“Be transformed by making your mind over.”—ROM. 12:2.
1, 2. How do our upbringing and our environment affect us?
ALL of us are deeply influenced by our upbringing and by our environment. We dress a certain way; we like certain foods; we behave in a certain manner. Why? In part, because of the influence of the people around us and our circumstances in life.
2 There are, however, things that are far more important than our choice of food and style of clothing. For example, we are brought up to view some things as right and acceptable but to reject other things as wrong and unacceptable. Many such matters are personal and vary from individual to individual. Our choices may even reflect the proddings of our conscience. The Bible acknowledges that often “people of the nations that do not have law do by nature the things of the law.” (Rom. 2:14) But does this mean that as long as there is no clearly stated law from God, we can just follow the ways and standards that we are brought up with and that are common in our area?
3. For what two reasons do Christians not simply go along with commonly accepted ways and standards?
3 There are at least two important reasons why that is not so for Christians. First, the Bible reminds us: “There exists a way that is upright before a man, but the ways of death are the end of it afterward.” (Prov. 16:25) Because of our imperfect nature, we humans do not have the full ability to determine what is truly beneficial for us to guide our steps perfectly. (Prov. 28:26; Jer. 10:23) Second, the Bible shows that trends and standards of the world are manipulated and controlled by none other than Satan, “the god of this system of things.” (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19) Therefore, if we want Jehovah’s blessing and approval, we need to heed the admonition found at Romans 12:2.—Read.
4. What will we consider in this article?
4 A number of important points recorded at Romans 12:2 merit our close attention. (1) Why do we need to be “transformed”? (2) What does the transformation involve? and (3) How can we be transformed? Let us consider these questions.
WHY BE TRANSFORMED?
5. For whom would Paul’s words at Romans 12:2 have special meaning?
5 The apostle Paul’s words recorded in the letter to the Romans were addressed, not to unbelievers or the general populace, but to his fellow anointed Christians. (Rom. 1:7) He urged them to be transformed and to “quit being fashioned after this system of things.” For the Christians in Rome at that time, about 56 C.E., the “system of things” involved the standards, customs, manners, and styles that characterized the Roman world. Paul’s use of the word “quit” implies that some of them were still being influenced by that system of things. What kind of influences did it exert on our brothers and sisters back then?
6, 7. In Paul’s day, how did the social and religious conditions in Rome pose a challenge for Christians?
6 Today, tourists in Rome usually see the remains of its temples, tombs, monuments, arenas, theaters, and so forth. Some of these date back to the first century. Such vestiges of the past offer insight into the social and religious life in ancient Rome. We can also read in history books about its gladiatorial games, chariot races, and plays and musicals on a wide range of subjects, some of them shameful. Rome was also a prosperous center of commerce, so opportunities for material gains abounded.—Rom. 6:21; 1 Pet. 4:3, 4.
7 Despite their many temples with their pantheon of gods, the Romans were not known to cultivate a real, personal relationship with the gods they worshipped. To them, religion consisted mainly of rituals—for births, marriages, and funerals—that were part of their social order. You can imagine how all of that posed a challenge for the Christians in Rome. Many of them came from that background, so they obviously needed to be transformed in order to become true Christians, and the transformation would not have ended on the day of their baptism.
8. How does the world pose a threat to Christians today?
8 Like the Roman world, the world today is also a threat to dedicated Christians. Why is that so? Because the spirit of the world is manifest in many ways. (Read Ephesians 2:2, 3; 1 John 2:16.) Exposed to the world’s desires, thinking, values, and morals day in and day out, we are in constant danger of being absorbed by the world. Consequently, we have abundant reason for heeding the inspired admonition to “quit being fashioned after this system of things” and “be transformed.” What must we do?
WHAT NEEDS TO BE TRANSFORMED?
9. Before qualifying for baptism, what changes have many made?
9 As a person studies and applies Bible truth, he begins to make spiritual progress. Reflecting this progress, he makes changes in his life according to what he has learned. He puts away false religious practices and undesirable traits of his former way of life and cultivates the Christlike personality. (Eph. 4:22-24) We are happy to see hundreds of thousands make such progress each year and become qualified to get baptized in symbol of their dedication to Jehovah God. This, to be sure, makes Jehovah’s heart glad. (Prov. 27:11) However, we do well to consider: Are these changes all that are needed?
10. How is transformation different from improvement?
10 Actually, being transformed involves more than making progress or improving. A product may be labeled or advertised as “improved,” but essentially it is still the same product. There might be just one new ingredient, and the packaging might be more attractive. As to the expression “be transformed,” a note in Vine’s Expository Dictionary explains: “In Rom[ans] 12:2 being outwardly conformed to the things of this age [or system of things] is contrasted with being transformed (or transfigured) inwardly by the renewal of the thoughts through the Holy Spirit’s power.” Hence, the transformation that a Christian must make is not simply the putting away of harmful habits, unwholesome speech, and immoral conduct. Some people who have no knowledge of the Bible endeavor to keep their life more or less free of such things. What, then, is involved in the transformation that Christians must undergo?
