Why do we do the things that we do? Such a broad question surely gets a diversity of answers.
Sometimes we do them because we think they are right.
Sometimes we do them because we believe they will make us happy.
Sometimes we do them because we are afraid.
Sometimes we do them because everyone else is doing them….and it is so easy to want to blend in.
There are many motivations for our behavior, and most of them are largely unconscious. For that reason, we need to take time periodically to examine our minds. I want to consider three truths from Paul the Apostle, who wrote about this in a letter to the Roman church:
Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world,
But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, His good, pleasing and perfect will.
- The external world is exerting pressure. It works on us, willing us to conform –to fit the shape and mold of the pattern of this world. So that creates a question: What pattern? What does it look like? The shape was shown earlier in the letter:
For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21-23)
I see at least three things about this pattern of the world and those who follow it:
- They have knowledge of God, but reject Him. This rejection means a refusal to honor God as God or to thank Him for all the blessings they have received by His Hand.
- They become futile in their thinking. Since they reject the truth, there is no longer a way to get a right answer. Like someone who refuses to believe 2+2=4, no matter how elaborate the reasoning, his or her answer will be wrong. God is the Creator – everything was made by Him, through Him and for Any fact or decision considered without reference to God is superficial and its real meaning or purpose is lost.
- They make an exchange. No matter how futile, everyone will make something their ultimate goal or object. Maybe it is collecting model trains or baseball cards, maybe it is graduate degrees or cars or houses. Maybe it is the praise of men or a variety of experiences. But every person seeks an ultimate meaning, even if they try to make themselves that ultimate meaning. You can be sure of one thing: since nothing else is God, nothing else can fill His place. Everything else disappoints, and in the end will separate you from God and from life through His son, Jesus Christ.
- We resist conforming to the world by being transformed in the renewing of our mind.
What is to be transformed within our minds? The answer is in the next verse:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you
not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,
but to think with sober judgment,
each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3)
Apparently one of the great tendencies of the pattern of this world is to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to. The alternative is not a false humility, but sober judgment. God wants you to be self- aware, to know rightly who you are. When we know how great God is, and how limited and prone to sin and error we are, humility comes naturally. Charles Spurgeon said, ‘Humility is to have a right estimate of one’s self.’ Also note that the measuring stick we are to use is not our university degree or our looks or our wealth, but the measure of faith God gives us. Ironically, the more faith we have, the more we recognize that even our faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
- There are practical strategies to pursue sober judgment and reject the pattern of this world:
- We renew our minds by filling it with truth. That truth is most abundantly found in God’s Word. I encourage you not only to read the Bible, but also to memorize key verses like Romans 12:2.
- We renew our minds by spending time in prayer with God. There is no more surefire way to transform your mind than to spend long periods of time with God. It is an amusing but important reality that old couples with no genetic connection start to look like each other – in the same way, if we are frequently in God’s presence, we will be changed to be more like Him.
- We renew our minds by spending time with others who are pursuing the same goal. This can happen at church, in small groups, in our friendships, at the dinner tables, at the water cooler, anywhere.
It is worth the effort. The blessing of this transforming work is summed up at the end of verse 2: ‘Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is; His good, pleasing and perfect will.’ Understanding God’s will is not a guessing game. It is like shopping for Christmas presents. If you know your wife or husband or children well, you will probably be able to give them a Christmas gift they would like. The more we know God, the more we know about what will please Him.
The good news for us is this – because we were made for God, the things which God likes and make Him happy are also the things which most fill our hearts with joy. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind – and rejoice as you find what you were made for.