkers, going about their daily tasks, completely unaware of any spiritual reality. Another metaphor used to describe the condition of most people is death. They may be physically alive, they may have jobs and families and hobbies and interests, but in any spiritual sense they are dead.
Prisoners use the term “dead man walking” when referring to inmates on death row. Even though they are physically alive, their sentence is death, and effectively they are already dead. It could be argued that most of the people on planet earth are spiritually dead, even though they are physically walking. This may include countless people who profess to be Christians. Saying the right words does not make it so. In fact, they have no appetite for spiritual things. They have no appetite for the Word of God, for prayer, for worship. They have no appetite for fellowship with the brethren. They have no awareness of their condition before God; no awareness of the judgment of God. They occasionally think on religious topics, but it goes no further than that. They are unaware that they are lost, dead, and condemned. They are unaware of the future judgments of God and they do not have any desire to think seriously about such things. they are not active in serving the Lord or others. Love is expressed in actions. We show our love for God by obeying his word and serving his cause. Without that kind of love in action, we are without life. We are spiritually dead.
So, what are the marks of a dead person: they are without life, light, and love. They have no spiritual appetite, awareness or activity.
What do they need? They need some kind of new awareness. They need to wake up, to be healed of theire sickness, to be freed from their slavery, to receive new life.
I heard a story about three ministers who were doing two things ministers like to do. They were drinking coffee and discussing theology. In this case they were discussing when life begins. One minister said "Life begins when the child takes his first breath." The second minister said "No, life begins when the child is conceived." the third minister was an older guy and at that point he spoke up. He said, "You are both wrong. Life begins when the last child leaves home and the dog dies.” OK, that is a bad joke. When does life really begin? When the sleeper wakes.
This process of awakening begins with recognition and acknowledgment of our need. We need renewal, we need to turn from our old ways of life and dedicate ourselves to something new. We need a deep change of mind about the nature of our situation.
This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 12:2. He says, “Be not conformed to this world.” In ancient Greek, the word of “aion” which means more accurately age or society or culture. Paul is not talking about the physical world, but the world of human beings. Do not be like most people. That is what he says. Do not be a sleepwalker, a dead man walking. Believers should not accept the attitudes, habits, feelings of a wicked and idolatrous age, but should be behave according to the precepts and laws of the gospel. Believers should not conform to the prevailing style and manners of people who know not God. On the contrary, we are to fashion our lives after the example of Christ.
That is the first part of v2, do not be like the rest of the world, Here is the second part: “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This word “transformed” is from the Greek root for “metamorphosis”—which means to change the nature of something, to change into a different form.
Perhaps the most radical and beautiful metamorphosis that we see in nature is the butterfly. The life cycle of the butterfly consists of four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (cocoon), and adult. Only in the stages of the caterpillar and the adult butterfly do they live and move among the rest of the living creatures of the world. The first amazing thing about butterflies is this: There has never been a single baby butterfly born. Each butterfly is born a caterpillar and goes through a “transformation” to become a butterfly--and what a complete and radical change that is. A caterpillar is an ugly crawly thing that most people do not like much. A butterfly is one of the most beautiful creatures in nature. Furthermore, the change is irreversible. A butterfly can never be a caterpillar again.
Now many writers have noted that the life cycle of the butterfly symbolizes our spiritual life. Let us think about the caterpillar stage of the butterfly for a moment. The caterpillar is from beneath. It physically lives on the earth and is limited to it and bound by it. It cannot lift itself into the air no matter how hard it tries. Just as the unbelieving sinner is of this world during this life and will live beneath in hell for eternity. No matter how hard the lost sinner tries to get to heaven, he can’t do it without Christ. He must be transformed. He must become a new creature in Christ.
But let us go back to the butterfly. The adult butterfly is from above. It has no limits in it’s dwelling place. It soars above the earth and its troubles. By the same token, the transformed person is not bound to the lowly existence it once had. The believing saint is free from the chains of sin. He or she has no limits through faith in Jesus. Thus Colossians reads, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
Does the butterfly continue to think caterpillar thoughts and have caterpillar attitudes. Of course not. It has a new way of thinking for its new condition. It has new attitudes, develops new habits. Does a transformed child of God continue to think sleepwalker thoughts. Of course not. We are commanded to “Set our minds on things … above, not on things” below.
