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(Romans 12:2a) Breaking Free of Cocoons

(Romans 12:2a) Breaking Free of Cocoons

Ref: Romans 12:2

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“Breaking Free of Cocoons”

Romans 12:2a

Our text today is Romans chapter 12 and verse 2.  And I want to cover the first half of this verse in our session today.

Paul writes, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The NIV translates it, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The King James Version similarly translates it, And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind

Eugene Petersen paraphrases this verse in The Message, to read, “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out.”


Finally, The New Living Translation I think gets a good handle on Paul’s choice of words and tenses it as it amplifies the text to read, “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

I recommend that you circle 3 key words in this text.  First, the word conformed.  Next, the word transformed.  And then the word renewing.

This verse contains a negative command, a positive command, and a plan of action.

Let’s pray before we go any further.

This verse begins with the first of two commands.

The Negative Command:  Paul writes, Be not conformed to this world.

The verb “conformed” is passive.  In other words, he is saying, “don’t allow yourself to be conformed by the world.”

I like J B. Phillips translation of this which reads, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”

You ought to know that Paul actually uses the present imperative tense which literally means, “Stop letting the world conform you,” as if to say the believers in Rome, or at least some of them were being squeezed into the mold of the Roman world.

Remember he’s writing to Christians . . . which means it’s possible for the believer to molded by the world instead of by the word.

Now, the word translated “world”, is aioni (aiwni).  It isn’t a reference to our planet, or the globe, or even a particular country or empire. 

It can be translated age or contemporary generation.  One author defined it as, “the worldview [of the unbeliever] that defines the age in which humans live at any time in history.”

Kenneth Boa & William Kruidenier, Holman New Testament Commentary: Romans (Holman Reference, Nashville, 2000), p. 364

It’s ‘how the world thinks.’

You remember how Paul confronted his generation of educated philosophers in Athens, recorded in Acts chapter 17.

  • The current belief was that mankind had been created out of the soil of Mother earth; Paul declared to them that God made the world and all things (v. 24)
  • They pointed proudly to the Acropolis (the home of their gods) but Paul said, “God who made the world and everything in it does not live in temples made with hands (v. 24)
  • Paul’s generation felt superior to uncivilized and uneducated barbarians,  but Paul told them they were all related since “God made every nation of men, from one man, that they should inhabit the earth.” (v. 26)
  • Paul’s generation prided themselves in the power and the vastness of their empire, but Paul said, that it was God who determined the times of nations and their borders (v. 26)

Adapted from J. Oswald Sanders, Paul the Leader (Navpress, 1984), p. 103

How does our generation think?  What are the politically correct notions of our generation?  What are the philosophies of our culture today?

We happen to live in a generation that supposedly tolerates everything, believes nothing and cares about no one anywhere nearly as much as themselves, right?

Today, in our culture the customer is always right and the consumer is king.

One pastor recently wrote the 10 commandments for the American culture of today:

  1. have a good day
  2. shop
  3. eliminate pain
  4. be up-to-date
  5. relax
  6. express yourself
  7. be entertaining
  8. be entertained
  9. buy entertainment
  10. make sure you get in touch with your feelings

Martin Marty in Context (Feb. 1, 1992) Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 3.

Another author summarized the secular mindset of today with these phrases: be as healthy as you can; live as long as you can; get as rich as you can and be as comfortable as you can be.

Secularism, which is the way of thinking for a secular world defines their thinking whereby man is the measure of all things.  This isn’t new.

But it means that everything is seen and evaluated in relation to you as a person.  You become a little god.  If it’s good to you it’s good.  If it’s true for you it’s true.  If it’s right for you it’s right.

There can be no absolutes . . . no moral boundaries and no dogma . . . truth is reduced to your opinion.  And you should never try and cram your opinion down someone else’s throat.

Sound familiar?

That’s the pattern of thinking in our generation.

Paul warned the believer then and now with strong words.

Listen to what he wrote the Colossian believers, See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

Paul warned the Galatian believers of their evil age (Galatians 1:4) – same word as here in Romans 12:2

The word appears again in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “. . .our gospel is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this age (world) has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the visible image of God.”

The god of the world-view is none other than Satan himself.

Eph 6:11-12 uses the same word again to warn the believer to strap on the armor of God in order to stand against the schemes of the devil . . . against the world forces of this present darkness.

Listen, this age is a very dangerous place.  The mindset of the world is a dangerous thing.

Do you know if your infected?

The truth is, the easiest thing to do is exactly what Paul tells us not to do. 

Do not be conformed to the world’s pattern of living and thinking.

But the truth is, we are by nature, conformists.

