You Can’t Be A Worldly Christian
IT'S NOT ABOUT CONFORMITY “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
IT’S NOT ABOUT CONFORMITY
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
This verse, when taken alone and without the support of any other Word, might be construed in one of many different ways. Why, it could even be said that it’s just common sense that the Christian conform to the world in one way or another. After all, not all the customs of the world are harmful and, in fact, some of them are noble and even necessary to society as a whole. Shouldn’t there be a better way to interpret this verse?
It’s true that believers should make it a goal to be different from the world. But there is also the idea that being different from the rest of the world has great value all by itself. You may have heard believers speaking out against unbelievers by using the argument, “You can’t tell them from the rest of the world!” And so then it seems to become not only a practice, but a duty, to create that difference.
First Things First
As it goes with many things, there is both truth and falseness in this idea. Real Christians, real believers, will always appear different from the rest of the world. It should be easy to tell who they are and what they believe, simply by watching their actions for a moment. But, it should never be the sole desire, the object to be attained, to have that distinction.
Believers should be Christians first, and the separation of the world will be the natural order that follows. That separation, in and of itself, is not particularly a virtue. In fact, it’s just as possible to be used as a vice, or to become something wicked in the lives of that person and those around them. It doesn’t make a person better simply because they are not like those around them. So, in reality, it isn’t a discipline to an end, but rather the result of a life lived for Jesus.
Making the distinction is very important.
What’s the Plan?
If being set apart or different is the very object of the believer’s effort, it takes away its value and tends to become formal. There will suddenly be the trading of inward change for some type of outward standard that then becomes a duty. All combined, this does create a distinctiveness, but it can also create a prideful self-righteousness that an end result has been attained.
An example of this would be groups who seek the outward appearance of dressing plainly, considering it the very duty of their faith. The prompting toward this endeavor was undoubtedly Christlike and good. Removing the temptation to be vain in outward appearance, and “putting on Christ” instead is a great motive for such things. But this underlying foundation can quickly be forgotten. It can be easy then to worship in precept in letter, but not in spirit.
While marking true believers as those who dress plainly, they may have not realized that plain materials might be as costly as those that aren’t plain at all. Then, there comes a pride that goes along with the plain look that acts as the distinction between them and the rest of the world. These same people who claim to live a holy lifestyle because of their separateness might be the same ones who say bitter things to someone for wearing gold jewelry or hair ornaments.
To uphold a whim such as this, one has to pervert the Scripture. Then, not only do they bring scorn on themselves, but they also bring a reproach on the very gospel and on Jesus Himself. They have turned so vehemently to the natural developments of separation that they have forgotten the Gospel message.
So how do we apply this command to avoid conforming to the world in a way that is right?
Doing Things the Right Way
As Paul takes up giving an answer to that question, he goes to the very heart of the matter: sacrifice. This is the way the Scripture should be considered. In order to avoid conformity with the world, we must sacrifice things that are of the world. What, then, are we able to keep and what do we have to give up?
Paul says that avoiding conformity with the world does include sacrifice, it’s true, but it should be made in the right spirit. We can’t sit and sort possessions into classes, as in, one pile for God, one for the world, one for throwing away completely, etc. No, instead, everything should be heaped together and the whole should be considered:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)
Everything that we are, and everything that we have should be offered to God:
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
Paul goes a step farther than simply sacrifice. The sacrifice he says is right is the one that includes all the details of our lives, our bodies, our spirits, everything:
“And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
What Jesus Really Said
It’s important to note that Jesus never said to cut yourself off from this or that. No, instead, he said to specifically “deny himself”. In other words, this means that we should say “self” is nothing, and that Jesus is everything. Or even that we, ourselves, are nothing in comparison with Jesus, in our lives. In reality, if we live this way, denying ourselves, there aren’t a lot of ways in which we can make mistakes. The will of the world and the will of Jesus are so opposite that you can’t move away from the one without going directly towards the other.
It’s also important to consider that we really don’t have to waste a lot of time wondering about the details of our sacrifice for the sake of Jesus. There’s no need to go through utter torment trying to decide what is wrong and what is right, and which we should do the more of. No, if we completely embrace Jesus and His will as the very rule of our lives, He will teach us and help make those decisions for us, without the least bit of discomfort. This is what is meant in that the law of the spirit of life will make a person free from the law of sin and death:
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)
The legalism that can so easily be found in the world’s laws has no right in the life of a believer. Surrendering to that law of the spirit in Jesus can turn a person so drastically that they will hate the worldly things they once clung to and love things that were otherwise despised, all the name of serving the One True God.
What To Give Up, What To Keep
Many people, before making the decision to serve God, might come to a pastor or some other Christian they look up to and say, “If I give my life to Jesus, do I have to give up this or that, or stop doing certain things?” People should never be asked to come to Jesus in a spirit of bargain making, however. There is no answer for such a questions, from one Christian towards a potential believer.
On the contrary, one can be counseled that their conscious will really tell them all they need to know on such matters. If something stands out in their mind as ultimately being “wrong” then it must be done away with, without compromise. Jesus requires complete obedience in these things, without regard to feelings on the matter. Whatever sacrifices or extra duty that obedience calls for, it must be followed. The question then becomes, are we willing to do it?
It’s very much like a person that goes into a recruiting office to sign up for duty. After everything goes through and it is determined that you are a good fit, you’re place on the roster and told how much your pay will be, and all you have to do is sign the dotted line. But right before you sign, you have a few questions. How much marching will I have to do each day? What kind of tent and provisions am I going to have? Will I have regular hours or will there be overtime? Am I going to a place where the weather is nice?
