Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. This phrase actually originates from an advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund back in 1972. It has been with us for a lot of years. The organization seeks scholarships for young African-Americans so they can go to college. True, a mind, not given opportunities to learn and to grow, is a terrible thing.
The apostle Paul couldn’t agree with it more. Our reading from Romans 12 affirms its truth. It begins with an appeal. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God . . .”
Whenever we encounter a “therefore” in Scripture, we need ask what it’s there for. Paul has just spent the first eleven chapters of Romans describing God’s many mercies, what He has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
He begins by telling us how God had a problem with us. Our sinfulness led to a broken relationship with Him – and the consequences of sin is death, separation from God forever. God’s answer for this problem was Jesus Christ. While we were still sinners, He gave His Son to die on a cross to pay for our sins. We are justified by faith and receive peace with God as we place our trust in Jesus Christ.
God has given us new life in the Holy Spirit who works to reshape and conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are considered adopted children of God. The Holy Spirit is the sign of this. For the believer in Christ, the promise is God is for us and “nothing can separate us from His love in Christ Jesus,” as Paul tells us in the first eleven chapters of Romans.
Then Paul tells us, Therefore, in light of all that God has done for us, because of all the mercies He has shown us, live your new life in Christ in grateful response to His grace. Paul’s appeal is this: “. . . offer your bodies (which means your whole self) to God.” Make your life an offering to Him. Paul is using sacrifice language. Dedicate yourself to Him. Your living (holy living set apart for God) is your spiritual worship to the God who saved you.
Paul continues, “Don’t be conformed to this world.” In the Good News Version, J. B Phillips says, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold.” This present age, this culture, has twisted values and teaches us that me, myself, and I is number one. We live for ourselves. The Apostle Paul tells us that since we are now in Christ – that is changed – we are to live for others. Don’t be shaped by the world’s norms, but by God’s norms.
I came across an article by James Emery White entitled The Most Powerful Education System Ever Known. He writes, “Todd Gitlin, one of the leading thinkers on media and our lives, recently said this: ‘The torrent of images, songs, and stories streaming has become our familiar world. This ‘torrent’ determines what we see and what we don’t, what we think about and what never enters our minds.’
“The media we watch every day has been shaping us for years, whether we know it or not. For example, think of MTV. As its founding chairman, Bob Pittman, stated in a 1982 interview, “If you can get their emotions going and make them forget their logic, you’ve got them. At MTV we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds; we own them.”
“Think of the TV show ‘Friends’ which ran for 10 years in the 90s and into the early 2000s. It is now one of the most popular shows in syndication. Funny, right? But not innocent. A survey of 236 episodes of the sitcom found the characters had a total of 85 sexual partners, and that’s only counting those who appeared on screen.
“What does that do to us? More than we realize. What the media does is normalize things like that. If you see likable characters on TV having sex outside of marriage enough times, it becomes not only acceptable but desirable. That’s why Fred Fedele, author of one of the most widely used college textbooks on mass media, writes, ‘The media may constitute the most powerful education system ever known to man.’”
Those two value systems – the world and God’s will – are incompatible. In fact, they are in direct collision with one another. Whether we are thinking about the purpose of life, or the meaning of life, or how to measure greatness, or how to respond to evil, or about ambition, or sex, or honesty, or money, or community, or anything else, these two sets of standards diverge so completely, there is no possibility of compromise.
Paul says, Don’t be conformed to the old system but be TRANSformed. Transformed means a metamorphosis, changed. The word was first used in the New Testament when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John on the mountain. He was outwardly changed. Jesus shined brightly displaying the glory of God. He was different.
How can I be transformed as a follower of Christ so my character and conduct display the glory of God? Paul answers this question for us. “. . . by the renewing of your mind.” By the renewing of your mind. You see, our inner life needs reshaping in a big way. Our thinking needs some work. It needs renewing.
Why do our minds need renewing? The answer is easy. Because our minds are fallen. We are sinful. We’re into the “me, myself, and I” thing.
We’re really talking about mindset here. The mind doesn’t just have a view, but a viewpoint. It doesn’t just have the power to perceive and detect, it also has a posture and attitude, a certain bend to it. It needs to be changed.
After the fall into sin, Paul says in the first chapter of Romans, since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind, which means lower in quality, character, things that should not be done. If transformation is to take place so we might live a life that glorifies and pleases God, it begins with the mind.
We know Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” Right-thinking leads us to right actions, which will turn us around to have right feelings. This is a critical priority. We have a tendency to follow our feelings first, and then act. The problem is our feelings are always fluctuating and not dependable or well informed. We need right-thinking first.
