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A Lesson from Paul on Transformation

December 13, 2017

I’ve always enjoyed stories of rapid spiritual transformation, because they remind me that no one is beyond the gracious work of God.

The Apostle Paul experienced a dramatic story of radical transformation. He was actively persecuting Christians until Jesus met him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Paul’s life was immediately turned around. From that point forward he advocated for the gospel of Jesus Christ as zealously as he had persecuted Christians in the past.

Paul knows something about spiritual transformation. Paul wrote Romans 12:1-2 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, teaching us out of his experience of transformation.

In view of God’s Mercy

Paul begins:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God… (Romans 12:1)

God, in his great mercy, sent Jesus to suffer the penalty for our sin. Titus tells us:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior… (Titus 3:4-6)

What will it take to transform my heart to be more like Christ’s? I cannot do it; only God can transform a heart. Jesus Christ made that possible by dying the death I deserved and offering me the life he lived.

Living Sacrifices

To present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… (Romans 12:1)

When we’re sure that God is merciful, then we will gladly offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy, and pleasing to him.

Sacrifices in Paul’s day were known to be dead animals, but Paul instructs us to offer our own bodies as living sacrifices. He encourages Christians to willingly resign their entire beings to God and his purposes for them. Complete surrender is necessary.

Paul offered his body as a living sacrifice, and his physical trials were legendary; shipwreck, beatings, and hunger, to name just a few (2 Corinthians 11:24-30).

Paul knew God’s mercy, and in response he offered all of himself as a living sacrifice. He trusted God, boasting in his physical trials of his own weakness and of God’s greatness (2 Corinthians 11:30). Surely God used those situations to transform Paul, and Paul exhorts us that knowing Christ is worth it all (Philippians 3:8).

Your Spiritual Worship

…Which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

How should we worship the God who made a way for the likes of us to be called his children? What honor can we show God, who saved us by his grace?

Paul said that, in view of God’s mercy, we are to surrender our bodies to the Lord as living sacrifices, and this is our spiritual worship.

Interestingly, Paul did not say that we must merely offer our minds full of correct doctrine, our voices in song, or our service in church. He said we must offer our bodies—period. He meant that our living is now worshipping. We worship God when we work, when we interact with friends and family, and, yes, also when we go to church.

Do Not Conform to the World

Do not be conformed to this world… (Romans 12:2)

Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, and everyone who is in Christ is part of his Kingdom. Therefore, Christians live in the world but belong to the kingdom of God simultaneously, and we must choose which one we will live for.

Jesus had no use for the kind of power, wealth, status, and success that is valued on earth. He knew he had immeasurable power and wealth, because all things are under his feet. Therefore, worldly fame and fortune are worthless to him (1 Corinthians 15:27).

Paul urges us to resist the pattern of the world. The more we trust God, recognizing his mercy, and the more we surrender to and worship him, the better we’ll be able to defy worldly attitudes.

By the grace of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). In Christ, then, we also know, discern, and pursue true heavenly treasure—the riches that are ours in Christ the King—from worldly treasure.

Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind

…But be transformed by the renewal of your mind… (Romans 12:2)

As we resist the world, we intentionally renew our minds with God’s Word. God gave us his Word, and reading it is the best way to renew our minds. Read his Word every day. Memorize it, ponder it, and apply it.

It takes the supernatural work of God to transform us, but renewing our minds is a means by which God chooses to perform his transformative work. We can read, study, and apply his Word, but we depend on the Holy Spirit to transform us. He will, for he promises:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)

Discern What is the Will of God

…That by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

I often want to know God’s will, and I suspect you do too. Prayer, God’s Word, and other believers are all parts of the discernment process.

And God’s Word tells us here that: When we surrender our lives to God in view of his mercy, worship him with everything we are, resist the pattern of the world, and renew our minds by his Spirit, then we will be able to discern God’s will.

For most of us, transformation doesn’t happen so rapidly like it did for Paul. And even Paul spent three years in Arabia before he actually began to preach the gospel (Galatians 1:11-17). The transformation on the road to Damascus was no doubt the start of a lifelong work of God.

Are you willing, in light of God’s mercy, to offer your existence to him, to resist the world, and to renew your mind? I hope so, because as we do these things, the Spirit will transform our minds to be more like that of Jesus Christ:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

The Author
Judy Allen

Judy Allen is an area director of Community Bible Study in Arlington Heights, Ill.,, and she writes at Connecting Dots to God. Judy also enjoys reading, walking, hiking, and spending time with family and friends.

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