The Bible verses shared most are not always what you might expect. Recent technology makes it possible to find out which verses are shared most. This may be via email, text and social media using YouVersion (one of the most popular Bible Mobile Apps). We would assume that John 3:16 will be prominent, and it is. The other verses deal with different themes, however. They address fear and anxiety, for instance Philippians 4:6-7 and Joshua 1:9. Others deal with the future events of our lives such as Proverbs 3:5-6. In many western countries for the past few years, Romans 12:2 tops the list of verses that are shared.
Let’s speculate why this might be so. Is it because Christians are feeling greater pressure to conform to the world? It is likely that it arises from the pressures of (often militant) secularisation in western countries. Clearly, the teaching in this verse is essential for life within our cultural climate. But have we meditated on it fully and put it into practice?
John Brown of Wamphray wrote an exposition of the Book of Romans. In this he enlarges on the practical implications of its teaching. These are his reflections and meditations in updated language. He covers each aspect of its meaning carefully. It is very full but we should not despise it for that. We will miss the vital value of this verse for our lives if we skim it and skip onwards. This is a slow reading of the verse, not repetitive–it is exactly what we need for the meaning to sink in.
We Must Not be Conformed to the World but Transformed by God’s Will
- Believers must not be conformed to the world. They must not walk according to the fashions of the godless, unregenerate part of mankind in the world. These appreciate nothing except this world. It is as though they were entirely composed out of it. They are called “this world” or age because they are subject to change. Before long all their glory and whatever they have will vanish.
- Believers must be transformed. This is the opposite of being conformed. They must be thoroughly changed and renewed as new creatures, growing in holiness daily. He shows further:
(a) How we must be transformed. Our mind and intellect must be renewed. It must be supplied with greater spiritual knowledge and sanctified illumination.
(b) Why we must be transformed. The benefit of this renewing is that they prove what God’s will is. This means that they may be acquainted and fall in love with God’s law, make it their rule and walk according to it. It is commended in three ways to persuade believers to be renewed in their spirit which will enable them to walk after God’s will as their rule.
(i) Good: because it is the mind of a good God and it makes known to us only what is good and for our spiritual advantage;
(ii) Acceptable: because it shows how we will be accepted by God and what is well-pleasing in His eyes; and,
(iii) Perfect: because it is a pure and complete rule without any mixture and any deficiency. It is able to make clear to us the whole will of God and every duty we ought to practice.
1. We cannot Serve God and the World
Following the customs and fashions of the men of this world is a great hindrance to Christians. It prevents them from giving themselves and their service to God for His glory. Our God and the god of this world (who works in “the children of disobedience”) are so completely opposed to one another that no one can serve both. When Paul urges them in verse 1 to present themselves to God, he adds “And be not conformed unto this world”. Both must be kept together.
2. We must be in the World but not of it
God’s children must live among worldly people or such as have their portion in this world. Because of this they are still in danger of being ensnared by their evil example. The strength of corruption in the behaviour of bad company is so powerful that even the best of God’s children must be wary and walk circumspectly. They are at risk of being drawn aside and tainted by their foul conduct. All this is implied when he exhorts these believing Romans not to conform themselves to the men of this world.
3. Unbelievers are so Identified with the World that they Share its Name
The unregenerate are so closely related to the world that they appreciate and understand nothing except the world. They have their heart and their eye on it and their portion in it. This is so to such an extent that they borrow their name from it and are fittingly called the world.
4. We must Avoid the Empty, Sinful Ways of the World
All God’s children must labour to keep themselves free of the empty, sinful ways of the world. No matter what apparent beauty their conduct may have, God’s children must not conform themselves to it. The Lord requires that all believers “be not conformed to this world”.
5. We cannot Claim to be Renewed if we Conform to the World
Men may foolishly consider themselves happy enough in following the fashion of this world. Whoever is led away and whose walk is no different from the men of this world cannot consider himself anything other than unregenerated and unrenewed. In so far as any are renewed and changed, they have a different walk from the world and are not conformed to it. This is clear from the way that he opposes conforming ourselves to transforming ourselves.
6. We Must be Transformed by Renewing Grace
Striving after ever greater renewing grace is the most effective way to be free from being tainted and led away with the enticing conduct of worldlings. We are more and more transformed by this grace.
