March 22. Romans 12:1-2 part 10. Testing the Will of God (notice we didn’t say “finding”).

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our thinking is changing. We have the mindset of the Spirit, of Christ himself.

Now what?

What is the result of this changed thinking? This new reasoning from a new affection? The result is discerning the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

Some of us think that God’s will is a hidden treasure that we spend our lives searching for like we’re in a movie with Nicholas Cage or something. Some think we can know God’s will through magical prayers and other pagan type mysticism (have you ever flipped your Bible open to a random spot looking for God’s will?). Others of us think God’s will is like a bull’s eye on a target that we must hit. If we miss then we are “out of God’s will. ”

But if we are united to Christ, and transformation is an ongoing process that comes by mind renewal as we contemplate the mercies of God. If we have the mind of Christ. If “all things work together for the good” and we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ.” If all of this is true, then can we ever really be outside of God’s will? Isn’t it God’s will to change us THROUGH our living? Through every choice? Every decision? Every failure? Every sin? Every sorrow? Every success?

Maybe we need to stop trying to find God’s will and start testing God’s will.

This phrase, testing you may discern, is one word in Greek. It is present and continual. Paul is saying that we are actively testing God’s will and proving that it is good. Peter will use the same word to talk about the testing of our faith being proven as genuine through trials (1 Peter 1:7). Here, Paul is NOT talking about figuring out what God’s will IS. He’s talking about proving that God’s will is good, perfect, and acceptable. To discern the will of God, is to prove that it is good by experiencing it.

Mind renewal results in us trusting God. Trusting that he is good and so is his will. Paul’s aim here is not to tell us what God’s will is. He already did that back in Romans 8:28-29 – to conform us to the image of Christ. The question in Romans 12:1-2 is “do you trust this process in your life?” This transformation? Do you trust the mercies of God. Do you trust God’s mercies in Christ enough to be a living sacrifice? To give it ALL to him? Your life? Your family? Your career? Your romance? Your sexuality? Your stuff? Your failures and successes?

Too many Christians are walking around wishing they knew the will of God. But we DO know it. No, we don’t always know what college to go to, or what job to take, or which specific person to marry, or which team will win March Madness. And we aren’t meant to know those things. We’re meant to live. And as we go through life, yes, there will be some things that God makes clear. Some things he has already made clear in his word. Some things he will make clear providentially. But most of life is the wisdom of the cross. Meaning we don’t know exactly what will happen but we trust the mercies of God to renew our minds so that in whatever we do or choose, we believe that God will use it for the good to transform us into Christ and his death.

Like Miles Morales learning to trust his spider powers, we too prove the will of God as we go through life as living sacrifices.

As Marva Dawn says, testing God’s will is a constant adventure. And that is what God wants this life to be. Adventurous. Sitting around waiting for a new revelation from God about the specific decisions in our life is NOT how God intended us to live. He does not want us to be paralyzed by fear or inaction. Especially when it comes from thinking we lack information that God is “supposed” to have given to us.

In Christ, God has given you everything you need for life and godliness. You have all you need to make it through this life. And along the way, on the journey, you prove that God’s will, his plan, his work of transforming you, has been good, and acceptable, and perfect.

“To live is Christ” means you have never made a decision alone. You have never taken a step without God. You have all the knowledge and love that you need to make it through this day and every day. And you’ve never been outside God’s will.

What grace this brings. What freedom. What courage.

Will you put the power of the cross to the test today? Will you live today testing the will of God? Proving God to be good, and acceptable, and perfect even when we don’t know everything that will happen? Even in waiting? Even when he asks for something that’s hard to give up? Even when it doesn’t make sense?

March 21. Romans 12:1-2 part 9. Mind Renewal (it’s kind of a big deal).

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The goal of our union with Christ is that we become the image bearers, the worshipers, that God created us to be. This is for our ultimate good, and God’s ultimate glory. If we aren’t transformed into image bearers, we aren’t truly alive and God is not truly worshiped. How are we transformed into true image bearers? By our union with the ultimate image bearer, Jesus Christ. How are we transformed into Christ’s image and character? By the renewing of the mind.

It’s kind of a big deal.