We cannot renew our own minds. Paul tells us in other places of the Bible that the renewal of the mind is only possible through the working of the Holy Spirit. This is our Good News! As we trust in Christ, we receive His Holy Spirit to renew our minds. He is our change agent. His job description is to transform us. The main tool He uses to transform our thinking is the Word of God, the gospel.
N. T. Wright tells the story in one of his commentaries that speaks to this. “A friend of mine described the reaction when he went home, as a young teenager, and announced to his mother that he’d become a Christian. Alarmed, she thought he’d joined some kind of cult. ‘They’ve brainwashed you!’ she said. He was ready with the right answer. ‘If you’d seen what was in my brain,’ he replied, ‘you’d realize it needed washing!’
“Of course, he hadn’t been brainwashed. In fact, again and again—and this was certainly the case with my friend—when people bring their lives, their outer lives and inner lives, into the light of Jesus the Messiah, things begin to come clear. If anything, it’s our surrounding culture that brainwashes us, persuading us in a thousand subtle ways that the present world is the only one there is. This is seldom argued. Rather, a mood is created in which it seems so much easier to go with the flow. That’s what happens in brainwashing. What the gospel does is to administer a sharp jolt, to shine a bright light, to kick-start the brain, and the moral sensibility, into working properly for the first time.”
The Holy Spirit works in our inner lives through the Word of God, the gospel. He reshapes us. This means we find it important to develop a holy habit, like personal reading and study of the Bible. In the spirit of praying, God, show me what you want me to see. Or the spirit of repentance, I will do what you want me to do because I know that you know what makes my life work best. We move through it slowly, reflectively, asking questions, taking it a little bit at a time. We need to be involved with time with God’s Word.
If you’re thinking you might need some help with this, I recommend getting the book, “Reading the Bible for All it’s Worth” by Fee and Stuart. It’s a godsend for those who want to know how to get to know God’s Word better. For instance, memorizing verses for your struggles can be very helpful.
• If you are struggling with fear, memorize Psalm 27:1.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom shall I be afraid.”
• If you struggle with pride, put Philippians 2:3 in your heart.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but count others better than yourself.”
• Perhaps worry and anxiety are eating away at you. I Peter 5:7 says,
“Cast your anxieties on Christ for he cares for you.”
• Perhaps you have a sense of weakness in your life. Paul says in Philippians 4:13,
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Tuck these verses away. Memorize them. Walk with them throughout your day.
I recommend taking a Bible class. At our church on Monday night, three hundred men meet for Bible study and fellowship. Lives are being changed. In the past, we have taught a course called Divine Drama, which gives us insight as to how the whole Bible works together. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The power of a small group is very popular in my church. Some people get together surrounding God’s Word. They study it, discuss it, pray about it, and ask one another what they are going to do with it.
My friend recently was showing me his daily devotional method. He has a Bible app and uses it every day.
When was the last time you dove into some theological reading, not just some lightweight stuff? Perhaps even a review of Luther’s Small Catechism – the basics we need to cling to, which can shape us. I’m teaching a class right now called Alpha. It answers the questions of life, the great ideas of the faith, which hold the answers for us.
We tend to spend so much time filling our minds up with junk food. Cell phones have taken over our lives. Television consumption is out of hand, social media and the Internet as well. Through those media flows the world’s values. It gets to the point where it’s difficult to tell the truth from lies.
My dear friends, why not, in light of the mercies of God in your life, devote yourself to spending more time in God’s Word this year. It will be a transforming experience for you. Huge dividends are to be gained.
Imagine having a mind cleansed of all the debris blocking your best intentions. Imagine if each time you saw another person, your first thought was to pray for them or bless her. Imagine what it would be like if each time you are challenged or anxious, your reflexive response would be to turn to God for strength. Imagine, if you’re a married man, that whenever you look at any woman other than your wife, you would see her as if she were your sister or your daughter. Imagine genuinely wishing your enemies well.
This is a possibility for you and me as we allow God’s Word to wash over our thinking, our minds. As we allow it to dwell in us richly, we will find ourselves transformed in wonderful ways.
So it is true. Your mind is a terrible thing to waste, but it’s a wonderful thing to invest in. My appeal today is you would take care of your mind, renew it, and commit yourself to God’s word being a regular habit in your life. God has a great plan for you. He wants you to have a new abundant life in Christ. He loves you as you are, but refuses to leave you that way. He gave His Son Jesus to die on a cross and rise from the grace so you can receive this wonderful new life, grow in it, and use it to His honor and glory.
My appeal today is, why not get in on this? Perhaps you need to take the first step of receiving the mercies God has prepared for you through trusting in His Son Jesus Christ. Ask Him in and commit yourself to following Him. You can do it today. He will not turn you away.
If you have already taken this step, then open your mind to the life-giving, life-changing soul food God has prepared for you. Develop the holy habit of being a person of the Word of God, because a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer