Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may dprove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
We’ve talked a lot in the past couple of weeks about how we can find hope during changing times by turning to our unchanging God. God gives us an anchor, a firm place to stand, especially for those of us who do not relish change — and as I get older, I find it harder to accept the change that is, nonetheless, inevitable.
But there’s something that I have been holding back from those messages until this week. It’s a surprising —and, perhaps, for some of us, unwelcome — thing. Some of you will be encouraged by this thing, and I imagine that it might just make some of you a bit cranky.
Here it is — are you ready? Our eternally unchanging God is all about change.
The same God who spoke through the prophet Malachi, saying “I am the Lord; I change not” is the same God who says from His throne in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
This should come as no surprise to us. After all, the very first thing most of us ever understand about God is that He is Creator. Creators make new things.
Sometimes they make new things from scratch, the way God did when the galaxies broke forth into light at the sound of His voice. And sometimes they make new things out of old things.
It’s interesting to note that God’s creation of the heavens and the earth brought the universe into being out of nothing. But He then created man from the dust of the earth.
Our great Creator used the most mundane of ingredients to form what would be the crowning achievement of His great creative act.
On a side note, whether we focus on the first or the last part of that statement will tend to tell us a lot about ourselves. Do we humbly remember that we came from dust or do we walk in pride over being the finale during Creation Week?
We can rejoice in amazement with the Psalmist in the recognition that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and yet still recognize the stark reality of his observation that “As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field.”
In my opinion, wildflowers growing in a meadow in the spring are among the most beautiful sights in nature. But they do not last long. A few weeks after they’ve burst into glorious color, they have wilted away, and what’s left is simply the memory.
I suspect many of us here today can identify with the metaphor. As I look around this room (and including myself in the assessment), I have to think that if we were a field of wildflowers that bloomed in the spring, this must be September for sure. And, frankly, I don’t think a little rain is going to help us.
But no matter how wilted we may look on the outside, if we are in Christ Jesus, we are not ONLY new creatures, we are supposed to be creatures that are continually BEING RE-newed.
In 2 Cor 3:18, Paul puts it this way:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:18)
In this verse, Paul looks back to the time of Moses, who had to cover his face with a veil after he met with God in the tabernacle, because even the shine that God’s glory left on Moses’ face was too much for the people of Israel to bear.
But we as followers of Christ can watch a gradual revealing of the full glory of Jesus Christ by simply “looking in the mirror” and watching as the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ’s very image.
Paul is referring here to the process of sanctification, and despite his mirror metaphor, he’s not referring to a simply physical change, although the transformation could surely include some physical aspects as we leave behind sinful habits that might be affecting our health and our appearance.
What does it mean, then, to be “transformed into the same image,” to look into the mirror and see the glory of Jesus Christ? And how does this relate to the sacrifice that Paul mentions back in the Romans passage we read at the beginning of this sermon? And finally, what can we hope will come from all this transformation and sacrifice?
First, let’s try to understand the concept of “image” here, because it goes back all the way to that sixth day of creation, and I’m not sure most of us really get what Scripture means when it states that “God created man in His own image….”
Since Scripture tells us that God is spirit and not flesh and blood, in what sense do we bear His image? A couple of hints can be found in that very passage in the book of Genesis.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen 1:26-28)
First, there is some evidence that the better translation would be “Let Us make man AS our image.” Removed as we are by thousands of years and separated as we are by the language barriers, it is hard to know what sense Moses had been given under the direction of the Holy Spirit when he wrote these words in Genesis.
But a change in that one preposition turns this passage from a cloudy metaphor into a much clearer reality. Think of it this way: When you go into a post office or some other federal government building, whose photo do you expect to see? Not on the Most Wanted wall. Right; the president.
That photo is there, even in a nation formed as a representative republic, to remind people of the person who is considered the “head” of the federal government.
That photo is a lot like the statues kings and pharaohs had made to depict themselves during ancient times in the Near East. They were there to remind everybody that there was a ruler, that there were expectations of obedience and that failing to meet those expectations could be costly and painful.