Let’s pause for a second and remember that we are made up of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. For real transformation to occur, for conformity into Christ’s likeness to happen, we must be renewed in spirit, soul, and body.

Now notice that Paul says we must be renewed in our mind. Why doesn’t he say “renewed in spirit?” Because that has already happened to you. If you are in Christ, then you are already renewed in your spirit. You are the New Creation, the new man, the justified, perfected, glorified, saint of God.

Paul also doesn’t say “be renewed in your body.” Why? Because that won’t happen until your body dies and is raised again at the resurrection of the dead. As of right now, your body has not been renewed. It will be one day, praise God!

That leaves us with the soul. Your mind is part of your soul. When God created mankind he formed for them a body, he breathed into them a spirit, and then they became a living soul. That soul is how we interact with creation, each other, and our Creator. That soul includes all the faculties of the mind – the five senses and the interpretation of incoming data, the reasoning faculties, the imagination, the memory. All of this is the mind.

Now this is where faith comes in. Mind renewal is an ongoing act of faith on your part. It is the refreshing of the mindset away from conformity to this world, and unto conformity to the mind of Christ. Mind renewal comes as we think like Christ, in order to love and live like Christ. As Martin Luther said, “faith is taking hold of Christ.”

But this is not merely “the power of positive thinking.” It is not self-improvement. It’s not even “following in the footsteps of Jesus” as our mentor or guru. All of this would still be done by ourselves for ourselves with Jesus simply as our model.

The Truman Show: mind control meets its match in mind renewal. (warning:language)

Real mind renewal flows only from the mercies of God. This must be our starting point. The mercies of God renew how we interpret all incoming sensory data. The mercies of God renew how we imagine God and others and ourselves. And the mercies of God even renew how we think and reason. It is love that changes our reasoning, never hard facts alone. The facts will always be interpreted in light of what we love. Always. To change a person’s thinking, you must change their loves. God’s mercy proves we are loved and can change what we love, and therefore it can change what we believe to be true.

God’s mercy is his covenant love and faithfulness (in Romans 9-11 Paul connected God’s mercy to the New Covenant). God’s mercy is his imputed righteousness. His justification. His adoption. His forgiveness. His glorification of us. His salvation. In a word, his love.

It is beholding God’s mercy in Jesus Christ and his glorious cross that changes your heart and thus renews your mind. By the cross and resurrection, we know that we are loved. By our death and resurrection with Christ we know that we are alive to God’s love. That love and life is in us by the Spirit of God and our union with Christ allows us to renew our minds day after day. Slowly but surely. Pursuing a deeper affection for and knowledge of Christ and his saints. This is the will of God. This is “to live is Christ.”

Here’s some more scriptures to meditate on (they all connect image bearing, love, knowledge, thinking, and the pursuit of holiness):
Ephesians 4:21-24. Assuming that…you were taught in him… 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Philippians 1:9-10. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ

Colossians 3:9-10. seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

2 Corinthians 10:5. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

And then there’s this awesomeness.

March 20. Romans 12:1-2 part 8. True Transformation.

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

What is true transformation? How does being in Christ change us? We’ve already written about how we must distinguish true transformation from simply using Jesus for self-improvement. True gospel transformation must always be connected to the cross. To the death of the self and then (and only then) to resurrection.

The word “transformed” is a word (metamorphoo) that Paul has used only once before:

2 Corinthians 3:18. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

So 2 Corinthians 3:18 is our commentary on Romans 12:2. What do we learn when we put these two amazing verses side by side?

(btw- To Live is Christ has a ten part series on 2 Corinthians 3:18 from August 11-20, 2018)

Much like our life in Christ, the Special Olympics is all about the ordinary becoming extraordinary. Glorious even. There is truly an internal transformation that occurs as the athletes compete. If you haven’t been tracking with it this week I highly recommend you watch some of the highlights. Inspiring!

1. True transformation is happening. You are being transformed into Christ. Even if you don’t feel like you are. It’s ongoing. It’s a process. It’s inevitable. And it’s impossible to stop.

2. Transformation and mind renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit. Look at 2 Corinthians 3:18 again, “this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, who renews our minds. The word “renewal” is a word used by Paul in Titus 3:5 to describe the Spirit’s saving work in our lives.

Titus 3:5. he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

This is why we must insist that our transformation, our growth, our changing, is never a self-improvement project. It is never self-help. It is not “girl wash your face.” It is only by the Spirit’s work. But it is also through our participation with the Spirit. The Spirit transforms us as we behold Christ, meditate on Christ, live our lives dependent upon Christ, just as Jesus lived dependent upon the Father. The Spirit changes our desires miraculously giving us a new heart. As our desire for Christ increases the transformation occurs. We want what he wants. We love what he loves.

3. “Mind renewal” and “beholding the glory of the Lord” are the same thing. More on mind renewal tomorrow, but for now let’s remember that mind renewal, like “beholding the glory of the Lord,” is worship. Mind renewal leads to the presenting of our bodies as living sacrifices and is our spiritual worship. Worship is our way of life. It is “to live is Christ.” And it all funnels through our thinking. From our heart to our mind to our bodies. The Spirit renews our desires, our new desires in Christ renew our thinking, and finally we can make decisions with our body that honor the Christ that is alive in us. That whole process is life as a sacrifice in worship to God.

4. Our transformation is a conformity to the glory of Christ. We transform from glory to glory as we conform to the image of Christ (not the world). From glory to glory is our daily movement from death to resurrection, from death to resurrection. From suffering to death to life. Over and over. Sin dying, faith rising. Christ being formed in us. Us being conformed to him. This is what we are predestined unto.

Romans 8:29. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

“To live is Christ” is this true transformation. A transformation that conforms us to Christ’s mold. The mold of his death and resurrection. His loving and living. His glory.

March 19. Romans 12:1-2 part 7. Transformation, Conformity, and the Hipster Effect.

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Yesterday we started talking about transformation. We said that there is a paradox to transformation: the more we strive for spiritual change, the less likely we are to find it. Why? Because transformation comes from grace, and often striving for change comes from the self.

Is there a striving that comes from grace? Yes. But it’s what the book of Hebrews calls the “striving for rest.” The striving to receive grace will paradoxically produce the change that we need, although it will most often be very slow over time.

This is why Paul’s language is literally “be being transformed.” We are constantly being transformed into Christ’s likeness. This is a process for those who are in Christ that never ends. It is slow, difficult, and often mundane. As we have said many times in this blog, there are no shortcuts to sanctification.

Christians tend to not like these answers. We want quick conformity rather than transformation. But Paul tells us to resist conformity. But what about conformity within the church?

Is the church suffering from the Hipster Effect? That phenomenon that occurs when non-conformists all end up looking alike. Ironically when the MIT Technological Review published an article about the hipster effect, a man threatened to sue the publication because it used his picture without permission. You guessed it, it wasn’t actually his picture. He couldn’t even differentiate himself from other hipsters. The point is that the church needs to be aware that sometimes the world’s most non-conformist entity (the church) might be guilty of trying to force everyone into a specific mold, rather than letting Christ express himself uniquely in each individual Christian.

In Christ there is another paradox at work. We are all transformed into the likeness of Christ, and yet we are all going to express Christ in very different and unique ways. Christlikeness is not meant to make us all look, sound, think, and act exactly the same. It is meant to turn us into the unique creation of God that we are.

A fascinating discussion on conformity (the Hipster Effect), freedom, and individuality. Does Christ, by offering a new identity, offer us the real freedom that Sophy Bot speaks of?

Of course there is always going to be a place for some conformity in the body of Christ, because we are all united in Christ and seeking to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. And yes, everything I am saying must be bounded by true holiness and love (there is no real freedom without these boundaries). But could it also be true that the church tries to fit too many round pegs into square holes? Isn’t our discipleship more often about turning that disciple into a version of us, rather than guiding them deeper into their freedom and uniqueness in Christ?

True joy in Christ does not come from co-dependency within the Christian community. It comes from admitting your dependence upon Jesus, finding your independence in Jesus, and then choosing to live interdependently with other believers through the church community. The Christian community should be a place where each of us can find our true selves – which is our Christ self. Who does Jesus say WE are corporately? But also, who does Jesus say YOU are individually? How can we help each other to discover that?

