There are many places in the Bible where God presents a stark contrast between two options, then urges the reader to make his choice. He gave his law to ancient Israel, then said, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted wide and narrow gates and pleaded, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Another of these contrasts is found at a key point in the book of Romans. For 11 chapters Paul has expounded on the gospel, describing what Christ has accomplished for Jews and Gentiles alike. Then he confronts his readers with a contrast and implies they must make a choice: “Do not be conformed to this world,” he says, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). There are only two options: conformity or transformation. You can be conformed to this world or you can be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The choice lies before you every day.
Many of today’s men have made a poor choice. They’ve chosen to conform, to feed their lust with the pornographic images of the world, to speak as the world speaks, to take on a sinful lifestyle marked by pride, apathy, and self-indulgence. If you are a Christian man, you are called to something different, something better, something far more challenging and far more satisfying. You are called to godliness. You are called to renounce anything that would hinder you in your race and to embrace a life-long pursuit of knowing Jesus.
This is the third entry in the series “Run to Win!” in which we are considering how God calls men like you to live with the same discipline, dedication, and self-control that an Olympic athlete brings to the pursuit of the gold. Such commitment demands self-control that extends even to the mind. More accurately, it demands self-control that begins in the mind. To run to win, you must renew your mind.
A Darkened Mind
At one point in your life, you were confronted with the choice of entering the wide gate or the narrow gate. You are a Christian, which means you chose to enter the narrow gate and follow the way that leads to life. In that moment of decision, that moment of salvation, you experienced a kind of awakening. Your mind was suddenly able to understand what you had only ever denied—that you are a sinner, that you had defied a holy God, and that Jesus Christ was offering reconciliation by grace through faith. The reason you had never before accepted this truth or embraced this Savior is that your mind had not been able to understand it. This truth was hidden from you because of your spiritual blindness.
Paul talks about this in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19). You were born in a state of sinfulness in which your futile mind could not understand the truth of the gospel.
The alarming fact is that sin not only made you walk in the darkness, but it also darkened your understanding. Not only were you unable to do things that are pleasing to God, but you were also unable to even know what is pleasing to God. But when you turned to Christ in repentance and faith, suddenly your mind was illumined by God so you could understand. You could understand who God is, who you are, and why the gospel is such good news. In a moment, your mind was given access to true and saving knowledge. In a moment you understood just how blind you had been for all those years. This is what Wesley celebrated in one of his greatest hymns: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, / Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; / Thine eye diffused a quickening ray— / I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; / My chains fell off, my heart was free, / I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”
You entered the Christian life with a mind that had just been pierced by that quickening ray of God’s truth. But while your mind had been awakened, it was still far from perfected. Through the rest of life you are faced with the constant challenge, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2). This choice is set before you each day: Will you allow the world to conform your mind, or will you invite God to transform your mind? To not choose is to make a choice—the world is so immersive, so powerful, and so present that unless you actively resist it, you will inevitably be conformed to it and consumed by it.
Do Not Be Conformed
When the Bible speaks of “the world,” it refers to any value system or way of life that is opposed to God and foreign to his Word. The world promotes “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life” (1 John 2:16). As a Christian man, God calls you to live on this earth surrounded by human society, yet to display a very different system of values and to exhibit a very different way of life. Even though you are a Christian, it is easy to be conformed to the world so that you begin to desire what the world desires, to think how the world thinks, and to behave like the world behaves.
Men are most often conformed to the world by carelessness, by neglecting to consider the allure of the world and by failing to guard against its encroachment. Just think of the countless seductive website advertisements that appeal to men who are ready to plunge into sinful desire. Think of the character traits displayed by men in popular sitcoms: ignorance, laziness, immaturity. Watch out for the unexpected gateways of conformity. It may be entertainment, when you fail to be cautious about what you watch, hear, and read, and when you fail to limit the time spent on entertainment. Sometimes the gateway is education, when you are influenced by people who are opposed to God. It may be friendships, when you maintain your most formative relationships with unbelievers. Or the main gateway of conformity may simply be neglect, when you fail to walk closely with God and instead allow the natural worldliness within your own heart to gain influence.
Worldliness is like gravity, always around you, always exerting its pressure. You must resist it because your spiritual life and health depend on it. You can resist it because you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, who delights in transforming you by the renewing of your mind.
For God to save you, he first had to open your mind to understand the truth of the gospel. But instead of immediately perfecting your mind, he assigned you the lifelong responsibility of renewing it. Just as a caterpillar undergoes the slow metamorphosis that transforms it into a butterfly, your mind is meant to undergo a steady, purposeful change as it is saturated and controlled by the Word of God. The Holy Spirit illumines the words of the Bible to your mind so you can understand and obey it. “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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). There are no shortcuts and no alternative paths. The one and only way your mind can be renewed is by the Spirit of God working through the Word of God.
Christian man, you must renew your mind. Which direction is your mind changing: toward conformity to the world or toward transformation into God’s image? Which has more of an influence over your mind: the Sports page of the newspaper or the Word of God? Where do you find yourself more often: sitting on the couch watching television or bowing on your knees in prayer over the Word? Over a lifetime of commitment to God’s Word, you gain new wisdom to replace old foolishness and godly desires to replace satanic longings. The sins that once fueled your imagination and motivated your actions begin to lose their power and are displaced by virtues that motivate good to others and bring glory to God. Your eyes stop their lusting because your mind is now filled with love; your mouth stops its cursing because your mind is now filled with joy; your hands stop their stealing because you are convinced you can be as content with little as with much. Such transformed lives begin with transformed minds, for your body always obeys your brain.
Run to Win!
Now the choice lies before you. Will you be conformed to this world or will you be transformed by the renewing of your mind? There is no mystery to either one. To be conformed to this world, you simply need to immerse yourself in it, to allow yourself to be influenced by it. It takes no effort and brings no reward. To be transformed by the renewing of your mind, you need to immerse yourself in the Word of God, to allow yourself to be influenced by it. It takes great effort and brings great reward.
The Olympic runner longs to hear the crowd screaming his name and longs to feel the weight of the gold medal as it hangs around his neck. He determines in his mind that he must win and then instils habits that will force him to live with discipline, to train with persistence, to put aside anything that might threaten his success. If he does all this for the adoration of mere men and the reward of a few ounces of metal, how much more should you, Christian, resolve to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set before you” (Hebrews 12:1)? You run to hear your heavenly Father proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and to bestow on you a reward that can never fade and never be lost. If you are going to keep your legs moving toward the prize of Christ, you must keep your mind renewing toward the mind of Christ. Christian man, renew your mind!