By kindergarten we learned that the last thing we ever want to be is different.

Monkey see, monkey do, right?! 

I’m not calling anybody in here a monkey . . . I think.

But it’s true isn’t it?!

I continue to be amazed at that scene where Daniel and his three friends, and hundreds of other deported Jewish men and women, Israel’s finest, were taken from Judah to the world empire of Babylon.

I have seen, in a museum in England, a portion of the very wall that Daniel saw as he entered the empire city of Babylon.  Huge lions drawn and painted in gold on a towering city wall painted in beautiful blue color; a wall so thick that at the top of it, 4 chariots could ride side by side.

Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the meat (considered  unclean by the Jewish dietary laws of their covenant with God) and to drink the wine (most likely because it was offered first as a libation to foreign gods).

The amazing thing is that Daniel and his three friends are the only ones who refuse and demanded to be given simple vegetables and water.  The King’s assistant agreed to allow them to refuse their diet for only 10 days, and then they would be given a physical to determine their health as compared to the other Jewish deportees.    

Daniel 1:15 records what happened, “And at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food.

The sad truth was, when the finest from the kingdom of Judah was deposited inside the kingdom of Babylon, all of them within days began living like Babylonians.   Except four of them.

If Daniel were living in the 21st century, the average Christian would consider him to be taking his religion a little too seriously .  For 75 years, he takes time away from his high level management position to go pray.  In fact, he prays three times a day.  And every chance he gets, he’s talking about his God.  So much so that he has a reputation of “constantly serving his God.”  The average Christian would pull Daniel aside and say, “Relax . . . you’re in Babylon now.  You’re making us all look a little strange.  What are you trying to do here, change Babylon?”  And I think Daniel would have replied, “Yes, I am.” 

He went on, by the way, went on to convert at least two of his emperors to follow after his God.

That doesn’t mean it was easy.  But it was possible.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of peer pressure – don’t overlook the weakness of your flesh to stand alone – don’t down-play the awkwardness of being different. 

I can’t count how many testimonies I’ve heard from brothers and sisters in Christ who have joined this church who grew up in a Christian home and everything was fine until when?  Until they left for college.

Within weeks of entering the college life, it’s as if they left Judah, so to speak, for Babylon.

And within weeks were conformed to their Babylonian world.

Be prepared!  If you were automatically inoculated against the wisdom of the world and the ways of the world, the Apostle Paul would never have had to warn you . . . he would have never written this trans-cultural, trans-generational command; no matter where you live, no matter what century you live in, you’re gonna face the philosophies and the methodologies and the strategies and the fashions and the norms and the lifestyles and the patterns of your world.

 Do you know what they are?   Where are you currently resisting?

Paul warns, “Don’t be squeezed into the mold of your present age.”

Which means you’d better be prepared to say no.

  • You say “no” to secular thinking and “yes” to spiritual thinking
  • You say “no” to social guidelines and “yes” to the Spirit’s guidance
  • You say “no” to the world and “yes” to the word

Can you say “no”?

Let’s practice . . . you’ve heard your two year old say it all week, now it’s your turn. . .on the count of three say no.

One, two three – no.

Again. . .louder.

Look at the person next to you and say, “No.”

Now turn around and look at the person behind you and say, “No.”

Listen, when you walk out of here, you can’t be half-hearted about it! 

You can’t hold back.  Be prepared! 

You’re about to re-enter Babylon!  Get ready to say “no!”

But, it isn’t enough to say no!  There’s something you must say yes to, with equal intensity.

Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this age . .” – that’s the negative command; now here’s the positive command,

Paul provides a positive command.

“but . . . on the other hand . . . be transformed!”

It’s the Greek word metamorphe – it means to change from one form to another.

Once again, it’s in the present imperative.  You could write an exclamation point after each of these commands.

Paul is saying, “Don’t do that . . . but do this!”  “Don’t think that way, think this way.”

Literally, “don’t go on being conformed to this world, but go on daily being transformed.”

In other words, it’s a continual process.

Which once again, goes against our flesh.

Our world is filled with inventions which meet our needs quickly and easily.  Instant foods, instant communication, instant information.  I went from dial-up internet to cable some time ago.  The difference was unbelievable.  But today, I still sit in front of  my computer and say, “C’mon . . . c’mon!”

If the former generation was the “me” generation, we are the “now” generation.

Whatever we’re gonna do, let’s do it now.  Whatever we’re gonna enjoy, let’s enjoy it now!  Whatever we’re gonna buy or eat or wear or plan or see . . . we want to experience it now!