In scripture we’ve seen how this conformity can play out in a church. The church in Galatia demanded conformity to the law. The church in Corinth expected everyone to have the same spiritual experiences. Paul rebuked them both.

What about us? What do we expect everyone to dress like, sound like, worship like, even serve like?

This is not about freedom unto selfishness, or “do your own thing.” Nor is it about growing spiritually apart from the church. In fact, I would argue that increased conformity leads to increased desire for independence. Non-conformity is not about finding greater independence; it’s about finding greater interdependence. Freedom is never about moving away from the body, but about moving toward it to serve it and bless it with the unique manifestation of the life of Christ in you.

Yes, “to live is Christ” is transformation, not conformity. But transformation is love. It is submission. It is interdependence. It is sacrifice. It is Christ. It is the cross.

March 18. Romans 12:1-2 part 6. The Paradox of Transformation, MTD, and Wonder Woman Spins.

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Let me ask you a question. If you knew that you would never improve in this life, would you still want to be a Christian?

Stay with me.

There is a paradox that comes with transformation. If your Christianity is just a self-improvement project, then you will probably never find the transformation that you’re looking for. Christianity is supposed to be, first and foremost, a relationship with God rooted in faith. Faith in his grace. And paradoxically, that is what brings transformation.

We don’t accept Jesus because of how he can improve our lives now. We accept him because what he claimed is true. We accept him because what he did on the cross is true. We accept him for who he is as the Christ beyond this life, not just for what he can do for us in this life. We accept him as our savior and lord, not our life coach and therapist.

Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton named what we’re describing back in 2005. They called it Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD). In their book Soul Searching, they described the predominate belief system of young people in America today, MTD: there is a God, he wants us to be good, he helps us when we are in trouble, and good people go to heaven when they die. So religion exists to make us better people, to transform us, but without crucifixion. No submission. No salvation. No real sin. No need for repentance.

Why did you receive Jesus? Was it to help you over your addiction, or to take away your anger problem, or because he makes you feel good about yourself? If you received him to have a better life now…if you accept him for those reasons alone, then you’re using God. Not loving God. And so thus the paradox. Using God so that you can be transformed doesn’t produce transformation.

If only our transformation was this easy!

Why not? When we use Jesus to change it is actually just a promotion of the self-life. Self-effort. Self-righteousness with Jesus’ name attached to it.

The truth is, and the paradox is, that we only begin to change and be transformed into Christ when we rest fully on the grace of Christ, realizing that we can never produce change, may never experience change in some ways, and that change is painfully slow and tedious on this side of Heaven. Once your mind renewal starts to wrap your head around your complete inability to transform yourself, and the extremely radical nature of your salvation – that you, the ungodly, have been justified – only then will you start to see some real growth in holiness and love in your life.

The gospel and our union with Christ tells us that every resurrection (think transformation) must come through crucifixion. Crucifixion is the catalyst for real transformation into Christ. The old self has died; the flesh must be killed along with it by grace through faith. The new man has been resurrected, we must present ourselves as the new man by grace through faith.

Now we can put to death the self-effort, self-righteousness, self-improvement schemes, even the ones that are motivated by Jesus. And instead we can trust in the finished work of Jesus and our union with him as the source of our transformation, rather than trusting in our own efforts to be transformed.

I admit that this can be very difficult to differentiate in real life. And it can be very difficult to differentiate in our own hearts and minds. Maybe that’s the mind renewal that Paul is talking about in Romans 12:2. Maybe that’s the journey of “to live is Christ.”

March 16-17. Romans 12:1. Spirituality isn’t Always Spiritual – a Short Meditation.

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

God is looking for our spiritual worship. Our “reasonable service.” Reasonable meaning it goes beyond mere ritual and rote. It is from the mind and the heart. It is, as Jesus said, “worship in spirit and truth.”

Many in our society today identify themselves as “spiritual” but not religious. But the spirituality that so many embrace these days is far more human than godly. In seeking transcendence, they have only one place to turn, themselves. In other words, “spirituality” is just another form of the “religion” that so many seem to want to avoid. Just like religion, spirituality is confidence in the self. It’s self-improvement brought on by self-power.

