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)
Sun is brutal to your skin, and people who spend their days outdoors often end up with skin cancer. I lived in Arizona for 40 years, so I understand the problem. Dermatologists often prescribe a cream that you can smear on an affected area for a few weeks, and the results can be startling. First, all the trouble spots get red and irritated. Then they form scabs and start to peel off. In the end, your skin is renewed to its original state, minus the cancer. It’s like getting new skin.
God calls Christians to a spiritual renewal that goes way more than skin deep. It renovates us all the way to the heart.
When Romans 12:2 tells us, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed,” It immediately ties that transformation to “the renewal of your mind.” It’s obviously a crucial concept to understand.
We are going to examine the word “renewal” more closely. The Greek word is anakainōsis, usually translated “renewal, renovation.” This noun only occurs twice in the New Testament, but we can also look at a matching verb, anakainoō, “to make new, renew,” which also appears two times.
Both words are built on the Greek word kainos, which means “new” – not just a rerun of an earlier model, but a new and improved version. You can learn more about kainos by checking our earlier Word of the Week article on it.
Anakainōsis means a complete change for the better, a makeover of the mind and soul. The matching verb means to move from one stage to a higher stage, to invigorate. That’s what the Greek dictionaries say. Now let’s look at each of the passages where these words occur.
Titus 3:5 – He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.
How did God save us? It wasn’t because we had accumulated a spotless record of righteousness; it was an act of sheer mercy – love in the face of our blotched record of sin.
Notice that this verse talks about the moment when we first became Christians by putting our faith in Christ. At that moment, God arranged for us to be “born again” (that’s the meaning of “regeneration”). We became His children, part of His family. And the Holy Spirit did a makeover on us, a renewal that changed our inner nature. As Paul described it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
Spiritual renewal is not just a program of self-improvement. It is built on the miraculous work of the Spirit of God in our lives.
2 Corinthians 4:16 – Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.
As we age, our physical bodies deteriorate little by little. Our joints ache, our reflexes slow down, and our skin wrinkles. It’s a gradual process. But Christians know that their spiritual lives don’t follow the same rules. Paul says that our inner man is being renewed day by day. Our spiritual muscles can get stronger and stronger. Our inner self can be renewed – not in a single step, but in a gradual daily process of maturity.
Colossians 3:10 – [You] have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.
When you become a believer, says, Paul, you become a new creation. You take off one identity and put on another one. That’s a decisive transaction, but it leads to a daily process of renewal. Paul uses a present participle in this verse, suggesting that our renewal happens continually over a period of time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and it doesn’t happen automatically. We have a responsibility to respond to God’s work in our heart.
Finally, let’s go back to Romans 12:2. What does it mean to be transformed by the renewal of our mind?
First, it is based on the work that God did in your heart the moment you were saved. It’s not a glorified New Year’s resolution. Human effort alone cannot produce the transformation that we need.
Second, It does involve purposeful cooperation with God. As Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who works in you.” The Lord calls us to cooperate with Him in shaping our minds – through Scripture, through prayer, through all the “means of grace” available to us. Each day is an opportunity to shape our thoughts by exposure to His thoughts.
It’s a paradox. God has already renewed us, but He still calls us to build on that transformation. He calls on us to work toward daily renewal of our minds, but we can only succeed because He works in us.
It’s a little like that skin cancer cream. You have to put it on regularly, so that it can do its work. But you only get fresh, unblemished skin because your body has the ability to heal itself.
We need to apply God’s Word to our hearts on a regular basis. But we are only transformed because God has given us the Holy Spirit to produce spiritual growth.
© Ezra Project 2019