Are You Shaped By the World or By the Word?
There’s a section in department stores these days called “shapewear.” It’s in both women’s and men’s clothing. These stores are banking on our concern with the shape of our bodies and our willingness to invest in garments that promise to give us the shape we’re looking for.
But when we read Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we discover it’s not what is shaping our bodies that he is most concerned about. He’s concerned about what is shaping our perspective, our priorities, our pursuits, and our opinions. He writes:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)
His words force us to ask ourselves: What external forces are shaping my internal dialogue about what matters? What pressures me to make the choices I am making about how I spend my money, my time, and my energies? Am I self-aware enough to know?
Ever since we were born into this world, it has been working to press us into its mold.
Of course, we don’t like to think of ourselves as this impressionable. We like to think we are independent in our thinking. But the truth is, we are such products of the environment we live in that we often don’t recognize what is pressing in on us. Or perhaps we don’t feel the pressure because we simply give in to it. It makes no sense to Paul, however, for the lives of those who have been called and foreknown and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son instead to be conformed to this world.
Instead of being conformed, Paul instructs us to be transformed. There’s a contrast here between something pressing in on us from the outside that causes us to be conformed and something taking place on the inside that causes us to be transformed. Where inside is this taking place? In our minds. And what is happening in our minds? They are being renewed. There’s a renovation project going on.
Have you ever renovated anything? The word used by Paul for the “renewal” of our minds literally means “to renovate”—to rip out the old and put in the new. The one doing the renovation work is the Holy Spirit. But there is something here for us to do. The tool the Holy Spirit uses is the Word. This means we must bring ourselves under the influence of the Word.
In his book Growing Your Faith, the late Jerry Bridges explains this process as similar to what we tell our son when he comes in from playing on the dirt pile: “Go take a shower.” It is the soap and water that will wash away the sweat and the dirt. But Tommy must bring himself under their cleansing action to become clean. So we say to him, “Go take a shower.”
Likewise, when Paul says to us: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” he’s instructing us to bring ourselves under the transforming influence of the Word of God. As the Word of God pours over us, the Spirit will use it to accomplish its cleansing, renewing, renovating work in our minds. Our minds will begin to work correctly. Our thoughts will align more closely to God’s thoughts. Our way of valuing things will align more closely to the way God values things. In this way, we will grow in our ability to know what God wants.
We won’t need to wait for some extrabiblical, supernatural word from God to be spoken into our subconscious thoughts to know what to do. We’ll be able to discern the wise course of action. God doesn’t decide for us and then transmit His decisions to us. Like a good father, He is teaching us to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. How? He is renewing our minds as we come under His Word. He is giving us the mind of Christ.
The world around us is trying to press us into its highly individualistic mold. But the Word is transforming us into people whose identity flows out of being a bondservant to Jesus Christ and no longer a slave to our own independence or self-fulfillment.
The world around us is trying to press us into its consumer mold. Its advertising seeks to convince us that we cannot be content without whatever it’s selling. But the Word is transforming us into people who can say, “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
The world around us is trying to press us into its mold of thinking the goal of this life is comfort and security. But the Word of God is renewing our minds so that we have very different aspirations from simply a comfortable life with a comfortable retirement. We want to expend ourselves for the gospel until the day we die. We so deeply believe that our heavenly Father is taking care of us and has secured a future for us in which we will gain everything, we just aren’t so concerned about losing out here. We are pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The world around us seeks to press us into its mold. And we can simply relent. We can be shaped by the world around us. But we don’t have to be. We can resist. We can be shaped by the Word of God. As we take it in, think it through, and live it out, it is going to change us in profound and pleasant ways. We’re going to increasingly know how to live in the world around us.
This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.