I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
How do the concepts of living sacrifice, worship, conformed, and transformed relate to one another in the passage?
What is transformation vs. conforming and how do I know when I am truly being transformed rather than simply calling out the culture for what I don’t like?
In Jesus’ life and ministry a sword will pierce your own soul also, I cannot think of a more literal fulfillment of these words than to say, “I need to change”. How can Jesus come to change the world and not change me, do I embody Jesus’ teachings to a point that I cannot be hurt by his criticism? I think one of the great failures of Christians is that in our hearts we have it all together, we know Jesus’ teachings and express them in our lives. Of course, if you ask me point blank I will tell you the exact opposite, I will say I still am a long way from perfection and that I need Jesus to continuously guide me through change. But this spoken attitude does not always reflect the inner self. I am in many ways conformed to the spirit of the age, I am continuously influenced by the world around me and the philosophies it contains. Every interaction I have with another human being has an impact on my life and thought. Given this it is impossible for me to live and not be impacted by the world around me.
Transformation begins in self-reflection, understanding our thoughts and motivations for the actions of the day. If I am going to allow myself to be transformed I must begin by understanding where I need such transformation– Socrates “know thyself”. If I am to be transformed I must understand both what God wants from me and where I fall short; put another way, what is my current reality and what is the reality God desires. Paul bases his appeal to transformation on the mercies of God that he has outlined throughout Romans. His entire argument is that because God is merciful to us, showing us grace, and allowing us to live in the new creation that is being birthed we must be transformed into the kind of people who can inhabit this creation.
Yet, so many people want to skip this work and to do so we often chop down the message of Jesus to a point that it simply fits relatively comfortably within our current worldview. But if Paul is going to compare New Creation to childbirth I think there is going to be pain involved in our preparation for it (Romans 8:22-25). We to often act like saying yes to Jesus is the goal of life when in reality it is the starting point for life. When we commit our lives to Jesus that is when we begin the hard work of transformation. But the temptation is to so limit the Gospel message that we are already acting the way Jesus wants. This week I saw a Tweet that read: “What the Gospel isn’t: doing justice, loving your neighbor, The Golden Rule, lifting up minority voices, or feeding the hungry.” Now I take issue with this statement because this is precisely what the gospels describe Jesus doing and since we are commanded to imitate Jesus and follow him the implication is that we should also. The man behind the quote wants to limit the Gospel to “salvation from sins” without recognizing salvation from sins means leaving the sins in the past. What does leaving the sins in the past mean– you guessed it doing justice, loving your neighbor, The Golden Rule, lifting up minority voices, or feeding the hungry. The Gospel is about the fact that the world is changing as it conforms to what God wants and our job is to transform ourselves so that we can help the world be transformed.” Our sins are how we abuse, forsake, manipulate, and otherwise harm creator and creation (including other people). Transformation is about removing the sinful attitudes and actions from our lives and working to deconstruct their effects on the world around us.
Transformation only becomes possible as we listen to the heart of scripture and compare it very closely to our own lives. This idea is fundamental to the season of Lent, where we are trying to deny ourselves and capture the meaning of Jesus on an even deeper level. This denial of self is not a temporary state, it is a temporary focus to permanently cut away small parts of who we are to become who we are to be. Jesus calls us to be like him in all things but he recognizes that this takes time. Recognizing this fact I am trying to become more patient and have resolved to ask more questions. For me having an answer to everything in life is part of what helps me “fit in” with society but it also makes me arrogant and bull through people, especially people who disagree with me and seem ill-informed. For me to be like Jesus I am going to take small steps in the areas of patience and asking questions. reflecting on my conversations with people by asking, “what questions did I ask?” What questions should I have asked?” “What did that person truly learn from me?” And, “what would that individual’s perspective of me be after this encounter?” This is my approach to transformation, what’s yours?