The essence of the Christian walk may be summarized in two verses of scripture. In Rom. 12:1, 2 Paul said, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” In this brief exhortation Paul gives both the positive and negative aspects of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. He also tells us how to implement the positive aspect of discipleship in our lives.
The positive aspect of being a Christian is that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Paul says that this is our “spiritual service of worship.” This means that it is a natural expression of one whose life has been hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). The imagery of a living sacrifice draws from the Old Testament practice of worship, in which an animal was killed as a sacrifice to God, but with an important difference. Christians die to sin, but are alive to God. Our sacrifice is a living one, in which we show our devotion to God by our faithfulness to His word in our worship, and in everything we do each day.
Paul says that we implement this positive aspect of discipleship by being transformed by the renewing of our minds. This transformation is effected by the word of God, which is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). The word of God gives us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15), and when we devote ourselves to its study, it makes us all that God wants us to be.
The negative aspect of discipleship, as stated by Paul in Rom. 12:2, is what we must not do if we wish to be pleasing and acceptable to our God. He says that we are not to be conformed to the world. Conformity means adherence to a recognized pattern, whether of speech, dress, conduct, or ideology. In some respects conformity is a good thing, but in this instance it is not. Christians are not to adhere to any of the things that characterize the world. This means that we do not act like those who are in rebellion against God and His word. In other words, we do not allow the world to pour us into its mold.
A mold is a form or pattern into which a liquid or some other malleable material is poured or packed in order to turn that material into the shape of the mold. Every time material is poured into a mold it comes out looking exactly like that mold, and exactly like every other portion of material that has been poured into that mold. If we are poured into the world’s mold, we will think, speak, dress, and act like the world instead of being living sacrifices to God.
Christians must not be poured into the world’s mold because the world is destined for condemnation. If we allow ourselves to be shaped like the world, two things will happen. First, we will not be living sacrifices to God, and will therefore not be pleasing to Him. Second, we will suffer the same fate as the world at judgment.
The only way to be acceptable and pleasing to God is to be poured into the mold of His word, which transforms our minds, and by being a living and holy sacrifice to Him all the days of our lives.