In his humorous book entitled, “America on Six Rubles a Day, the comedian Yakov Smirnoff wrote, “Coming from the former Soviet Union, I was not prepared  for the incredible variety of products available in American grocery stores.  While on my first shopping trip,

I saw powdered milk – you just add water and you get milk. 

I saw powdered fruit juice – you just add water and you got juice;

I saw powdered eggs – you just add water and you get eggs. 

But then I saw baby powder – and I thought, “What a country!”

You don’t add water to powder and get a baby.

Likewise, the transformation of a believer takes a life-time.

Paul writes, “go one being continually transformed.”

The word he uses here is the same word that gives us the biological expression, “metamorphosis.”

I have researched this week the transformation of the silkworm into an moth.  The metamorphosis of the caterpillar into an adult moth.

The tiny silkworm is born out of tiny black eggs.  It eats mulberry leaves almost constantly for the first 6 weeks of its very short life.  It grows to around 3 inches long before finding a little limb from which it begins a 3 day process of spinning it’s white silk cocoon. 

If you can imagine it, once unwound, one cocoon yields anywhere from 500 to 1200 yards of silk.  One single, continuous thread – 10 football fields long.  At a given time, the white cocoons are harvested and dropped into boiling water, and the silk thread is unwound. 

Harvesting silk began in northern China and the beautiful silk garments remained a Chinese secret for nearly 4,000 years.  According to Chinese legend, the first silk thread was made when a Chinese Empress was sitting under a mulberry tree, and a cocoon fell into her hot tea.  She watched as the strong, silky threads of the cocoon began to uncoil. 

What we do know is that the process of raising silkworms and developing the use of silk in weaving began in China, 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.

The Chinese would trade this precious silk fabric to the rest of the world along the so named “Silk Road” and they kept their secret until the 3rd Century A.D. when it was brought to Japan.

By the way, I found it fascinating that the greatest danger to the silk business is if the moth inside successfully broke free.  It would leave a trail of broken thread which would be unusable to the industry.  In order to keep this from happening, the silk farmers keep the moth from fully maturing along this process of metamorphosis.  And they do it by steaming the cocoons.  They have discovered that, for whatever reason, the comfort and warmth provided by the steam actually stunts the growth process and the silkworm never fully matures into an adult moth.  It finishes the cocoon, but never breaks free.

Adapted from

I couldn’t help but think of the metamorphosis of the believer.  And I wonder, how many Christians have accomplished so much and have given so much effort in their journey, only to never break free of the cocoon as a mature adult in Christ.

How do you break free of the cocoon . . . according to Paul?

Would you notice, he tells us.  He gives us not only a negative command and a positive command, but a path of action.

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed, how?, by the renewing of your minds.

Paul writes that the believer is transformed by the development of a new way of thinking.

The renewing of our minds.

The Greek word for mind is nous – it is the center of logical reasoning, ethical judgment and moral awareness.  

“To renew our minds,” in the words of one Bible teacher, “is like deleting old files from a computer, completely erasing their presence and in their place loading new files that come from scripture, through which the Holy Spirit refashions our minds.”

Woodrow Kroll, Romans: Righteousness in Christ (AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 191

Paul challenged the Colossian believers with this process when he wrote, “Allow the word of Christ to richly dwell within you, with all wisdom.” (Colossians 3:16)

Literally, “Allow the word of Christ to take up residency  inside you . . . opening your mind to its wisdom.”

The active role we play is becoming students of the word.  The active part God plays is using the word to transform our minds.

You cannot be transformed unless you are informed. 

And again, that goes against our verbal, audio-driven culture.

One of my staff members sent me these statistics a few weeks ago:

  • 42% of university graduates never read an entire book after graduation.
  • 80% of American families did not buy or read a book last year
  • 57% of new books purchased in the United States are not read to completion, and most readers do not go past page 18 in a book they did happen to buy.

It concluded with this summary: The majority of people living in our generation today prefer to listen to someone they perceive to be trustworthy to give them information, than read for themselves.

Apply that to the church and it translates into believers driving across town to get under the sound of the word, without ever walking across their living room floor to get into the study of the word.

I want you to see something that’s very important about this path to transformation.

Paul’s command to be transformed is, again, in the passive voice.

Which is critical to understand.  Paul is not commanding the believer to transform himself, but to “be transformed.”  In other words, we can’t make transformation happen all by ourselves.  It’s going to take something else that actually transforms us.

Paul’s letters to these believers tell us that transformation takes place as our minds active in the word of God they are renewed by the word . . . and the Spirit of God.

