A Study of Romans 12:2
“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 12:2)
Either-Or. Not Both-And.
God against Mammon. Or Mammon against God!
Rowing up against the current. Or drifting down the stream.
In the world, against the world. Or in the world, of the world, for the world, with the world.
The Word of God the pattern of your life. Or the world shaping your walk and conversation.
The renewing of your mind your motive-power. Or the flesh actuating your whole life.
The Antithesis—The Synthesis!
The way of battle or the way of least resistance. Transformation—Conformation!
Be not conformed!
It is, indeed, the easiest way through the present world that you allow yourself to be conformed to it. For, to be conformed implies that there is a ready-made, external pattern, which I simply have to copy, to which I accommodate myself, so that in the outward manifestation of my life, in all my walk and conversation I become like unto that pattern. It requires no originality. It causes no friction. It means no battle, no effort, no suffering.
Conformation is well illustrated in the first period of an immigrant’s abode in the foreign country of his choice. He is different from his surroundings. He is not like his environment. He speaks a different language; he has a different bearing; his habits of life are different; his very appearance marks him as a stranger. But he soon becomes conformed, especially if he is not yet advanced in years. The external life pattern of the country of his choice, is readily adopted. He lives right in the midst of it. He hears the new language, he perceives the new habits, daily he is in contact with the new mode of living. The new pattern molds his life. Soon he has adapted himself to it. The conformation is completed without much difficulty.
Be not conformed!
To what? To this world! Literally the text reads: be not conformed to this age, considering the world and all that is in the world from the viewpoint of time and development, the world in which you live, the world of your own day, the present world in distinction from the world to come. And that world lives and strives and develops in time from its own principle, the principle of sin and darkness, the principle of enmity against God and hatred of one another. And from that inner principle that world develops its own pattern of life. That law of sin expresses itself in all the manifestations of the world, in speech and song, in conversation and literature, in habits and dress, in all the different spheres and relationships of life, in the relation of man and wife, of parent and child, of employer and employee, in business and industry, in science and art. And this expression of the world from the principle of sin is its form, its fashion, its pattern.
And in that world you live.
Its existence is your existence.
From a purely natural viewpoint you are one with that world.
You cannot and you may not go out of the world. To withdraw yourself from it and recede into some remote corner in order to spend your days in separatistic solitude is as impossible as the attempt is contrary to the will of Him that called you out of darkness into His marvelous life.
Yet, be not conformed!
Let the pattern of the world, its scheme and fashion not be the model after which you shape your own walk and conversation.
Whether it be in your individual life or in your relation to others, in the home or in society, in school or in the shop, let your life not be molded by the pattern you behold round about you.
Do not let yourself drift down with the current!
Be not conformed!
No conformation, but transformation!
For, a change is, indeed, necessary!
The apostle does not write: “be not conformed to this world, but rather stay as you are.”
This would be quite impossible. In fact, it would imply a contradiction in terms. To remain as you are would be the same as a conformation of your whole life to the fashion of this world.
For, by nature, apart from the inner principle of the new life in Christ that is in our hearts, we are of the world and like the world. The operations of sin that are in the world are also in our members. And according to the operation of sin in our flesh we are inclined to walk even as the world, in the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. And these operations of sin are still powerful. We have a small beginning of the new obedience in our hearts and all the rest is flesh. We are reborn in principle, born of God, so that we cannot sin according to this new principle of life; but there is much flesh and its operations are powerful. Besides, it is the flesh and not the Spirit, that finds every conceivable contact and aid in the world about us.
Hence, the conflict!
If anyone is in Christ Jesus He is a new creature. Yet, the new creature dwells in a carnal existence and nature, in which the former movements of sin are so powerful that the realization and manifestation of the new life is disputed, opposed, often effectually hampered every moment!
Old things have passed away and all things have become new. Yet, the old things that have passed away assert themselves in the flesh frequently to such an extent, that the new things fail to come to expression!
I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But there is another law in my members, warring, always warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin! I would, indeed, practice, constantly to do the good, but often I do it not. I hate to do evil, yet often I do it!
“O wretched man that I am!”
Constantly there is the battle.
And always I must hear and give heed to the Word of God: Be not conformed, but be transformed!
There is a fundamental difference!
Conformation is to copy, transformation is to be original. Conformation is adaptation, transformation to be different. Conformation is the synthesis, transformation is the antithesis. Conformation is the way of no resistance, transformation is opposition. Conformation is peace with the world, transformation means battle.
“Be ye transformed!”
Even as the world creates for itself its own pattern of life from the principle of sin, so do ye also live from your own distinctive principle of righteousness and the love of God!
You must undergo a change.
But let that change of your walk and conversation not be determined by the fashion of the world.
Neither let it consist in a mere, superficial, external reformation.
Is it possible?
Is not the flesh too powerful to be overcome?
