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Romans 12:2 + 2 Corinthians 3:18

Romans 12:2 + 2 Corinthians 3:18
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Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of you mind…”


The Passage Considered

As goes the mind, so goes the life, this seems to be the dynamic with which Paul is working in this text. If a mind perceives as the world perceives, values as the world values, obsesses as the world obsesses, then the life informed by that mind will look like the world. This is not what Paul wants for the disciples of Christ, rather than being conformed to the world, they are to be transformed. And this will happen by the renewal of their mind.

A crucial question, then, is: “how is the mind renewed?” I think we find the ultimate answer by stepping out of Romans and looking at Paul’s words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 3, especially verse 18,

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another.”

This verse comes at the culmination of a section that teaches about the superiority of the new covenant and ministry to that of the old. Unlike people under the old covenant, people in the new covenant have had the eyes of their heart unveiled by the Spirit so that they can receive and rejoice in the glory of God as it is revealed in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ (see also 2 Cor.4:6). The connection between this text and Romans 12:2 comes in the word “transformed.” The Greek word is the same both in Romans 12 and 2 Corinthians 3, and its use in 2 Corinthians gives us an idea of how Paul envisions the transformation of the Romans to take place.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18 the believer is transformed as they behold—with unveiled face, by the working of the Spirit—the glory of God in Christ. I suggest that this Spirit-illumined beholding is the ultimate source of the mind-renewal commanded in Romans 12:2. And how does Paul intend those who live after the bodily ascension of Christ (the Romans or the Corinthians or us) to behold His glory? Primarily in the scriptures. It is as “Moses is read” (see 2 Cor.3:15-16) that those with unveiled face perceive the splendor of the Lord whom they know in Jesus. And, having seen and known God in Christ through scripture, it is only fitting that—through this lens—the believer continues to behold that same glory in all of creation (Rom 1:19-20; Col.1:16-17).

Our minds are renewed as they consider the Beauty of the one for whom they exist, they are re-aligned with and harmonized to reality as they exert their imaginative and contemplative powers on the Excellence of the Person whose glory is diffused throughout creation, declared in scripture, and defined at the cross. As they are thus harmonized, the rest of our being will follow suit and, “from one degree of glory to another,” we will be transformed into the same image.

So, Romans 12:2 calls believers not to set their minds on the things of the world and so be conformed to the image of the world, but rather to perceive—primarily in scripture and secondarily in all of creation—the excellence, the beauty, the splendor, the glory of the One True God in the person of Jesus Christ. By this gracious working of the Spirit our minds are renewed such that our lives will be transformed.


The Picture Explained

This picture attempts to communicate the meaning of Romans 12:2 as understood through the lens of 2 Corinthians 3:18.

The first thing to notice is that the “world” to which one ought not be conformed is represented by the crowd of people at the bottom of the image. For these, the “veil” of 2 Corinthians 3:18 (and 2 Corinthians 4:3-4) has not yet been removed. Their minds are blind to the beauty of God in Jesus and so default to being set on the things of the flesh (Romans 8:5). This, in turn, results in further and further dis-conformity of their lives to the character of the Lord.

Paul’s commanded transformation by the renewal of the mind is pictured at the center of the image. There we see that the Holy Spirit—represented as a dove—has taken the initiative to remove the veil from the man’s eyes. There would be no renewal of the mind and no transformation of the life apart from this working of the Spirit to impart a “divine and supernatural light” to the soul (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, 4:6).

Note secondly that the the removal of the veil allows the man to see (by faith) the redemptive revelation to which the world is blind, namely, the glory of the Lord—the glory of YHWH—in the person of the crucified and risen Jesus. This is the glory which to truly see is to live; this is the beauty which to truly perceive is to be saved; and this is the excellence to which the “god of this world” seeks—through a ceaseless cataract of idolatry—to keep humanity blind (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The mind of the world is veiled to the glory of God as manifest in Jesus Christ and so they remain intractable opposed to Him. However, the one whose mind is unveiled to the glory of Christ who is the image of God will—precisely in beholding Him—be transformed into His image. This transformation is pictured not only in the man’s elevated position and illuminated face, but also in his slightly cruciform posture. As his mind is renewed through the beholding of God in Christ, his life is being conformed into the same image, namely self-giving love—upon which hangs the Law and the Prophets.

Finally, consider the depiction of Christ. He is in the posture of crucifixion since it is at the cross that He most perfectly discloses to us the beauty of the Father (John 8:28, 13:31-32, 17:1-5). It is in this act of sin-bearing, of wrath-swallowing, of unmitigated, self-giving, obedient love to the Father and reconciling love to His enemies that the Son exegetes with His whole being the identity of the Only True God. This point is further emphasized by the inclusion of Exodus 34:6-7 within the form of Christ. Exodus 34:6-7 is a paradigmatic text for all of scripture in which YHWH declares the essence of His character to Moses. It is here placed within the image of Jesus to show that the beauty, the glory, the name manifest in the crucified Lord is that of YHWH Himself. The satisfying, saving, and sanctifying light of the gospel is nothing less than the light of the revelation of who God is streaming into the soul from the faith-beheld face of the crucified Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:4,6).

But see lastly that the form of Christ is framed within the semi-circular light of the opened tomb. This shows that, though we see God’s glory most definitively in the crucified Christ, we can only perceive that glory aright as we behold the Crucified One by the transfiguring light of His resurrection.

Spirit-granted knowledge of God as He is definitively disclosed in the crucified Jesus who lives forevermore is the renewal of the mind that transforms. May we all, then, not be conformed to the world, but with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord so that, by the renewing of our minds, we are transformed into His image, from one degree of glory to another.