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.
Can people ever really change?
This was a debate I often had with one of my college roommates. He thought your personality is like a foundation – you might change the things you like doing or your favorite foods – but your core being doesn’t change. I thought that experience changes your core being; shifts in your personality or interests are an outpouring of that changed core.
Hey, we didn’t watch sports, so we had to talk about something, okay? These were the days before YouTube.
Have you ever thought about change? They say change is a fact of life, so we’ve all experienced it. We’ve gotten new jobs or changed houses or met new people, sure, but how often have you changed your core being? Is that even possible? And, let’s say you were able to change yourself, what would that look like?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he talked about this very idea of personal change. He challenged Jewish and Gentile Christians to set aside differences to come together in Christ. They could never do that unless they adjusted their priorities. This change in priority isn’t something superficial or easy. Read what he says in 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
There’s so much to pick apart in that verse, but so often we zero in on that word “transform.” We’ve all seen the explosionfest which is Michael Bay’s Transformers movie (you know, the one about the cars that turn into robots who make jokes about farts and pee pee while Shia Lebeuf shouts “no” for two-and-a-half hours). If Michael Bay can make a movie about it, then we know that transformation is not a new or complex concept.
As I read that verse, my mind goes back to those debates with my roommate. When wrestling with the concept of change, we always relied on examples of external, superficial changes. Say you always loved seafood, but then one time you order catfish and gag on a little bone left inside. Now, whenever you think of seafood, you gag. That’s an example of personal change.
But that’s not what Paul is talking about in Romans 12:2.
You see, with a surface-level understanding of transformation, we think of those moments in life when something shifts in us. Maybe it’s a change in our hobbies. Or maybe it’s a sudden moment of inspiration. For some people, it’s that moment you see a commercial for starving children, so you decide to send some money to that charity. And for others, it’s that time you felt convicted to go to church even though you were, like, really tired.
We cheapen the meaning of the word “transform” when we use it to describe that single moment of conviction; something that changes us for a moment, but allows us to live the exact same way. In Romans 12:2, the word transform in the original Greek is μεταμορφόω (metamorphoó). This is where we get the word metamorphosis.
Think about butterflies. They start as caterpillars, undergo metamorphosis, then are completely and forever changed into butterflies. They used to crawl on the ground, but now they fly. That’s a complete and total transformation.
When Paul tells us that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds, he’s talking about this same complete and total transformation. Not only are we forever changed, but we’re unrecognizable compared to our previous selves. We allow Christ into our minds and hearts in such a way that we become something new. Our priorities shift. Our selfish nature is stripped away. Our sinful inclinations are destroyed.
Unlike butterflies, however, this level of transformation requires a constant renewal. See, butterflies never have to renew their metamorphosis. If they slack on their diet or tease the nerd butterflies, they will never turn back into caterpillars. Their metamorphosis isn’t a choice, but a requirement of their existence.
For us, transformation is not a requirement. And if we lose our passion or if we drift away from God’s call, then we’ll lose it, transforming back into our previous self. That’s why Paul’s challenge is for us to continually seek ways to renew our minds. We are called to move so far beyond our natural tendencies that we can’t exist as this new being without Christ.
Transformation is so much more than those changes to our interests and hobbies. Transformation is more than just changing a car to a robot – it’s about changing from a Michael Bay movie to a good movie.
We are called to be more than just worms crawling around in the dirt, following our most basic instincts. We are called to be radiant beings, soaring through the air with a new sense of purpose. Forever.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
- How would you recognize if you’ve been “transformed?”
- What does it mean to undergo a “renewing of your mind?”
- What is one of your wants or desires that would be challenged if you experienced a true transformation?
- Leviticus 20:26
- Romans 12:1-2
- 2 Corinthians 4:16
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