Obedience. It’s what loving parents teach their children, to be obedient for their own good. In fact, we tell our children what to do and what not to do ALL THE TIME because children, left to their own devices, are foolish. Likewise, in Romans 12:2 our Heavenly Father gives us two imperatives; Do not, but be.
The first command, “Do not be conformed to this world,” is a powerful statement. It implies danger and choice. I remember when, as a toddler, my youngest son, Ryan, was trying to see what was on top of the stove while I was cooking. “Don’t touch the stove,” I warned, “It’s hot.” But, instead of backing away he plopped his hand on top of the stove and burned himself. I didn’t tell him he would get hurt but I did tell him not to touch the stove. Yes, his disobedience led to pain but he never did it again. Ryan tells us today that he knew right from wrong growing up. “You were good parents,” he told us. “I chose to do things I knew were wrong at times because I wanted to do them.”
Isn’t that like all of us? We are not ignorant of God’s Word, we just want to do what we want to do regardless of the consequences. So, when God says, “do not be conformed to this world,” what does that mean? What is it that we are not supposed to do? Well, I believe the answer is in a previous chapter of Romans. Romans 1 lays out a blueprint for what not to do as a child of God. It’s a “how to” manual for rejecting God, the One who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. It says, basically, don’t do whatever you want to do, acting like God doesn’t exist, or if He does He isn’t Holy or loving or even The Righteous Judge. Don’t be deceived, don’t be sexually immoral, a drunkard, etc. But more importantly, don’t turn your back on God and worship the created (yourself or anything else) rather than the Creator. In short, don’t try to be satisfied with anything other than Me.
The second imperative in Romans 12:2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” is mysterious until you dig into the statement. “But be transformed” means “to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure,” from the Greek word metamorphoō (Strong’s G3339). Think butterfly. How are we to change into another form? By the renewing of our minds! This is our sanctifying cocoon. Instead of being someone who is pulled toward the world, wants our own way no matter what the consequences, desires to be fulfilled at the expense of other people, indulgent and disobedient to God, we can be transformed into an other-centered person who loves God and is compelled by His great love to a life of obedience, denying fleshly desires, and following Him even when we don’t fully understand.
This happens when we allow ourselves to be exposed to God’s promises and choose to believe Him over our impulses and feelings. Even though, as Christians, we are no longer caterpillars we can choose to stay in the cocoon even after God has given us wings. Or, we can choose to press in and allow God to do the painful work of sanctification in order that we may burst out by faith, trusting that He has given us new life and the ability to “fly” by His power. We no longer have to let the world pull us down, keeping us grounded in defeat. We can live in the reality of our new life in christ. The story of the Ugly Duckling is a perfect illustration. In the end the “duck” realizes he is a swan. He has been a swan. He belongs to a beautiful family of swans and no longer has to try to be a duck or feel ashamed that he is not accepted by the ducks because he doesn’t belong to the duck family anymore. He is something new altogether. So are you if you have received the gift God has given us in Jesus.
Why do we still choose to walk around on our little caterpillar legs eating milkweed when we have wings and can drink the nectar of fruits and flowers? God has given us His Word so we can live in freedom today. Not in Heaven only but right now. I can hear God saying, “I love you so much I chose to take all the pain and suffering of disobedience. I want you to live in reality. I want you to fly and glorify Me as the sunlight bounces off your wings.” You are free if you have believed that God exists and Jesus has died for your sins and rose again from the dead, proving He is the Son of God. If you don’t believe it then you are thinking like the world thinks and God is calling you to renew your mind with His Word. Sit at His feet. Meditate on His promises. Read the Gospels, shedding tears of joy because, “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!” John 8:36