And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good…
In the preceding verse the apostle gathers the whole sum of Christian duty into one word. And so in this. As all is to be sacrifice, so all is to be transformation. Mark: —
I. WHERE PAUL BEGINS — WITH AN INWARD RENEWAL
1. He goes deep down, because he had learned in His school who said: "Make the tree good and the fruit good." To tinker at the outside with a host of red-tape restrictions, and prescriptions, is all waste time and effort. You may wrap a man up in the swaddling bands of specific precepts until you can scarcely see him, and he cannot move, and you have not done a bit of good. The inner man must be dealt with first, and then the outward will come right in due time. Many of the plans for the social and moral renovation of the world are as superficial as a doctor's treatment would be, who would direct all his attention to curing pimples when the patient is dying of consumption.
2. There has to be a radical change in the middle. "Mind" seems to be equivalent to the thinking faculty, but, possibly, includes the whole inner man. The inner man has got a wrong twist somehow; it needs to be moulded over again. It is held in slavery to the material; it is a mass of affections fixed upon the transient; a predominant self-regard characterises it and its actions.
3. This new creation of the inner man is only possible as the result of the communication of a life from without; the life of Jesus, put into your heart, on condition of your opening the door of your heart by faith, and saying, "Come in, Thou blessed of the Lord." And He comes in, bearing in His hands a germ of life which will mould and shape our "mind" after His own blessed pattern.
4. That new life, when given, needs to be fostered and cherished. It is only a little spark that has to kindle a great heap of green wood, and to turn it into its own ruddy likeness. We have to keep our two hands round it, for fear it should be blown out by the rough gusts of passion and of circumstance. It is only a little seed that is sown in our hearts; we have to cherish and cultivate it, to water it by our prayers, and to watch over it, lest either the fowls of the air with light wings should carry it away, or the heavy wains of the world's business and pleasures should crush it to death, or the thorns of earthly desires should spring up and choke it.
II. WHAT HE EXPECTS FROM THE INWARD CHANGE — a life "transfigured," the same word as is employed in the account of our Lord's transfiguration. In that event our Lord's indwelling divinity came up to the surface and became visible.
1. "A transfigured life" suggests —
(1) That the inward life will shape the outward conduct and character. Just as truly as the physical life moulds the infant's limbs, and as every periwinkle shell on the beach is shaped into the convolutions that will fit the inhabitant, by the power of the life that lies within, so the renewed mind will make a fit dwelling for itself. Did you never see goodness making men and women beautiful? Have not there been other faces besides Moses' that shone as men came down from the Mount of Communion with God? Certain weeds that lie at the bottom of the sea, when their flowering time comes, elongate their stalks and reach the light and float upon the top, and then, when they have flowered, they sink again into the depths. Our Christian life should come up to the surface and open out its flowers there. Does your Christianity do that? It is no use talking about the inward change unless there is the outward transfiguration.
(2) That the essential character of our transfiguration is the moulding of us into the likeness of Christ. Christ's life is in you if you are in Him. And just as every leaf that you take off some plants and stick into a flower-pot will in time become a little plant exactly like the parent from which it was taken, so the Christ-life that is in you will be growing into a copy of its source and origin. The least speck of musk, invisibly taken from n cake of it, and carried away ever so far, will diffuse the same fragrance as the mass from which it came; and the little slice of Christ's life that is in you and me, will smell as sweet if not as strong as the great life from which it came.
2. But as with the inward renewal so with the outward transfiguration, the life within will not work up to the surface except upon condition of our own honest endeavour. The fact that God's Spirit is given to us is not a reason for our indolence, but for our work, because it gives us the power by which we can do the thing we desire. What would you think of a man that said, "It is the steam that drives the spindles, so I need not put the belting on"?
III. THE ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE WHICH THE APOSTLE REGARDS AS CERTAIN, FROM THIS INWARD CHANGE; unlikeness to the world around. "Be not conformed," etc.
1. The more we get like Jesus Christ, the more certainly we get unlike the world. For the two theories of life are clean contrary — the one is all limited by time, the other lays hold on the eternal. The one is all for self, the other is all for God. So that likeness and adherence to the one must needs be dead in the teeth of the other.
2. And that contrariety is as real to-day as ever it was. Paul's "world" was a grim, heathen, persecuting world; our "world" has got christened, and goes to church and chapel, like a respectable gentleman. But for all that it is the world still, and we have to shake our hands free of it.
3. How is the commandment to be obeyed?
(1) Well, of course there are large tracts of life where the saint and the sinner have to do the same things, feel the same anxieties, weep the same tears, and smile the same smiles. And yet "there shall be two women grinding at a mill," the one shall be a Christian, the other not. They push the handle round, and the push that carries the handle round half the circumference of the millstone may be a bit of religious worship, and the push that carries it round the other half may be a bit of serving the world and the flesh and the devil. Two men shall be sitting at the same desk, two boys at the same bench at school, two servants in the same kitchen, and the one shall be serving God and glorifying His name, and the other shall be serving self and Satan. Not the things done, but the motive, makes the difference.
(2) And there are a great many things in which not to be "conformed to the world" means to have nothing to do with certain acts and people. Have nothing to do with things which in themselves are unmistakably wrong; nor with things which have got evil inextricably mixed up with them, like the English stage; nor with things which, as experience shows you, are bad for you. This generation of the Church seems to be trying how near it can go to the world. It is a dangerous game, like children trying how far they can stretch out of the nursery window without tumbling into the street; you will go over some day when you miscalculate a little bit.
(3) Rather "be ye transfigured," and then you will find that when the inner mind is changed, many of the things that attracted tempt no more, and many of the people that wanted to have you do not care to have you, for you are a wet blanket to their enjoyments. The great means of becoming unlike the world is becoming like Him, and the great means of becoming like Him is living near Him and drinking in His life and Spirit.
4. And then, "as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly." But we must begin by opening our hearts to the leaven which shall work onward and outwards till it has changed all, The sun when it shines upon a mirror makes the mirror shine like a little sun. "We all with open face, reflecting as a mirror does the glory of the Lord, shall be changed into the same image."
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.