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
There is a proper response to God’s mercy and grace. It’s taking our bodies and using them for his glory rather than our own happiness. The world says that the entire purpose of our lives is to indulge in personal pleasure. God, however, has a bigger agenda. He saved us for a divine purpose. We are to use our bodies to serve him. This service is an act of worship. This means we can work, play, study or date in a way that is worship.
Now hang with me for a couple of technical sentences, because there is a nice payoff on the other side. You get the gold star of intellectual accomplishment if you make it to the end.
Both of the key verbs in the next verse, 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.) What this means is 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 normal patterns of the world (dating patterns, for the sake of our current series) is completely normal. It is the default response to the pressures of life. This is why commentator JB 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, then we will be drawn into the vortex of worldly living and dating. Our sexual ethic will fall lockstep with the world’s.
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 actually 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, even in regards to sexual expression. 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 without God, because you were never meant to. But trust that the transformation of our bodies is done by God, and that is a glorious gold star worth waiting for.