NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson VI)
Another reason this renovation of our mind is necessary is so that we can demonstrate what the will of God is for our lives. The world persuades itself and boasts that the lifestyle they have constructed works the best. But what they don’t tell you is that it works best for them when they let it control their lives. But Paul is adamant that what is good and right must be ascertained from God’s Word. As Calvin sees it, the world boasts and takes delight in its own inventions because it reinforces their choices. But Paul affirms that nothing pleases God except what He has commanded. When those in the world strive to find perfection in their character, virtues, and values, they do not consult the Word of God because it doesn’t work with their methods for achievement in this life only. That’s why it is so important for believers to understand what it takes to perfect in the will of God for them to enjoy both their life here and the life-to-come.1
Some scholars expressed their opinion that Verse 1 is directed to the Jews, while Verse 2 was meant for the Gentiles. But John Locke gives us a different view. Verse 2 is actually a prelude to Verse 1. In other words, Paul is actually saying that believers should not let the world influence their thinking. That since they came out of the world they need to have their minds transformed. That way, they will be better able to discover what God’s will is for their lives. Therefore, present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God as part of the process.
This was not a new message for Paul. Look at what he told the Ephesians: “I tell you this in the name of the Lord: You must not live any longer like the people of the world who do not know God. Their thoughts are foolish. Their minds are in darkness. They are strangers to the life of God. This is because they have closed their minds to Him and have turned their hearts away from Him. They do not care anymore about what is right or wrong. They have turned themselves over to the sinful ways of the world and are always wanting to do every kind of sinful act they can think of.”2
Then, when we examine Paul’s words to the Thessalonians we hear him say: “Now then, brothers, you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, as, in fact, you are doing. We ask and encourage you in the Lord to do so even more. You know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For it is God’s will that you be sanctified.”3 So by looking at it this way, these first two verses here can be seen in a different context. As Locke sees it, this is the only way a believer can keep their bodies as a vessel in sanctification and honor, prepared for God’s service.4
Daniel Whitby also has an interesting thought here by noting that since the Jews knew that justification could not be obtained by way of obedience to the Law, Paul is telling them that the Gospel of Christ has perfected and spiritualized the Law. This was done by taking the ceremonial and judicial parts of the Law to assist us in fulfilling the moral parts of the Law. This begins with the required sacrifices in the Temple being done away with through the sacrifice of Christ. So accepting Christ’s sacrifice by faith, which makes the forgiveness of our sins effective, it is only reasonable that we bring our bodies to God and offer ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice to be used for His service.5
John Bengel adds to Calvin’s description of what “world” means. For him, it implies those morals, virtues, and ethics defined by the kingdom of this world as opposed to those defined by the kingdom of God. Thus, the only way for a worldly-minded person to become spiritually-minded is by the metamorphosis (transformation) of the mind. This is necessary for them to discern, which Bengel calls: “acquiring the ability to prove,” what is good and well-pleasing in God’s perfect will.6
Jonathan Edwards takes what he said about knowing what you are doing and why you are doing it when it comes to serving God, and goes a step further. This can only happen if the Holy Spirit is there to teach a believer what their duties are and why it is important that they follow God’s instruction in doing their duties. It does this by sanctifying the soul’s tastes and the mind’s curiosities. Instead of them being things of earth, they become things of God. And since they are things that are agreeable with the mind of Christ, only those things that please God are accepted and anything that displeases God is rejected. Says Edwards, “For the sanctified ear tries words, and the sanctified heart tries actions, the same way the mouth tastes food.7”8
Adam Clarke saw a similarity between Paul’s world and the world of his day in the eighteenth century. Clarke reports that the way things were back then, the world’s way of thinking and living was as much opposed to the spirit of genuine Christianity as that faced by the Apostle Paul. Clarke lets us know that it involved pride, luxury, vanity, extravagance in dress, and riotous living. But Clarke was not so much concerned about his sinful neighbors who sat in taverns on Sunday morning, as he was for those who sat in the pews at church. They were in danger of being easily persuaded to join the other crowd. What they didn’t know was that it was unworthy of a Christian to think that way. Besides, such pursuits were as injurious to their souls as it was to their health.
