Subject 9 : Romans (Commentaries on the Book of Romans)

[Chapter 12] Renew Your Mind Before God

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
What is this “reasonable service,” which is translated as a “spiritual act of worship” in the New International Version (NIV), that we must give to God? Giving reasonable service to God means to offer our bodies to Him to do His righteous work. Since we are saved, we need to present our bodies and be acceptable to God for the spreading of the righteous gospel. The reasonable service that we must give God is to set our bodies apart in holiness to give them to Him.
In chapter 12, Paul talks about what our spiritual service is. It is not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds, that we may prove what the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God is.
Reasonable service is to dedicate all our bodies and hearts to God. How, then, can the righteous live such a life before God? Paul says that we should not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds, and that we should offer our bodies for God’s righteous works. Believing in the righteousness of God, while offering our hearts and bodies, is also a reasonable service to God.
This passage is very important because it tells us that we should not conform to this world, and that instead, we should serve God’s works and be transformed by the renewal of our minds.
We cannot give spiritual worship without first renewing our hearts. Even the righteous cannot give their bodies or hearts to God if they cease to believe in His righteousness.
We may be influenced by this generation, as the same happened in Paul’s generation. Because we live in the middle of the drifting flow of this sinful generation, had we not believed in the righteousness of God we would inevitably be following the current of this age. Even the justified who believe in the righteousness of God cannot entirely avoid being influenced by the secular flow, as they live their lives with the worldly people. This is why the Bible tells us not to be conformed to this world.
How, then, can the righteous offer a reasonable worship, a holy sacrifice to God with their whole hearts and bodies, while being exposed to this world? This is possible only by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit that renews our minds ceaselessly. The righteous can know and follow the good and perfect will of God when they renew their minds and be transformed by His righteousness.
Paul is not saying this because of his ignorance of worldly affairs. Nor is he giving religious lessons to the believers by saying, “Let’s be good,” while remaining ignorant of their circumstances and abilities. The reason why Paul is encouraging us to renew our hearts to serve God is because he very well knows that the believers, too, can be swept away by the ways of this world.
Whether born again or not, physical bodies are not very different from each other. But there is one great difference between those who are born again and those who are not—this is the faith in the righteousness of God. Only the righteous can follow the Lord by incessantly renewing their minds while believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit.
What, then, can renew our hearts? Faith in the Word of gospel that proclaims our complete deliverance from sin is what renews our hearts. The Lord has forgiven all the sins that we committed with our bodies and minds in our weaknesses and infirmities of the flesh. The minds of the righteous can be renewed because our Lord has forgiven all the sins of the world with His baptism and His blood on the Cross. Our minds, in other words, have been renewed because we believed in God’s righteousness.
Now, we need to have a correct understanding of what we do before God. We must discern what His perfect will is, what He wants from us, what missions He has given us, and what the born-again righteous must do. We must renew our hearts in these areas and serve Him. God’s will is for us to offer our bodies and minds, dedicating ourselves as holy sacrifices to Him. We can give ourselves as sacrifices to Him when we renew our minds. Renewing our minds comes from believing that God has taken away all our sins.
There is a difference between those who are born again and those who are not. Only the righteous can renew their minds by believing in God’s righteousness. We, the righteous, can always do the things that please God in faith by cleansing and renewing our hearts, and denying the worldly lusts of flesh. The righteous are different from the sinners because they can renew their hearts and always serve and walk with the Lord.

