Have you ever wondered why there are so many decisions and so few disciples? What I know historically right now, in the next 24 hours, tens of thousands of people all across the world will make decisions to follow Christ. They’ll get it. Where you realize I’ve sinned before a holy God, Christ died in my place, He rose from the dead. And you place your faith in Him, and He takes you from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of light.
But I’m guessing that we all have either a short or a long list of friends, and for many of us – I’ve certainly been there myself – where that’s a reality. His Spirit came into your life, you began to make some progress, you started to grow, but then things kind of got not so good. And the great majority, at least statistically, of people that genuinely know and love God, who are followers of Christ, their life isn’t quite matching up.
I got an email from a lady that’s a picture of this, and it’s interesting. She references the message that we talked about from Romans 12:1. She said, “Thank you for your message this morning on Romans 12:1.” And now, listen to her story and see how much you can identify with. “I came to Christ when I was 13, but I’ve gone through a lot of hard times throughout my college, and my relationship with God has been up and down ever since.
Lately I’ve been feeling lethargic and distant from God. I woke up this morning, and I asked myself this question: If I died today, would people say that I was a Christian? That I was a messenger of God, or would they even say or know that I follow God at all? Well, I happened to turn on your program, and as I, in my inner life have struggled both with alcoholism and immorality, I heard what it meant to go all in,” bold letters: “I decided to give all myself to God and completely surrender to Him. So thank you, and God bless.”
Now that email is – isn’t it kind of sad that someone would come to a saving knowledge at 13 and have the next plus or minus 20 years described by up and down? “Distant.” “Lethargic.” Looking for the satisfaction that only God can give, and for reasons maybe she didn’t understand finds herself relying on alcohol and then multiple sexual relationships, only to discover, “Oh! God has a good plan. God wants to give me the best.” And for many people, they didn’t know it does require a moment where you say to Him, “I’m going to trust you.”
And here’s what Romans 12:1 said: “Therefore I urge you, my brothers, in view of God’s mercy,” remember 11 chapters of His love for you, “offer your body a living and holy sacrifice, well pleasing to God. This is your spiritual service.” In other words, that’s what God really wants. But here’s the question. It’s one thing to give God what He really wants. Second question is, how do you get the very best from God? And it’s interesting. That’s verse 2. He’s going to say, “ … and do not be conformed any longer to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that your life,” in other words, your lifestyle, what you actually experience, “would be the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
We’re going to ask and answer the question that I think is one of the most important for any Christian. How do you get the very best from God? What you’re going to see – the structure of this passage – there’s a negative command. Stop, literally, allowing the world to conform you to its mold. And then there’s a positive command: But be transformed by the renewing of your mind. And then there’s this purpose clause. There’s a reason why. So that you personally – not someone out there – so you could experience the good, well-pleasing, perfect will of God.
So let me do a little Bible study. It’s a bit more technical than normal, but I think it’s worthwhile. The negative command is, “do not be conformed to the pattern of this world,” and the main verb is, “do not be conformed.” It’s grammatically in what’s called the passive voice, and I’ll be technical just for a minute. The passive voice means, in Greek, it means that the subject is being acted upon. The active voice would be the subject is doing something. The subject is being acted upon. The imperative simply means that it’s a command, and the present tense means the subject that is being acted upon – it’s happening continuously.
Literally, the apostle Paul is saying stop allowing yourselves to be molded by the influence and pressures of this present world system. That’s really what he’s saying. Now, by the way, when he says “world system” or “the values of this world,” he’s not talking about the geographical world. He’s talking about a system of values, a mindset, a worldview that’s energized by the enemy of your soul, whose goal is to kill and to steal and destroy. To mess your life up. To ruin your relationships. To separate you from God. To make you be emotionally depressed. To cause you to physically go into areas that will ruin your life. I mean, the whole goal of the world system is to destroy you.
And so the apostle Paul says stop allowing this system, this set of values that’s antithetical to everything God wants for your life – stop allowing it to squeeze you into its mold. So, grammatically, he’s telling us this is currently happening in the church at Rome, and we know it’s happening right in our lives. I mean, imagine a little boy or a little girl, or a young woman, or an older man. You hear about Jesus the Messiah, you come to Christ, you live in Rome.
