By Bud Hancock
Time for New Year’s Resolutions
Paul, in writing to the saints in Rome, opens his letter with solid instruction on the power of the gospel, or the ‘good news’ of Christ, specifically stating in chapter 1, verse 16, that the gospel is the righteousness of God unto salvation to all, both Jew and Gentile, who choose to believe and act on it. God’s righteousness entitles Him to offer salvation to any who will believe His Word. In verse 17, Paul immediately follows the statement regarding God’s offer of salvation, stating that the ‘wrath of God’ is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, indicating that God’s righteousness also entitles Him to judge the world for its refusal to believe His Word.
Indictment of the World
The rest of the first chapter is used by Paul to provide a long and very thorough indictment of the world. He begins by stating that every person in the world that denies the existence of God and His creative power is without excuse. What exactly does he mean “without excuse?”
It infers that, at some point, every unbeliever will stand before God and be required to give an account of his or her rejection of God’s offer of salvation, which will only be an excuse for making the decision to reject the God of creation.
Being without excuse is based on the written Word, but also on the fact that all one need do is look at the whole of creation, and, in all of it, God can be and is seen. The reason unbelievers will stand before God without excuse is that, having known God, they failed to or refused to glorify Him and be thankful to Him; but instead they became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts became darkened (Romans 1:21).
Paul then offers a comprehensive list of descriptions of those of darkened minds, those who, despite an inherent knowledge of Him, deny that He is the God who created all that can be seen, the God who alone is worthy of all glory. These refused to acknowledge the creative power of God and refused to be thankful to Him for what He created; and in so doing they became fools. In their foolishness, they formed their own gods resembling corruptible man, birds, four-footed beasts and creeping things, all being creatures that were made by the One true God.
The Human Condition
For thousands of years and for many generations, the world has continued in the condition described by Paul in Romans 1; this is the fallen condition that Satan works very hard to maintain in all those who choose to follow him instead of the Living God.
In this letter, Paul is teaching his readers, the saints residing in Rome, that there is a group of people whom he calls ‘the world,’ existing in a spiritually dead condition, a condition that ultimately leads to eternal death, or separation from God. At some point, they have made decisions which brought them into conformity to Satan’s system, the world, and are now trapped in what I would call the Death Cycle.
The sad thing is that they truly believe they are living the high life, enjoying all the enticements or temptations offered by Satan. In the natural world, these enticements are powerful because they appeal to the five senses that every person uses when interacting with the created world. Even though the enticements may take many forms, they all consist of these three: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. That these all proceed from Satan is confirmed by the words of the Apostle John written in I John 2:16:
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
Satan not only desires to maintain this fallen condition in as many human beings as possible, he is always trying to increase the number, using his followers to entice believers to give up their faith and join the unsaved in their fallen condition.
The Purpose of Paul’s Letter to the Romans
In view of the indictment against the spiritual condition of the world, I want to focus on the words of Paul recorded in the twelfth chapter of the book of Romans, specifically these words from verses 1-2 of chapter 12:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Paul uses the word ‘therefore’, a conjunction which in legal terms means ‘consequently’ or, ‘in view of the foregoing’, referring to all the words previously recorded in this letter up to chapter 12. To paraphrase, what Paul is really saying is, “In view of the foregoing text and based on all that you have read so far, I implore you to offer your bodies to God, a living sacrifice.”
The word Paul uses in Romans 12:1, ‘beseech’, means ‘to earnestly plead with’. And he is urging his readers to be aware that, after offering their bodies to God, they must then reject the world’s system and refuse all temptation to conform to it (verse 2). Only by refusing all enticements of Satan to conform to the world will the needed transformation follow. This marvelous transformation will then place them in position to know God’s will for their lives.
This act requires a sincere commitment to allow The Word to do its work in their lives, and it requires diligence to remain aware of the enticements and temptations that Satan and his followers will use to try to draw them back into the world system and away from God. Paul, knowing as he did the power of Satan to deceive and delude, is almost begging his readers to pay close attention to his words.
Here in Romans12:2, Paul, in urging his readers to “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” is establishing that:
(To Be) Conformed = Death, or the ‘Death Cycle’; (To Be) Transformed = Life, or the ‘Life Cycle’.
Paul was one of the most learned religious scholars of his day, a “Pharisee of the Pharisees,” a member of the Sanhedrin, highly respected by the religious leaders of the Jews. He was very much aware of how Satan uses his enticements and temptations, and yes, even religion to some extent, to deceive and trap people in the death cycle. But, because several years in the past, he had a meeting in which he encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul learned that his life up to that point had all been a waste, and he knew that he had spent much of his life caught in the Death Cycle, conformed to the ‘religious world’.
Paul’s life was transformed from the Death Cycle to the Life Cycle by a face-to-face meeting with Jesus Christ, The Word of God, on that trip to Damascus. So powerful was that confrontation that Paul was left blinded for several days. However, as he was obedient to the words of Jesus, he received his sight back and began a newly transformed life, one that was renewed by his meeting with The Word, a life that would include being the author of most of the New Testament.
He had become living proof of the validity of the final words of Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (emphasis mine). Subsequently, he knew that the only way to escape the Death Cycle was through a constant renewing, not just a one-time renewal, of the mind by the Word of God.
By entering the Life Cycle, Paul was able to prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God for his own life. However, a much different result of his action was that it placed a huge target on his back for Satan and his followers to aim at.
New Year’s Resolutions
At this time every year, millions of people around the world make resolutions to change certain things in their lives, hoping that some of the actions resolved will stick and make a difference. And, I guess, to some extent, there are some successes from making resolutions; but historically a huge percentage of all New Year’s resolutions end in utter failure. Why is that?
Could it be that these resolutions are undertaken in the mental realm only, with no spiritual connection or support whatsoever? The major reason for the failure of such actions is that the persons making them are trying to ‘change their minds’ about their lifestyles.
If people, especially Christians, who ‘make resolutions’, were totally honest with themselves, they would realize that God desires the kind of change in people that’s reflected by their New Year’s resolutions. But, according to Romans 12:2, a change of mind alone is not what Paul was suggesting. He knew that a mind still connected to and controlled by the word’s evil system is incapable of knowing the will of God. He commanded that Christians actually ‘renew their minds’, and that can only be accomplished by allowing the Word of God to work through the human spirit to bring complete renewal that produces the ability to prove what God’s will is.
All those currently in line with the world’s agenda, or those whose decisions are causing them to conform to the world’s way of doing things, are firmly ensconced in the Death Cycle. The only way to get into the Life Cycle is to be transformed by the renewing of the mind; and the only way to remain in the Life Cycle is to continuously be in a state of ‘mind-renewal’ by becoming immersed in The Word.
Even Christians, especially Christians, must constantly seek the transformation that can only be achieved by immersion in God’s Word. But be aware that your desire for transformation will place you squarely in Satan’s crosshairs; and he will likely begin to bombard you with every temptation and tribulation he has in his arsenal.
Even so, we can be comforted by the words of Jesus from John 16:33, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”