In order to choose wisely, to be godly we need to be transformed in our thinking
“Do not conform 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.”
Our brains are like plasticine, they‘re mouldable, shape-able, they’re able to be changed and reformed. We all have a grid through which we run everything, every decision we face, everything we see or hear to determine if it’s right or wrong, good or bad. We do it often without thinking. But where does that grid come from?
Paul says that naturally we’ve been moulded to fit the thinking of the world. But he calls the Roman believers to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. The world wants us to think one way and it trains us to do so. But Christians are to be transformed, to have our minds renewed so that we think and act and decide differently.
Let’s look at an example. Turn to Daniel 1 where you see this battle to mould the mind, to shape decisions played out in 4 young men, Jews by birth, taught by their parents and their culture and scripture, but then transported hundreds of miles away to Babylon. What’s the first thing the king orders to be done to these boys? (4-5)they are to be re-educated in the ways of Babylon. He wants them to be able to think Babylonian. They’re to eat like Babylonians and enjoy the privilege and rewards of Babylon as they’re trained for 3 years. And they’re given Babylonian names, a new identity based on Babylonian worship. And the carrot is serving the king if they pass the test – life lived enjoying the best.
Do you see the battle for the minds of these young men. This is basically a reprogramming. They can worship Yahweh privately but not publicly. But they’re to be thoroughly Babylonian in their thinking and the decisions they make. That’s how you make it in life! That’s how you get the rewards.
How do Daniel and his friends react? (8)“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…” It’s a resolution not to be reshaped, not to fit the Babylonian mould and worldview, to remain and serve as God’s people. That resolution and thinking is vital later on when the pressure comes. In ch2 it leads Daniel to honour God before the king, in ch3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship the statue even on pain of a fiery death. In ch4 and 5 Daniel speaks the word of God even when he knows he speaks words of judgement against a king. In ch6 when it’s a choice of safe secularity or worship of God he chooses worship.
How are they able to do this? How do they know what to choose? Because their minds aren’t moulded by the world, by Babylonian society, but by God’s word. They know God, they trust his character and his word and his purposes, they know his will is good and pleasing and perfect even when there’s no guarantee of the outcome.
Come back to Romans 12. The world wants to shape our thinking, in fact it already does. It’s worldview, it’s grid about what matters most; how we should spend our money, what love is, what marriage is, what’s right and wrong, is taught to us from a young age. We’re taught it in school, college and university, in our families, in the stories our society tells us be it in books, or films or TV. It’s taught through the things it rewards and celebrates and holds special days, weeks and months for. All of it shaping our thinking, our values, our decisions. It’s not all bad, but neither is it all neutral or good.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We need to recognise the grid we’ve absorbed from the world, how it impacts our thoughts and reactions and the decisions we make. And we’re to keep on being transformed by the renewing of our minds. That word transform is used in the gospels to describe Jesus transfiguration. It’s to be changed, to be glorified, to be totally other in our thinking, to reveal who we really are as God’s people.
And look what that transformation in our thinking leads to “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Living holy lives, making godly decisions begins with cooperating with the Spirit to be transformed in our thinking so that we treasure and trust God’s will is best for us.
Isn’t that often where the battle is fought? If we believe that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect then we will find it easy to obey. But we’ll only think God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect if our minds are transformed, if they’re being renewed, because so often it is the opposite of what the world would say is good, pleasing and perfect. So how do we do that?
Paul began in view of God’s mercies – we begin by reminding ourselves of who God is, who he has revealed himself to be, his faithfulness, his love, his mercy and compassion, that he is for us. And so as we come to his word we know his word is good, he is for us, his will is good, because it is the will of a good Father.
Secondly we immerse ourselves in his word. We need to pray and ask the Spirit to open our eyes and transform our thinking as we read God’s word. There’s so much guidance for us in God’s word. God reveals so much to us about his will. The call for us to be holy exemplified in Jesus actions seen in the gospels. The teaching and application we read in the Epistles, the Old Testament law and it’s summary as love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.
Soaking ourselves in God’s word won’t give us an A-Z guide for every decision. But it will shape our thinking, give us a new grid, so that we learn to think God’s thoughts after him, we make decisions in line with God’s values and character. We’re going to explore some of those areas in coming weeks as we look at disciples and money and work and other areas.
We have to recognise that being not conformed but transformed is not painless, it doesn’t happen by digital download. We must keep on wrestling to be transformed again and again and again. Wrestling to believe God’s word and will is good even when it clashes with the world’s view, by reminding ourselves of God’s mercy and his goodness and trusting in him.
Let’s come back to Ellie and Phil. How do they make those decisions? Partly, what do they know of God and his will already? God is a merciful Father, he’s not hiding his will but giving us freedom to choose. His will is about a trajectory, it’s a compass not a road map. They don’t need to be paralysed by indecision, or fear that one wrong decision will put them outside of God’s will. They live life in view of God’s mercy and so they pray as they make the decision. They seek God, study his word, speak to their church family and ask them to pray, trust God’s character, keep his mercy in view and resolve to glorify Jesus.
Disciples choose God’s way, they live lives of worship because of God’s mercy. That means we begin by recognising how the world seeks to shape our thinking, that it will lead us to think God’s word is not good, not pleasing and not perfect. Maybe this morning you’re already aware of areas where that is exactly the case. Where you think God’s will is bad, unpleasing and imperfect. Before we wrestle with that issue we must get our view of God right. We need to have God’s mercy in view, to remind ourselves of his love that lavishly gives for us, that does what we cannot, that is for us.
Only then in light of that will we know that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect. Only them will we test and treasure God’s will. Only then will we be ready to discover God’s will by immersing ourselves in God’s word so we learn to think God’s thoughts after him. So that by the Spirit God’s law is written on our hearts and Christ is formed in us together so that we live lives of worship that glorify him.