Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by renewing your mind, and out of that live different lives than those of the world (Romans 12:1-21).

Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by renewing your mind, and out of that live different lives than those of the world.

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Saturday, September 18 and Sunday, September 19, 2021

J. D. Greear shares:

I did a little reading up on caterpillars recently and learned some fascinating things about their transformation process. When the caterpillar is in its cocoon, it isn’t just rearranging pieces on its body. It’s not in there reading manuals about flight or working out. It actually releases enzymes that turn its body into a little soup. Those cells rearrange into a new creation—with wings, antennae, eyes, and all the rest.

After a few weeks, it nibbles a hole in the cocoon, and out pops a butterfly! And then, without any classes or coaching or coercion, it flies.

The Apostle Paul may or may not have known all this about butterflies. But he did recognize that something similar happens to the believer: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” (Romans 12:2 CSB).

“Transformed” means changed from within. The word in Greek for “transformed” is metamorphoo. It’s where we get our word “metamorphosis”—you know, the word we use to describe what happens to a caterpillar when it sews itself up in a cocoon and emerges as a butterfly.

When God transforms us from within, he releases gospel enzymes into our heart that restructure it so that spiritual flight becomes second nature.[1]

My theme is:

Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by renewing your mind, and out of that live different lives than those of the world.

  1. Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the Lord (verses 1-2).
    1. In this chapter Paul is transitioning from all the rich doctrine to how we are to live. Because of all this rich doctrine we live differently.
    2. Verses 1-2, Romans 12:1-2: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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.
  2. Thinking of the body of Christ (verses 3-8).
    1. Paul is about to write about being the body of Christ. However, I find it interesting that he begins this section the way he did. It is as if he was saying you cannot live the way a Christian is to live unless you are transformed by Christ. If you are conformed to the world, you cannot live the way a Christian is to live. Further, you must be transformed. After you are transformed the rest will follow.
    2. So, to live as a Christian you need to:
      1. Be one (Romans chapters 1-11).
      2. You must have the right doctrine (Romans chapters 1-11).
      3. You must be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
      4. You must be transformed (Romans 12:2).
    3. Now, he gets practical.
    4. Look at verse 3, Romans 12:3: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
    5. Now, we are going to skip to verses 9-13.
  1. Christian living (verses 9-13).
    1. Now, Paul gets very practical. Jesus is not mentioned in this section, but He is the backdrop.
    2. Verse 9, Romans 12:9: Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
    3. Paul is straightforward: love should be genuine. Think of genuine. This means it is not fake, it is real.
    4. Abhor what is evil. Abhor means “a strong feeling of revulsion or aversion.”[2]
    5. Hold fast to what is good. Think of holding fast to something, when we are “holding fast” we are holding tightly. We do not want to let go. We cling to what is good. Cling means “to glue something together.”[3]
    6. Verse 10, Romans 12:10: Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
    7. This is the language of family. We are to love one another with the affection we would have for a brother or a sister.
    8. Verse 11, Romans 12:11: Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
    9. Do not be slothful in zeal. To be slothful would mean to be lacking, or to not care, or to be lazy. We must care about zeal. Maybe since they thought the law could not save them and salvation is by grace they could have an “I don’t care attitude.”
    10. Be fervent in spirit. This means passionate intensity. Serve the Lord.
    11. Verses 12-13, Romans 12:12-13: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
    12. Paul is giving simple statements.
    13. Rejoice in what? The hope that we have. We have hope in Christ.
    14. Be patient in what? Patient, even in tribulation. Why? Because of the hope. Be constant in what? Prayer. We must keep praying for our hope and patience in tribulation.
    15. When we do this, we can’t loath our neighbors. It is hard to hate someone we are praying for.
    16. Contribute to what? The needs of the saints.
    17. Show what? Hospitality. That may be one of the needs of the saints. Hospitality was critical back then.
    18. There is a book, “The Gospel Comes with a Housekey.” In it Rosario Butterfield writes about how important hospitality is to the gospel.
  2. Christian unity (verses 14-21).
    1. Verse 14, Romans 12:14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
    2. That is a common statement throughout the New Testament. Christians will be persecuted. We are to respond with blessing. We are not to curse.
    3. Jesus did this, He prayed for those who crucified Him.
    4. Verse 15, Romans 12:15: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
    5. As the body of Christ, we rejoice together, but we also weep together. This is about our unity. Remember the picture of the body of Christ like a human body? If my arm hurts it affects my whole body. Therefore, as the body of Christ, we really care about one another. Also,
    6. Verse 16, Romans 12:16: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.
    7. Live in harmony.
    8. Have you ever been to a concert? In a concert multiple instruments and singers come together in unity to make something beautiful.
    9. Do not be haughty. That means arrogant or superior. Don’t be a know it all. That goes along with the next part: Don’t be wise in your own sight.
    10. Verse 17, Romans 12:17: Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
    11. The world would say to repay evil with evil, but not us. We are to repay evil with good. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[4]
    12. Jesus did not take out vengeance on Judas.
    13. Verse 18, Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
    14. “if possible…” This means that this is not always possible, but when it is possible we want to live peaceably with all.
    15. Can we do that? What about our neighbor? Our co-worker? The person who you disagree with?
    16. Verse 19, Romans 12:19: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
    17. Proverbs 25:21-22 are quoted in verse 20, Romans 12:20: To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.
    18. Instead of taking vengeance, we do the opposite. We can do this because we know that God will take care of the sins committed against us.
    19. Feed our enemy. Give water to our enemies.
    20. Verse 21, Romans 12:21: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
    21. That is a summary.
    22. Don’t let evil overcome you. Overcome evil with good.
    23. When we live this verse, it assures that we will not be overcome with evil.
    24. We cannot overcome evil with evil.
    25. In doing this we won’t win all but we will win some for Christ.
    26. If we think lying and sin are effective, we will be overcome with evil. Don’t do that.
    27. John 16:33: Jesus overcame the world.

