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.