Paul told Timothy, “listen Timothy, I want you to be constantly nourished on the words of the faith and the sound doctrine which you have been following. (1 Timothy 4:6)

In the next verse he wrote, “train yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7)

One author provoked my thinking when he pointed out, that the reason so many Christians give up on transformation is because we spend ourselves trying to be transformed, when the Bible calls us to train to be transformed.

John Ortberg, Leadership Magazine, Summer 2002, p. 104

There is an enormous difference between trying to do something versus training to do it.  

In other words, we are to train for godliness, not try to be godly.  And there is a big difference.

The Greek word for train is gumnazo – which gives us our word gymnasium.

You can try to be in shape.  But you don’t get into shape by deciding.  You get into shape by training.  Paul says, “if you want to be in shape spiritually, go into the gymnasium of the word of God and work out – and the result will be increasing godliness.”

We have a short term missions trip heading for Mexico.  Would you like to be an interpreter?  Would you like to be able to speak Spanish and share the gospel with these people?  Well, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to speak Spanish until you are trained in Spanish. 

You’ll need to learn a new alphabet . . . practicing the letters over and over again.  Your eyes will need to become accustomed to new words, sentence structure and accenting.  You’ll have to memorize vocabulary and practice pronouncing the words, making your tongue twist in new ways and with new sounds.  After training, you’ll be able to begin speaking in Spanish. 

But without serious effort and training, you’ll never get much beyond, “Como esta usted, muy bien gracias.”

I had two years of Spanish and that’s all I remember.

You know why?  Because I don’t use it; I’m not studying it; I’m not refreshing my vocabulary skills . . . I’m not training myself in Spanish.

So as much as I’d like to be an interpreter and speak in fluent Spanish . . . desire has nothing to do with it.  Discipline does.

So the church tells people to live godly lives . . . the value of godliness and living like Christ.  And they leave saying, “Okay, I’m gonna try this week to live like Jesus Christ.”  I’ll even wear an wrist band to remind me, “What would Jesus do?”

I don’t know what He’d do, because I’m not reading in the word what He did do, but I’m gonna try anyway.

Ladies and Gentlemen, transformation is not trying, it’s training.

And you can’t be transformed until you are informed.

A renewed mind – is like learning a new vocabulary.  Learning to say words and think thoughts that you’ve never learned or used before. 

Spiritual transformation is a long-term endeavor.  It involves both God and a willing child. 

One author likened the process of transformation to crossing an ocean.  Some people try, day after day to be good, to become spiritually mature.  That’s like taking a rowboat across the ocean.  It’s exhausting and usually unsuccessful. 

Others have given up trying and throw themselves entirely on “relying on God’s grace.”  They’re like drifters on a raft.  They do nothing but hang on and hope they get there.  Neither trying nor drifting are very effective in bringing about spiritual transformation.  A better image is the sailboat.  With it’s sails prepared for the wind – ready . . . equipped, trained, alert to adjust his sails as the journey continues.

Adapted from IBID

These are the three types of Christians who desire to be transformed:




From this phrase, I would summarize with these statements:

1)  Be alert: Conformity is as dedicated as Christianity to winning converts.

The god of Babylon is passionate in winning you over to his pattern of living.

Paul told Timothy that the words of scripture came from the very breath of God and they were profitable for every aspect of life, totally equipping the believer in their life for God.

2)  Be aware;  Transformation of mind and spirit will never occur apart from exposure to the truth of scripture.

That goes for us as well who teach it, write it, translate it, counsel with it . . . when you get away from personal exposure to the word you stop the process of transformation.  You stop learning and you stop growing; Hendricks used to say in class, when you stop learning you stop teaching.

3)  Be active; Connecting the scripture to every life situation is crucial, if you want to break the old patterns for the new.

I recently read of a high-school student who understood that peer pressure can work both ways.  He was on a Caribbean cruise.  One night his friends tried to entice him into the ship’s bar, but Chad, whose mother was an alcoholic, had determined to never drink.  He was a believer and had reinforced his mind with scripture that he purposefully memorized from Proverbs about alcohol abuse.  He explained to his friends that addiction ran in his family, and they he rather courageously quoted a verse he had memorized.  He said, “I have learned from the Bible that wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (20:1)  They replied, “Aw, come on Chad, just one beer won’t hurt anybody.”  He replied again with scripture, “Do not look upon wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly, at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper.” (23:31-32) His friends turned rather sour at this and began to accuse him of rejecting their company.  He quietly said, as much to himself as to them, another Proverb, “If sinners entice you, do not consent.” (1:10)

This is the story of a young man who is breaking free from his cocoon . . . maturing . . .  growing . . . already flexing his wings for freedom.

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