Pastor David B. Curtis


How Are We Transformed?

Romans 12:2

Delivered 07/01/2012

Last week we began the final section of the book of Romans that runs from 12:1 thru 16:27. We only looked at verse one last week:

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Romans 12:1 NASB

After eleven chapters of doctrine, Paul urges the believers to present themselves to Yahweh. The dedication of the Christian is urged because of the mercies of God described in previous chapters. This presentation of ourselves is not in order to win God's favor, but to express our deep gratitude because of His favor.

Bodies here is soma, which to the Jews was a term that embraced the whole of the person--it encompassed mind, emotions, will, and physical being. The Complete Jewish Bible captures the Hebraic flavor translating it:

I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical "Temple worship" for you. Romans 12:1 CJB

Notice that it says, "offer yourselves," not bodies, because the Jews thought of soma as the whole person. And it says, "it is the logical 'Temple worship' for you." Paul does here with Temple worship as he did with circumcision in 2:25-29.

Look at the words Paul uses here: In verse 1 we have the words, present (paristemi); sacrifice (thusia); and worship (latreia); which are all Cultic terms used in the Levitical offerings of the Old Covenant. Paul is saying again, it is no longer physical, no longer confined to a place and people; it is now spiritual, it has no ethnicity and no boundaries. All believers are priests who are to offer up spiritual sacrifices to Yahweh.

So in 12:1, Paul is calling the believers in Rome, and I believe all believers, to present their lives for service to God. Our dedication to God is a response to the mercy of God that we receive in salvation. Believers, this verse is very applicable to us today, we have received the mercies of Yahweh, and we are to serve Him offering up spiritual sacrifices.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 NASB

With the exception of John Gill, at least he was the only exception that I could find, all commentators interpret this verse something like this: "Twenty first century Christians are not to be conformed to the world's thought patterns and practices, but be transformed, be different than the world around you, by renewing your mind through a study of the Word of God." Does that sound like what you have heard taught on this verse?

Commenting on this verse John MacArthur writes, "Inconceivable that a Christian who is a new creation in Jesus Christ would want to wear the mask of the world. But, boy, we get sucked into it. We want to wear the clothes they wear. We run down to buy every new thing that comes along." So is he saying that this transformation involves wearing different clothes than the world wears? Different how? Different style, fabric, or color? I guess the Amish have this nailed. Does this mean I can't buy the latest smart phone because it will make me worldly? What is he saying???

Dr. Phil Newton, a Baptist pastor writes, "We face a dilemma. 'Do not be conformed to this world,' we're commanded. But we live in it. We face 'this present age' every present day! We live in the present not the past or future. How do we live in the world but not be shaped by it?"

What is wrong with these interpretations? They don't understand what time it is! The first phrase gives us the interpretive clue to this verse: "Do not be conformed to this world"--let's look at the Complete Jewish Bible again:

In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the 'olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed. Romans 12:1-2 CJB

The word "world" in our translation is from the Greek word aion, which means "this age", referring to the Old Covenant Jewish age. The CJB captures this by translating it the "olam hazeh." The "olam" appears with the Jewish ages of the Second Temple period, and they distinguish between two types of olam: olam hazeh (this world) and Olam Haba ("the world to come"). The "olam hazeh" or "this world" is characterized by darkness, wickedness, sin, and death. It is called "night." Hang on to that thought until we get into chapter 13. The "Olam Haba," or "the world to come," as it was called by the rabbis, was known as a time of joy, peace, light, eternity; it is known as "day." The rabbis connected the olam haba and the resurrection.

Jewish theology maintains that olam hazeh was formed a few thousands of years ago, which is the time between Adam's fall and the coming of Jewish Messiah, and is bound to pass and to be replaced by olam haba (the world to come).

So to the Jews, time was divided into two great periods, the Mosaic Age (olam hazeh) and the Messianic Age (olam haba). The Messiah was viewed as one who would bring in a new world. The period of the Messiah was, therefore, correctly characterized by the Synagogue as "olam haba" or "the world to come."

All through the New Testament we see these two ages in contrast: "this age" and the "age to come":

"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:32 NASB

The CJB says, neither in the "`olam hazeh nor in the `olam haba." The word "come" at the end of the verse is the Greek word mello, which means: " about to be." We could translate this, "the age about to come" (in the first century). So the writers of the New Testament saw the "olam haba" as very near.

far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. Ephesians 1:21 NASB

Here again we see the two ages and again the CJB says:

"Far above every ruler, authority, power, dominion or any other name that can be named either in the 'olam hazeh or in the 'olam haba." Ephesians 1:21 CJB

So, the New Testament speaks of two ages, "this age" and "the age to come." The understanding of these two ages and when they changed is fundamental to interpreting the Bible. The ages didn't change over night, there was a transition period of forty years. During this forty years the "this age" was fading away and "the age to come" was developing.

The New Testament writers lived in the age that they called "this age." To the New Testament writers the "age to come" was future, but it was very near, because "this age" was about to end:

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Corinthians 10:11 NASB

Paul said very plainly that the end of the ages was coming upon "them" (the first century saints). "This age" was about to end.