And is not the pattern of the world all about us, imposing itself upon us, so that it would be folly even to imagine that resistance had any hope of success?
One who drifts with the mighty current above the Niagara down towards the falls, may hear the warning shout from some well-meaning friend on the shore urging him not to allow himself to float downstream, but to oppose and overcome the tremendous suction that must inevitably draw him to destruction; but is not the warning foolish because it would require the impossible?
And is not the same impossible task required in this exhortation not to be conformed after the fashion of the world, but to be transformed? Are we not in the world? And must we not live with the world? Must we not eat and drink and be clothed? And how shall we live, how shall we be able to maintain our existence in a world in which everything follows the one pattern, is fashioned according to the principle of sin, unless we are willing to adapt ourselves to the universal exemplar and share our lives according to the fashion of the world? How can we be of any account, how is it possible to maintain our position, to keep our place in society, to do business, to hold our job, to be of influence in any sphere of life, if we stubbornly refuse to be conformed after this world and consistently strive after transformation?
Is not the required task superhuman, impossible, absurd?
Would it not require of us to leave the world, to seclude ourselves, to let the boat of our life drift to some quiet quay, where we are outside of the main current of the river?
Where is the source that can supply us with power to struggle upstream?
By the renewal of your mind!
The apostle had written in the first verse of this same chapter that he exhorted, beseeched the church of Christ to present their bodies a living sacrifice unto God, and that he addressed this exhortation to them by the mercies of God! Of those mercies of God in Christ he had written in the first part of this epistle. Mercies innumerable! Mercies revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who had come into the flesh, the likeness of sinful flesh, who had died for the ungodly in due time, satisfying the righteousness of God for sin; who had been raised for our justification even as He had been delivered for our transgressions; who had been exalted at the right hand of God and there maketh intercession for us with the Father. Mercies of redemption and forgiveness of sin; mercies of a righteousness which is not of works but of faith and of a grace that sets us free from the dominion of sin; mercies of adoption unto children of God and of the hope of the glorious inheritance that shall be revealed in the day of Christ Jesus our Lord!
By these mercies, with a view to them, with them as his firm basis, he had beseeched them to present their bodies a living sacrifice unto God.
That in which they live their life in this world!
Their whole life, in all its manifestations, in every department!
But this implied a struggle! The struggle it required which he mentions in this second verse, that they be not conformed after this world, but be transformed.
And superhuman though the task may appear, and actually be, it is possible of accomplishment by these mercies of God in Christ. For through these mercies they have received a power that is capable of overcoming the world: the renewal of their mind!
The mind is the highest in man’s nature. It is that marvelous power in him, that light-faculty, by which he knows that with all his life and being and activities in this world he stands before the face of God, who judges him and places him always before the irrevocable demand: love Me with all thy heart! It is the light of the higher understanding by which he is able and also impelled to know and determine his relation and attitude to the living God, to say Yes or No to His law, to love or to hate Him, to serve or to refuse to serve Him, to live in righteousness or unrighteousness.
And that mind is darkened by nature!
It is foolish! It is so hopelessly entangled in the snares of sin, that it does not and will not and cannot acknowledge that it is good to love the LORD our God. It is carnal. Its minding is death! It is not subject to the law of God, neither can be! It always says No to God and Yes to the devil. It deceives the will and all our desires, so that the natural man seeks sin as good, follows after unrighteousness, strives after his own eternal destruction. Desperately wicked, hopelessly confused, unspeakably foolish is the carnal mind!
But by the mercies of God our mind is renewed!
Through the power of the grace of Christ we received a new life. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we were begotten again. And the operation of that new life enlightens the mind with a new, spiritual light, by which we discern and love the truth of God, abhor that which is evil and cleave to that which is good. . . .
That renewed mind must have dominion!
Dominion over your “bodies,” over your entire life in the midst of the world.
In that renewal of the mind you have the power in Christ to overcome the motions of sin!
The world and its pattern!
Be transformed from within!
That you may prove the will of God!
The will of God as it is revealed unto us in the Scriptures.
You may not be conformed after this world; you cannot find the pattern of your life in the fashion of this world.
Yet, you cannot be without a pattern. The renewal of your mind all by itself cannot determine what the fashion of your walk and conversation in the world shall be. It needs light from without. And that light is supplied by the revelation of the will of God in the Scriptures. Within it is the motive-power of the renewal of your mind that urges, that actuates, that drives, that impels you; without it is the revelation of the will of God that guides you.
That will is good! Good absolutely, because it is the will of God; and salutary for you who keep it.
That will is acceptable! It is well-pleasing to God and to keep it has the great reward of causing you to taste that God’s favor is upon you!
That will is perfect! It lacks in nothing. It never fails. It always satisfies the soul of him that keeps it.
And from the inner principle of the renewal of your mind you prove that will, approve it spontaneously, gladly, with great delight!
And you will taste that the LORD is good!
Herman Hoeksema – 1939