NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson VII)
Henry Alford also sees the term “world” used here as a reference to the ungodly aspects of the carnal world as opposed to the spiritual kingdom of Christ. He also says that the metamorphosis of the mind does not refer to the method by which it is renewed, but the manner in which the transformation takes place. In other words, it doesn’t happen just by sitting around and studying the Scriptures. It takes an active Christian life in addition to such studying. Otherwise, one cannot prove what they read as being real. According to Alford, the Apostle is not speaking of simply acquiring Biblical facts and information, rather, it is combining practical experience with guidance from the Scriptures with help of the Holy Spirit. Also, according to Alford’s understanding, the perfect will of God means that once it is acquired, the believer should not try to make any additions or changes. This is the work of the Spirit.1
H. A. Ironside has an interesting model in explaining the renewing of the mind. For him, it is when the cross of Christ stands in between the believer and the world. To conform oneself to the ways of this present evil age would require becoming unfaithful to the One whom the world has rejected but whom you have declared to be your Lord and Savior. Ironside then tells this story to make his point. After listening to a devoted Christian lady give an inspiring testimony, a young woman in the audience said to her, as she shook her hand, “‘I would give the world to have your experience.” The older saint looked at her and said, “My dear, that’s exactly what it cost me. I gave up the world for it.” The loyal heart is glad to make such a remark, not do it grudgingly. The Apostle Paul entreats us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means to occupy the mind with Christ and the things of God. It implies that the believer’s affections are set on things above.2 By doing so, we can become more like the One who won our hearts for Himself by His love. Then, by walking in loving obedience to His will we prove how good, and acceptable, and perfect God’s will is for our lives.3
British preacher Octavius Winslow had some thoughts on a human’s capacity to reason. For him, when the Word of God is opened, it declares that from the time of Adam and Eve’s fall the inner nature of mankind became thoroughly corrupt. Just as the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians about the futile thinking of those without God. They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion.4 But this was not news. Long ago it was recorded that only fools say there is no God.5 That’s because no human on earth who is right in their own eyes is also right with God. Who can claim that they always do what is right and never break the law?6 People who live with very little influence of God in their daily lives show little interest in a deeper spiritual relationship with God. In fact, they actually try to avoid all contact with such phenomena. As Paul told the Corinthians, these people can’t imagine what the gifts of the Spirit are all about, they make no effort to understand them. Even though they call themselves Christians, they consider such things as unnecessary and silly.7
Believers who find themselves in such a spiritual stupor need to wake up. As Paul says here, the need to take their ordinary, everyday way of living – their waking up, eating, going-to-work, work, returning home from work, after-work activities, and then going to bed – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing and making Him an everyday part of their life is the best thing they can do for themselves and Him.8 Believers being restored to a sound mind, and increased spiritual understanding and discernment, followed by getting rid of those customs and habits that have become obstacles, is the best way of grabbing hold of the new vision that comes with this renovation of the mind. Then, and only then, will it be possible for them to understand the mysteries of God that come from knowing the truth.9
And in another sermon, Winslow touches on the subject of not being conformed to this world. It starts with duties clearly written for professing believers. Paul is begging his brothers and sisters that the Word of God makes it as clear as the sun in the sky, that with eyes wide open to the mercies of God, and as an act of intelligent worship, to give God their bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him, and acceptable by Him.10 But that is not the only duty, they are also told to leave worldly things behind; don’t make them part of their lifestyle; don’t let such things make them unholy, and God will welcome them like a loving Father so they can be His sons and daughters.11
Furthermore, stop being attracted to the things this sinful world has to offer. For when a believer goes after and participates in these things, they show that they do not really love God; all these worldly things, these evil desires – the craze for things immoral, the ambition to buy everything that appeals to the flesh, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance – are not what God wants to offer them. They are from this evil world itself.12 When they do this, they are like an unfaithful wife who loves her husband’s enemies. In the same way, don’t they realize that making friends with God’s enemies – the sinful pleasures of this world – makes them an enemy of God?
Winslow then reiterates that if a believer’s aim is to enjoy the sinful pleasures just like the unsaved in the world, they cannot possibly be friends of God.13 The Christian who lives a holy life, as far as God the Father is concerned, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows, and who remains true to the Lord – not contaminated and infected by their contacts with the world.14 How much clearer and more implicit can the Holy Spirit lay down the Christian duties in reference to their interaction with worldly people? Anyone who does not take Him seriously and continues to be engaged with the world and their sinful activities is only grieving the Holy Spirit;15 wounding their own soul and making their claim of being a Christian a cheap brag.16 That is some tough preaching by Winslow, but it is all Biblical.
