What comes to mind when you read Romans 12:2 and see the words “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”? It probably means more than you think, and the point of the verse isn’t necessarily about you.
Bringing Opposites Together Makes a Powerful Combination
One overarching theme of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is that both Gentiles and Jewish people are part of God’s plan to build his people. He starts to develop this theme in the opening chapters and returns to it over and over. By the time you read chapters 10 and 11 it is clear he considers this joining of Gentile and Jew into the people of God to be one of God’s main goals.
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. … But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:1, 16.)
This failure to believe the gospel is not fatal to their salvation, though. The interplay between Israel and the Gentile believers is not over.
Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. … If some of the branches [Israel] have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.(Romans 11:11, 17-18.)
This back and forth between Israel and Gentiles which began in chapters 1 and 2 has reached a climax in chapter 11 which then results in this outpouring of praise which includes an interesting line about the mind of God:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36.)
Then the reader soon comes to the verse about renewing your own mind.
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.)
What is the pattern of the world Paul refers to here? In the context of all the chapters leading up to this point, it appears to be the pattern of looking at people as either being on the inside or the outside, as either being us or them. And what is this about God’s own will? It is to see all people, whether Jewish or Gentile, as being in the same family.
The New Way of Thinking Fulfills God’s Eternal Plan
Paul says to stop thinking the old way – the world’s way – and renew your mind about it. The world may divide people up, but God brings people together. He grafts them into the same tree, to use Paul’s metaphor.
The point of renewing your mind becomes clear as you read on. It is about dropping a sense of superiority and accepting one another.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:3-5.)
This sense of superiority – sometimes even a sense of entitlement – is still “the pattern of this world” that you see around you every day. It is this which Paul cautions against. Change the way you look on others and you’ll change the way you act toward others. These go hand in hand, as the lead-in to verse 2 shows.
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 true and proper worship. 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 12:1-2.)
Change the way you act, change the way you think, and in all of it be humble because it is all part of God’s plan and not your own. As for what this looks like in your life, Paul provides a list of actions* at the end of chapter 12, culminating in:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21.)
This is the evidence of a renewed mind, one that no longer divides people into us versus them but sees everyone as someone God desires to bring into his family, someone you can be good to.
So renew your mind to God’s plan and live out that reality.
*Paul’s guidelines for living with a renewed mind:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21.)