Jonathan Morris: My Favorite Bible Verse

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The practice of choosing a favorite Bible verse goes against every theological bone in my body, for two reasons. First, because Holy Scripture is better understood as a whole. Second, because concentrating on a favorite passage risks distracting us from passages that are less pleasant to our ears, but perhaps more necessary.

I cringe, for example, when I hear politicians or even pastors quote a favorite line or two from the Bible to justify an action or prove their point. Popular verses like “judge not lest you be judged” – while true – are often appropriate for ending rational and moral speech.

Theological musings aside, I have favorite Bible verses. The one I’m going to share with you here has been something to think about deeply as I’ve gone through some major life changes over the past year.

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“Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your spirit, that you may experience the will of God, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

This verse speaks of discernment. It’s about putting our mind and heart in the right place to know which direction we need to go when faced with real life decisions.

The author of this verse, Paul of Tarsus, is writing to the early Christian community in Rome. He knows they are already committed to following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but they live in a hedonistic society and they struggle to know and do what is right.

The first part of this verse is a warning that what we think or feel is not always right. Paul tells the Romans that our minds are warped by worldly thought patterns.

This verse speaks of discernment. It’s about putting our mind and heart in the right place to know which direction we need to go when faced with real life decisions.

If this was true in Paul’s time (the Epistle to the Romans was written around AD 55), it is even truer today. We are brainwashed by the daily onslaught of corporate and social media. To counter this, Paul encourages us to allow God‘s grace and truth to seep into our minds and renew them. As he says, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

“Transformation” is a strong word. The original Greek word for transformation is “metanoia”, which means existential conversion. This spiritual conversion is not about changing our behavior out of shame or guilt. Conversion is a decision of the will to turn from sin, turn around, and walk toward God who calls.

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The second part of this verse is even more inspiring and challenging. Paul says that once we have taken the step into “metanoia” or “conversion,” we still have to test things to see what God really wants from us.

He says “so that you may experience what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect”. Paul is brutally honest that it’s not always easy to know what to do when faced with an uncertain future.

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Paul tells the Romans to test things. In other words, if we think we know what we should do, but we are not sure, we should go on and try.

I found this very simple spiritual advice from Paul deeply helpful.

The American Bible Society is giving away free copies of the Good News Translation Bible to fans of Kanye West who are curious about the faith and want to see what inspired his newfound conversion for themselves.

The American Bible Society is giving away free copies of the Good News Translation Bible to fans of Kanye West who are curious about the faith and want to see what inspired his newfound conversion for themselves.
(American Bible Society)

Here is a final thought on this verse. Paul’s exhortation to the Romans to take seriously renewing their minds in order to discern God’s will for their lives suggests that he believes their decisions matter. It honors the importance – the power – of human activity.

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Other ancient spiritual teachers, before and after Paul, so emphasized the power of God that human choice was dismissed as insignificant. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul does not minimize the real struggle of discernment. He does not say, for example, “just leave everything in God’s hands.”

Christians believe deeply in a personal and providential God, a divine being who cares about and, in various ways, intervenes in human affairs. But, mysteriously, this all-loving and all-powerful God wanted this Divine Providence to be subject, in part, to our free will. In other words, our choices matter and discernment is the way to get it right.

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