I Urge You to Transform, not Conform (Romans 12)
We are children of God, redeemed by God for his purposes and nothing can separate us from his love. Though sin is still present in the world, we’re no longer slaves to it. Sin is no longer our master, and we have the Holy Spirit living in us. As such, we can conquer even the evil that is still even in us.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1
It says, “…in view of God’s mercy…” but that word mercy in the Greek is actually plural. Mercies. All of God’s mercies upon us. “In light of all of that, I urge you.” You have to pay attention to that language because Paul, an apostle, could have easily commanded us, and in some places in Scripture he does, but here he takes a very different posture. He says, “…I urge you…”
What’s amazing about this word “urge”, is in the Greek it’s the word parakaleō. It’s made of two words: kaleō, which is to call and para, draw near or draw close. It means calling others to come close.
Paul is using this word saying, “I urge you. Come close. I invite you. I beg you, in light of all that we have just learned. Your life needs to be different. God had an effect on my life, and it changed everything for me, and it ought to do that for you. I urge you.”
“…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…” Right away, people hearing this would have said, “What? What is this?”
Jews knew about Old Testament sacrifices, animals that were given up to die to pay the cost of sin, but they were dead. A sacrifice that was alive was not a sacrifice.
Paul is saying, “Now that Jesus has died the perfect death, a death that has atoned for all sin, no longer do we need to sacrifice animals. Now we have living sacrifices, lives of transformed people who are now living out who God has made them to be, living our lives, our whole lives offered up, our whole bodies.”
Offer all that you are to God: the good, the excellent, the outstanding, the beautiful, the ugly, the nasty, the evil. Everything. That is startling, that God wants all of who you are and all of who I am, the good and the bad.
You see, what Paul says is your body matters to God. He made it to be good. Yes, it has been perverted, but God’s going to transform the body back into good. That’s his role. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “… you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” With all that you are. Why? Because God wants to use you as his instrument.
Romans 6 says: “Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”
God can take everything we give if we are willing to offer it all and use it for good.
What does it look like to give our whole bodies as a living sacrifice to God? Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
“Do not conform…” Do not go with the flow of the world. It doesn’t take long to know where that leads us, does it? If we just go with the flow, and it’s easy to (sometimes it happens before we even notice it), it’s going to lead us on the wrong path, and Paul says, “Do not conform…”
Paul is saying, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world…” There is a pattern, but listen. You are made new. Who you are is different than the world. Therefore, you can’t try to fit into the world. We try to fit into what the world says success is or happiness is or how we ought to live. We can’t conform to that because that’s not who we are. God has made us new.
In fact, Paul tells us that in 2 Corinthians: “…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”
Paul is saying, “You’ve been made new. You’re a new creation and you have a new purpose, so don’t think you’re going to fit in the world. Don’t even try! Don’t let the world make you to fit in. You are different. You have a different purpose.”
The second thing Paul tells us is we have a new aim and a new image, and the world is begging for us to live this out.
This process of transformation is going on all of the time in us. It’s passive. You notice it’s an imperative and a passive. “Be transformed or offer yourselves so you can be transformed.” In other words, God is doing the work, but you have to be willing for God to do it. You can’t fight him.
Paul says our minds are to be renewed. In fact, in Colossians, Paul puts it this way. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
We have a new mind, a new heart, a new way of thinking when we let God transform us. When we offer ourselves up to God, he changes everything. We have to let go, and until we offer our bodies, our minds, and our hearts, even our wills and stop having this tug-of-war with God, until we do those things, we don’t know what God’s will is.
In Ephesians 4, Paul says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
There’s that word again, “urge”. “…I urge you… Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
We can ask ourselves at any given moment, “Are we conforming or are we transforming? Are we being conformed right now in this situation or am I being transformed in this situation?” Just pause long enough to ask yourself, “Am I letting go or am I holding back?” I think… I have this idea if we would all commit to offering ourselves, letting go, God could do a mighty, mighty work.
This passage was instrumental in my early Christian walk. When I said, “God, here I am; send me. I am offering all that I am, the good and the ugly,” I had some things that were good. I could make some great brownies, so at Bible studies I made brownies. I’m kind of smart, so I did some things that were smart. I’m a good hostess. “I have some things that are good, God. I’m going to give you those things, but God, I have a boatload of sin and shame.”
God came into my life when my sin was at its worst, and I said, “Okay, God. I’m going to give you that, too. I’m going to give you my good and my bad.”
Like Paul, I urge you as your sister in Christ, as my own life is a testimony of what God can do when we say yes to God, when we do not conform but we allow ourselves to be transformed, God can do amazing things!
We are children of God bought at a price, the price of God’s Son. We no longer need to conform to the world, we are no longer entrapped by the desires of our bodies or sin but we are set free.
As free and grateful people, we can say, “God, thank you for all you’ve given me. Now I offer myself to you fully, to transform me, so that I can be a world-changing child of God, not conformed to the world but transformed by you.”