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 12:2
While studying this past week, I discovered something that I had never noticed about the passage above. Hang with me for a couple of technical sentences, because there is a nice payoff on the other side. You get a gold star for intellectual accomplishment if you make it to the end.
Both of the key verbs in this text, conformed and transformed, are in what is called the passive imperative. (Verb tense is very important in the Greek language, because it points you to the type of action and the state of the action.) This means that conforming and transforming are actually done to you, rather than something performed by you. The Greek tense also means you are commanded to avoid conforming to the world, while allowing yourself to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Being conformed to the patterns of the world is completely normal. It’s the default response to the pressures of life, which is why commentator J.B. Phillips translates it as: “Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold”. We must resist the conforming power of this present evil age. There is a worldview and system of thinking that passively allows the world to dictate how we live. If we don’t obey the command to fight against it, we will be drawn into the vortex of worldly living.
However, the admonition against conforming to the patterns of this world is juxtaposed with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. This change agent is not something we should resist but rather something we should embrace. Allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us actually makes us look more and more like the spiritual beings that we already are. The same verb is only used in the New Testament a couple of times. The first is when Jesus is transfigured/transformed out of his physical flesh and into his spiritual body, and the second is when Paul describes our spiritual transformation:
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.
— 2 Corinthians 3:18
There is something spiritually glorious about allowing God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves: be transformed.
It is therefore possible that our inner, spiritual selves can come forth and be displayed in the behavior and actions of our physical bodies. All of this starts with the renewal of the mind. We have to rework the way that we think and process information. The outward expression of our spiritual transformation must begin with internal renewal. We are to open our minds to the words of God, the truth about God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We should saturate our minds with what God says rather than listening to the worldly voices that seek to sidetrack us.
So the next time you begin to think that you can’t change your behavior, go ahead and accept that you can’t, because you were never meant to. Trust instead that the transformation is done by God, and that is a glorious gold star worth waiting for.