The images of conversion in this passage highlight the importance of right thinking for making right responses to God (see vv. 9-10). It would be imprudent to think of the unsaved as unthinking or intellectually marginal, or to think of evil only in terms of perverted or ignoble behavior. The "evil" in view here is the hubris of unbelief that typically characterizes the best and brightest. They have learned to count on themselves for their security and contentment, and given the public's affirmation of their ability, they find no real need for God's affirmation. The issue is not how much knowledge people acquire or their skill in using it, but how they think about God or about Christ, in whom God's fullness now dwells. A reasoned decision against the truth and values of the Christian gospel and for the falsehoods and fictions of the social order results in a mind or intellectual orientation that is alienated from the Creator's purposes for "all things." For example, to have a mindset that is alienated from God is to learn to think about Christ's death as foolish or even scandalous (compare 1 Cor 1:18—2:5); it is to suppose that we have no spiritual deficit or need to be reconciled with God. In fact, the habits of mind that are formed by rejecting the truth of the gospel result in a life lived as though God does not exist (see Jas 4:13-17).
The process of conversion, then, begins with right thinking about God; and right thinking about God begins with our consideration of the ultimate importance of Christ's death and resurrection. And right thinking about Christ's dying and rising yields a correct response in the mind of the reasonable person, which is to depend on God's grace in Christ.
To admit that our experience with God's shalom does not depend on our social status or individual talent but solely on God's grace is a conversion from the ways of the world system; it is the way of Wisdom. We should not suppose that this conversion of the mind, important as it is, will come easily to the lost of our world; it requires a paradigm shift in how we function within society. The slogans of secular materialism promise humanity's salvation in terms of self-sufficiency or economic security, technological progress or national sovereignty. According to Paul, God's salvation from evil comes to those who depend upon Christ. And to depend upon Christ is to follow his downwardly mobile way in an upwardly mobile world (see Mk 10:43-45).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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