You must renew your heart with faith

There are many celebrities on TV. The people of this world are busy trying to imitate the styles and fashions of these celebrities. We can easily come across the latest trends by watching TV. We can open up the world with a remote control. Has not your life conformed to this world?
I feel that this world is rapidly changing. Although we carry bills now, we will eventually carry electronic money and electronic cards. If losing these electronic cards becomes a nuisance, we will be told to receive bar codes in our hands or foreheads for better convenience. I also think that there will be many natural disasters at that time. Let us set our hearts in renewing our minds and spreading God’s gospel before such time comes so that we, the righteous, are not conformed to this world.
I think about serving God during every waking moment. I wish to diligently spread the gospel that contains His righteousness now, since it will not be possible to spread His Word when the time comes to put bar codes in our hands and foreheads. I am tirelessly working to follow God’s will. Perhaps I will be able to rest only when the day that I can no longer work come. I may even give away all my possessions to the needy when that moment comes.
But as of now, I can only follow God’s will, set apart from and not conforming to the world. Many of the righteous in Rome who were saved by the gospel preached by Paul were, with passing times, conforming to the world and drifting away from our Lord. We must take heed not to follow in their footsteps.
Paul wrote this passage out of anxiety, which the believers in Rome were conforming to this world. “Your bodies are conforming to this world, but there is one precious thing that you can do. Renew your minds. Has not the Lord redeemed all your sins? Remember the righteous gospel of God and think about what pleases Him. Renew your minds and do whole and acceptable deeds, by pondering spiritually, not carnally.” This is what Paul admonished to the believers in Rome, as well as to us today.
Although we pretend not to outwardly conform to this world, we in fact do conform. Even so, we can still serve the Lord by renewing our minds. Though in our weakness we find it hard not to conform to this world, we still believe that our Lord has taken away all our sins by the righteousness of God. This is how we can always serve the righteous works of God with our faith in His righteousness. We can wholly follow God’s good and perfect will by believing in Him.
We must renew our minds every moment. Because the righteous, who are dead to this world, are purer than the worldly people, they face more risk of degenerating into wrong thoughts, minds, and bodies than the secular people. This is why we must always guard our hearts with our faith in God’s righteousness.
Since Christ has taken away all our sins, we only need to stand firm in faith reassuring ourselves of the fact that our faith has been made perfect. Do you believe that our Lord has taken away all your sins by the righteousness of God? If you do, then you can do the works of our Lord in faith, regardless of all the unrighteousness of your past, since the Lord has taken away from you all judgment and condemnation of your sins.
We must renew our minds by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. This is very important. We will all eventually leave the church and die if we do not renew our minds by believing in the gospel of the water and the Spirit in this last era.
Living a life of faith of continuous renewal is like riding uphill on a bicycle. Not renewing one’s mind is like stopping on the way uphill and not pressing on the pedals. If you do not press the pedals, not only will you stop, but you will actually slip back and crash downhill.
The same principle applies to our faith in the righteousness of God. We are riding uphill on bicycles. It is difficult to reach the top just by our strength and will. We need to hold steadfast to God’s righteousness, as we are still in our flesh. Not a moment passes by without carnal thoughts.
Our will in the flesh is apt to give up easily whenever we run out of our strength. “I can’t do this. I can’t adapt to this. My willpower is so weak, but that brother’s willpower is really strong. I do not have the power, but that sister has great power. I am so weak compared to those brothers and sisters. They seem to be fit to serve God, but I’m not.” Anyone who does not believe and hold onto God’s righteousness will eventually stop pressing on the pedals and crash downhill.
Does this apply to only a handful of people? Of course not. This applies to everyone. A well-trained cyclist can bike uphill with ease, but a weak person would have a hard time. However, the problem for the righteous does not lie in their physical strength—it is holding steadfast to their faith in the gospel of the water and the Spirit. It is impossible to reach the spiritual top with only physical strength. Being physically weak or strong has nothing to do with it.
Remember that no one can lead a life of faith just because he/she has a strong willpower. You must not compare yourself to others and be discouraged. Hold onto the Lord’s righteousness alone. The Lord will pull us through if we incessantly renew our minds with faith in the righteousness of God. The gospel of salvation that we received will be planted in our hearts and the Lord will hold onto us if we examine our hearts daily. We must cleanse our unclean minds by believing in God’s righteousness and doing the Lord’s work.
I thank our Lord for His grace that has let us serve Him by renewing our minds. By having us renew our minds, our God has allowed us to always run before Him with our faith.

