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“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Do not be conformed, but be transformed.

Many sermons have been preached on this text.  Countless papers and journal articles have been written about what Paul is trying to explain here.  I have personally used this passage numerous times in my years of ministry.  The appeal has always been to avoid the snares of culture and instead to be transformed into the image of God.  However, it wasn’t until studying the passage recently that I began to understand what that really meant.

The verbs conformed and transformed are similar verbs.  In our English translations they are both set in the past tense.  However, in the Greek they are actually present passive imperatives.  Present means that it is happening right now.  It didn’t happen yesterday and it’s not happening tomorrow.  As individuals we are either conforming to culture now or being transformed now, it’s an ever evolving phenomenon.  Passive means that we do not control the action, it is happening to us.  We can not transform ourselves.  This is only something that God can do.  We can’t work hard enough to make ourselves better.  This is a power that comes from the outside and moves us and molds us.  And finally imperative means that we have a choice.  We can not transform ourselves but we can decided what power is going to transform us.  We are either passively allowing culture to conform us or we are opening ourselves up to God’s transforming power in our lives.  It’s either one or the other, there is no middle ground.

These are present passive imperatives.  They are happening now and we don’t control it but we can choose what we allow to have the greater influence on our lives.  We can either float through life and allow culture to change us or we can open ourselves up to God.  It’s our choice.

And that is what makes the spiritual disciplines so vital in life.  We don’t practice spiritual disciplines because they change us.  It’s not that we need to pray more and fast more and meditate more so that we can transform ourselves into what God wants us to be.  Disciplines don’t work that way, you can’t force yourself into transformation.  Instead, what the disciplines do is they open us up to God’s transforming power in our lives.  Disciplines help us to get the junk out of the way, all of the noise and distractions of this world and our stress and our lives, and allow us to see God clearly.  And when we become an open page before God, God has the ability to come in and transform us.  He is the one in control, not us.  And he will mold us and transform us the way he wants to.  We never know exactly what is going to happen when we practice spiritual disciplines.  We never know what God is going to reveal, what layers he’s going to uncover, what pain he’s going to make us work through.  But we know he will work and he will do something to make us more and more like him.

Do not be conformed but be transformed.  Present active imperatives.  It’s happening now, it’s happening to us, we can’t control it but we can decide what to open ourselves up to.  If you want to be transformed into God’s image try practicing some spiritual disciplines and allow yourself to be opened up to his transforming power.