Question: "What does it mean to be transformed by the renewing of the mind?"
Answer: The phrase “transformed by the renewing of the mind” is found in Romans 12:2. Chapter 12 marks the transition in that epistle from the apostle Paul’s theological teaching to his practical teaching. The book of Romans is probably the closest thing in the Bible to a systematic theology. Paul did not found the church at Rome, but he had every intention of visiting that church on his way to Spain. As a result, Paul wrote this epistle as a way of introducing himself to that congregation and to give them an overview of the gospel and what it means in the lives of believers.
After teaching the great doctrine regarding the gospel of God’s righteousness that is ours through faith in Christ in Romans chapters 1—11, Paul begins to exhort us to godly living. How are we to live in light of the saving power of the gospel? That is what Romans 12—16 aims to teach. The practical section of Romans begins with a great “therefore.” Seeing all that God did on our behalf, therefore live like this. The first of Paul’s great exhortations is to be renewed in our minds:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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 renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1–2).
The phrase “the mercies of God” refers to all of what has preceded in chapters 1—11. The exhortation that Paul presents is that since we have been the gracious recipients of God’s great mercies, we are to be “living sacrifices” to God. How do we do this? We are living sacrifices to God by not conforming to this world, but by being transformed by the renewal of our minds.
This exhortation really serves as a summary statement of all that follows. A living sacrifice to God is one who does not conform, but is transformed. We are not to be conformed to this world. Paul is using the word world here to refer to the spirit of the age. In other words, world refers to the popular worldview that rejects God and His revelation. As unbelievers, we are naturally conformed to the world (Ephesians 2:1–3). As believers, we are no longer conformed to this world because we no longer belong to the spirit of this age. We have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Therefore, rather than continuing to conform to this world, we are to be transformed by having our minds renewed.
It is interesting to note that Paul says that we must be transformed by the renewing of our “minds.” The mind is the key to the Christian life. The reason why non-Christians do not respond to Christian truth is that they cannot discern spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). The gospel is a call for the unbeliever to repent of his sin and embrace Christ by faith. The Greek word translated “repentance” carries the notion of a change of mind. Our thinking must be changed (transformed) from old, ungodly ways of thinking into new, godly ways of thinking. What we know in our minds to be true forms a conviction in our hearts of that truth, and that conviction in our hearts translates into action. Therefore, we must first renew our minds.
The only way to replace the error of the world’s way of thinking is to replace it with God’s truth, and the only infallible source of God’s truth is His revealed Word, the Bible. Transformation through renewed minds comes as believers expose themselves to God’s Word through the faithful exposition of it each week in church, personal Bible study, and group Bible study. A solid church that believes in preaching the Word, reading the Word, and singing the Word is invaluable in helping us renew our minds.
There are no shortcuts. There is no magical formula for renewing our minds. We must fill our minds with God’s Word. As Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).