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In July, Renewing Your Mind with Dr. R.C. Sproul celebrated its twenty-fourth anniversary. The name of the program, which I have the privilege of hosting, is taken from Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Paul’s brief exhortation provides us with the key to living as followers of Christ.

Conformity means going with the flow. So, in effect, Christians are swimming upstream by not conforming to the world. And that requires work. We’re not talking about working our way into heaven. In this passage, Paul is addressing believers, those who have already been justified. And we’re reminded that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6). We’re talking about our sanctification, which involves effort.

Paul described conformity to the world as “living in the flesh,” and he warned, “To set the mind on the flesh is death” (Rom. 8:6). Charles Spurgeon was equally blunt when he said: “If a Christian can, by possibility, be saved while he conforms to this world, at any rate it must be so as by fire. Such a bare salvation is almost as much to be dreaded as desired.” This transformed life involves a new way of thinking. And a good place to start is a candid assessment of what dominates our current thought life. You’ve probably heard the expression “you are what you eat.” I think it’s also safe to say you are what you think. Let me be the first to admit that I focus many of my thoughts on things that provide little nourishment for the soul. The psalmist reminds us:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Ps. 1:1–3)

Dr. Sproul said, “A renewed mind results from diligently pursuing the knowledge of God.” He explained where we find this knowledge:

God gives us the revelation of sacred Scripture in order for us to have our minds changed so we begin to think like Jesus. Sanctification and spiritual growth is all about this. If you just have it in your mind and you don’t have it in your heart, you don’t have it. But you can’t have it in your heart without first having it in your mind. We want to have a mind informed by the Word of God.

What Transformation Looks Like

Such a clear admonition brings to mind a man we featured on Renewing Your Mind a few months ago. Lowell Ivey was sentenced to seventeen years in prison for armed robbery. He believed the only way he could survive behind bars was to join a white supremacist gang. Lowell conformed in every way to the group. He immersed himself in hateful, racist literature and began covering his upper body with tattoos that reflected his new identity and his hatred for people of other races. To prove his loyalty to the gang, Lowell tried to attack an African-American prisoner with a homemade knife, an offense that landed him in solitary confinement.

Christians are swimming upstream by not conforming to the world.

But, one Sunday evening, while listening to a sermon on a local radio station, Lowell reached a moment of despair about the direction of his life and became convinced he was going to hell. He said: “The tears were streaming and I simply fell on my knees before Him and I said, ‘Lord, make me a Christian. Change my heart. Take this away and help me to follow You.’ And He did it.”

Lowell would remain in solitary confinement seven more years, but he said that time was vital to his growth as a new believer. “I used the time to read, study, and meditate on God’s Word, and to pray. The Lord was growing me in my fellowship with Him. It wasn’t wasted time.”

Providentially, Lowell discovered Renewing Your Mind on the radio and says Dr. Sproul’s teaching was key to his growth. “I became more theologically mature mainly from listening to that program,” he said. He also obtained a copy of the Reformation Study Bible, the same Bible he uses today to prepare sermons as the pastor of a church in Virginia. He is also a husband and the father of three children.

Lowell’s transformation is so profound that, as I interviewed him, I could not believe that the person before me was the same one that he described before his conversion. Notice how he describes the transformation from his white supremacist identity in prison:

The Lord has delivered me so profoundly from the sin of racism. As I read His Word, and as my thinking and my affection are shaped by the Word of God, there is no way I could harbor any animosity toward anyone.

The Motivation for Living a Transformed Life

In the Old Testament, the Israelites were reminded time and again of God’s mercy in liberating them from slavery. “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45).

Likewise, Paul bases his appeal in Romans 12 on “the mercies of God” (v. 1), which he detailed in chapters 3–11. He even reminds us of our liberation from slavery to sin (6:20–23). Lowell describes God’s mercy in setting him free from sin: “He has been so gracious. He has lifted me up out of the ash heap and the pit that I had dug for myself. And He’s delivered me into the glorious kingdom of His Son, Jesus Christ.”

It’s tempting to think Lowell’s conversion is more amazing than ours. We do well to remember that, like Lowell, we were just as dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). But, like Lowell, God has shown us mercy. As Isaac Watts wrote in his famous hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

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