353.The Decision That Every Human In Every Age In Every Place Has To Make. Conformation or Transformation? Romans 12:1-2. [Part 2 of 2.]

In the previous article [click] I gave a brief summary of the challenge of this passage. It expresses God’s desire for all humans to break free from the binding nature of the world to which they are conformed and be transformed by presenting all they are and have to God. If humans do that, there follows a transformation within them as their minds are renewed. It means that with their newly renewed minds they can begin to put into practice what they now understand the will of God to be, and in the process find that His will is good and acceptable and perfect. 

This is the text, Romans 12:1] “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. 2 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.”

A Closer Look At The Significant Words In This Passage.


i].         The Appeal. Rom 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers. “ [“Appeal” is parakaleō; παρακαλέω, means literally to call alongside. It can be translated as to comfort, encourage, exhort, beseech, strengthen and similar words.] The same phrase is used also in Rom. 15:30  where Paul appeals to his readers “to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” and in Rom. 16:17 where he appeals to them to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”

The only other reference in Romans 12:6- 8 where Paul encourages those who have the gift of exhorting or encouraging, to exercise that gift, “6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: …8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation.” 

Paul is appealing to all his readers in this passage to present all they are and have, to God, so that His will might be done in and through them. 

ii].        The Reason Why They Should Respond To The Appeal. “The Mercies Of God.” 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God.” We noted in Part 1 that Paul does not exhort them on the basis of the terrors of hell. Quite the opposite. It is based on the mercies of God. The word is [oiktirmos; οἰκτιρμός which is the noun form of the verb [oikteirō; οἰκτείρω ] meaning to show compassion or mercy. So the mercies of God are the evidences and acts of God’s grace he has been writing about in Romans chapters 1 to 11. They stem from the outward expression of His grace towards sinners because He is merciful, James 5:11, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

In fact, God is called “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort“ in 2 Cor 1:3. [NOTE 1].

iii].       To What Action Is The Appeal Directed? “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice”  “Present” is the verb [paristēmi; παρίστημι] which means to stand, establish, put in place, set up, as well as present. As you look at how Paul had previously used this word in Romans, we see the following. In 6:13, he commanded them to cease presenting their members to sin, but rather to present them to God as instruments of righteousness. They were to present themselves to God. He added to that in 6:19 that they were to present themselves to God in obedience as instruments of righteousness. Also in 6:19 they were encouraged to present their members as slaves to righteousness leading to salvation.

What is envisaged here is the complete surrender of the believer to God in body, mind and spirit. They were offering themselves to him as a living sacrifice. 

“living sacrifice.” This looks like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The picture in the minds of many of us as we think of sacrifice, is that of animals and birds being killed to be offered as sacrifices in the temple. However, the sacrifice we are to offer, is that of ourselves as living human beings making ourselves available to God, to live for Him, to fulfil His purposes. 

“holy” [hagios; ἅγιος ]. The meaning of holy is to be separate. There are a lot of other words based on the root ‘hag’. These are some of the words we find in the New Testament. Hagnos =pure. Hagiazo = to sanctify or separate. Hagiasmos = sanctification.  Hagiosune = holiness. Hoi hagioi = the saints. There are numerous others. “Holy” means being separated from the world to belong exclusively to God. That is what God wants for all peoples, and He has made it possible for humans to become the “saints,” the separated ones, by turning from the world, to trust in Him alone. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers as they put their trust in Him who allows that transformation to take place and who brings them into the people of God known as [οἱ άγιοι] “the saints.”

acceptable to God,” “Acceptable” is [euarestos; εὐάρεστος. ] It is made up of [eu meaning good or well] and [arestos meaning agreeable or pleasant. The word is used of pleasing God in 2 Corinthians 5:9, Ephesians 5:10 and Col 3:10. The writer of Hebrews 13:21 reminds us that when we offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, He equips us to do His will by actually working within us to do the things that are pleasing or acceptable to God.  Heb 13:21  … working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

“which is your spiritual [logikos; λογικός ] worship.  []latreia; λατρεία ]. 

Other translations have, “is your reasonable service.”  

The word for spiritual “and “reasonable “is [logikos]. This is where our English word “logical” comes from. It is a “spiritual” act to present ourselves completely to God as a living sacrifice offered in worship to Him. It is a “reasonable” thing to do in response to what Christ is done for us. It makes sense [it is entirely reasonable ] that if He did everything described in Romans 1 to 11 for us in Christ, [sacrificed His life on our behalf]  that we should sacrifice our lives to Him as willing participants in what He wants to do in and through us for His good pleasure.

The word [latreia] is used of serving someone but is also used of worship.

Jesus in Jn 16:2 warned of those who would mistakenly kill believers thinking they were serving God by doing so. It is sad to recall that so many people in Jesus’ time on earth thought they were serving God in rejecting Jesus and seeking to destroy Him!

Paul in Rom 9:4 wrote about the inheritance the Jews had received, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”

The writer to the Hebrews in Heb 9 used the word to describe worship “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness” 9:1. But the writer also wrote of ritual duties using the same word, “These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties.” Heb 9:6.

