NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson V)
That’s why Paul called for a complete renovation of the mind. King David knew where that transformation began when he prayed: “Give me a new heart, O God, and renew my spirit to be more resolute.”1 Even Ezekiel shared this message from God: “Get rid of all the sins you have done, and get a new heart and renew spirit!”2 And how was this to be initiated? Paul says it all starts with having the mind completely retuned. Thayer, in his Lexicon, says it has to do with a renovation or complete change for the better. Paul uses this word again in reference to our new life in Christ.3 As such, we can see where it would involve a 180-degree turn in one’s moral, ethical, and spiritual thinking. This concept was not new to Paul. He told the Philippians to start thinking about what was true, honest, fair, pure, lovely, of good report, with virtue, and things held in high esteem.4 And how were they going to able to do this, Paul told them to have the same mind as Christ.5 In other words, start speaking and acting the way Jesus said we should.
Paul then said to the Roman believers, when you do this you will find out and verify those things that are good and acceptable to be part of God’s will for your life. David had similar advice for his subjects. He explained to them that when they started looking for that which would strengthen their inner person; would inspire wise thinking; would bring joy by focusing on what was right; would open one’s eyes to see the good in things; would bring reverence for the LORD that would last; would help one appreciate all that the LORD has said in order to guide us; would be worth more than the finest of gold, and taste better than the sweetest honey, they would find it in God’s Word.6 Said Solomon: “Happy is the person who finds wisdom, the person who acquires understanding.”7 And to Paul’s point about satisfying God’s will for one’s life, Solomon also said: “Then you will win favor and esteem in the sight of God and of people.”8
That’s why Paul reminded the Ephesians: “At one time you lived in darkness. Now you are living in the light that comes from the Lord. Live as children who have the light of the Lord in them. This light gives us truth. It makes us right with God and makes us good.”9 It was also the prayer of Epaphras for the Colossians that God would help them to be strong and to make them complete. Also, that they would get to know how God wanted them to conduct themselves in all circumstances.10 And Paul’s advice to his protegé Timothy was this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work.”11
Early church scholar Origen was also intrigued with the idea of a transformation of the mind. As he sees it, Paul reached the place where he proposes that there are two forms we can choose to conform to, one form representing this world and another form representing the world-to-come. For those who love this present life and the things which are in the world, they adopt the visible forms that typify life in the present age and pay no attention to the unseen forms available.12 What they don’t realize is that the forms of this world are passing and cannot be depended upon to last. But the things which are not seen are eternal and will last forever. These eternal, unseen forms of the world-to-come can only be viewed by faith. That’s why the world does not like those who conform to them. In fact, they hate and persecute those who do.13 But the angels of God, who belong to the age-to-come rejoice each time someone is transformed to conform to what will be, not what will pass away.14
Then the early church Bishop of Laodicea looks back to the prophet Jeremiah and believes this is what he meant when he talked about writing the law of God on the heart.15 For those who are spiritually minded in heart and mind will know what is good and acceptable and perfect, and will desire only those things that are pleasing to God. If you have the goodness of the good Father in your heart, you will only want to do that which is good. Not just for yourself, but for God and others. By doing so, you will end up encouraging everyone to do good. However, doing good will surely bring you into conflict with those who do evil. When that happens, don’t let them scare you or cause you to quit. Resist the evil that is inspired by the devil and it will go away.16 Only by resisting evil and staying on course to do good will promote advancement in becoming more and more like Christ.”17
For Chrysostom, the fashions of this world lead to being submissive and then end up becoming worthless. They are like fads, they come and go. There is nothing noble or uplifting about them, and they do more harm than good. And when it comes to what Paul said about being renewed, it can be one of two things. First, that we need to be renewed in order to learn what is the appropriate thing to do in serving God. Second, if we learn what is the appropriate thing for us to do in serving God then we will be renewed by doing it. As far as Chrysostom is concerned, it can be either way. The one certain thing is that we serve God and do whatever He wills for us in order to reach the destiny He has predetermined for our lives.18
