~Romans 12.2, King James Version
“Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].”
~Romans 12.2, The Amplified Bible
When we attend a Sunday morning worship service, we sing songs of praise and offer prayers of thanksgiving and petition. We employ our tongues in professions of faith and confessions of shortcoming. We serve the Lord whether with joy or begrudgingly with our mouths. In America, it is easy to say we love our God and the love of self drives our capitalistic system but the love of our neighbor is often a difficult task. For some of us, we can’t even say it.
We cannot speak this falsehood because we do not believe it in our hearts. More importantly, we do not think it and we do not think about our neighbor. We do not consider those who are culturally and socially different from us as our neighbor even when sharing the same faith tradition. Our definition of neighbor is narrowly defined to those who “look” and “sound” like us, who are in the same socio-economic bracket, who attended the same educational institutions, who vacation in the same places. I assure you that this is not what the writer of Acts meant when he wrote that “they had all things in common” (4.32). But, these are more economic partnerships than faith communities. For these persons, in order for one to be a neighbor, he or she must be of the same cultural background and their presence must be of social importance or financial benefit. More often than not, our questions are centered around what we do for a living in order to determine whether or not this person is deserving of our attention and a continued conversation beyond the initial “hello” and “how are you.” Even in church, where we worship and serve together, we do not think that talking about our relationship with God is appropriate and miss opportunities for a deeper fellowship .
Homeless persons or impoverished families in our community become our neighbors but only during Thanksgiving and Christmas when we offer special services, have a clothing drive or serve a meal. They are our neighbor but it is for a limited time only. Oh, but God’s love is not selfish or contained to our private devotions. Instead, it must be shared, not hoarded and stored up for one group of people but distributed to everyone that we see. I assure you that there is enough of God’s love to go around. There is no scarcity in Him.
Still, we do not ponder or reflect upon how and why we should love our neighbor and more specifically, our kindred in the faith because “they don’t worship like we do.” We don’t think that God should be worshipped in this way or that. In fact, we know how God wants to be worshipped; we know the right way, the proper way. But, this is a prejudicial thought. The Bible tells us that those who worship God, must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4.24). These are the qualifiers of worship and they do not include a time or a type. Still, this is the rationale often given for the segregation of the Body of Christ. But, when we all get to heaven, what will we do with our racialized ways? Will we fold our hands because we don’t clap? Will we fall asleep because the silent awe of God went on for too long?
No, we must change the way that we think about God and the life that we live with God and our neighbors. God is not the servant of our cultural predispositions, our racial restrictions or our familial traditions. Our minds must be renewed; they must be affected by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word used for renew in Romans 12.2 means a “complete change for the better.” We hold so tightly to thoughts, social configurations of how the world and its inhabitants should be. We believe that if we let go of a single thought, a single perspective or opinion even that our world will fall apart, that nothing will make sense. Or, that there is no thought better than those that we hold, that our way of thinking cannot be improved upon, that our minds don’t need to be renewed.
This is to say that we will not serve the Lord with our minds (Romans 7.25). We will say that we love God and that we keep the commandments with our mouth but we will not allow God to change our minds. One of the two greatest commandments includes loving the Lord with our mind (Matthew 22.37). Still, we know how “those people are” and know that changing the way that we think about them will not change who they are. We will stay on our side of the fence, on our side of the tracks, in our church, on our pew because this is working for us, right? But change can only happen in relationship. It is how God changed us.
Our minds are set in the old ways of this world. We have inherited thoughts for which we have no rationale or experience with. We received them without inspection and passed them down to our children without critique. But, a mind filled with the prejudices and stereotypes of American society is carnal (Romans 8.7). The unconditional love of God cannot reside in the hearts of those who practice the conditional love of racism and prejudice. Choose to serve the Lord with your mind today and allow God to change the way you think about yourself and others. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.