Only Omnipotence can renew souls. There is nothing in man that can justly claim any share of the glory of this work. Yet when the Lord makes such a change, He deals with souls as rational creatures not mere blocks. They must use the means by which the Lord ordinarily sends down renewing grace.
The Lord works in us by free grace “both to will and to do of his good pleasure”. In this way, the Lord declares our miserable condition by nature. He shows the ability and power we have lost. Despite the powerlessness we have contracted by our own sin, however, our duty remains.
This also shows the way in which God usually achieves this work i.e. by driving us out of ourselves to Him who alone can do it. Thus the apostle urges them to be renewed and transformed – not as if it were in their own power, but to drive them to God. He alone has power to do this. The apostle seeks to rouse them up from being complacent lest they think they ought to do nothing except let the Spirit do everything.
Everyone by nature is in the lamentable condition that the fair image we once had is now lost and gone. That sweet, holy and righteous nature which God bestowed at the beginning is now away. Everything must be made new again, or renewed: this presupposes things that were once new, but now old.
7. We must be Transformed as well as Not Conformed
Hypocrites may deceive themselves by imagining that they have done everything necessary when they are not conformed to the world. That is, they have abstained from the gross corruptions and abominations of the most worldly. Besides not being conformed to the world, true believers must also strive to be transformed and cast in a new mould. It is not enough, not to be conformed to this world we must also strive to “be transformed”.
8. We must be Transformed because We Still Have Remaining Sin
By nature everyone must be changed and transformed or else perish. Thus, the children of God still have the remains of a corrupt nature in them which keeps them continually exercised. It is their duty to wrestle against it daily and strive to have more of this new nature. They must be “transformed”.
9. We Must Have Our Mind Renewed
By nature, our minds retain some common ideas about God’s existence and principles of righteousness. Yet, we are blind as regards any saving knowledge or the right way to God. By nature we cannot see the things of God and are full of unbelief, ignorance and confusion. Even the minds of the best, who see only in part, are not fully freed from this disease. Everyone must have their minds renewed.
The Lord usually begins with the mind in effecting this renewing and transformation. He sends the spirit of illumination to remove the natural darkness and confusion that oppresses the soul. By this, a man sees his lost condition and the emptiness and uselessness of any created thing to help him. He sees where help and by this the man is brought, through grace, to embrace the One through whom all good comes. Thus, when Paul urges them to be transformed, he adds, “by the renewing” of the “mind”. This shows that the work must begin and continue by this means.
10. We must Know and Embrace God’s Will
Obedience and approving God’s will is a natural result of the new nature which they have received. Renewing and illumination are a direct means towards approving the good will of God. Thus, Paul says be “transformed by the renewing of your minds”, that you may “prove” the “will of God”.
Unregenerate men may pretend to have great love and respect for God’s commands and outwardly conform to them. However much this may be so, none but those that are truly renewed, can or will, truly and cordially approve and embrace God’s commandments. The more we are illuminated and renewed, the more God’s will prevails with us and we will conform our lives to it. The way to approved God’s will is through renewal and illumination.
It is the duty of all believers to prove God’s will by studying and searching it out. Having come to know it, we must approve, highly esteem and embrace it heartily. All this is included in proving God’s will.
11. We must Esteem God’s Law as Entirely Good
Only those who strive for a high and spiritual esteem of God’s law as the only rule of their life will be kept from being conformed to this world. This is clear from comparing the words of this verse with the beginning of verse 1.
The law of God is a declaration of God’s will concerning what He will have us to do. This law is good, and contains nothing except what is both good in itself and good for us. Thus, it is called “good”. This is clear when God’s law is search out with a true spiritual understanding.
12. We must Obey God’s Will to Please Him
It is impossible to please God unless we take His will as the rule by which we should square our lives. Yet our foolish imaginations are ready to supply many alternatives. It is, therefore called God’s “acceptable” will because it shows what service God is and is not well-pleased with.
13. We must Fully Rest on God’s Will and Nothing Else
This will of God is complete and perfect, declaring whatever we need to know for salvation. Thus, we may rest on it and reject whatever is not approved or commanded in general or particular. We need not make new additions to God’s will from any traditions or decrees of men.
14. We must Know and Love God’s Will
We must understand that the law of God is good, full, complete and the only way to please the Lord. This knowledge should stir up all God’s people to make conscience of proving and approving this will of God. This why the law is described in this way. It should spur us on to proving and approving God’s will, knowing the difficulties lie in our way but also the benefit that it will be to us.