One of the most powerful statements about everyday Christian life in a worldly world is Paul’s words at the beginning of Romans 12. Paul faces the reality that believers—and whole congregations, even denominations and networks of churches—live in a constant and continual culture war.
There is Christian culture, also described as Kingdom culture, taught by Jesus every time He said, “The Kingdom of God is like this….” On the other hand, there is our everyday environment of worldly culture. Some of the world is in sync with the Kingdom culture. Most of it is not. This is the tension, the tension environment, in which we live—in which churches, church leaders, and church members live, every minute of every day.
We are bombarded by worldly values, beliefs, attitudes, priorities, and worldviews. Many of these elements are in direct contrast to Kingdom culture. This is the daily battle we face. Paul says, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind—which is an act of God.” How does God do it?
You can, and should, pray for a greater renewal of your mind every day. But there’s much more. It’s why the Scripture—the Bible—is so important.
Admittedly, it’s not a short study. It takes commitment. It takes a daily practice. It’s a lifelong journey. Yet, our research shows most Christians don’t read the Bible regularly—fewer than 50% read it on a regular basis. Many Christians, 49%, do not ever participate in a regular, routine group Bible study, even though most every church provides Bible studies.
Many Christians are stuck in an old version of the Bible. If you ask a missionary which version of the Bible is their favorite, they will say, “The next one.” Why? Because language constantly changes. If you asked someone 50 years ago, “What is a cell phone?” they would probably answer, “a phone they give to people in jail.” Yeah, language changes!
As I write this, The Message version seems most engaging. According to the brilliant translator Eugene Peterson, it’s not meant to be a scholarly study Bible. It’s meant to be a life-learning, engaging Bible (my summary). It will be out of date someday. I love The Message, at this moment, because it helps me to appropriate God’s teaching to my everyday life. And though I have read, cover to cover, several translations over the years, I know—if I live long enough—there will be another one coming. In this changing world, language changes. Don’t make a version of the Bible an idol. It’s a tool. The content—the meaning—never changes. But if you don’t update the words, it does change the meaning—to something different to comprehend and apply to your life. God’s plan is to effectively change your life through the divine power of His Word.
So, back to the opening sentences of Romans 12. Let’s unpack them from The Message (for now). The key launching thought is this: “Don’t be conformed to this world, but let God transform you.” Here’s how The Message communicates: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life—and place it before God.” Yeah, that’s complete transformation!
The next part acknowledges the real struggle Christians and their churches face every minute of every day: “Embracing what God does for you….” This is God’s action, not yours, not mine. It starts with God—or we define ourselves as God. We don’t want to do that! Not a good idea!
Paul continues: “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.” How does that work out? Paul continues, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.” (This is about a renewal of your mind: how you think). “Instead,” Paul says, “fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Really recognize what He (God) wants from you, and quickly respond to it.”
This is one of the greatest descriptive issues—the issue behind the issue in most churches, with most Christians: Christians who don’t know the complete will of God, what God wants, because they don’t know, or don’t want to know, what God says in the Scripture. Then Paul lays on the bottom line: “Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity [spiritual immaturity?], God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
Wow! It’s all about God! It’s all about spiritual growth. It’s all about doing what God wants. It’s all about spiritual maturity. It is the greatest need for Christians and churches. It is the greatest and most important challenge you face, I face, every Christian faces!