Jesus changes us to live this way.

I read a book about Louis Zamperini. Zamperini was in the 1936 Olympics held in Germany. He was famous for setting records for how fast he could run the mile.

Later he was planning to enter the next Olympic competition but it was canceled because of WWII. Zamperini entered the war and served on a B 24. He was shot down and spent 47 days at sea and then around three years as a Japanese prisoner of war. He was badly mistreated in the POW camps. 

Following the war he dealt with post traumatic stress disorder. This caused him to plunge into alcoholism which brought on a host of other problems. He was married and had one child, but his marriage was being threatened with divorce. Every time he closed his eyes at night he was plagued with memories of his time as a POW. He was filled with hate and wanted to kill one particular guard (Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed “The Bird”), who was later included in General Douglas MacArthur’s list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan. Finally in 1949 as the 31 year old Billy Graham was preaching an evangelical crusade in Los Angeles, Louis’ wife gave her life to Christ at the crusade. She eventually convinced Louis to also attend. Louis attended once and was convicted but left in anger during Graham’s invitation. Louis’ wife, Cynthia, convinced him to attend again. He did and started to leave again during the invitation. But he was convicted and went forward giving his life to Christ.

Following the conversion his life changed dramatically. He went home that night, and at the time when he would usually drink alcohol to excess, he dumped his alcohol down the drain. His hate was changed to forgiveness. His marriage lasted until his wife’s death. He never had nightmares of his time as a POW again. He later went back to Japan and spoke to the guards who were accused and convicted of war crimes. He forgave them. But the one guard who was the worst to Louis, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (nicknamed “The Bird”), was thought dead and Louis never was able to talk to him. Later they found out he was alive and Louis was scheduled to meet with him and wrote the letter below. But he was not able to meet with him as Watanabe declined the invitation. Someone was supposed to take the letter to him, but no one knows if Watanabe received it. The letter is below:

To Matsuhiro [sic] Watanabe,

         As a result of my prisoner of war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate with a vengeance.

         Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war’s end.

         The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, “Forgive your enemies and pray for them.”

         As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 [sic] and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo prison… I asked them about you, and was told that you probably had committed Hara Kiri, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.

Louis Zamperini[5]

Christ changed Zamperini. He changes us so that we can live differently and love differently.


[2] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 236.

[3] Ibid.


[5] Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Random House, Inc.. New York. 2010. Specifically pages 396-397 for the letter and pages 368-398 for Louis conversion and life transformation.

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