As a result, people need to be completely metamorphosed, transfigured with new habits and a new form of worship. By the renewing of their mind, this inward change produces outward results. It cannot be the other way around. If believers today do not follow the same instructions Paul gave the Ephesians, then any outward change is of little worth.9 Once this happens, then the person will have all the practical proof and experimental knowledge needed to discover the will of God which contains His purpose and determination. Furthermore, they will find it well-pleasing to their own minds. Once the mind is transformed, then God’s will for their lives is perfected to that point. This is necessary in order for them to grow further in Christ.10
Robert Haldane focuses on the word transformed: Many fiction writers use this term to signify the change or metempsychosis of animals into trees, or for humans to appear as animals, much like what we see in Greek mythology. This term does not mean a simple change but denotes the entire change that transpires in a person when they become a child of God. To use the technique of these writers, it’s like a ferocious wolf becoming a pedigreed dog, or a wild tiger turning into a prized cat. They may appear similar to what they looked like before, but they are a completely different species. There are some who have attempted this on their own in a plan of deception. But the only one being fooled is themselves. A true Christian can spot them immediately and know they are only make-believe. The only thing they’ve changed is the outside. On the inside, their hearts, minds, and tendencies are still the same.
The Apostle Paul made it clear when he wrote the Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”11 Paul was talking about a radical difference between what they were and what they are now. So the question is rightly asked, “How can this happen when an infant is christened with water?” Or, “is such a change possible when an individual is merely dipped in water?” Or even more questionable, can this be guaranteed when a person simply joins a church? If the change expected is as great as the Word of God teaches, there will be little difficulty in judging of the character of those who profess Christianity.
As Haldane sees it, the Spirit can help us determine if this took place. If the person has truly metamorphosed from the sinful nature that controlled their behavior in the past to be conformed with Christ in the present, there is no need for speculation. The spirit within them will bear witness with the Spirit that they are certainly children of God.12 But this is only the beginning. Like the infant that comes out of the womb, they are ready now to grow and mature into the person God deemed them to be. And when they do not mature as they should, then they go back to the altar and renew their minds so they can be transformed once again into God’s perfect will for their lives. Based on all that Paul has said until now, that is the only logical or reasonable service they can render to God through the Holy Spirit.13
Albert Barnes also looks at the original Greek text to find even more nuggets of wisdom that God so graciously hid away just for those who were interested enough to search, so that upon finding them it would bring joy and a greater appreciation for the truth. The Greek verb that Barnes is speaking of is dokimazō translated in the KJV as “prove.” But this word can be used in context to see (1) whether a thing is genuine or not, or, (2) it can be employed after examination to approve it and deem it worthy. Thayer in his Lexicon puts it in the first case for verse 2. Such testing was done on metals, especially silver and gold with fire. But it can only be done with a renewed mind which is essential to conduct a successful inquiry into what will work in your life so that you can please God with your service.
One of the first things a renewed mind will help the believer do is obey God and be prepared to understand His precepts and guidelines. There must be the proper correspondence between the feelings of the heart and the will of the mind. So instead of seeing God’s laws as cruel and His commandments as restrictive, it will help the believer see benefaction in His laws, and the beauty of His commandments. So we can see that a heart in love with the fashions and follies of this world is ill-suited to appreciate the necessity for prayer and humility. Jesus offered this test to His critics: “If any of you are really determined to do God’s will, then you will certainly know whether My teaching is from God or is merely My own idea.”14
So the point Paul is making is that the reason why the mind must be renewed is that it will allow us to test all the options and suggestions we are given in finding those things that fit God’s will for our lives and ministry.15 It is clear that Barnes sees a difference between the general will of God for all believers and His exact will for each believer. We should all know the general will of God. As Jesus explained it, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But it will take a more precise tuning of the mind of each believer to test and prove what God’s perfect will is for them.
1 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Ephesians 4:17-19
3 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a
4 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 362
5 Daniel Whitby: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 68
6 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 109-110
7 Psalm 34:8
8 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 276)
9 Ephesians 4:23
10 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 237
11 2 Corinthians 5:17
12 See Romans 8:16
13 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 556-557
14 John 7:17
15 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.