11. Paul showed that transformation is brought about in what way?
11 “Be transformed by making your mind over,” Paul wrote. The “mind” relates to our thinking faculties. But as used in the Bible, it includes our mental inclination, attitude, and power of reason. Earlier in his letter to the Romans, Paul described people who reflected “a disapproved mental state.” Such ones were given to “unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, badness, being full of envy, murder, strife, deceit,” and other hurtful things. (Rom. 1:28-31) We can see why Paul urged those who were brought up in such an environment and became servants of God to “be transformed” and ‘make their mind over.’
‘Let all anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you.’—Eph. 4:31
12. What do you see is the general thinking of people today, and how may this attitude pose a danger for Christians?
12 Sadly, we are surrounded by people in the world who fit Paul’s description. They likely think that it is old-fashioned or intolerant to insist on standards and principles. Many teachers and parents take a permissive approach and promote a “liberal” way of thinking. To them, everything is relative; nothing is absolute. Even many who claim to be religious feel that they are at liberty to do what they think is right, without any obligation to obey God and his commandments. (Ps. 14:1) This attitude may pose a real threat to true Christians. The unwary may adopt the same view of theocratic arrangements. They may be unwilling to go along with congregation procedures and may even complain about anything not to their liking. Or they may have reservations about Bible-based counsel on entertainment, use of the Internet, and the pursuit of higher education.
13. Why should we make an honest appraisal of ourselves?
13 Accordingly, for us not to be fashioned, or molded, by the world any longer, we need to make an honest appraisal of our innermost attitudes and feelings, our goals, and our values. Such things may be hidden from public view. Others may tell us that we are doing well. Yet, we alone know if we really have allowed what we have learned from the Bible to transform us in these critical areas and to continue to transform us.—Read James 1:23-25.
HOW THE TRANSFORMATION IS MADE
14. What can help to bring about needed changes?
14 The transformation involves what we are inside, so to bring it about, we need something that can penetrate the surface, reaching deep inside us. What can help us in that way? When we learn what Jehovah requires of us in harmony with his purpose as stated in the Bible, our response to what we read reveals what is in our heart and what adjustments we need to make in order to act in accord with the “perfect will of God.”—Rom. 12:2; Heb. 4:12.
15. Jehovah’s molding can produce what kind of transformation?
15 Read Isaiah 64:8. The word picture that the prophet Isaiah painted gives us a practical point to consider. How does Jehovah, the Potter, mold us, the clay? Surely he does not change us physically, perhaps to give us a more attractive appearance or a more appealing physique. Jehovah provides not physical but spiritual training. If we allow him to mold us, the transformation that results is internal, or spiritual—precisely what we need in order to combat worldly influences. How does the molding process work?
16, 17. (a) Describe what a potter does to the clay he uses to make fine pottery. (b) How does God’s Word help us to be transformed into something valuable to Jehovah?
16 To make fine quality pottery, a potter uses high-grade clay. However, there are two things he needs to do. First, the clay needs to be washed to remove any foreign material or mineral contamination. Then, the clay must be mixed with the right amount of water and worked so that it will retain its shape after being molded under pressure.
17 Note that water is used both in cleansing the clay of impurities and in giving it the right consistency and pliancy for it to be made into a vessel, even a delicate one. Do we see the similar roles that God’s Word can play in our lives? It can help us to rid ourselves of our old way of thinking when we did not know God and to be transformed into something valuable in his eyes. (Eph. 5:26) Think how many times we have been urged to read the Bible daily and be regular in attending Christian meetings, where God’s Word is being considered. Why have we been encouraged to do these things? Because by doing so, we are submitting ourselves to Jehovah’s molding.—Ps. 1:2; Acts 17:11; Heb. 10:24, 25.
18. (a) Why is meditation essential if we want God’s Word to influence and transform us? (b) What questions can be helpful?
18 For God’s Word to produce in us needed transformation, regularly reading and learning from the Bible is but a beginning. Many people read the Bible from time to time and thereby have come to be quite familiar with what it says. Perhaps you have met such ones as you engage in the field ministry. Some are even able to recite Bible passages from memory.a Yet, this may have little effect on their thinking and way of life. What is missing? For God’s Word to influence and transform a person, he must allow it to be “sounded down” into the heart. (Gal. 6:6, ftn.) Hence, we need to spend time thinking about what we are learning. It would be good to ask ourselves: ‘Am I convinced that this is more than just some religious teaching? Have I not seen that it is the truth? Moreover, do I see ways to apply in my own life what I am learning and not view it only as something I might teach to others? Do I feel that Jehovah is talking to me personally?’ Thinking and meditating on such questions can help us to deepen the feelings we have for Jehovah in our hearts. Our love for him will grow. When the heart is thus touched, positive changes will follow.—Prov. 4:23; Luke 6:45.
19, 20. Applying what Bible counsel can bring us real benefit?
19 Regularly reading God’s Word and meditating on it will motivate us to continue to do what we likely have already done to some extent: ‘Strip off the old personality with its practices and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new.’ (Col. 3:9, 10) Yes, we can have continued success as we get the real sense and impact of God’s Word. The resulting new Christian personality will help to protect us against Satan’s cunning machinations.
20 “As obedient children, quit being fashioned according to the desires you formerly had,” the apostle Peter reminds us, but “become holy yourselves in all your conduct.” (1 Pet. 1:14, 15) Doing all we can to put away the thinking and attitudes we formerly had and letting ourselves be transformed will result in blessings, as we will see in the following article.
a See the example given in The Watchtower of February 1, 1994, page 9, paragraph 7.