How long would you think the recruiter would be willing to put up with such questions? Would he even attempt to answer some of those questions, even if he could do it? His response would more likely be something along the lines of, “If you sign up, you’re signing up with an understanding that we don’t negotiate terms with you, other than your pay. You must obey orders and serve in any way you are directed to serve, any place, any time and in any scope you are asked to serve. If you want to know what those specifics are, then sign up and you’ll find out during your course of service.”
It’s the same when committing to the service of Jesus. You have to actually come aboard to find out what all will be asked of you. You must give yourself to Jesus and He will keep you. When you become devoted to Him and His service, you will know what to do:
“Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:16-17)
Anyone who considers salvation should not torment themselves with a constant desire to know what has to be given up and what doesn’t. They don’t need that spiritual insight right away, but need to be resolute in giving themselves over fully to Jesus, with no reserves.
Some people approach salvation with a list of requirements they think are necessary in that service. They think that if the whole thing were laid out in front of them, they would have a much better time deciding whether or not it was “right” for them. However, there’s no way to decide such things, and should be left off completely when considering the eternal soul.
The most important thing is to remember that a commitment to God comes with God’s promise to direct you in your ways:
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:6)
“I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways:…” (Isaiah 45:13)
If a person truly wants to do the will of God, He will show it when the time is right, and when the person is ready to receive it. When the duty is finally laid before you, use God’s Name and strength to accomplish the task. This is what it means to truly become a living sacrifice.
The Nonconformity of the Pharisees
Another way that nonconformity is attained is by acting simply for the sake of being different and according to certain circumstances. In essence, this is a dead sacrifice, and can be seen in the “sacrifices” made by the Pharisees. They were thankful to God that they were unlike other men, however, that was only an outward difference.
To someone on the outside looking in, the Pharisees were certainly different and not at all conformed to the world. The dressed differently. They prayed longer and more often than anyone else did. They never ate with sinners. These “differences”, though, had become the very cornerstone of their entire religious life. It was much like arranging a corpse for showing. The differences were not a sight of natural growth stemming from a person, inward principle. Because of the way they protected and revered their “differences”, they have done in history as the very definition of a hypocrite.
Self-sacrifice is easier understood if a person truly has an understanding about what reasonable service means. There are two things that must be said concerning this. First of all, “reasonable service” and “living sacrifice” are not interchangeable. For instance, it isn’t just the living sacrifice that constitutes reasonable service, but offering the whole body as a living sacrifice that is “holy and acceptable unto God”.
Secondly, we must understand that reasonable service does not simply mean a particular service that is deemed proper. Of course, there are good reasons to believe this to be so. However, it’s just not what the Apostle Paul was trying to convey. The significance lies more in a person’s thinking, and in their spiritual reasoning. It is a type of spiritual service given to God, who is Himself spiritual, and asks that we worship Him in spirit and in truth:
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Peter speaks about this as well:
“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, and holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
Renewing Your Mind Is Key
In line with this idea and in context of our opening Scripture, Paul gives us the key to what he had to say about offering the body as a living sacrifice and offering our reasonable service. That key comes in the words, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind”. It becomes clear then that the outward performance of conforming to God’s will is based in the renewing of the mind. This is the only way that we can offer our living bodies to God. It’s the only real way we can be truly transformed.
After the mind is renewed, the outward signs will begin to show that reasonable service, in living detail. You will begin to choose peace, not because you are forced to do so, but because you are compelled through conviction. Your will becomes pointedly focused on God. Your conscious will be sensitive in a way that is both divine and inspired. Everything you want and care about will begin to lean towards Jesus. Then comes the realization that the “living water” Jesus spoke of, is truly inside, springing up into everlasting life:
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)
After having discussed this idea in detail, it should be clear that refusing to conform to the world should never be the aim of the Christian walk. Rather is should simply be what happens as the believer lives out their walk. The actual aim of the Christian is simply this: “that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Nonconformity to the world actually develops itself and the Christian life is walked out. As we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, our outward appearance will also be transformed and will eventually stop conforming to the world. Anyone who truly wants to be good and acceptable and perfect can no longer tolerate things that are bad, unacceptable, imperfect, or in any way, displeases God.
The world at large, and the believer, are governed by different laws entirely. The Christian who has been grafted into a new vine is no longer capable of bearing the old fruit of the former nature. The old things have been done away with and everything has become brand new. They are now a new creature:
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Two things that must certainly be considered when thinking about this topic in detail are the first, conforming to the world is not a sin all by itself, and second, not conforming to the world is not a virtue all by itself. The fact is, conforming to the world is sinful when we are conforming to the sinful practices of the world instead of otherwise.
There are also matters you may have to consider privately, where some things should be done away with that might otherwise seem harmless to another Christian. In situations like these, nobody else can make the decision for you because God has laid it on your own conscience. Each and every person has these situations, and in each instance, you should make up your own mind:
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Romans 14:5)
In these cases, there is no law specifically for or against the matter on your heart. On the same token, you are also not able to make it seem as if everyone should do the same thing you are doing. This trespasses each individual’s own sense or moral obligations, which is a holy of holies of sorts, where each person comes into communion with God for their own sakes.
For instance, a person who has overcome a life threatening addiction to alcohol may swear off even the talking about it, while someone else may be fine with a glass of wine every now and then. For the person battling that addition, it must be completely put off.
The important thing is to know that, to those faithful to God and His service, an insight will be developed that helps to guide them faithfully through all questions.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name be the glory
Because of Your love and your faithfulness!