Renewed Minds and Pierced Bodies

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2



How we parent changes as our children grow and mature. My current methodology for parenting, because my four sons are all quite young, consists largely of establishing and maintaining rules. Many of these rules are designed to exact behavior most of us would regard as rather obvious: don’t stare at people; don’t draw on the furniture; don’t cut up your clothes.

I am prepared to accept that my boys are not the sharpest tools in the shed—they are, after all, my  children—but I chalk up this need for them to have obvious rules more to their immaturity than their stupidity. As our children grow we discover we can relax the rules. They begin to understand for themselves that they should not stare at people, draw on furniture, or cut up their clothes. We call that maturity. Sometimes our children disappoint us and we find ourselves saying to them, “You’re grown up now and you’ve got to act grown up.” There’s a sense in which Paul is saying the same thing in Romans 12.

The Bible teaches us that we all are born with an impulse we inherited from father Adam to hate God. Earlier in Romans, Paul explained how God gives those who hate Him over to a debased mind. A mind that is worthless and unfit. The mind of God-haters is unqualified, unable to assess, appreciate, and approve the truth of God and the will of God.

A Metamorphosis

What is required for God-haters, in the words of Romans 12, is transformation, comprehensive transformation. Interestingly, the word Paul uses here has been taken into the English language almost unchanged and we know it as “metamorphosis.” When I was in seminary I had to read a book about interpretive fallacies. One of the fallacies I read about was called “semantic anachronism.” This particular fallacy involves reading a contemporary meaning of a word into the original meaning of its archetype. I have no interest in committing this fallacy, but I do think that our word ‘metamorphosis’ is illustrative of the change Paul is talking about. When we talk about ‘metamorphosis’ we generally have in mind the profound changes in form an organism goes through in its life. We might talk, for instance, about the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a pupa and then into a butterfly. It is a transformation of that scale that Paul is talking about in Romans 12. Such a transformation is not simply away from the standards and patterns of behavior of the world; it is a transformation within oneself.

Holiness is never achieved merely by observing the world and doing the opposite. It is far more complex and far more challenging. The good news is that the Holy Spirit enables us to meet the challenge by renewing our minds. With our minds being constantly reprogrammed by the Spirit of Christ we can begin to approve the will of God. We can begin, in other words, to understand and agree with what God wants of us, with His moral direction.

That is, of course, the purpose of the transformation. Sin made the mind debased and unfit to assess and appreciate the will of God, but this inability is reversed through the transformation of which Paul speaks: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Maturing In Christ

The transition of which Paul speaks here is not just a transition from unbelieving mind to believing mind, but from old covenant context to new covenant context. In the old covenant God provided a guide for conduct that was comprehensive and all-inclusive. It addressed virtually every sphere of life, from how you build your house, to the clothes you wear and the food you eat.

There is a sense in which that comprehensive law has been replaced by the renewed mind of the believer. This is because God has brought His people into the age of maturity. Israel in the old covenant was juvenile, immature, unruly and childish. Therefore the law, Paul says in Galatians 3, was a tutor or a disciplinarian to lead her to Christ. But in Christ, the mature man, God’s people come of age. We have something today Israel lacked— namely, the Spirit of the glorified Jesus, the Spirit of the mature man (John 7:37). We have, as Paul says elsewhere, the mind of Christ.

Now, it is not as if the mind of Christ is all we presently need. Eric Alexander, one of my favorite preachers, from Glasgow, Scotland, used to say that a train doesn’t just need an engine to move effectively, it needs tracks. We need more than a mind renewed by the Spirit: we need external laws, objective standards, God’s commandments.

There is a sense, however, in which we do not rely on commandments as much as our old covenant counterparts did. We’ve entered our maturity, all of which means that thought, reflection, wisdom and prudence mean more today than ever before in biblical history.

This can be disappointing for some. There’s something about human nature that craves rules. We want everything to be carefully mapped out for us: how we should dress; what kind of music we should listen to; whether we should have a television. This is what makes the Amish life so attractive to people. Everything is literally black and white—all your questions are answered and you don’t need to think.

Maturing in Faith

As a pastor, I have found it’s impossible to preach about Lord’s Day observance without disappointing some. Everyone has a set of questions he or she wants answered. Is it right to watch television on Sunday, or to cut the grass, or to take a nap, or to do homework?

God has not directly answered those questions in His Word and that is because He wants us to think. What is really exciting about this is that we are growing up. We can think and reason and make conclusions about what God wants from us through the renewal of our minds. We can begin to approve the perfect and pleasing will of God.

Let us consider as an application of our text the question: should men wear earrings? The first thing we need to do is consult the Bible. We discover the Bible forbids certain markings and piercings in Leviticus 19. It would be a mistake for us, however, to appeal to these prohibitions since in the very same context God forbids men from shaving. The laws of Leviticus 19 still have relevance for us, though clearly not in the form in which they are given.

We read in 1 Corinthians 6 that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that may relate in some way to body piercing. I am of the mind that it does apply, especially to the phenomenon of multiple piercings, the kind that makes an individual look like a tackle box blew up in his face. Since God created our bodies, redeemed them, and will resurrect them, we ought to treat them with respect. To pierce our bodies anywhere and everywhere is a sign of disrespect. But are all body piercings disrespectful to the body? If we say yes, then women should not get their ears pierced either. And that is a position some Christians hold.

Then there are those who appeal to the first part of this verse and insist that we must not be conformed to the world. If men wear earrings in our culture and we are not supposed to be conformed to the world then Christian men shouldn’t wear earrings. This argument also fails to persuade. Women in our culture wear makeup. Does that mean that Christian women should not wear make up? That would be ludicrous.

Because the Bible does not address this issue directly we must not be dogmatic about the position we take. Having said that, I do believe the Bible points in the direction of disapproving earrings for men. We learn in 1 Corinthians 11 that woman is the glory of man. They are the glamorous ones who adorn themselves with jewelry, makeup, and colorful clothing. The only kind of adornment for women the Bible frowns upon is that which is merely outward (1 Peter 3:3).

This is reversed in pagan cultures where men are often the peacocks. They grow their hair long, wear the colorful clothing, the jewelry and sometimes the makeup. That’s becoming true of our culture with the rise of what are called “metrosexuals”—heterosexual men who tan, for example, and get manicures and pedicures. Man, however, is not the glory of woman; woman is the glory of man. This leads me to conclude that earrings and the makeup are best left to the women.

I grant that there are many other important variables we need to consider in our moral decision making, including motive, consequence, and situation. Each of these has something to say about this issue as well. The point of this exercise is to illustrate the text. Holiness has become far more challenging and complex than it was in the old covenant. Things aren’t black and white anymore. And that’s all part of growing up. But give thanks to Christ for His mind-renewing Spirit.

Rev. Bill De Jong is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kansas City, Missouri.