When my children were little, a new kind of toy hit the market. A car or a lorry or some other vehicle that could – with a few deft twists – be transformed into a robot or a plane or a rocket-ship. What fun! Except that only six-year-olds could work them. The kids would sigh and roll their eyes as I fumbled with the gadget, getting it all wrong of course. By the time I would give it back to them, the toy was often unrecognisable as either car or robot – some mangled hybrid between the two. Transformation: it’s a tricky business I tell you.
But in Romans chapter 12, Paul suggests that transformation is expected of us. The Apostle sets the idea up by way of a contrast:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2)
The contrast clearly sets up “this world” as the bad example; the one we are not supposed to end up like. But the world isn’t just a passive example; a simple instruction sheet with diagrams explaining how to conform. No, Paul implies that the world is actively working to make us think worldly. To be conformed is to be moulded into a shape like jelly. It’s something that happens from the outside, the result of heat and pressure forcing us to go along with what the world wants us to be. I could take one of those toy cars and hammer it or melt it into something else, but it wouldn’t work right anymore, it wouldn’t fulfil its design. When we, as Christians, allow the world to press us into a mould we weren’t designed for, we don’t work right either.
The world’s mould for us is clearly displayed everywhere we look. As far as the world is concerned we were designed for more sex, more money, more celebrity. And the world has promised that it can provide us with all the above – if we go along. You only have to watch a few minutes of TV or glance at the hoardings on the high street to work that out. But the Bible has its own catchphrase for such out-of-control appetites:
…the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (1 John 2:16)
And John goes on to assert that this way of thinking is:
…not from the Father but is from the world.
The alternative is to allow a transformation to take place: a transformation in our thinking. God has spiritually designed each of us to work in a particular way, to fulfil a particular design. In order for that to happen we need to think differently from the world’s way of thinking: by the renewal of your mind says Paul (Romans 12:2). It happens when we start to run every decision through the filter that he provides at the end of the verse:
…what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Any decision, every idea has to allow for this line of thinking. Some decisions are trivial, and easy to settle (“toast or cornflakes?”) but others have more grit to them. “Should I be watching this show?” “Is this conversation turning into gossip?” “What am I doing here again?” Little by little, as we allow our minds to be renewed by honestly asking ourselves the gritty questions, a transformed life starts to take shape.