I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. 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.
‘There is no longer a Christian mind’, wrote Harry Blamires in his classic book, The Christian Mind, first published in 1963. The proliferation of publications on the topic since then suggests it’s an ongoing issue. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as each generation seeks to discover afresh what it means to love God with all our mind.
For Paul too, the ‘true and proper worship’ to which we are called involves not just the offering of our bodies but the renewing of our minds. The two go together. It’s possible, though admittedly not easy, to be disciplined with one’s body – to control it, to exercise it, to curb its appetites. But what’s in view here is not merely an outward rule over the body without also an inward renewal of the mind.
Negatively, it means not being conformed to the pattern of ‘this world’ where (as Paul describes in Romans 1:18-32) our minds and hearts are turned away from God. Positively, it involves being ‘transformed’, a verb Paul uses elsewhere only in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where he writes about believers being progressively transformed into Christ’s image. In both places, what’s in view is nothing less than a fundamental makeover at the deepest level of our humanity, a new creation.
So, being renewed in our mind is not first and foremost about being clever. It’s a whole new mindset, a radical perceptual shift where everything is viewed differently because of who we are in Christ. That in turn involves a whole new desire to live a different way, which may well go against the prevailing current, and a whole new set of habits.
To be sure, the old habits are still around, and I may well spot some of them at work in me today: preserving the ongoing rift in the family because of my pride; jealousy and insecurity with the more-talented colleague; self-pity; chronic ingratitude. But where the mind’s habits and dispositions used to go one way following the pattern of this present age, they can now be reshaped according to the new age which has broken in with the events of the gospel.
Such a transformation – a change of mind – comes about not by screwing up our effort or focusing ever inward, but by drawing on God’s mercy shown in Jesus, who makes it possible to live a renewed life from the inside-out.