In the opening chapter of Romans, Paul has explained how that people’s rejection of God has resulted in God giving them over to a “depraved” mind, what the KJV calls a “reprobate” mind. The word translated “depraved” (ἀδόκιμος) speaks of an “unqualified, worthless” mind, one that “does not stand the test.”119 Such a worthless mind has been disapproved because it is incapable of correctly assessing the truth about God and the world he has made.120 Unbelievers cannot think rightly about God. Instead they pervert the truth of God (Rom 1:21– 28). Now in v. 2 of our text, Paul contends that “the purpose121 of our being transformed by the renewing of the mind is that this state might be reversed,” that we may be able “prove what the will of God is.”122 While the unbeliever has a mind that is disapproved (ἀδόκιμος), disqualified from thinking rightly about God, the believer’s mind is being renewed so that he can “prove” (δοκιμάζω) or “approve” what God’s will is. The term (δοκιμάζω) in this context means to give approval to what one has discerned. It is used similarly in Ephesians 5:10, “trying to learn (δοκιμάζω) what is pleasing to the Lord.” Moo notes, “‘Approving’ the will of God means to understand and agree with what God wants of us with a view to putting it into practice.”123 By the “will of God,” Paul means, of course, what Murray calls God’s “will of commandment,” his preceptive not his decretive will since the latter “is not the norm according to which our life is to be patterned” (cf. Deut 29:29).124 Although the process of mind-renewal begins at conversion (Titus 3:5), believers do not immediately understand what is pleasing to God (“the will of God”). Believers will face diverse and sometimes conflicting choices with regard to how they are to act and live. But as their minds are being renewed, they are able to put these choices to the test of God’s Word and approve what is the appropriate will of God for them.125 Schreiner explains, “As the mind is renewed, believers bow to God’s rule in their lives.”126 And, truly, a renewed mind will conclude that the will of God is nothing less than “that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Contrary to how our text has frequently been understood by those who have knowingly, or unknowingly, drunk from the well of Holiness/Keswick theology, it cannot be used to support the requirement for a special act of dedication as a necessary requirement for sanctification. Of course, Paul does call for the believer’s dedication in Romans 12:1–2, and since obedience to every NT command is necessary for progressive sanctification, dedication is undoubtedly essential for the believer. But, unfortunately, what Paul means by dedication has too often been misunderstood to mean a decisive, often one-time decision, a special offering of the believer to God that instantaneously moves him to a new level of spiritual development. But as we have seen, this completely misses Paul’s emphasis.
Romans 12:1–2 can be viewed as basically summarizing the demands of the gospel for believers who are living in a secular world. What God wants from us who are the recipients of his grace is not so much a specific act of dedication, but a life of dedication. Paul’s metaphor of dedication is the model for the normal Christian life. What God desires from his children is that they continually resist conformity to this age while they are, at the same time, being transformed into the very image of Christ. This transformation involves the whole person, an ongoing, lifelong transformation that is from the inside out so that the spiritual renewal begun at regeneration continues until the day of glorification. This transformation depends upon the continual renewal of the believer’s mind in order that he might always be able to discern God’s moral will for his life, to agree that it is good and acceptable and perfect, and to seek to put it into practice. This process of mind-renewal is somewhat of a virtuous circle. As the believer grows in his understanding of and obedience to God’s truth, his mind will be renewed so that he will be able to discern and obey God’s moral will for his life. And as he continues to obey God’s will, he will continue to be transformed. The process Paul sets forth in Romans 12:1–2 is essential if the believer is to live a life of obedience, and obedience to God is the path to progressive sanctification.
119 BDAG, s.v. “ἀδόκιμος,” p. 21.
120 Moo, Romans, p. 757.
121 The Greek construction used here, εἰς τό plus the infinitive (δοκιμάζειν) probably denotes purpose (e.g., Moo, Romans, p. 757; Cranfield, Romans, 2:609; Osborne, Romans, p. 322), though result is also possible (e.g., Sanday & Headlam, Romans, p. 354; Hendriksen, Romans, 2:406; Cottrell, Romans, 2:316).
122 Moo, Romans, p. 757.
124 Romans, 2:115.
125 Cf. the NIV: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is” (also NET BIBLE).
126 Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, p. 253.
Bill Combs serves as Academic Dean as well as Professor of New Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, where he has been teaching since 1983. He earned his BA at Tennessee Temple University, and his MDiv and ThM degrees at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds a ThD from Grace Theological Seminary. Dr. Combs has also served in pastoral ministry. He and his wife Pansy are members of Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI.