Getting out of the Water
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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." -Romans 12:1, 2
Does a fish know he's wet? Does he appreciate how fortunate he is to live in the lake instead of on its shore? Scientific proof of this is in short supply, but likely he does not. He hasn't experienced anything else and doesn't even recognize the possibility of dryness, of another state of being. Similarly, does someone know when they've conformed to the world instead of what they were created to be? If it's all they've ever known or tried, it's hard to imagine living any other way or why one would even want to. How can you know what you do not know? Paul has an answer for this question in verse 1 of the twelfth chapter of Romans. He tells us it is "by the mercies of God". There is no other means to recognize one bears the mark of the world without His intervening grace.
The method God uses to accomplish the transformation of one molded by the world is through the renewal of the mind. Just as a fish can't know he's wet, the unspiritual man cannot recognize his condition and is much less able to transform his own mind. With God's gift of a new mind, the Christian is not just going to act differently from everyone (i.e. morally), he is going to think differently too. He will, as one theologian put it, "think God's thoughts after Him."
What purpose does God have for transforming us? Paul continues, saying that the results of this transformation are sacrifice and discernment. While an unspiritual man might sacrifice his life for his family or country, without God, he will not and cannot sacrifice the way in which he lives. He sacrifices himself not by dying, but by living as God wanted from man all along. By rejecting his own self-determination, one is able to understand God's will in any situation. He can perceive that a particular action is the right one to take only because he has a renewing power at work in his mind, which leads to a transformed, sacrificed life which is acceptable to God.
This acceptance comes not from our own willpower or success in moral living. It is acceptable to God because we have nothing to do with it and he has everything to do with it. Beginning with His mercy, to the renewal to the transformation, it is all His work. And His work is completely acceptable to Him. The wonderful, incredible, miraculous thing is that he does all that sinners, for those not looking for a way out of the life they were locked into. What a great God we serve. Give thanks for His mercies.