“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12:2 [NKJV]
Preachers often quote this verse to remind us what we need for a radical transformation—but what does it look like to renew our minds?
Looking into the context of the verse, we see that Paul begins Romans 12 by encouraging fellow Christians to offer themselves to the Lord as a living sacrifice. In the chapters leading up to this, Paul talks about how depraved humanity is, and how we can’t save ourselves through our works—but only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
However, when we receive God’s grace through faith, it doesn’t mean that our past life—the way we speak, think, and act—is immediately and completely wiped out. In fact, we still feel the pull towards the ways of the world. The big difference is that now we have the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, and with His help, we can begin to move away from our old life and towards a life of holiness. This makes the “renewing of our minds” possible.
In order to better understand what it means for us to renew our minds, let’s look at what it is not:
- It is not a call to “toxic positivity”: Renewing your mind is not about bombarding your thoughts with positive mindsets to counter any negative realities you may be facing.
- It is not a simple change of mind like switching onto a different track or train of thought. It is not a temporary or impulsive thing.
Rather, the renewing of our minds is a complete system reboot that wipes out the wrong practices and beliefs that we’ve accumulated before we became Christians and replacing them with the correct ones. For me, some of the wrong practices/beliefs I had included were not paying off debts, and thinking pornography was better than committing actual adultery or fornication. In turn, the correct—Biblical—way of thinking would be to work to be financially free in order to bless others, and to remain sexually pure until we marry a godly man or woman.
It is through learning these correct beliefs and practices that we can begin to understand God’s will for our lives.
Change doesn’t happen overnight
Romans 12:2 tells us “to be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” which reminds us that it’s not something we can achieve on our own. Rather, we need to continuously give in to God’s transforming work. This is best achieved by immersing ourselves in His Word and prayer and staying connected and accountable to fellow believers, so that we learn to recognise the truth and the Spirit’s voice, confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, and obey God’s leading for our lives.
I saw how important this process of renewing my mind was when I was addicted to pornography and masturbation. It had started as a coping mechanism because I was bullied and ostracised by my peers. But over time, I could no longer control my impulses and would constantly give in to it. Unknowingly, I had wired my brain to seek that gratification whenever I was stressed, pressured, or aggravated.
I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have a clue how to stop it. I lived with this addiction for seven years, but one day, something in me (I believe it was the Holy Spirit) made me realise this was not the kind of life God intended for me to live. I was not meant to live as a slave to my impulses.
It wasn’t until I joined my church’s discipleship program, where my mentor unpacked the gospel story from the Old Testament to the New Testament, that I came to really understand God’s grace and redemption plan, and how Jesus’s work is key in every phase, from being saved to being perfected. Understanding the full extent of the gospel made me realise that through Christ, I had the hope of renewal for my mind and my life. I made the decision then to surrender my pains to the Lord, to put my faith in Him as my Saviour and, with the Spirit’s help, that I was able to change my life.
From then on, I knew that I no longer had to turn to lust to relieve my stress or to deal with grief, because with Jesus’s sacrifice, God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit’s enabling, we have the means to break free from the power of sin and our impulses.
One principle that helped renew my mind in the process of battling lust was the principle of rest. I was able to reflect on scriptures that taught me how God had created rest and why He commands us to rest; from learning to rest, I saw how it enables me to be mentally alert so I can run from the temptation of lust in my thoughts.
God also provided me people I could turn to for accountability and friends who supported me by pointing me to healthy activities I could engage in, such as exercise, eating well, and even playing a game or watching a show, to help redirect my attention.
Though I was still tempted by lust from time to time, I was no longer led by it like a dog on a leash. The accountability and support I got, along with my intimacy with the Lord made it easier for my temptations to not have their final say.
A renewed mind means a new identity
When I think about the idea of renewing our minds, I’m reminded of a particular scene from the recent Batman movie (spoilers ahead).
At the climax of the movie, thousands of Gothamites congregated at an arena to protect themselves from an oncoming flood caused by the villain. After Batman took out the goons, he saw that a portion of the arena’s scoreboard, which contained livewires, had broken off and was threatening to electrocute the helpless citizens.
Up until this point, Batman had only ever dealt with criminals, but he had never sacrificed his life for others. In that moment, when he saw how the goons who were inspired by his ways had ended up threatening the lives of Gotham’s civilians, he realised that his vigilante approach no longer worked.
So he made his way to the livewire, severed it off with his Batarang (bat-boomerang), was electrocuted in the process and fell into the water. While underwater, he did what he could amid the chaos to pull the citizens to safety. This was the turning point of Batman’s transformation—from being a deliverer of vengeance to a protector of hope.
If Batman’s shift in perspective was able to transform him from a skeptical vigilante to hopeful hero, what amazing hope there is for us as followers of Christ! When we choose to take on our new identity and shift our perspective from seeing ourselves as earthly citizens to heavenly citizens (Philippians 3:20–21), that’s when the radical transformation of our minds can begin. When we put on the mind of Christ with the help of God’s Word and His Spirit, we’ll be able to slowly renew our minds, with the Holy Spirit’s help, and to live more and more like Jesus.