In these regards, the photo of the president and the statue of the ancient ruler were, like us, intended as representations of the rulers they imaged.
Look again at that passage from Genesis 1. Note what God says right after He says “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness…” He immediately talks about giving mankind authority. “Let them rule over” all the other created things.
That’s another clue about what it means to be an imager of God. We who were created in God’s image are not just statues made to look like Him; we’re given some of His authority and told to rule over His creation in His place.
This isn’t a permanent posting; eventually, we will all surely bow down and confess Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. This is the same Jesus who “was in the beginning with God”; the same Jesus through whom “all things came into being”; the same Jesus who subjected Himself to His own creation to take the punishment for its sin.
But this Jesus, our King of Kings, gave us a surprising example of how we are to exercise His authority, and he talked about it in clear terms in Matthew 20.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28)
So if we are to rule in the image of the Lord, then we must be servants. Doing so makes us revealers of His glory. Failing to do so makes us concealers of it.
Jesus was the perfect and complete revelation of His father; he was the perfect image of God. Remember what Philip, thinking he was being so spiritual, said to Jesus?
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)
Paul makes this point even more directly in one of his letters to the Corinthian church:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:3-4)
So, if the sinless Jesus is the image of God — so much so that He said if we’ve seen Him, we have seen the Father — how is it that sinful mankind is also said to have been made in the image of God? Theologians since the Reformation have put it this way: We DO bear God’s image; it has been defaced by sin, but it has not been erased.
I am NOT a theologian, but I came up with this: We who were dead in our sins without Jesus were like corpses in coffins. No matter how good a job the mortician does with a body, it still looks like a body. There is no life in it.
Before we confessed Christ as our Lord and Savior, we bore the image of God, but it was lifeless because of our sinfulness. But in that moment when we first believed, we received life from the One who called Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. He gives life to that image through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:4)
From death to life. That’s the kind of change Jesus makes. Does that sound like a small thing to you? I don’t know, but it seems like a pretty big deal to me.
In the words of a Second Century Greek cleric, “Jesus Christ … became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”
Jesus was the perfect revelation of His Father, the incarnated image of God on Earth. But He was also completely human, and his sinless life and perfect obedience were the perfect revelation of what humanity had been created for.
So now we have a better understanding of what it means to have been created in God’s image. What does that tell us about “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory”? And how does that relate to our focus Scripture today?
It’s all about transformation.
The Greek word that is translated in 2 Cor 3:18 as “being transformed” is “metamorphoo,” which is used four times in the NT, twice being translated as “transformed” and twice being translated at “transfigured.” Both of the “transfigured” references are in relation to Jesus’ transfiguration on or near Mount Hermon.
Here’s Mark’s account of that event:
Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. (Mark 9:2-3)
So we see here that metamorphoo suggests a change that people can SEE in this passage. I think it is clear that the transformation Paul is suggesting in his letters to the Corinthians and the Romans is something internal, but it is not ONLY internal.
If you have been changed by the Holy Spirit, you have become a new creature; people should be able to tell the difference between the new creature and the old one.
Now look back at the passage in Romans as we try to pull all of this together.
We’re going to concentrate on Verse 2 today. We’ll come back to Verse 1 another time, but I want to talk today about conformity and transformation and how our eternally changeless God is all about change.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The word “conformed” here has the sense of being molded. So if we are followers of Christ, we should not fit the world’s mold.
We should not look and act like the world, we should not eat and drink like the world, we should not talk like the world, and we should not seek the things of the world.
Instead, we are called to be transformed – transfigured, even – into something different, a new creature.
Paul spends the next 18 verses describing how that transformation might look, and I encourage you to read those verses after you leave today. There’s at least another sermon to be had in this passage, but I can’t preach that one today, too, or everyone would get up and leave long before I was finished.
So let me give you just a few examples of the contrasts he makes between being conformed to the world and being transformed by the renewing of your minds.
Don’t be conformed to the world, which is temporary and imperfect, often evil, and usually self-focused.
Instead, be transformed in such a way that you demonstrate the will of God in your life. What does that look like? Well, it’s unchanging and eternal. It is good and perfect.
Don’t be conformed to the world, which encourages us to think so highly of ourselves.
Instead, be transformed into people who judge themselves soundly, who do not consider themselves wise in their own estimation, who give preference to one another in honor and who strive for peace with everyone.
Do not be conformed to the world, which places such a high value on being independent individuals.
Instead, be transformed into people who are individually members of one another. That means that what hurts one of us hurts all of us. The sins I commit do not just hurt me; they hurt the church body, and not just because I am the one standing behind this pulpit.
If you are going to be conformed, then be conformed to Christ, who Paul writes will “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory.”
And be transformed, Paul says here in Romans 12, by the renewing of your mind.
The Greek word your Bibles have translated as “renewing” or “renewal” is anaKAinosis, which is used just twice in the NT, here and in Titus 3:5. It carries the sense of a complete change for the better. This isn’t a rearranging of furniture, but rather a complete renovation in our way of thinking.
It’s instructive to look at the other usage in Titus, where Paul writes about the work of sanctification in the believer at the moment of salvation.
“He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5)
Note in that passage the way Paul joins “regeneration” and “renewing” as works of the Holy Spirit. When we are saved, we become something different. God’s not into the business of making better sinners, and neither should his church be in that business. God is in the business of CHANGING sinners into saints.
Paul told the Corinthian church that if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things are PASSED AWAY; behold, ALL things become NEW.
One more note from Romans 12:2, and then I’ll close with a couple of applications for you as individuals and us as the body of the church.
Where does Paul say the transformation starts?
It starts with the renewing of the MIND.
Remember last week, when we noted that God had called his people to love Him with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their might?
It’s interesting to me that when the lawyer asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, Jesus repeated this verse, but He made one change. Instead of saying that we should love God with all our might, He said we should love Him with all our MINDS.
This means that we are to love God completely, with every part of our being. But why did Jesus deliberately change “might” to “mind”?
I believe there’s a lesson here about how we operate as humans. James tells us that we are tempted by our evil desires and that after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. In other words, it starts in our minds.
If, on the other hand, we devote our minds to loving God, what will be conceived is “that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
And as we devote ourselves to loving God, loving His Son and loving His Spirit, we will be transformed into the image of Christ from glory to glory.
Allow God to have access to your heart, your soul and your mind, and you cannot help but be changed into something new. And the other side of that coin is worth examining: If nothing has changed, then perhaps nothing changed.
If you are not very different than the person you were before you made a profession of faith, then you are in a dangerous place concerning your salvation, and I plead with you now to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. This type of self examination has eternal consequences. Nothing is more important in your life.
But there’s also an application here for Liberty Spring Christian Church, and I want to leave you today with these thoughts.
Our eternally unchanging God is all about change.
Just as God is working through the Holy Spirit to conform His people to the image of His Son, He is also working in His church to make it the spotless Bride of Christ. The Spirit is at work sanctifying the church, setting it apart as something holy.
That means the church CANNOT be what it has always been. The church should always be “being renewed.” Show me a church that holds tradition more dear than it holds the Great Commission, and I will show you a church that is not bearing fruit. Jesus said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He (God) takes away.”
Please do not miss this point: Simply being a Christian church is not good enough. We are called to be a Christian church that is bearing fruit. And the measure of fruit-bearing here is directly related to the making of disciples. And the making of disciples REQUIRES us to first GO – into Jerusalem, into all of Judea and Samaria and even to the ends of the earth.
We CANNOT bear fruit by sitting in this beautiful sanctuary. We CANNOT bear fruit by doing things the way we have always done them and hoping the people of the lost world will one day wander into our fellowship, where we can tell them about Jesus.
The way we will bear fruit is for each of us to leave this building today and commit to telling someone this week about the Savior who made us into new creatures.
The way we will bear fruit is by taking a hard look at how we have tended this garden God has given us and committing to one another to change the way we cultivate it so that it REVEALS His glory rather than concealing it.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God said:
“Behold, I will do something new; Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
What God said then is what God says now.
Our eternally changeless God is all about change. It’s high time we embrace the change.