There’s an emperor, there are the gladiators, there are idols everywhere, there are brothels everywhere. You can have any kind of sex with any person, anytime, anywhere. It’s a violent culture. Eighty percent of the entire people group are slaves that are treated as less than human beings. Women don’t even make it. They’re just a piece of property. Babies are killed because of gender with no thought. He says stop allowing the values of this present world in Rome – and now today, in America or wherever you are in the world – to squeeze you into its mold.
Now sometimes – this is really exciting for me – sometimes there’ll be a phrase in Scripture, and someplace else in Scripture it’ll define it very clearly. So the application, very clearly, is that we are to be separate from the world’s values. If you want to understand how to give God what He wants the most, we need to be surrendered to God. But when you want to understand how to get God’s best, we need to be separate from the world’s values.
And then in 1 John 2:15-17, he will literally define and explain what are the world’s values, and how it works. Follow along as I read: “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
And now he’s going to define: So what’s the world? “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life – is not from the Father, but it’s from the world.” And then notice this commentary: “The world is passing away, and its lusts or passions. But the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
Now if you have a pen, I’d like you to pull it out, and every time you see the word “love,” why don’t you circle it? He who “loves” the world. If anyone “loves” the world. The “love” of the Father. Sometimes, at least historically in the Church, when people talked about the world system, or the world’s values, or worldliness, it somehow gets translated into: here’s a list of things you can’t do… or here’s another list you can’t do… or… It’s all these external things.
I want you to understand the values that he describes and the powers that pull at your flesh and mind are far deeper. It’s about relationship. It’s about: where is your love, where are your affections?
And he says the world system has three components. You notice I put it in bold. There’s the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The lust of the flesh is merely the passion to feel. It’s this desire we have for pleasure. And that pleasure can come out in sex, it can come out in food, and, by the way, all these desires are legitimate.
But what the enemy wants to do is create a world system to deliver legitimate needs in illegitimate ways to destroy your life. The lust of the eyes is the passion to have, or to possess. “I’ve got to have that.” The boastful pride of life is the passion to be. It has to do with position. “I’ve got to be a somebody.”
And so, in summary, the world system seeks to seduce us from our love for Christ by pleasure, possessions, and position. Some people put it this way: the world is really about sex, salary, and status. Here’s what I want you to get. There is a system that comes on almost every commercial, every billboard, in every magazine, where you work, that tells you that if you could possess that, if you get this position, if your kids get in this school, if you can have these things, that security, and significance, and meaning, and happiness, and purpose – it’s all for you.
In fact, every time you walk out of the check-out stand, it screams the world system. Because here you are: You’ve got your little groceries, and you’re at the local grocery store, and you know, they got all the magazines, and this magazine number one is either Cosmo or Men’s Health. And if you’re a guy, you look more at Cosmo then you do at Men’s Health. And all the girls – literally, they’re all the same from the neck down when you look at the cover of Cosmo. And it just says, “Sex, man! (If you have that.)”
And so we’re just told: “Your body – you’ve got to be attractive, and sexual, and beautiful.” And there are whole industries – multi-billion dollar industries. I mean, all you’re trying to do is buy some groceries, and it says you don’t look like this. You ought to look like this.
And as you get a little older, some of you are going “Oh, forget that!” Well, there’s Forbes, and there’s Fortune. If you had that, man! Right? And so: money, sex, power, position. And then we create worlds so that our kids can get money, power, sex, and position. So we work like crazy, don’t see one another, spend most of our time staring at screens, have relationships that don’t work, work hours that are insane, be in the gym for long hours to become and look like “someone” so someone will love us.
And all the while, the people that have the most money, with the sexiest bodies, with the largest houses, who’ve won the lotto, or are the celebrities – when we look carefully at their life, we see the highest percentage of depression, divorce, suicide, and emptiness. It’s like this crazy picture of everyone following the great rainbow for the pot of gold, with possessions, and power, and position. And those that have it would come out and say: “It’s empty.”
The great majority of Christians are not experiencing God’s best because their heart has been seduced away from their Savior. And we bought the lies that these things will fulfill, and they don’t.
