How Are We to Be Transformed, not Conformed to the World?
If you have been in church for any length of time you have probably heard this verse before.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
These are powerful words coming from the Apostle Paul as he is writing to the Christians in Rome. The tone of these words lets us know there is something in here that God is desiring and urging you to do, and it cannot be missed.
There is a very important meaning and context behind Romans 12:2. Do not be conformed to his world but be transformed will make all the difference in your Christian walk, so you must understand what this means. Yes, it is that important. Let’s uncover the truth in this verse and pray that it will challenge us to transformation.
What Does It Mean to "Not Be Conformed to This World, but Be Transformed"?
You know what it says, but to have a better understanding of the meaning and context of Romans 12:2, “do not be conformed to this world but be transformed,” you must know what it means. Let’s define two of the important words in this verse, conform and transform.
The word conform can mean to pattern after, to be shaped by or to be pressed into a mold. When something is pressed into a mold it takes on the shape or look of whatever the mold is. My daughter likes to bake cookies around the holidays and she has cookie molds that she presses into the dough and the dough takes on the shape of the mold. (That’s only temporary however, because we usually eat them very quickly.) The point is when a person is conforming to the world they are being pressed or shaped into the pattern or ways of the world.
By comparison the word transform comes from the Greek word metamorphoo, where we get the word metamorphosis from. This word in the Greek is actually a combination of two words, meta and morphoo.
Meta – means change after being with.
Morphoo – means changing form in keeping with an inner reality.
To give metamorphoo a definition for our purposes, it is an outward change that reflects an inner reality after being with someone. The someone in our case is God.
How Does the Transformation Happen?
To understand this process of transformation let’s look again at this Greek word, because the answer is in the meta and the morphoo. Let me explain.
There is an interesting observation in looking at the meaning and context of Romans 12:2. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed. This process actually begins in verse 1. Look at Romans 12:1:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (NKJV).
If the change begins after being with, which is the meta, how do you get to the meta or to the place of being with God? This happens when we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice.
Sacrifices were made at altars. We don’t have Old Testament altars today but the altar we do have is the altar of worship and prayer. This is how you spend time with God, offering yourself as a living sacrifice. This is the place of meta. Therefore, the meta begins with you spending time with God at the altar in prayer and worship.
The second part, the morphoo, happens with the renewing of your mind. The process of renewing your mind is an inner reality that eventually makes its way to the surface of your life. In other words, the outward change that people see first begins with an inward change that only God sees. Jesus referred to this inward outward reality in Luke 6:45.
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
As God works to transform the inside, eventually that will show up on the outside. This is where the morphoo happens. It actually reminds me of an old song.
Jesus on the inside
working on the outside
Oh what a change in my life.
Why Is This Transformation Even Necessary?
When you look at the second part of Romans 12:2 you will see the reason why this transformation is necessary. Here is this part of the verse in two different translations.
NIV – “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
NLT – “Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
The whole purpose of transformation, or metamorphosis, is so that you can begin to decipher and know what God’s will and desire is for your life. That’s why this process is so important. What you notice is that this road to transformation combines the sacrifice mentioned in Romans 12:1 and the renewing of your mind in Romans 12:2 to get to this place of knowing God’s will.
The inverse of this is also true. If you don’t get to this place of sacrifice and transformation, you won’t discover God’s will. I hope you can see why this is so important to your walk.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Zbynek Pospisil
Do You Want to be Conformed or Transformed?
Every Christian is faced with a question they must answer in this life. What type of life do you want to live? Remember as I mentioned earlier Paul is writing this letter to the Christians in Rome. In essence, he is outlining for them two ways or choices in which they can live. I call them The Way of the Conformed or The Way of the Transformed.
The Way of the Conformed
The Conformed Christian has gotten caught up in the deceptions of this world. They have made a decision to pattern their life after the mold of the world. If you pattern yourself after the ways of the world what do you think will happen? You will discover that the pursuits of the conformed may look very similar to those of the world. Here’s how John frames it:
“For everything in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16).
The Way of the Conformed is all about experiencing the best this world has to offer at the expense of missing God’s best. The conformed Christian never gets to experience God’s best in this life because they settle for less. Their focus is on the things they see which are all temporary.
In the eyes of the world, they may appear successful because they have defined their success according to the standards of the world. However, if sacrifice and transformation are necessary to get to God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will, sadly they never get there.
I call this person a double loser. They lose out on God’s best in this life and they lose out on God’s best in eternity. This is the importance behind the meaning and context of Romans 12:2. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed is not just a nice idea – it will determine everything about your life here on earth and into eternity.
The Way of the Transformed
When you recognize that transformation leads to understanding of God’s will for your life, then the Transformed Christian’s life will be characterized by two words, good and pleasing. The truth is there is no true fulfillment and satisfaction in your life outside of the will of God. That’s why Christians on the Way of the Conformed can be some of the most unhappy people you ever meet. While those on the Way of the Transformed are filled with joy and contentment.
There is nothing in this life that can substitute completing and finishing the course that God has laid out for your life. There is no greater joy. The challenges may be harder. The sacrifices may be greater. But in them are the joy and satisfaction that makes it all worth it.
Imagine the joy on that day when you stand before the Lord and he says well done, good and faithful servant. You only get to that place through the necessary sacrifice and transformation that is required now. It won’t be the easiest road but it is the road worth traveling.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:10).
Two Tips for Transformation
We have established that one of the ways this transformation happens is by renewing your mind. Here are two things you can do to help you actually do this.
1. Guard What You Let In
This means be careful about the conversations you allow yourself to be dragged into. This also means to be mindful of the influence the people you let into your life have over you. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:33:
“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’”
Be watchful over what you let into your mind and life.
2. Guard What You Put In
This means you must be intentional in what you watch, listen to and read. All these things feed your mind and are either helping your transformation or they are hurting it. Again, Paul gives us some good advice as far as what we should put in.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
As you can see there is great importance in the meaning and context of Romans 12:2. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed is beyond something that is good to know. It is something that you and I must be diligent in doing. If we are ever going to be the people God wants us to be and accomplish what he wants us to accomplish, then this transformation is necessary.
I pray that we would learn to let go of the patterns of this world and embrace the heart and plan of God. Not only will that change your life but it will impact the lives of everyone around you.
Photo credit: © Getty Images/Gordon Images
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
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