Summing up verse 1. In verse 1, Paul has been exhorting his readers to make a decisive presentation of their bodies to the Lord in response to what God has done for them in Christ [the mercies of God]. It was to be an ongoing commitment to Him, [a living sacrifice] and not a once for all sacrifice to Him. This presentation of themselves to God would be pleasing to Him and would be seen as a reasonable thing to do in serving Him. Offering themselves to Him in this way would be see also as being spiritual worship directed to Him.  

But how were they to do that? And what benefits would derive from such a commitment to Him? Paul continues in the next verse to show them that a choice was needed. They could go on as they were [which God didn’t want them to do], or they could choose to give themselves to God and allow Him to transform them from within as He renewed their minds. Then and only then could they come to know the will of God and be able to do it. 

B].       THE CHOICE THEY HAD  TO MAKE. 12:2. Ongoing Conformation To The World Or A New Transformation By God For God?

An Ongoing Conformation?

Paul wrote, 2] “Do not be conformed to this world.”  [Conformed = syschēmatizō; συσχηματίζω and students of the Greek New Testament will recognise this as being a present tense, passive, imperative form of the verb.] It could be translated as “Do not keep on being conformed to the world.” One translator JB Phillips put it like this, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” I really enjoyed that translation but felt that it could have been improved by altering it a little to these words, “Don’t let the world around you keep on squeezing you into its mould.” All humans, even born-again believers have the world around them continually seeking to squeeze them into the world’s mould. 

The “world” of course means more than the physical universe. As David Guzik wrote, the “world system” – the popular culture and manner of thinking that is in rebellion against God – will try to conform us to its ungodly pattern, and that process must be resisted.” [NOTE 2]

The only other occurrence in the NT is in 1 Peter 1:14 where Peter commands, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.”

That’s why at Baptism and Confirmation services we heard the question being asked of the candidates, “Do you renounce the world, the flesh and the devil?” The “world” is always a present reality to be renounced at all times. 

OR An Ongoing Transformation By God? [Not “Conformation” but “Transformation!”]

“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.”

What an incredible change is being envisaged here! Described in powerful words! 

“but be transformed “ [The word is metamorphoō; μεταμορφόω meaning a change in form or appearance]. What is so amazing about this word, is that is used to describe the transfiguration of Jesus in Matt. 17:2 and in Mark 9:2, “And He was transfigured before them.”

The only other use in the New Testament is in 2 Corinthians 3:18 where the meaning is similar to here, in Romans 12. It reads, “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.” It is an ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ wrought in them by the Holy Spirit!

But how does this inner transformation take place? Paul describes the process in Rom 12:2. 

“by the renewal of your mind.” [“Renewal” is anakainōsis; ἀνακαίνωσις where [ana ] can mean “again” or “up” or “from above.” And “kainos” means new, brand-new! ]

The only other reference in the NT is in Titus 3:5, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

What does this transformation lead to? [Being able to understand and do the will of God!]

“that by testing you may discern” [both words are from dokimazō; δοκιμάζω] meaning to test and to approve after testing.] The verb is seen in both its uses in 1Thess 2:4, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” King David knew that God was the searching God who knew everything about everybody. He expressed it like this, “Search me O God and know my heart” in Psalm 139:1. However he wanted to be open to God’s scrutiny so he prayed at the end of the same Psalm, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” Psalm 139:23. In both verses the word for “search” is our word “dokimazō” in the LXX, the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. As God reveals His will to us by His Spirit, we attempt to try it out in practice, and we discover in the process that it is indeed “good and acceptable and perfect.” What does that mean in practice? 

“good “ is  [agathos; ἀγαθός]. This word implies not being just good in itself but it benefits others. It is essentially good but also helpful. His will is beneficial. 

“acceptable “ is [euarestos; . εὐάρεστος]. This is the same word as in verse 1. The offering of our bodies to God, according to the will of God, is an acceptable sacrifice in the sight of God. However it also brings about the discovery for the person who makes that sacrifice, that the will of God is indeed acceptable in the experience of those who do so and who “test” it out.

“perfect” is [teleios; τέλειος]. It has the meaning to be complete, wanting in nothing.  There is nothing that anyone can add to the will of God that could ever improve it. That was King David’s experience as he wrote Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

SUMMARY.  We see from the above that these two verses contain some deeper meanings which help us to realise the significance of the choice  that lies before every human on this planet.  Are they going to go on in the way of the world with its inbuilt resistance to God or are they going to make the sacrifice of presenting all they are and have to God in order to come to understand the will of God and be able to do it. They have a choice because they have freewill. But only God can enable them to carry through the choice once they make it. 

Some years ago I composed a prayer based on these 2 verses. If you would like to pray it, then it can be found as article 051 among my early articles. I would love you to do so,  so that you too might find that God’s will for you is indeed “good and acceptable and perfect.”

Blog No.353. posted on http://www.jimholbeck.blog onThursday 14 May 2020


[NOTE 1]   There is another interesting link in these verses 3 and 4 between the verb to appeal, parakaleō], exhort, strengthen, comfort, etc and the mercies of God.  It is the God as the Father of mercies and God of all comfort [the noun paraklēsis] 12:3, who comforts [the verb parakaleō] us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort [the verb parakaleō] those who are in any affliction, with the comfort the noun [paraklēsis] with which we ourselves are comforted [the verb parakaleō] by God. 

[NOTE 2]  David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary. 

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Creation, Justification, Prayer, Questions and Answers, Salvation, Sanctification, Temptations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s