And God brought you on this day to say to you, “I want to give you the best.” So. Negative: Stop allowing yourself to be molded by the world. So get aware.
Second, He’s going to say: start allowing yourself to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Notice the positive command. He says, “be transformed.”
Do you remember – I think it’s about ninth grade biology – metamorphosis, right? Meta, the Greek word. “Morph” is to change. But you know the little caterpillar that puts itself in its cocoon, and then this beautiful butterfly comes out? What do we call that process? Ninth grade biology? Metamorphosis. It’s changed from the inside out.
This is what God’s saying. Don’t allow the world – the externals – to squeeze you in their values, into this false belief and system of lies that lead to death. But allow yourself, by the transformation of your mind to be changed from the inside out. Then notice the grammar: It’s exactly the same. It’s in the passive voice. Well, what’s that mean? It means – so in other words, God has to! You can’t change yourself. But it’s a command. So God says there’s a part that you have, that you cooperate with Me, but I’m the one who does the changing.
And then notice it’s in the present tense. So notice the translation here of this command is: “But allow God to completely change your inward thinking, and outward behavior,” How? “By cooperating whole-heartedly, moment by moment, with the Spirit’s renewing process.” It’s supernatural. It’s not self-effort and trying hard - no, no. It’s internal.
It’s the Spirit of God taking the Word of God, renewing your mind, in the context of community of real life relationships, where the very personality of Jesus and His character – where you’re loving, and kind, and peaceful, and gentle, and generous, and other-centered, and have self-discipline. And the fruit of the Spirit – which is really the life of Christ – progressively becomes more how you think, and how you act. It’s not trying hard to be like Jesus. It’s allowing the Jesus living in you, by the Holy Spirit, to transform you from the inside out.
And so the application is really – I put it in the form of a question: “Are you shaped more by the world or by the Word?”
So before we just go on, let me just ask you, if I just put a little stick man on a line, and an arrow this direction, and an arrow this direction, and on this side would be the Word’s influence in my life – truth, God’s Word, God’s people. You’re the little stick man or stick woman, and this is the world. Which one is having the most influence?
The world is saying, “Get, get, get. Accumulate, accumulate. Impress, impress, impress.” The Word is saying, “Give, give, give. Be authentic, love, care.” The world is saying, “It’s how you look.” The Word is saying, “It’s who you are.” The world is saying, “You don’t measure up unless you ‘have.’” The Word is saying, “You already measure up, and your value is in how you care.” The Word comes to you in the beauty of nature, primarily the Bible, the Word of God, and out of the relationships of other believers where Jesus lives inside of them. All those things wooing you and drawing you to allow Christ to be formed in you.
And the world comes at you in smart phones, computer, TV, Netflix, billboards, romance novels. Relationships where people look at you and say, “Unless you have this, unless you look like that, unless you can do this, unless you conform there, you don’t really measure up.” And you’re in the battle of your life. External forces like this saying to you: conform, conform, conform. And an internal, supernatural power saying: be transformed, be transformed.
And I don’t say this – this is not like, “Oh, I want everyone to feel guilty for thirty seconds.” I just want you to look at the little stick man in your mind and say: is the input of God’s Word, and God’s people, and those things, influencing your time, your priorities, and your focus, or is it more the world? Now nationwide, it’s pretty obvious. About eight-to-nine out of ten Christians, it’s more: this.
Can you imagine, in Heaven, how God must feel about that lady (and about us) as a 13-year-old girl that comes to know Jesus and is loved, and He’s got this amazing plan for her? But she hears that unless you sleep with your boyfriend, you don’t measure up, and so she does. Then she feels guilty because when the Spirit lives in you, there’s this battle. And she did it to be loved and – well, then she feels bad about it, and so to get to sleep at night she starts, you know, drinking a little bit. And she wants to be a part of things, so she hangs with the crowd.
And down deep inside of her soul, she has this lack of peace, and then finally she just realizes I’ve spent twenty years with the Spirit of God living inside me, and I’ve never gotten God’s best. I wonder how many Christians sitting in this room today are living right there today? Because, boy, I’ll tell you, I’ve been there.