God’s call is clear; don’t allow your life to be conformed to a world of evil. Let your life become the “thusia,” or sacrifice, on God’s altar, and give Him everything. Your engagement with our Creator in this manner will cause you to see the evils of this world with a clarity that those who simply practice “church-going” won’t see. It will help to keep you in a state of non-conformity to the world you must live in, and it’s the first step toward the beautiful gift of transformation. I call it a gift, because I think it is. I'll explain that later in this post.
So, let’s discuss a little more of this verse...
Romans 12.2 - …but be transformed…
The word transformed here is the “metamorphoó,” and it means “to be changed after being with.” It’s the root of our own English word "metamorphosis." Our own dictionaries define it well, “a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.” Interestingly, the English language dictionaries also describe it this way, “the transformation from an immature form to an adult and mature form.” It’s a conversion or alteration from and old “A" to a new and very distinctive “B.” I like to call it a “renovation.”
Also important, the conjunction “but” is the word “alla.” Here, this is a strong term of contrast that represents an abrupt halt and reversal from the negative command to “not be conformed” and to the positive command to “be transformed.” It reveals how important this transformation is to God and should be to us.
As sinful people who tend to crawl off of altars of living sacrifice, the good news for us is that metamorphoó, or transformation, is in the passive voice and the present tense.
What in the world does that mean? Let’s talk about the passive voice aspect first.
The passive voice here means that it’s something only God can accomplish, and we are only required to be passive (accepting of the process without resistance to it) as God undertakes the renovations (transformations) within us. It doesn’t mean that we have no responsibilities in the process. Our very first responsibility would be to stay on the altar and continue the surrendering of our life to God, growth in our relationship with Him, engagement with Scripture, dying to the old self, etc…. The One who will do this work within us is the Holy Spirit.
Look at the beautiful words of II Corinthians 3:18, which states, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
The outside force catalyzing this transformation is the Holy Spirit of God. Hang on to the altar friends, because God will do the work within you. Even more profound, He will continue to do it.
As I said before, transformation is in the passive voice but present tense. Simplified, the present tense implies that this is not a one-time brush with God’s power that’s only for a moment and then He pulls away. Instead, it’s a continual process, and often a very gradual process, that moves us from who we were to who God desires us to be. It’s a lifelong journey, and the Holy Spirit will never retire from His transformational work within us as long as we walk this globe. What an incredible promise revealed through digging into the Greek!
So, we are to have non-conformity to the world and be transformed by the work of the Holy Spirt, as a result of our presence on the altar as a living sacrifice. To many, this may mean a simple disengagement with worldly “things.” Look at your life’s list of activities and mark through the bullet points that don’t glorify God. Actually, that’s probably not a bad first step, but I think there’s much more to real transformation than that–much, much more. Marking thought bad bullets points may deal more with our external behaviors than our internal nature, meaning that excluding them from that list may help in our transformation, but it will not, by itself, achieve true transformation.
The truly God-led alternative to our immoral behaviors is not as simple as replacing them with a shiny new list of moral behaviors, complete with boxes to check when we “perform” what we deem to be required. Again, we love the “box-checking” method of tracking. It makes us feel good. Sunday School: check. Worship attendance: check. Tithing: check. I prayed a little longer and missed the opening kickoff of the football game: check, check. True transformation isn’t about checking boxes or altering our works to become more righteous. Scripture addresses the filthy nature of our works. With true transformation, our works will certainly be altered, but it will require more than a change in physical works. If we have a genuine relationship with God, we can’t become more righteous in His eyes through activity, because He views us through the shed blood of our Savior.
Real transformation is something much more. It’s purposes have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, the very same blood that makes us righteous in God the Father’s eyes. It’s not a simple work of praying longer or attending church; instead, it’s the complex process of real internal change that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Real transformation is profound, so profound that we must be passive and offer no resistance to the process, as we are unable to work out any part of it in our own lives. And, real transformation is life-altering, because it’s not a box-check that we may eventually become too distracted by the evils of the world to accomplish. Instead, it’s a renovation of our core drive, a conversion of our baseline character and morals, a transformation of the way think and act and a rebirthing of the Lordship in our life. Again, it’s more than works.
I would say the very best examples of what real transformation looks like can be defined by the fruit of the Spirit of God.
Galatians 5:19-22 says, "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…”
The Holy Spirit doesn’t replace our old list with a new list of works grounded in legalism; instead, He replaces it with beautiful things that are supernaturally birthed within us–things only God can bring about. This is why I view transformation as a gift. We can’t achieve it on our own, the Holy Spirit must enact it, and the results of the transformation are things of such extraordinary quality that we will wonder how we ever lived a day on this earth without them, and we hope our remaining days are full of them.
I’m going to end here for today. I know we’re not moving very fast, but the depth of meaning found in Scripture should be given respect, and it should be given time.
Let me say this, as well…. I recently received an email from someone who reads my blog, and they were very complimentary regarding the depth of the content. They said that “they wished their pastor and Sunday School teacher went this deep.” Friends, your pastor doesn’t have the time to go this deep during a Sunday or Wednesday service, and neither does your Sunday School teacher. I would almost guarantee that your pastor breaks apart Scripture in this manner weekly, but there's only so much time to present a message. I would hope your Sunday School teacher studies Scripture in this same manner, but I will almost assure you that your pastor does. With that being said, know that it is our responsibility to grow in Christ, and that growth should inspire us to study Scripture in a way that can only be achieved through the personal sacrifice of our time. You don’t need a theological library to research the text in Greek or Hebrew. Honestly, you really only need a computer or your mobile phone. The resources are there, but is your passion? Don't blame your pastor for not being able to fit 10 hours of study into a 40 minute message. And, don't blame him for the knowledge that you don't possess of Scripture. You have a Bible, right?
The longer I spend in God’s Word, the more desire I have to dissect it for it’s real worth and value to my life. Let me encourage you to do more than read Scripture as a means to “check it off the list” for the day. Let me encourage you to read Scripture without seeking a prejudiced message, or trying to find the perfect “cherry-picked” verse to fit nicely into the “hole" of your broken emotions or troubles. Read Scripture for what it is, for the message it contains, and rejoice when it offends the fleshly nature we all hold so dear to our hearts. When we become offended by God’s message, that means it’s finally talking to us in a way that we can understand, and it’s addressing our life, transforming our way of thinking and equipping us to leave a definitive mark for God on a world that is scarred by hatred, evil and rebellion. Read Scripture for communication, absorb it into your soul and allow it renovate your old and build inside you something beautiful and new.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!