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God’s Goal for Us
The event of surrender is followed by the process of transformation, and this brings us to the heart of Paul’s concern in these verses. Surrender is not an end in itself but is the means to a much greater end. For God’s ultimate goal is not simply the forgiveness of our sins or even the improvement of our moral life; it is the transformation of our lives into the very image of Christ. Phrased differently, it is the restoration of God’s image in us, which was disfigured at the Fall.
The word Paul uses for transform is the same word translated “transfigure” in the Gospels to describe the change that Jesus experienced on the mount (Luke 9:28–36). The process begins on earth and ends in heaven, but we are called to make as much progress as we can while still alive.
Transformation into Christ’s image is not an easy matter, nor is it quick. Paul knew that all people have been shaped and powerfully influenced by the values, attitudes, desires, and behaviors of the fallen world—that every human being is in a process of “spiritual formation.” The only question is which spirit is doing the forming: the spirit of the world or the Spirit of God? He also knew that coming to faith in Jesus, though it changes the human heart in a fundamental way, doesn’t produce instant perfection. Because the pressures to conform to the world’s ways is very powerful, Paul exhorts the Romans to do two things. First, “Do not be conformed to this world,” (Rom. 12:2), or as the Phillips paraphrase puts it, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” The idea is to stop allowing yourself to be formed and shaped by the spirit and behaviors of the fallen world. This means that we identify and forsake worldly ways of thinking and behaving. Second, Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” that is, “Let God remold your minds from within” (PHILLIPS). The passive voice here reminds us that it is ultimately God who changes us; we cannot do it in our unaided strength. As Paul said earlier, it is by the Spirit that we put to death the works of the body (Rom. 8:13).
Type A’s and perfectionists must be careful here that they don’t get discouraged and give up because they can’t achieve 100% in this life. Like everyone, they must aim high and be earnest while realizing that perfection doesn’t come until we reach heaven. But meaningful progress here is possible and vitally important for God’s glory, for us personally and for our rewards in the world to come. The Holy Spirit brings this transformation chiefly through the Word He inspired—the Bible. The more we learn of the Word under the Spirit’s teaching, the more we will see God’s truth, understand His will, learn His ways, and thereby recognize and forsake remaining sin in our lives. Active fellowship and regular attendance in a church that preaches and teaches the Bible as the Word of God is essential.
Romans 12:2 reinforces the fact that total surrender to God is just the beginning of a lifelong process of putting off the world’s ways, putting to death the deeds of the body, and being transformed into the likeness of Christ through the power of the Spirit. It also helps explain why some believers who have been truly converted but are not fully committed experience so much defeat and so little change. They have their feet in two worlds. They are trying to have it both ways. They have too much of the world in them to enjoy God and too much of God to enjoy the world.
Is that you, or someone you know? Whether from ignorance, misguided teaching, fear of trusting God, or rebelliousness, the way we break out of this bondage into the abundant life with Christ is to present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice and let Him lead us from there.
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