The first article in a series on words seldom used in our New Testament
“Be not conformed to this world.”
As the apostle takes up his pen to write what we know as the twelfth chapter of Romans, he has completed two great sections of the epistle. In the opening five chapters, he has presented a dissertation on the fundamentals of the gospel of God. In the six chapters which follow, he has engaged in a debate, posing questions and raising objections which he knew would follow his teaching. Now he addresses the practical issues of how Christians should live in the light of what he has taught. These closing chapters deal with the demands of the gospel: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren…that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God.” Here we have the first demand of the gospel. The “therefore” is vital. Our response to the teaching must be that we give our bodies, the only part of our being that awaits redemption (Rom 8:23), to God. In doing this, we are instructed to “be not conformed to this world” (12:2).
This word, here translated “conformed,” is found only twice in Scripture, the other occasion being in 1 Peter 1:14 where it is translated “fashioned.” The meaning is “being conformed to a pattern,” “to mold to a design.” It does not carry the weight of an internal change but is outward and superficial. Vine comments “The word…lays stress on that which is external. The prefix su, which stands for sun, “together with,” intimates an association involved in the conformity.” The words which follow this exhortation are “be ye transformed,” indicating a change which is internal but which is expressed outwardly.
The world (age-aion) to which we should not be conformed is the age of spiritual darkness and evil and is under the control of the god of this world (2Co 4:4), the god who blinds the minds of those who believe not. It is an age that has its own “wisdom,” which is totally opposed to the wisdom of God (1Co 2:6), and it is an evil age from which Christians have been delivered (Gal 1:4). One wonders how believers could pattern their lives after this age, but we may well do just that. Sad it is to note that Demas fell in love with it (2Ti 4:10). He looked around the grandeur and life of Rome and, comparing it with the prison in which Paul was held, his affections turned to what he saw in Rome.
What is involved here is basic to Christian living. If the Adversary cannot keep us within his kingdom, he will attempt in all ways possible to make us live in a manner similar to those who are. In this way the internal change which has taken place is not seen in our manner of life. We are living in a day when communications and the media make it possible for the world to have its role models on whom millions fashion their lives. Indeed any who refuse to do so, particularly amongst the young, may be regarded as dull and unattractive, whereas those who do are “cool.”
The enemy, first, wishes us to fashion our dress according to the tastes of the world. The role models presented for young women show no modesty and reveal what should not be seen. For men, casual wear, which has its place, is now regarded as the norm in situations where dignity and respect would demand otherwise. The world of advertising has to be regarded with great care and the “lifestyle” in which it invites us to participate has to be avoided.
Second, the world wishes us to become attracted to its sport and entertainment. Televisions, CDs, DVDs, iPods, the Internet, computer games, and the like all jostle for our time and attention. Men and women waste many hours every week occupied with these things and what they produce. Sports “stars” are popular icons. Lotteries and online gambling are fast capturing the hearts of the unbeliever. All these are part of the pattern of the lives of those spiritually dead.
Third, it invites us to regard possessions as it does. These are not to be used to meet our need and give to others, but to be accumulated for self-indulgence. The “pull down my barns and build greater” philosophy dominates its thinking, with no thought of eternal issues.
Deeper than that, the age beckons us to pattern our thinking after its “wisdom.” Evolution, gay rights, “gender equality,” and sexual “liberation” all seek to allure believers by their pernicious, inaccurate, and ungodly teaching.
Let us determine not to become patterned after this age.
But, you may say, “How can this be avoided?” The answer, as we have already noted, is to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, to adjust our thinking to the mind of God, to see things as He sees them, and to pattern our conduct after that. The world looks for role models, but for the believer the One to follow is the Lord Jesus. Following Him will ensure that we have transformed minds and transformed lives. This can only be possible if we take time to read the Scriptures. Those who pattern themselves after the world read of it, follow it closely, and are interested in its trends. Believers should read the Word of God, follow it closely, and be interested in its teaching.
By conforming to the world we will live by its standards and never know what it is to live in accord with the God Who has saved us. We will not prove (put to the test and learn that it is sound and beneficial) the good and acceptable will of God. Let us determine to be unlike the world, to synchronize our steps with His Word and know what it is to live in the good of the will of God. In that way the attractions of the “age” will fade and desires for holiness will increase.