I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1–2)
We are all familiar with these two verses, but as I read them the other day, I was struck by the fact that we seldom hear them together. Usually, it’s one or the other, and so we miss the very vital connection between the two. It’s no accident that renew your mind comes after present your bodies. In fact, it may well be the reason why so many believers struggle to achieve the transformation the second verse promises.
We cannot separate renew your mind from present your body.
When we read the two verses together, we see that presenting ourselves as a perfect sacrifice is the first step in the process of transformation. In other words, to renew your mind first entails surrender, a yielding to God, a willingness to submit all to His sovereign will, grace, and power. From a purely practical point of view, the mind is intimately connected with the body. We were all mind-driven before salvation. As the centre of our thoughts, intentions, desires, and actions, the mind dictated to the body what it should or shouldn’t do.
Now, however, we’re supposed to live differently. The real truth is that the mind doesn’t let go so easily. It wants to remain in control, and manipulates the body towards self-gratification. The first step is to place the body under the control of God. The body is no longer the mind’s ally and slave. It’s now subject to the will of God, holy and acceptable to Him. It makes perfect sense, because surrendering the body to Him effectively strips the mind of its power and control. Then, and only then, can He renew your mind.
To renew your mind, it must first be isolated.
That’s the simple principle contained in these verses. Of course, it’s still a formidable enemy. It has a lifetime of conditioning and learned thoughts and responses. It has spent our entire lives creating a system of self-preservation, self-gratification, and self-glorification. Surrendering yourself as a living sacrifice means you’re giving God full access to effect the transformation He desires. It’s like giving Him the key to house where your mind lives. Once He’s in – once the house is under His control – He can then work to renew your mind.
The first step to renew your mind, then, is to give God your body. Of course, none of us are instantly ‘holy and acceptable to God’ and we still have an ongoing battle with the mind. Our minds want to snatch back control, and they exert an inordinate amount of pressure to achieve this. The battle explains our struggle against sin, our weakness, and our easy slide into old habits. The mind doesn’t want to be renewed. It doesn’t want to relinquish control. It will batter us with a constant stream of familiar and learned responses, many of which are instinctual. The body has been trained to respond to the mind, and yielding the body to God is only the first step.
You cannot renew your mind or transform yourself.
This is a truth that has many believers in a constant struggle they cannot win. It’s also why it’s so important to read these two verses together. The moment we focus on the command to renew your mind only, we place ourselves in the dangerous situation where we somehow make it our responsibility. The absolute truth is that we do not have the power to do it. Only God, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit working with in you, can renew your mind.
By assuming the responsibility for it, we’re actually playing into the mind’s need for control. The ‘I have to do it’ mentality is simply a deception of the mind – one which keeps us bound because it seems spiritually correct. How often have we heard a preacher tell us this? Variations on ‘renew your mind’ abound, all of which create the incorrect perception that it’s something we have to do and we immediately remove God from the process. What we’re doing is effectively withdrawing from our surrender as living sacrifices. We’re restoring control to the mind, even though we may believe that we are yielded and obedient.
While God alone can renew your mind, you have to be part of the process.
It’s an absolute truth that only God has the power to renew your mind, but this doesn’t mean that believers have no part in the process. We must be willing participants. Presenting ourselves to Him as living sacrifices is our first contribution. Yielding control is, first and foremost, our choice. If we don’t yield, He won’t work in us. It’s also important that our surrender is a daily surrender. Things get in the way, distract us, and diminish our yieldedness. Self, through the mind, constantly seeks to regain control, and it’s vitally important that we present ourselves to God daily. It must be a conscious choice each and every day to surrender to the will of God.
We may not even realise that our submission is compromised. The ‘little foxes’ creep in unnoticed, and before we know it, the vines are spoilt. Daily confession and repentance, and daily surrender, are what we can and should do. While you cannot renew your mind, you can keep yourself in the place where you willingly allow God to work.
What it really means to renew your mind.
It’s dangerous to take things at face value, and the statement that the responsibility to renew your mind isn’t yours can be deceptive. The truth of this does not diminish the fact that we must participate in the process and avail ourselves of the things God uses to effect transformation. He has provided us with His Word, fellowship, worship, praise, thanksgiving, and prayer. God’s responsibility is to renew your mind. Your responsibility is to willingly participate by using the tools He has given.
Ultimately, each of these tools has a far greater purpose. They strengthen the relationship we have with Him, and they make surrender easier. The most powerful antidote to the mind is the Word of God, but it’s useless unless we make the effort to get it. The more of Word we put inside us, the more He will have to work with. It’s not going to be an instant ‘quick fix.’ To renew your mind takes time and effort, but in building relationship with God. He is the focus, not the renewing. When we fix our eyes on Him and immerse ourselves in His Word, He will empower it to transform us.
The way to renew your mind is to build relationship with God.
Our verses today have one ‘destination’ and that is knowing the good, perfect, acceptable will of God. In other words, His will rather than our will. This implies knowing God, which in turn implies relationship – spending time with Him. As we yield to Him, spend time with Him and in His Word, worship and praise Him, and learn from others in fellowship, we draw closer to Him. The wonderful part of this intimacy means that, as you simply focus on Him, He will renew your mind. The more of Him we have in our lives, the less space there is for anything else. To renew your mind, simply love God with all that you are, have, and can be. He will do the rest.
Father, thank You for Your grace. Help us to surrender to You daily, and so remain in Your presence. Stir up in us a hunger and thirst for You and Your Word, so that as we immerse ourselves in You, You are able to renew our minds and set us free from the bondage of self.