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Be transformed by the renewal of your mind

Romans 12v2

26th April 2019

Last week, we considered:

Romans 12v1
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

We saw that we're "works in progress", not fully sacrificed to our Lord, and I suggested that the key to further progress lies in the next verse:

Romans 12v2
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.

I think far too much Christian preaching and teaching is about transforming the renewing of our actions, but God doesn't just want to transform our actions; He wants to transform our minds.

If you read the Bible in a very superficial way, you can find 97 things that a good Christian does, and 117 things that a good Christian doesn't do, and you can try to keep these tick lists in your brain, try to do all the good things and try not to do all the bad things. But it's so hard even to remember them, let alone do them, if your mind hasn't been transformed. God wants to change us from the inside out. God doesn't just want us to try to look like we're respectable Christians. God want to renew our minds. He wants to change how we think. And if our minds are renewed, then our actions will be transformed.

The Greek word "metanoia", which English versions translate as "repentance" doesn't really mean "stopping doing bad things", although many Christian preachers seem to think it does. It doesn't mean "changing your actions". It means "changing your mind", "changing how you think".

And here's the key: if you change your mind, your actions will naturally change. Your actions, your life, will be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

I'll give you a silly example. A young child might not realise that a fire is hot. A parent will try to change the child's mind. "Try to learn, dear, this fire is hot. If you put your hand in the fire, it will hurt". Some children change their mind by listening to Mum or Dad, and some change their mind by sticking their hand in the fire. But either way, you change your mind, and you don't do it anymore. Your actions will change because you've learnt something new, you think differently.

And the real purpose of Christian preaching, and the main purpose of Bible study, is not to change how you live; it's to change how you think. Because if you change how you think, it will change how you live.

Now and again, a well-meaning but foolish Christian brother will come up to you and say "Dear brother, I think you should do this. Dear sister, I think you shouldn't do that". They usually mean well, but it's usually just annoying when they do it, because they're talking about actions; they're not talking about thoughts. We need a reason why we should act differently, and we need to believe that the reason is a good one.

If you see why a particular sin is bad, you'll have much more motivation not to do it. And it's the same with going to church. How many times have you heard someone say that a Christian ought to go to church? Well, it's true, but we're far more likely to go if someone gives us a reason why we ought to go. Nobody is motivated by being told about another rule they have to keep.

Obviously, we should all act in a way that demonstrates that we love Jesus. Some Christians try to achieve this by criticising themselves and others for failing, but a far kinder, and far more effective, way to live better lives is to love Jesus and the Bible more. If you love Jesus more, you will act as if you love Jesus more. If you love the Bible more, you will obey the Bible more.

This is the new covenant, isn't it? God promised through Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 31v33
"This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord."I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people"

Here, God promises to change us so we want to do the right thing, and to give us understanding of why what is right is right, and why what is wrong is wrong, to motivate us to do the right things. In short, God wants to change how we think, so doing the right thing becomes natural for us.

More on this next time.