We often hear the first verses of Romans 12 as an injunction to be “in the world but not of it”: Do not be conformed to this world.

But that is only part of the picture—Paul is writing to the Romans about the new life that is possible with God, through Christ, when he says:

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. (Romans 12:1-2)

A phrase at the end of that passage gets emphasized—and sometimes harmfully mis-applied: “The will of God.”

If this passage is about anything, it is about the transformative power of a good God to take what was unholy—our bodies, our minds—and use it all for his redemptive work. It is he who is the source of our renewal, and that renewal is never meant to happen apart from the world in which we live.

Yet people often reference these two verses as a sort of defense against the rest of the world, as if to say that we Christians need to keep our distance from what is secular in order to be renewed and transformed.

Here the leader—in “secular” or ministerial roles—is of utter importance: We must encourage our communities (and ourselves) to enter fearlessly into the world that God has called us to steward. Part of our spiritual formation, our becoming more like God, is growing in our compassionate love for this world, neither fleeing from it nor condemning it.

So how do we go about being renewed, exactly? And how can we ensure that our renewal leads to compassionate engagement with the world around us? It doesn’t happen easily or accidentally, as I remind myself often. But it does happen that we are transformed, and being transformed in our positions of leadership has implications for the people we are leading.

The how of renewal is altogether mysterious in its inner workings, but we are not without guidance. For some, being renewed means taking time away—retreating with God, going to a silent place and being refreshed by the Scriptures. Sometimes a film or a concert will do it, renewing our understanding of the world in which we live or altering our faith in the people we work with. And some may be renewed in their minds after conversations with other people or hours of time with close friends.

God works differently in different people, and what a good thing that is! He works through our communities of friends and family, through the beauty of nature, through the creativity of the human mind, and through times of silence and listening. And in all of that, God introduces us to the wonderful world in which and for which we are to be transformed.

After all, we are being transformed not only for ourselves but for the blessing of the world that we inhabit. We can steward our little corners with greed and envy or grace and compassion; that choice is ours. But when we choose to lead others out of a renewed mind, we move closer to alignment with the will of God, that good and mysterious thing that has plans for the flourishing of all people.


One Response to On Being Renewed

  1. Laura Brown says:

    Elsewhere I’ve been following a thread on whether and why bodies matter. Of course they do, if Christ himself came here to inhabit one. This chapter must be one of the “Greatest Hits” passages because of the inexhaustible richness of each verse. Thank you, Laura, for these reminders — that some redemption happens here and now, renewal comes in delightful variety, and that our participation is, as you note in your last paragraph, a form of stewardship.