Readings: Matthew16v13-20; Romans 12v1-8
Do you remember Transforming Presence, the initiative by the diocese to change the way we do
things and reverse the decline of the church. It should change the way the church is seen in the
world, to make us more outgoing and more likely to involve others.
The Apostle Paul is talking about a personal Transforming Presence in our reading this morning.
He speaks of the renewing of our minds. Verse 2 says “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of
this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Without this change in each of us
the diocesan initiative is doomed to failure.
We all have our own particular view of how the world works, but we should ask ourselves where
our view comes from. What are the influences that make us think in a certain way? What is the
agenda that is driving those influences?“We are perfectly useless as Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us.”The world is in a mess – that’s easy to see. But the causes are perhaps less clear. Isaiah tells us that
(53:6) “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;” - in other words
the problem is selfishness, we all think that we know the best way to run things.
God, Paul says has been merciful to us. He has revealed that there is a different way, and He has
provided a way for us to follow His way instead of our own. Now, if I finish the Isaiah verse: “We
all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
It tells us that Jesus, the Messiah, has taken our selfishness and provided a way for us to get back to
being in a relationship with God. Paul is saying that we should respond to this by transforming our
thought processes, because“We are perfectly useless as Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us.”
Transformation / Transfiguration
So we need to be changed, transformed into something different. It is worth saying that the Greek
word that is translated ‘transformed’ here is the same word that is used of the transfiguration, where
Peter, James and John saw Jesus changed, so that His face shone like the sun and His clothes
became as white as light. The meaning of the word is ‘changed in form’. That is the nature of the
change that Paul is urging on us.
Not mere rules (Freedom and Boundaries)
If we are going to be transformed, and no longer conform to the world, our behaviours will have to
change. We can no longer continue doing all the things we have been doing, but as Paul says
transformation is a whole lot more than the way we behave.
Christianity is sometimes seen as a religion of prohibitions – don’t do this, don’t do that, and it is
true that those rules exist, but if we look at them with a transformed mind, we will see them simply
as boundaries. Anyone who has had children will appreciate the importance of boundaries, and how
they change with the growth of the child. They will also know that there are some absolutes -
“Never put your hand in the fire” for example. We are God’s children - if we are going to live in
true freedom we have to have boundaries that prevent us from making some horrendous mistakes.
The Bible does not provide us with a list of good behaviours to match the list of bad behaviours.
There isn’t even a list of Do’s to run along side the list of Don’ts. Instead we are provided with a
list of Godly characteristics – the fruits of the spirit. Galatians 5:22,23 “love, joy, peace,
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
If we build this character, we will naturally operate within the boundaries because:
“When we are transformed in Christ we love to do what we ought to do.”
Love to do what we ought to do
And when we love to do what we ought to do there is no problem, because we do not get near the
boundaries. That is true freedom.
Renewal of the Mind – The Problem
We cannot just decide that we will be always loving, joyful, peaceful, patient kind, good, faithful,
gentle, and in complete control of ourselves. Well, we may make the decision, but we are most
certainly incapable of keeping to it. Our minds come out of this world, and we have already seen
that the world is in a mess. One of the symptoms of the mess is that our minds have a natural
ignorance of God. 1 Peter 1:14 “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had
when you lived in ignorance.”
Ephesians 4:17-18 “So I tell you this, ... you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of
their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because
of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
Renewal of the Mind – The Holy Spirit
From within our darkened understanding and our selfish ignorance, we cannot hope to see God, but
the Holy Spirit, once it is inside us can illuminate our mind and renew it. Titus 3:5 “He saved us
through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”. The work of the Holy Spirit is to
show us the Glory of God, to lift the darkness, and to show us God as he really is.
We have seen an example of this already, in our gospel reading.
Peter recognises who Jesus is
When Jesus asked his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” He got some of the usual answers –
answers that came from a population largely in the dark about the things of God. When he asked
the disciples “and what about you, what do you say?” Simon says, “You are the Christ, the Son of
the living God.” Simon has some understanding at last, he has some knowledge that can only have
come from God. Jesus recognised it immediately and seems to have taken it as a sign. He rewards
Simon with a new name – Peter means Rock, and gives him the keys to the kingdom – a truly
awesome responsibility. What a reward for a single flash of brilliance, because Peter’s mind has
been renewed, he has seen things that he couldn’t see before. God shone His light into the dark
recesses of Peter’s mind and the change in Peter was amazing. We’ve spoken a little about the
rewards that the Spirit provides already, and there is some more of that to come.