Let me show you what I’m talking about: Will Smith’s Bucket List (yes it’s a show). Watch the trailer and then we’ll discuss it.

The way Smith sees it, “divine wisdom” (his words) is achieved by confronting our fears.

Yes, God is anti-fear. But confronting fears in our own power is not the antidote for fear. God’s love is. Christ is. Smith’s brand of spirituality is one of human power (and a really big bank account it appears). He is saving himself through a list, literally.

True spirituality is found only in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, God. The Spirit of Christ. And of course the cross. True spirituality is “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” True spirituality is desperation for Christ’s grace. True spirituality is actually about weakness, and relying fully on Christ to overcome our fears, not our own strength. And that may mean that the only way we overcome our fears in this life is through resurrection into the presence of Christ at the next life, and that’s OK.

That’s divine wisdom.

If you’re not a fan of Rivers and Robots yet, you should be. Theologically deep and musically diverse. It’s your Saturday afternoon meditation music.

March 15. Romans 12:1-2 part 5: Non-conformity, This Evil Age, and Saying Goodbye.

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

To be conformed to this world is to lose sight of what it means to live a sacrificial life. Do not be conformed to this world more literally says – “continually resist being pressed into the mold of this age.” This “age” or this “world” that we live in is anything that is opposed to God and his redemptive plan. Both Jesus and Paul called this age that we live in “evil.” In Ephesians, Paul will say that Satan controls this age (2:2).

It’s not about things. It’s a mindset. A way of seeing things. A way of perceiving. It’s using everything good that God made for our worship of him for your own self-promotion and self-righteousness. It’s using the things of this life to make yourself the ruler of your own life (“I will be like the most high” – Lucifer).

Both Moses and Ramses are pressed into the present evil age.

Non-conformity to this evil age is not about simply obeying a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s not just us adhering to a bunch of rules. It’s about embracing the way we were designed. It’s about living the life that God has created us to live, a life of spiritual worship. Anything that falls short of worshipping God belongs to this age, not the age to come.

Materialism, sexual expression, FOMO, self-actualization, performancism, idolatry, and even religion. Get more. Do more. Leave a legacy. Fulfill your bucket list. Be your true self. All of this is contrary to the life of sacrificial worship that God has designed us for. We are being squeezed into a mold of selfishness, and self-rule rather than the mold of Christ-like self-sacrifice.

Things that would press us into the mold of this age are all around us. Outside forces like technology, social media, advertising, are constantly shaping you and me. They are conforming us to this world. Comparison. Perfectionism. Over-efficiency. Overwork. Our technological society is molding us into a people who refuse to rest from our work, refuse to cultivate real relationships, and refuse to accept the life God has given us.

God has a specific design for us in every area of our lives. Sex and gender. Marriage. Work. Relationships. Parenting. Friendship. Even death. Does God have a design for all these things? How do we perceive them? Is this age we live in pressing us into a mold that is contrary to God’s design for humanity?

Christ in us transforms us by the renewing of the mind (more on that tomorrow). We are not blinded by the “god of this age” anymore (2 Cor. 4:4). It is possible for us to live within this age and yet not allow it to press us into its form. How? Because we are the New Creation. We are able to resist this age because we have been re-made for the next.

This battle for the control of the mind was made vivid for me and many others today as we all said good bye to an amazing friend and brother in Christ at my church. When someone who is so brilliant and so full of God’s love and potential passes at only 35 years old, with so much seemingly left undone, it is then that “the god of this age” wants to press us into the mindset of this evil age. He wants us to measure Maurice Harton’s life only from an earthly view, a finite view, a “worldly” view. But union with Christ allows us to face the reality of his death in this age while resisting this age’s interpretation of the meaning of his death, the finality of his death, the hopelessness of his death. Maurice is the New Creation. He wasn’t made for this age. He was made for the age to come. Can that give us some hope as we say goodbye? Can that reality allow us to resist being conformed to this evil age and it’s definition of a “full” life and its hopelessness in death? I pray it can.

Can you identify ways that this age is pressing you into its mold? How can your union with Christ allow you to resist this pressure?