For I know that in me nothing good dwells

Paul says in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” Paul very well knew that there was nothing good in his flesh. That nothing good dwells in the flesh is the rule.
Paul acknowledged that nothing good dwelt in his flesh. He knew that no matter how much he loved the Law and how hard he tried to live by it, he just could not do it. The heart wants to renew itself to follow the Lord, but the flesh ceaselessly wants to retreat from the spiritual battlefields.
This is why Paul lamented in Romans 7:21-24, “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
How did Paul define his body? He defined it as the “body of death.” What about your body? Is it not also the body of death? Of course it is! The body itself is a body of death. It only wants to commit sin and go wherever sins abound. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And this is why Paul said, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25).
Paul points out that there are two laws. The first is the law of the flesh. It only seeks to follow the desires of the flesh and dwells in the thoughts of the flesh that are completely opposite from what pleases God.
The second is the law of the Spirit of life. The law of the Spirit wants to lead us to the right path that God wants us to follow. The law of the Spirit desires what is contrary to the law of the flesh. We Christians are caught in the middle of the two, trying to decide where to go.
We sometimes keep on following what our flesh wants, but when we renew our minds, we follow God’s work desired by the Spirit. The reason why we do this—that is, to offer our bodies as sacrifices to God and then immediately do the things of the flesh—is because we all have the flesh. We must, as such, always renew our minds by the Holy Spirit.
Although saved, we conform to this world easily because we are still in the flesh. Because everyone else in this world live their lives conforming to the world, we are easily influenced by them. There is, as such, only one way with which we can follow God, and that is to renew our minds. We can live by always renewing our minds in faith. This is how we can always follow our Lord, until He comes again.
Looking only at our flesh, none of us can follow the Lord’s righteous works and we are all doomed to destruction. But we can follow the Lord by renewing our minds and holding onto His righteousness with our whole hearts. We must renew our minds and follow Him. This is why Paul said in Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
What the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, Christ has done by God’s righteousness. As Romans 8:3 states, “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.”
God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to this world and condemned our sins in His flesh. That “He condemned sin in the flesh” means that all our sins were taken away and that we were thus made sinless. We were delivered from our sins by believing in the righteousness of God. In order to meet the demands of the justice of the Law, God sent His Son to take away all our sins through His baptism and blood on the Cross and to save us from all the sins of the world.
After receiving this salvation, two kinds of people appear: those who live according to the flesh and set their minds on the things of the flesh, and those who live according to the Spirit and set their minds on the things of the Spirit. You must understand that the thoughts of the flesh lead you to death, but the thoughts of the Spirit lead you to life and peace. Carnal minds are enmity against God.
We do not subject to the Law of God, nor can we ever do this (Romans 8:7). Even the born-again righteous will fall into the thoughts of the flesh if they do not renew their minds. If we do not believe that God has taken away all our sins, and thus do not renew our minds, we can easily fall into the works of the flesh and cannot follow the Lord. This is why we must always renew our minds.
Paul said that we, the born-again righteous, can either fall into the flesh by following the thoughts of the flesh, or follow the thoughts of the Spirit by renewing our minds. We are swinging between the two. But Paul still said, “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9).
We are the spiritual people of God. We are, in other words, His people. Even though we follow the lusts of the world and conform to them in our weakness, we are still the born-again. We fall into the flesh when we set our minds on the things of the flesh, but because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are the people of Christ. Put differently, we became the righteous, the people of God.
Paul said, “Our bodies have become dead by Christ.” And he added, “And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10). Our spiritual thoughts must be awakened. We are still weak, and our bodies will easily go astray until the time of our deaths. But our minds and thoughts must always be renewed by believing in the righteousness of God.
Let us set our eyes on God’s righteousness whenever we come to realize the desire for sin inside us. We can then know that the Lord’s righteousness has taken away all our sins. Look onto the righteousness of God and believe. Give thanks to Him for taking away all our sins and think of God’s works. Think about what the will of God is, perfect and pleasing to Him. Your mind then will always be renewed.
We must renew our minds by faith and set our minds to the things that please God. This is how the righteous should live. Only by doing this can we follow the Lord until His return. I know that we are all tired from our daily lives. It is hard to work, and it is hard to come to the church. Everyone is facing difficulties. At times, I even envy Jesus when He cried out on His death, “It is finished.” I am confident that we, too, will be able to say, “It is finished,” and be free from all these hardships.
The second coming of our Lord is near. Until then, let us renew our minds without conforming to this world. Because to follow the Lord our hearts need to hold onto the righteousness of God, our minds must be continuously renewed. This is how we can follow the Lord until His return. The time is near.
I recently read a newspaper article that reported that the Antarctic ozone hole was three times larger than the size of the continental United States. I also read another article about the missile defense initiative. This system aims to shoot down ballistic missiles mid-air, and preliminary experiments have been successful. The implications of these developments are clear: the environment will be increasingly destroyed even as the destructive capacity of the military power multiplies by many folds.
If a country increases its military power, would not its rivals also increase their military strength to match this increase? All the nations of the world will not just stand idle to see one country growing in its power. What would happen if war broke out among these great powers?
When some nations tried to develop nuclear weapons, the great powers tried hard to prevent them from acquiring nuclear capabilities. But let us say that such preventive efforts had failed and that the country in question was able to acquire weapons of mass destruction and threatened to use them. Then, the rest of the world would surely try to develop new weapons to cope with this situation.
Such new weapons will devastate this world with forces much greater than nuclear weapons. War is no longer fought with guns as in the past. Killing humans will be nothing; whole cities or entire countries will be wiped out in an instant. Nuclear war will not be localized but will lead to a world war. Already devastated by such a war, even greater destruction will await the world in the form of natural disasters. The ozone layer will be destroyed more rapidly, and tidal waves and storms will continually rise from deforestation. Then the anti-Christ will appear with great power and conquer this world.
You may say that I am taking this scenario to the extreme, but the human nature is at its fundamental evil. Nations build armies and develop new weapons, which can never be used for good purposes. Nuclear weapons can be matched only by the same breed of the weapons of mass destruction. Countries will strike each other so that they themselves will survive. Other nations will attempt to balance against any single country that seeks world-domination. No matter what the intentions were, once made, nuclear weapons and military capabilities can only be used for evil purposes.
Long ago, Paul told the believers in Rome not to conform to this world but to follow the Lord by renewing their hearts. This is a very suitable passage for us who live in this age. In these last days, we must discern what the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God is, and follow the Lord with our faith.
Although we have many shortcomings, our Lord is the Almighty God. The Almighty dwells in us as the Holy Spirit. Although our physical bodies may be weak, the Holy Spirit in us is very strong. This Holy Spirit renews our minds by faith in the Word so that we may be able to follow the Lord.
Let us all depend on the power of the Holy Spirit, renew our minds, and serve the Lord. If the Lord returns to us while we are serving Him, let us then go with Him. Until this day of Christ’s return, we will live to spread the righteousness of God. Renew your mind by believing in God’s righteousness.
This sermon is also available in ebook format. Click on the book cover below.
The Righteousness of God that is Revealed in Romans - Our LORD Who Becomes the Righteousness of God (II)