“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” (Romans 12:2)

Ponder this pivotal command and promise with me for a moment.

The Apostle Paul speaks from a redemptive-historical point of view. That is, in the incarnation, the Son of God entered “the present evil age” and, in his death, came fully under its powers. However, in his resurrection, Jesus our Trailblazer escaped this present evil age and entered “the age to come.” Therefore, as Christians—as those united to the risen Lord Jesus—we also have been delivered from the rule of this present evil age to the rule of the age to come. In light of these realities, Paul reasons, we must not “conform” to this world’s pattern of thinking, loving, and doing; instead, we must “be transformed” to think, love, and do in conformity with the new world that has come in Christ.

The grammar that Paul employs—“be transformed”—is theologically significant. On the one hand, the verb is in the imperative mood, meaning, the Christian is commanded to do something. On the other hand, the command is in the passive voice, meaning, what is required of us must be done to us. Sinclair Ferguson, no doubt, speaks for most Christians when he asks, “How can you do something that needs to be done to you?”[1] Paul answers, “by the renewing of your mind.” And with characteristic clarity, Ferguson helps us unlock Paul’s meaning: God does the transformation, but not without our participation; there is something we must do, in order that God’s transformation might be done to us.[2]

Before we consider what we must do in this process, let’s pause to consider what Paul means when he speaks of “the renewed mind.” In this particular context, what the renewed mind does is the clue to what the renewed mind is. According to Paul, the beauty of the renewed mind is that it is able to achieve an all-important result: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” The single verb that Paul employs is rightly translated by two words in the NIV, because the verb conveys two aspects of knowing: one, to “test” or “inspect” to see whether something is genuine; two, to “approve” or regard something as valuable, when, in fact, that something is seen to be genuine.[3]

In Paul’s day, the verb was often used in connection with “testing” and “approving” gold. So, for Paul, the beauty of the renewed mind is that it is able not only to sift and spot “God’s will” as if it were “good, pleasing, and perfect” gold, but also to love and treasure “God’s will” as the “good, pleasing, and perfect” gold that it really is. In the same spirit as Jonathan Edwards, John Piper sums up the significance of the renewed mind with characteristic insight: By the renewing of our mind, we come to “test and approve” God’s will as “good, pleasing, and perfect” not by “the power of logic” but by “the power of taste.”[4]

How then is the Christian’s mind renewed? The Spirit of God illumines our mind to understand the Word of God. What, then, does the Christian’s participation in this process look like? If it belongs to the Spirit to illumine our mind to understand God’s Word, then it belongs to us to read and meditate on God’s Word. And when we soak our mind with the Word of God, then the Spirit of God renews our mind to see and taste and love the will of God.

Once more, Ferguson helps press home the point:

“The result of the Spirit working with the Word of God to illumine and transform our thinking is the development of a godly instinct that operates in sometimes surprising ways. The revelation of Scripture becomes, in a well-taught, Spirit-illumined believer, so much a part of his or her mindset that the will of God frequently seems to become instinctively and even immediately clear—just as whether a piece of music is well or badly played is immediately obvious to a well-disciplined musician. It is this kind of spiritual exercise that creates discernment (see Hebrews 5:11-14).”[5]

Oh, what a beautiful mind renewed by the most wonderful Spirit! So, with this progressively transformed instinct and appetite, let us “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Gladly yours in Christ,

Pastor Greg

[1] Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Post-Resurrection Sacrifices,” (sermon, First Presbyterian Church,Columbia, SC, April 4, 2010).
[2] Ferguson, “Post-Resurrection Sacrifices.”
[3] Fritz Rienecker and Cleon L. Rogers, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 375.
[4] John Piper, “All of Life as Worship,” (sermon, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN, November 30, 1997).
[5] Sinclair Ferguson, “Spirit of Light,” Ligonier Ministries, accessed October 8, 2016, http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/spirit-of-light/.


Book Recommendation

The Religious Affections
by Jonathan Edwards

Some books leave a lasting impression on you, and this one has profoundly shaped my understanding of Christian experience. Jonathan Edwards is widely regarded as America’s greatest theologian, and Religious Affections is considered one of his masterpieces. Written within the context of the Great Awakening that he helped spark, Edwards carefully distinguishes between true and false religion in general, and between a natural “head knowledge” and Holy Spiritual “heart knowledge” in particular. Thick sledding, but one that wonderfully rewards those willing to give it a slow and careful read over time!


1 Comment

very well said & lifted up, dear Greg! In particular, I loved the emphasis that while God does the transforming work, that doesn't mean He doesn't call us to an active role. As you know so well: we Reformed folk tend to lean "suspicious" re: heart knowledge. This inhibits Awakenings, by definition... Error-based "heart knowledge" is of course dangerous. No heart knowledge at all is equally heretical/problematic (cf the Pharisees..., Jesus' fiercest opponents). I believe God is working wonderfully at Harvest to empower us to be a God-glorifying witness to head/heart oneness: resulting in joy and passion for Jesus! Bless you for your excellent leadership and modeling of that!!

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