The Church today is often not united. Divisions can range from personal conflicts between members to critically different ways of interpreting the core doctrines of Christianity. All these issues cause unity in the Church to be fractured. This, in turn, hinders the believers’ ability to succeed in achieving any of the world-changing effects of a united Church such as God-centered worship, Christ-like love for one another in community, and most importantly, passionate evangelism that fulfills the Great Commission. A unified Church is one of the strongest proofs to the world of the gospel’s truth, but unity is only possible when believers are living according to God’s will. This way of life requires us to be transformed by the Spirit to be more like Jesus, but how can we initiate this change? Romans 12:1-2 is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible because it holds a practical guide to why and how Christians can be transformed for unity in the Body of Christ.
Having spent the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Roman church laying out his teaching of the Gospel, Paul begins the twelfth chapter by switching to how and why we should live differently in response to it. He begins with verse one, saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” This verse might sound strange, but it is key because it explains why any true believer in Christ will seek to transform their life. Paul is saying that in view of God’s unwarranted, unearned mercy in sending His Son to receive the richly deserved punishment destined for us; in view of God’s choice to call us to Himself, justify us and promise us to be with Him in glory forever; and in view of the unchanging, steadfast love, joy, and peaceful security He provides to our souls, we should gladly give our entire lives in service to God as a living sacrifice. This means subordinating all our earthly desires to God’s will, seeking to do His righteous works upon this earth. It is but a small offering in the face of what God has given us in return. Thus, it is reasonable for any true Christian to attempt to do so, and it is acceptable to God Himself.
Then, in verse 2 Paul tells us how to transcend our natural sinful state: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Paul is telling us that first, for spiritual transformation to take place, a Christian must separate themselves radically from the world. Not physically, but spiritually. They must never make their source of happiness or purpose anything of this world, for all things of this earth will end or cease to satisfy. Nor should the believer follow the culture of this world, debasing themselves with the lusts of the flesh or acceding to the demands of conformity the ungodly push on them.
After telling us what not to do, Paul exhorts all Christians to be transformed by the renewing of our minds instead. The lies and temptations of the devil must be replaced as we become convinced of and believe in God’s truth found in His Word. As believers within the Body have their hearts transformed to become like the heart of Jesus, they will desire to serve and love those around them instead of themselves, and so the Church will become more unified. This is not an instantaneous transformation of the spirit that takes place when a person receives salvation, but a gradual process that takes place degree by degree. There is no way to achieve this on our own because the transformation of a Christian is done completely by grace through faith. As our inner beliefs change, the Holy Spirit is at work within us to spread that change outward to encapsulate our entire being eventually. The change within us to emulate Jesus will never be complete on this earth but will provide us with joy and peace that endures any trial we may face.
For, as the last part of verse 2 says, the transformed believer will know how God wants them to live and do what pleases Him. They will know from experience that what pleases God is best for them and that following His will leads to the greatest freedom and most joy. What greater freedom is there than being prepared for and having the assurance of eternal salvation from death, and what is more joyous than knowing our lives have great purpose and that we will be with our Creator for all eternity?
Therefore, when all Christians are seeking continuous renewal of their mind and transforming by degree to become like Christ, the Church will begin to look more and more like what it is meant to be: the Body of Christ. As believers become convinced by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit of what our true purpose is, the Church will ring with true worship once more. As believers begin to see through the eyes of Christ, they will see the need the world has for the transforming power of salvation through the gospel. Thus, they go forth, unified in their purpose to accomplish the Great Commission. That unity, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, is an amazing example of the gospel to all who witness it.