Martin Luther has a lot to say about what Paul states here. According to his thinking, Paul is describing Christian progress. He is addressing those who are already believers. Christians do not stand still if they are truly living for God. They do what God has given them to do and then by His leading move on to the next assignment. As Luther sees it, the Apostle Paul’s call for the renewing of the mind is not a onetime process. It is something that takes place from day to day and progresses further and further. Paul said this himself: “The inward man is renewed day by day.”19 He also wrote: “You have put on the new self, which is continually being renewed in fuller and fuller knowledge, closer and closer to the image of its Creator.”20 Luther then distinguishes the difference between that which is “good” and that which is “acceptable” as part of the “perfect” will of God. In his mind, the “good” will of God is what we should be doing as His little children. The “acceptable” will of God is what we do to keep ourselves pure and holy as maturing children. The “perfect” will of God is that we look only to Him for guidance in doing good and being pure and holy.21
Luther also contends that only faith can transform the mind and lead us to where we may prove the will of God. He finds this expressed by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians: “I pray that Christ may live in your hearts by faith. I pray that you will be filled with love. I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.”22 This brings Luther to the conclusion that we should not be dismayed when things happen to us that displease us. The “good” will of God helps create good out of evil. The “acceptable” will of God is that we cheerfully love making good out of evil. If it is acceptable to Him it should be acceptable to us, even if it took dealing with evil. The “perfect” will of God is that we remain good all the time and seek ways to convert evil thoughts so they become good and acceptable to Him23.24
Reformer John Calvin points out that the term “world” to which the believer should not seek to conform, has several significations. Here, Paul uses it to identify the opinions and the morals of mankind. Since believers are commissioned to live in a wicked society, Paul warns them to keep their sinful tendencies under tight rein. The best way to do that is to adopt and renew every day the character and virtues of Christ. This will require a new way of thinking, and that will necessitate a renovation of the mind. When we read the leading philosophers of the past and those of today, they ascribe supremacy to the mind above the emotions. Some call it “mind over matter.”25
Some in the world of psychological thinking today have a similar term to offer: “emotional intelligence.”26 But Paul goes higher than this. Such intelligence as spoken of by the world’s wise men involves the logical thinking of the human mind. Paul is pointing to the mind of God which is communicated to believers by the Holy Spirit.27 Calvin reiterates that no matter how much we may flatter ourselves, Christ’s declaration is still true – that every person must be born-again to even begin to comprehend the mind of God. This is necessary because once you enter the kingdom of God, your mind and heart must be aligned with God’s righteousness in order to grow and go forward.
For Calvin, it boils down to this: Paul explains the purpose for which we must have a renewed mind – in order to say goodbye to our own advice and opinions, as well as that of others who teach we must be like them in order to succeed in the Kingdom of God. If we truly want to be more like Christ, then we must listen more to Christ. Think of it this way: Picture your mind like a closet. Over your lifetime you have stuffed many things into this closet. Some good memories, and some bad memories. All of your opinions, biases, preconceptions, prejudices, partisanship, etc., are piled up inside. Think of your mouth as the lock on this closet. When we unlock and open the door too quickly, things may fall out we were trying to hide or didn’t want anyone to know it was in there. Once we become believers, we must get out a garbage bag and go through this closet and clean it out. Not so much to throw away things we don’t want to remember, but to make room for the things God wants us to store there once we complete the renovation. It won’t happen overnight, but the closet will become more orderly and useful as we move along in the sanctification process.
1 Psalm 51:10
2 Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26
3 Titus 3:5
4 Philippians 4:8
5 Ibid. 2:5
6 Psalm 19:7-10
7 Proverbs 3:13
8 Ibid. 3:4
9 Ephesians 5:8-9
10 Colossians 4:12
11 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – Complete Jewish Bible
12 2 Corinthians 4:18
13 See Matthew 5:10-11; John 15:19-20
14 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 See Jeremiah 32:37-44
16 James 4:7
17 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans, 20
19 2 Corinthians 4:16
20 Colossians 3:10
21 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 168
23 See Romans 12:14-16
24 Luther: ibid., pp. 169
25 Charles Lyell: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, Published by John Murray, London, 1863, Ch. xxiv, p. 506
26 This term is said to have been coined by Michael Beldoch in a 1964 paper.
27 1 Corinthians 2:11