If you read on from our Gospel reading today, you will see that the next story is one of utter failure
for Peter, even though it comes from his best intentions. This time he has completely failed to see
God’s will. If Peter’s mind is not renewed in one single instant, then it is extremely unlikely that
our minds will be. Having our minds renewed by the Holy Spirit is a life long process – not a brain
How to help the renewal process
So, what can we do to help this process? It’s a question of motivation. We should ask ourselves
- Do I long to break loose from conformity to the world?
- Do I long to be transformed and made new from the inside out?
- Do I long to be free from mere duty-driven Christianity and do what you love to do because what you love to do is what you ought to do?
- Do I long to offer up your body as a living sacrifice so that your whole life becomes a spiritual act of worship and displays the worth of Christ above the worth of the world?
Holy Spirit some additional material to work with:
- Read the Bible – as often as you can. If it helps, get a reading plan, if it doesn’t, don’t.
- Attend worship regularly
- Listen to Godly men and women or read their works
- Pray regularly or frequently or both.
Rewards of Transformation
If we do these things we will soon begin to have our minds transformed, and Paul says that we will
be able to “test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We will also soon be in a position to look at ourselves and not automatically think we are better than
we really are.
Living as the Body
Finally Paul reminds us that we live together as a body, and in that body each of us has our special
gifts. The list here is not exhaustive, his aim is to remind his readers that God has chosen each of
them and put them in a particular place to fill a particular role. God is still doing that today with us.My MinistryPart of God’s will is knowing what His will is me. This is why Paul is talking about ‘sober judgement’ when assess myself and my gifts. When looking for a role I must have a sense of what God wants of me and the measure (the cut of, if you like) my faith. The role also needs to be there waiting for me. So by this we avoid people claiming a ministry that they are entirely unsuited to, or that could be better done by someone else. If you hear people talk of ‘my ministry’, ask yourself, or ask them, whether it is really God’s ministry.
Transforming the Church and the World
Even with all this the church will never be perfect, that is summed up nicely by this saying:
“To dwell above with the saints we love, O that will be glory. But to dwell below with the
saints we know, well, that’s a different story!”
Nevertheless, if we are determined to allow the Holy Spirit in to do his work, we will see the fruits
– love, joy etc., and the story may become less different. Then we can get on with the job of
transforming the world.
No wait! That will never work, if we wait for that, we will never have enough time to transform the
Transforming the World
Already the statistics from various surveys seem to tell us we’re failing. Most of our social action
initiatives only reach people who already have a connection to the church, we’re not reaching the
unchurched population even when offering our help, well before to get to offering the good news of
The divorce rate among Christians in America is exactly the same as the divorce rate among nonbelievers. That’s probably the same here too.
The church, we are told in some recent articles has abandoned the poor.
Well, all those things may be true, but we can only work in the fields that God leads us into, and we
are only responsible to Him for what we are doing – not to the PCC, or the bishop, although they
have a role to play.
Look at the response to the Grenfell tower disaster, it was mainly the church that responded in the
immediate aftermath, providing shelter and food for the survivors.
In many towns across the country, Street Pastors are proven to have reduced the crime rate and
lowered the sense of tension on the streets in the late evenings. These people will meet and talk to
many who have never considered getting anywhere near a church.
What we hear on the news is only part of the story. The supposed big issues of the day – LGBTQ
rights or Gender Identity issues are used to publicly bash the church, but it will only dissuade a few.
I’d love the church to be leading these debates, not struggling to keep up, but how we transform the
world today has changed.
Many more people will be affected positively by the love they experience from faithful Christians
making one to one friendships, and supporting those in need without asking for anything in return.
Remember“We are perfectly useless as Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us.”but“When we are transformed in Christ we love to do what we ought to do.”
Change me from the inside out.
Renew and reconstruct my soul.
Obliterate my old habits.
I repent and receive your forgiveness.
I believe that your Word is working in me today.
I ingest your Word, chew on it, swallow it and receive it in faith.
Thank you for the power of your Word to bring change to this old, brittle soul.
I praise you for the joy you’ve set before me: a life lived as you intended me to live!
The Expositors Bible Commentary Volume 8 ISBN 0-310-36500-7 (V. 8)
The Expositors Bible Commentary Volume 10 ISBN 0-310-36520-1 (V. 10)
Matthew for Everyone Part 2 - Tom Wright ISBN 78-0-281-05487-9
Paul for Everyone Part 2 - Tom Wright ISBN 78-0-281-05737-0