We now live in what was to the first century saints the "age to come." When most Christians read in the New Testament and see the words "the age to come," they think of a yet future (to us) age. But the New Testament writers were referring to the Christian age. We live in what was to them the "age to come," the New Covenant age.

Since the "this age" of the Bible ended in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Lord, we must be in the "age to come." And since the "this age" ended in A.D. 70, we don't have to be concerned with being conformed to it. So in Romans 12:2 Paul is talking to the saints in first century Rome and his words do not directly apply to us today. So let's move on to verse 3. Just kidding, we need to examine this verse and the transformation that was taking place.

"Do not be conformed to this world"--the word "conformed" is from the Greek word suschematizo. It is a compound word from sun and schematizo. Schematizo refers to the act of assuming an outward expression that does not come from within; putting on an act.

Several manuscripts have an aorist tense here, "Do not conform any longer," indicating that Paul's hearers have been conforming to the present age up to now. Literally it says, "Stop allowing yourselves to be fashioned to the olam hazeh. So some of Paul's listeners were conforming to the Jewish age.

This word is only used one other place in the New Testament:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed [suschematizo] to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 1 Peter 1:13-14 NASB

So Peter is comparing two ages, the one coming at the revelation of Jesus Christ and the former one. He tells his readers to fix their hope on the Parousia of Christ, which would bring in the olam haba. And don't be conformed to the former lusts.

Paul said in verse one that our sacrifices are spiritual, our Temple worship is spiritual so don't be conformed to the Mosiac age of a worldly sanctuary and the rites and ceremonies and physical sacrifices. When Paul says "Stop being conformed to this age," he is saying the same thing that he said earlier in:

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- Romans 8:12 NASB

"So then" draws an inference from what has already been set forth. What did Paul explain in the previous paragraph? He said that believers are in the Spirit and not in the flesh, and therefore, have no obligation to the flesh.

Paul is arguing that because the Church is the redeemed community and her ultimate deliverance is certain, she has no reason to live as though she is a part of the body of sin, the kingdom of darkness. She no longer has any obligation to the Old Covenant written code. She doesn't have to keep Sabbath, be circumcised, eat certain foods, worship on certain days.

In Paul's view, flesh and Spirit fall into redemptive-historical categories, serving to elucidate the contrasting natures of the two covenant ages. Seeking to live by Law really boils down to seeking life independently of God, which was the basic sin of Adam. To walk after the flesh is to seek life in terms of what man can accomplish of himself.

Although what Paul writes in Romans 12:2 is not to us today, there may be some application in that most of churcheanity today doesn't understand that they are not under obligation to the Old Covenant. Most Christians live under some bondage to the Old Covenant; whether it be tithing, obeying the Sabbath, or thinking pastors are prophets who speak for God. They live in bondage.

for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13 NASB

This is a warning to believers. Paul is warning them of going back to the Old Covenant. Notice what Paul says to the Galatian believers:

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. Galatians 4:9-10 NASB

Their observance of special days, months, times, and years was one of the more obvious examples of their departure from the true Gospel. They were adopted sons of God, but were turning back to the flesh, the Old Covenant written code. This makes me think that in our text in Romans Paul is issuing a warning to the Jewish believers to not turn back to the fleshly mode of existence. Remember that during the transition period there was always that temptation for the Jewish believers to turn back to the Law. I think this verse is very similar in meaning to:

and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:13 NASB

Paul is here telling these believing Jews that they are not to put themselves under the Law now that they are part of the body of Christ. I think that is what he is saying in our text in 12:2, "Don't be conformed to the Jewish system."

Putting to death the "deeds of the body" is not living according to Old Covenant rules; stop walking according to the written code. This text is theological dealing with Jewish believers in the first century who were hanging on to the body of Moses.

How were these first century Christians allowing sin to reign in the body of Moses? They were doing this as they submitted to Torah. This is what the book of Galatians argues against. They were putting themselves back under the Law. Sin reigns through the Law. To be conformed to the "olam hazeh" is to live "in the flesh."

"But be transformed"--this is the Greek word metamorphoo, which is a compound word from "morphe," meaning: "form" and "meta," which implies change. Very simply, therefore, the underlying meaning of the word has to be "to change form," though this concept can be applied to relate to the essential character of something or to its external appearance. Metamorphoo is related to the English word metamorphosis. If you can remember back from 7th-grade science class, you will remember that metamorphosis is the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly and a tadpole becomes a frog.

When Paul says "be transformed," he uses a passive form of the verb. He doesn't say, "Transform yourself," which would be utterly impossible. This verb metamorphoo is used four times in the New Testament; two of them are in the Gospel accounts of the transfiguration. Mark writes:

Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Mark 9:2-3 NASB

The word "transfigured" comes from metamorphoo. What is happening here? What is the meaning of this transfiguration? I think that the transfiguration was a vision of the Second Coming of Christ. Peter seems to indicate this:

For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"-- 2 Peter 1:16-17 NASB

The word "coming" in verse 16 is the word Parousia. So the transfiguration is a vision of the Second Coming. On the mount of transfiguration , Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and they represent the Law and the Prophets, the Old Covenant system. Then Yahweh says:

Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!" Mark 9:7 NASB

So the transfiguration seems to be a vision of the transformation from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. So this word metamorphoo is used of the transformation of the covenants. And when Paul tells the Roman believers to be transformed, he is telling them to be transformed to the New Covenant.

Outside of the accounts of Christ's transfiguration and Romans 12:2, the only other place in the New Testament where metamorphoo is used is in:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB

This is another one of those verses that so many use to tell us that as we spend time in the Word we will continually be transformed from glory to glory to glory. I think that this is talking about progressive sanctification, but it does not refer to us. It is talking about the transition saints; those who lived between the first and second advent of Christ. They were being transformed from the Old Covenant glory to the New Covenant glory. The context of this chapter is the two covenants:

But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 NASB

Paul here discusses the transformation of the glory of the Old Covenant to the greater glory of the New Covenant. These are the two glories, and they were moving from one to the other. So we have a contrast of covenants, one is fading away and one remains. They were growing into a living temple of God:

you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 NASB
in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:21-22 NASB

During the transition period the Old Covenant was fading away. The book of Hebrews was written at around A.D. 64-67. At this time, the Old Covenant was still in effect, but 8:13 says it was ready to pass away.

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. Hebrews 8:13 NASB

During this transition the church was growing to maturity. They were "being built" for a dwelling place of God. During the transition period the church was being transformed into the image of Christ. This is speaking about position, not practice. This growth was completed in A.D. 70 when the Lord returned consummating the New Covenant.

Commenting on Romans 12:2 one writer says, "For most of us, spiritual transformation happens over a long period of time; a little at a time, a step at a time, a day at a time." This is not what Paul is talking about, he's talking about covenant transformation that was unique to the transition period.

Remember what Paul said in:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; Romans 8:29 NASB

The word "conformed" is the Greek word summorphos, which comes from morphe, meaning: "the essential character of something," and the prefix "sun" (soon) denotes: "union; with or together." This "sun" prefix tells us that this is a positional association. God predestined those He loved to share Christ's righteousness. This is corporate transformation.

"By the renewing of your mind"--most commentators see the transformation as spiritual growth or practical sanctification, and they say this takes place by renewing your mind, which to them means spending time in the Word of God. Well you can't do anything better with your time than spend it in the Word of God, but that is not what Paul is talking about here.

The "your" is plural, and "mind" is singular. Paul continues to speak of their corporate identity. The word "renewing"here is anakainosis, which is a noun; we see the verb form used in:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 NASB

Remember what we just said in 2 Corinthians 3, the context here is the changing of the covenants:

while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18 NASB

The outer man is the Old Covenant, and the inner man is the New Covenant. So again we see that this renewal is a covenant transformation form the Old to the New Covenant.

Watch what Paul tells the Corinthians:

For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16 NASB

The renewed mind is the mind of Christ. The renewing of the mind is not something we do, but something that was happening to the first century saints.

Look at what Paul said to the Ephesian believers:

that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:22-24 NASB

The NASB translates anthrpos as "old self." The trouble with this translation is that it causes the reader to envision the individual's old life. Anthrpos is man, not self.

The figure of the "old man" and "new man" is common in Paul's writing. We are familiar with the terms, but do we know what they mean? The relation of the old self and the new self has been much disputed. Many hold that at salvation believers receive a new self, but also keep the old self. Salvation thus becomes addition, not transformation. They argue that the struggle in the Christian life comes from the battle between the two.

The expressions "old man" and "new man" occur in basically four places in Paul's letters: Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:15; 4:22-24; and Colossians 3:9-11. If you examine these texts you will see that the "old man" refers to people in solidarity with Adam under the old age of sin, death, and judgment. It is corporate in focus. Thus, the "old man" is not a sinful nature, but a cooperate identity. The "new man" refers to people in solidarity with Christ under the New Covenant.

The expression "likeness of God" refers to Christ Himself, so that the renewal involves progressive conformation into the likeness of Christ Himself. The believer, having been decisively removed from that community, is not to live as if he still belonged there. Thus the "old man" must be continually put off.

The renewal that Paul is speaking about is a positional renewal that was happening in the first century church. During the transition period, the church was moving from infancy to maturity:

and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him-- Colossians 3:10 NASB

Now notice what Paul says about the new man, "...who is being renewed to a true knowledge..." Now, we said that the "new man" refers to the "body of Christ," the corporate community of believers. This is not talking about practice, but position.

John Piper, commenting on Romans 12:2, writes, "Not conformed, transformed. Devote your life as a Christian to being changed. Don't settle in at the level of transformation you now have." He doesn't know what time it is. The transformation ended in A.D.70.

"So that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect"--is what they are proving the First Testament Scriptures promised all this? The kingdom was promised and the kingdom had arrived. It was the will of God that Old Covenant Judaism come to an end. It was a type and the anti-type had arrived.

Today believers stand perfect in Christ, we are not being transformed into His image; we share His righteousness, we are the dwelling place of God. The transition is over, the church is mature and has become the dwelling place of God.

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