Transformed and Renewed- A Look at Romans 12:1-21

In many churches around the world, this Sunday will be celebrated as what is known as Baptism of the Lord Sunday.  On this particular day, we remember not only that Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan (Mark 1:9), but that through the sacrament of baptism we are making a public affirmation of our faith.  In the United Methodist Church, we make a big deal about baptism and the effects of baptism in and through our lives.  Though it is vital and important, we recognize that the sacrament of baptism is not salvation from sin, but is our response to God's grace that has already been poured out upon us. (for a more in-depth look at United Methodists and Baptism, including why we baptize infants, see By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism - Available as a PDF Download here).  With this in mind I would like to share some insights on transformation and renewal found in Romans 12.

 Just before this chapter in Romans, Paul speaks of the grafting in of the Gentile believers (Romans 11).  Chapter 12 then is a continuation, as noted by the word "therefore" in Rom. 12:1.  Paul is appealing to the believers to be fully devoted to God by presenting their bodies to God as living sacrifices.  Now, you may or may not know that the English language is not a highly inflective language, meaning that grammatical components such as mood, tense, voice, and number altar the word in an influential way.  However, Biblical Greek (what the New Testament was written in, along with Aramaic) is highly inflective.  Take the word 'love' for instance.  In English 'love' is... 'love', no inflection.  I 'love' you (as a friend), I 'love' you (intimately, on a deeper level).  I may say that I love spaghetti, but I do not love spaghetti as much as I love my wife, nor do I love spaghetti the way I love my wife!  This is where Greek gets interesting and exciting, because of the highly inflective nature of Greek, the word love may have different meanings depending on certain endings and grammatical structures (like the statement in English, which is inflective, but in a different sort of way "I will go to the store" or "I went to the store").  Depending once again on the endings and other grammatical components, the Greek word for love may mean an intimate love such as that between husband and wife, or it may mean a brotherly love such as that which we may say of our friends.  There are other meanings and inflections of love, but I think you get the point.

Now if I can get back (sorry, my ADD) to Paul's use, and the English translation "body" in Rom. 12:1...  The word here for "body" really is an all-encompassing word, literally meaning our entire being, physical, spiritual, and mental.  Paul is saying to the Romans that they need to present their entire lives to God as living sacrifices!  As a living sacrifice, believers are to live their lives for the glory of God.  Praise be to God that Jesus has already served as the substitution for the atonement sacrifice (remember, in the Old Testament, the people offered animal sacrifices...).  Now it is our role to give our lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel.

But, it is the second verse (Rom. 12:2) that I want to focus on.  Paul says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind...".  This brings up the question, how are we transformed?  and how do we renew our minds?  Let me point out that Paul does not say that we renew our minds, or that we transform our minds.  He simply says that we are to "be" transformed and "be" renewed.  So... who does the work of transformation and renewing?  The Holy Spirit of course!  But, God cannot do this without our willingness to be open to him and his leading.  Our work is pointed out in the second half of this verse, as Paul says that "by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect".  To me, this seems to be responsive on our part.  After we have been transformed and renewed by Christ through giving of our whole selves (remember Rom. 12:1?), we are then able to recognize God's will for our lives, and this is also where I believe we realize that the desires of our hearts have been molded to fit God's perfect plan.  How awesome is that?

A look at transformation and renewal in this passage is not complete if we do not view it within context of what is to follow in Rom. 12:3-21.  After talking about the importance of humility and the variety and use of gifts, Paul leads into the marks of true Christianity (marks of transformation and renewal, maybe?).  This is where the "how" really begins to take shape when thinking about our transformation and renewal.  Notice that what Paul says here are things that are really quite contrary to the world's way of thinking: "bless those who persecute you" Rom. 12:14, "Repay no one evil for evil..." Rom. 12:17.  How can anyone do these things?  Not through their own power, but by the "transforming and renewal of your mind...", as worked only through the power of God through the Holy Spirit.

So, as you reflect on your baptism in light of what God has already done for you, be encouraged that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." - Philippians 1:6.

Write a comment to let me know what you think about this passage!

Grace and Peace,


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