"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your [heartfelt priestly service of worship]. Do not be conformed 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" (Rom. 12: 1-2).
In a former post (A Daily Routine, June 9, 2012) I analyzed the underlying metaphor that Paul gives us in Romans 12: 1. Just like the physical daily ritual that the priests went through when they offered up the whole burnt offering (Lev. 1), we are now called to offer up a sacrificial offering, our own bodies, but not through a physical act. Instead, our sacrifice is from our hearts by an act of submission. This is our "heartfelt priestly service of worship."
The animal being offered in the Old Testament system had to be without blemish or defect. That is, it was to be "holy." Paul tells us that we are also to be "holy and pleasing to God."
Holiness means to be separated--separated from the world and separated to God in such a way that we are morally pure. Verse two expands on this idea of holiness. Rather than being conformed to the pattern that the world wants to imprint on us, we are to be "transformed" by the renewing of our minds.
The signet ring of the king had a pattern worked into it. When he wanted to send a special letter, hot wax would be poured over the flap and the ring would be pressed into the hot wax to seal the letter. The wax "conformed" to the imprint of the ring. All who are born into this world are being imprinted with the pattern of this world. In Ephesians 2: 1-3, Paul says we are all subject to the prince of the power of the air. "All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts..." (Eph. 2: 3).
In Eph. 4: 22 and 24, Paul also calls us to a holy transformation. Our old self, that was conformed to the pattern of the world, is like an old set of clothing that needs to be taken off. The new self is like a new set of clothing to be put on. But between these two verses is an interesting statement: "be renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Eph. 4: 23). Once again, Paul says that the power of our transformation--from the old, worldly self to the new, godly self--is the renewal of our minds.
Notice that the renewal of the mind is not a "healing of the brain." When we come to Christ, our gray matter remains unchanged. But the patterns imprinted on that gray matter, the software that runs on that hardware, begins a process of change.
So just how do we change?
First, we change our allegiance. No longer are we living life as if we are the sovereign. The very act of salvation is a submission of my will to Him. He is now the Lord of my life. Like the sacrificial bull, I lay down my life on His altar. I take up my cross daily to follow His will for my life. I no longer am living to gratify "the cravings of my flesh and following its desires and thoughts" (Eph. 2:3). Instead, I am seeking to live a life of complete submission to Him. I leave my own kingdom behind and enter His Kingdom.
Second, I begin to fill myself with His Word. Our Lord has given us special revelation that communicates His heart to us. "The Word of God is living and powerful, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb. 4: 12). But just head knowledge will not change us. We must seek to actually DO what it says. "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says..."(Jas. 1: 22).
Third, we must live out the Christian life in community with other believers. "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another..." (Heb. 10: 23-25). The greatest commandment Jesus gave was that we should "love one another" (John 13: 34). It is impossible to fulfill this command alone. The only way to love one another is to gather together in community.
Finally, we have been given the "Holy" Spirit. God's Spirit indwells us at the moment we are born again and marks us with a "seal" that sets us apart from the world and identifies us as belonging to God. We must continually ask Him to fill us with His Spirit. "Do not be drunk with wine (that is, don't be controlled by the spirit of alcohol), but be filled with the Spirit (that is, be controlled by the Spirit that makes you holy)" (Eph. 5: 18).
Submission. Being filled with and doing the Word. Gathering together as the Body of Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit. Through this we will be renewed in our minds so that we can truly be transformed into the holy and pleasing people who demonstrate God's will, lived out through us.