The caterpillar enjoys crawling in the dirt with other lowly creatures. Some caterpillars, form complex associations with ants, live in their nests, and eat ant larvae. Much the same way, unbelievers associate with others of like mind. They enjoy all the wrong things, in all the wrong ways. When we are transformed and renewed, we no longer care for those things. We begin to make changes in every aspect of our lives. I have sometimes heard unbelievers say of a believer, “When she got 'saved,' she got uppity and would not have much to do with me anymore.” That is the nature consequence of spiritual renewal. It is not that “she got uppity” it was just that her life changed and hence her associations changed.
The butterfly enjoys the beauty and the sweet things of God. Most butterfly species actively seek flower nectar; they aid in plant reproduction by pollinating, carrying pollen from flower to flower. So it is with the believer in Christ. True pleasure only comes through experiencing the beautiful and sweet blessings which only come from God through the Lord Jesus Christ, and carrying the message of the gospel to others.
The caterpillar has an earthly perspective. It cannot see the big picture. It cannot see over the hill or around the bend. The unbeliever has that same purblind view of things, seeing nothing beyond his own nose. The butterfly, however, has a perspective from above. It can see far and wide. Many species of butterflies fly throughout the year traveling as the weather allows. This enables them to live long and fruitful lives. Through faith, believers have this same butterfly perspective, which is the perspective of God. The mountains of tribulation look more like molehills, because God is so much greater than our circumstances.
The microscope and the telescope give two different perspectives to life and the universe. The microscope allows us to take a small object and make it appear large, so we can study it in detail. The telescope allows us to take an object far away and make it appear close, again so we can study it indetail. God is able to see all things from all perspectives. God always sees the larger picture, and at the same time God sees each of us up close and personal. When we see things from a divine perspective, we don’t see problems, we see solutions. This change of perspective is part of what happens to us when we are “transformed by the renewing of our mind.”
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied of this spiritual rebirth saying,”I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). This again is a spiritual transformation. It is a new birth.
In the gospel of John, Jesus said to Nicodemus, "except you are born again spiritually you cannot see or perceive the kingdom of God. You just will not understand. You just don’t get it." Why is that? We have an answer in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
Ephesians is saying the same thing as Romans. The world, the age, is ruled by the “prince of the power of the air,” who works in people to prevent them from having any kind of spiritual understanding. Paul says to us, do not be conformed to that way of thinking, but rather be transformed. Or as he says in Ephesians, “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ” (2:5).
Think of a light bulb without power. It is dead, useless. Plug it in and it brings light to all the world. That is a symbol for a believer. Plug the believer into the HS and that believer brings light to all the world.l
The new birth is being plugged into the power source. John 1:12 says, "As many as received Him to them gave he power to become the sons of God."
Again, Jesus speaking to Nicodemus in John 3 says, "the wind blows and you see the effects of the wind as it blows through the trees but you can’t see the actual wind or where it comes from--you can see the effects of the work of the spirit in a person’s life." Nicodemus said, "How can these things be?"
he is still half asleep. We say the same thing, "How can it be? I can’t figure it out. I don’t understand?"
this reminds me of a story about Billy Graham. Early in his ministry Billy Graham arrived in a small town to preach at a meeting. Since it was early, he wrote a letter, and he asked a young boy standing on the sidewalk of the location of the post office. When the boy had given him the directions, Rev. Graham thanked him and said, “If you will come to the church this evening, I will tell you how to get to heaven.” “Ha,” replied the boy, “You don’t even know how to get to the post office.”
Many people reject the new birth because they don’t understand “how these things can be.” Or, they feel they are losing control of their lives. That is the real issue. The transformation is based on giving ourselves to God, and we do not want to do that. We do not want to give away ourselves. We do not want to trust God.
But the central principle of the spiritual life is faith. We receive all spiritual things by FAITH. An illiterate couple had become Christians. They met with a group of other Christians who dressed alike. The men wore red shirts while engaged in a certain project, so the illiterate woman made a red shirt for her husband. He came home after the meeting, however, with a look of disappointment on his face because the others had a message printed on their shirts but he did not. His wife, undaunted by her inability to read, sewed three words on his shirt, which she copied from a sign in a store window across the street. He wore it to the next meeting and came home bubbling with joy. He said all of the men really liked the inscription because it so aptly described the wonderful change they had seen in his life. It turned out that his wife had written, "UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT." When we become transformed people, our lives are under new management. That’s what this concept of being “born again” is all about. It’s not about turning over a new leaf. It’s not about deciding to be a better person. being “born again” is a radical change that God brings about. It’s about a miraculous intervention from God where the sleeper awakes.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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