Tenielle writes in to ask, “Romans 12:2 says ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Pastor John, what does it mean when it says ‘by testing’?”
That is a really, really good question. I love it because it means she is really paying attention. She is looking at the book, and she cares about the words, and I love people who care about the words of Scripture. And she is obviously reading from the English Standard Version (ESV), I think, because that phrase is translated in different ways. Let me just give it again: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God.”
Litmus Test: Renewal of Our Minds
By testing — now that phrase, by testing you may discern — is the translation of one Greek word, δοκιμαζω (dok-im-ad’-zo). The standard lexical definition goes like this: “to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, such as metals by fire.” And, interestingly, it is used in 1 Corinthians 3:13 where it says “fire will test” — and that is the word, δοκιμαζω (dok-im-ad’-zo) — “what sort of work each one has done.” So, our works at the last day are going to be tested by fire.
So the idea is that the genuineness of something — in this case the will of God in Romans 12:2 — is found out by an appropriate test. For metals, it is often fire. For genuine ripeness in fruit, it would be like tasting. And for genuine health in a horse, you might look at his teeth. And here, interestingly, powerfully in Romans 12:2, the thing to be recognized is the will of God — namely, what is good and acceptable and perfect. And the question is: So, what is the test? Do you look at the teeth of the will of God? Or you put your tongue on the behavior you are testing? Do you put some match to it? What is the test? And Paul answers, “The renewal of your mind is the test; by the renewal of your mind, you will be able to discern by testing what is the will of God.”
Here is the picture I have in my mind: My renewed mind, renewed by the word of God, renewed by the Spirit of God, renewed by soaking in the revealed nature of God in Scripture, is litmus paper which turns green when the good and acceptable and perfect will touches it — green, go for that. And it turns red when it considers some act which is not the will of God. It is not good. It is not acceptable. It is not perfect.
So, my mind is being shaped by God into the kind of mind that, when it contemplates a behavior or an attitude or a word, there is something that reflexively says no or yes to it, because of the way our mind has been formed.
Approve What Is Excellent
And here is a great example that shows you how the mind is being renewed for this very purpose. It is Philippians 1:9–10, where Paul is praying that this would happen. He prays like this: “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve”— now, there is the word — “what is excellent.”
So he is saying what happens to your love is that love gets more knowledge in Scripture, and love gets more insight in Scripture, and love gets more of everything it needs to be the kind of litmus paper it needs to be so that when you are out there in the world, and you are navigating at work every day, and you don’t have your little lists in your pocket to say, “Oh, where is a list I can consult?” Well, you can’t consult a list of every decision you have to make. I would say ninety percent of the decisions we make through the day don’t have a list that applies to them. You have got to make judgment calls over and over again as to what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect. And that is why our minds are being renewed day by day.
A Delightful Taste
And let me say one more thing that I think is crucial here. The translation “discern by testing” might give the impression that all that is implied is, well, you test, you discern, and you know that is the will of God. You don’t like it, but you do it anyway. That is not what is going on.
The word δοκιμαζω (dok-im-ad’-zo) doesn’t just mean prove and discern. It means prove, and then when something is found to be genuine, approve of it. We know that because in Romans 1:28, it says the sinners did not approve to have God in their knowledge. And that is the word, δοκιμαζω (dok-im-ad’-zo). They didn’t want it. They didn’t love it. And so the renewed mind is the mind that not only has the mental or intellectual or knowledge or insight capacities to discern something that is good and acceptable and perfect, but it also has the spiritual taste so that when something is seen to be of God, it tastes good to us. We delight in it. We approve of it.