Charles Hodge echoes the words of Jesus who said that God is to be worshiped with spiritual acts of the heart and mind, not just rites, rituals, and ceremonies; not with speculation or supposition, but according to the truth of God’s Word,17 something that Paul alludes to in verse 1. But there must also be a corresponding practical effort of living in holiness that comes from offering our bodies as a living sacrifice. In other words, what value is there in salvation if there is no continuing sanctification? To begin with, the fact that mankind is universally corrupted and devoted to sin means that we live in a world that is populated by those who enjoy their sinful ways. So to be conformed to the world, therefore, is to be and live as much like them as possible, while still claiming the special calling as children of God.
The word “conformed” accurately describes copying the character, manners, customs, and values of those who are being conformed to. By the same token, the word “transformed” expresses with equal strength the opposite idea. Also, the word “world” can be better understood as a Last Covenant term that comes from the fact that the Jews saw themselves as a separate civilized group among the uncivilized peoples all around them. They were a unique nation among nations because they worship the one and only true God. So as Gentiles began to turn to Christianity and came into unity with Jewish believers, they were referred to as coming out of the impure world full of sinners into the holy kingdom of God. Then among the Gentiles believers, as well as the Jews, they were no longer a part of this world but were made part of the world-to-come.18
Hodge continues to focus on the vocabulary Paul uses in this text by pointing to the word “prove,” which signifies both being tested and approved. All depending on how the word is used, it could either be taken to mean that after having been renewed in mind the believer may try or prove what is acceptable to God, namely, decide whether it is right for use in serving God; or, that believers may approve of what is right for God’s service. There are also some scholars, such as Erasmus, who see the words “good,” “acceptable,” and “perfect,” are predicates describing the “will of God. However, there are other scholars who see these words as substantives defining the “will of God.” In other words, that the believer is to approve that God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect. Obviously, the first understanding of these terms as predicates is what Paul is advocating here. Believers should delight in, practice, and enjoy whatever is good and acceptable to God as a perfect tool to fulfill His will for their lives19.20
Frédéric Godet cautions us not to take verse 2 as the definition for completion of sanctification in the body and mind of the believer. Sanctification is not a one time for all time process such as Justification. The interaction between verses 1 and 2 are very instructive. In verse 1 we find the action involved concerns first the body – presented as a sacrifice. Then in verse 2, we find the mind as the subject – being renewed. Now both these actions of body and mind will then work together to ascertain what are the good and acceptable things that please God and, thereby, fulfill His will for our lives. So with Paul pointing to the believer’s body as a consecrated instrument, then he goes on to indicate the rule according to which the believer ought to make use of it.
This helps the believer find the lifestyle that God wants for them. That’s why the old model under the Law must be discarded, and a new model, a superior type, to become a reality in the believer’s life by the power of the Holy Spirit acting within them. This involves being transformed, literally, metamorphosed. The term form or pattern, must not be taken as the external pose suitable for imitation, like style or attitude, but an internal organic form, the supernatural product of a divine principle of life which manifests itself for all to see. So it is not by looking around them that the believer learns how to outwardly use their body to please God, but by putting themselves under the dominion of a new power which makes the inward changes required to make the transformation necessary for such use.21
1 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 109-110
2 Colossians 3:2
3 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Ephesians 4:18
5 Psalm 14:1, cf. 53:1
6 Ecclesiastes 7:20
7 1 Corinthians 2:14
8 Romans 12:2
9 The Works of Octavius Winslow: The Province of Reason in the Investigation of Spiritual and Experimental Truth,” 1 Corinthians 1:21
10 Romans 12:2
11 2 Corinthians 6:17-18
12 1 John 2:15-16
13 James 4:4
14 Ibid. 1:27
15 Ephesians 4:30
16 The Works of Octavius Winslow: Personal Declension & Revival of Religion in the Soul, Ch. 6, On Grieving the Spirit, Ephesians 4:30
17 John 4:24
18 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 597-598
19 Cf. Ephesians 5:10, 17; Philippians 4:8
20 Hodge: ibid., pp. 598-599
21 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.