When I was in high school I had a poster in my room with a drawing of a teenage boy who had been contorted into a round ball. Upon closer look, it became clear that the ball was a picture of the world. It was accompanied by the admonition, “Be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” That quote comes from Romans 12:2.
Certainly teenagers face many temptations to conform to the world; however, those temptations do not disappear once they reach adulthood. If anything, the temptation to conform becomes more subtle and insidious.
Christ calls us to follow him. Yet we face a number of competing calls to conformity. Turn on the television or the computer and you’ll be confronted by an endless parade of advertisements as Wall Street tries to conform you into nothing more than a consumer. This may have been most blatantly seen following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. President Bush named the attacks as attacks on our freedom. Then he proclaimed that the following day “America will be open for business.” In other words, we Americans were urged to stand up to terrorism by continuing our consumer ways.
Another example of conforming to the world comes in the wake of the current controversy in the NFL. As athletes kneel during the National Anthem, society seems to be doubling down its efforts to conform us into patriots. Make no mistake about it: I’m proud to be an American and I thank God for our freedom, but my first love has to be for Jesus. Love of country cannot take the place of Christ and the American flag cannot be made into an idol.
In a similar vein, we Americans face the temptation to be good without being spiritual. When disaster strikes in Texas or Florida, give to the Red Cross and other organizations because that’s what good people do. Thank God for the generosity of all those who’ve given millions of dollars to a myriad of relief agencies; however, giving to those agencies will only conform you into a good person. It will not transform you into a renewed follower of Jesus.
We live in a sensual society that increasingly strives to define its citizens by race or by gender identity. However, Galatians 3:28 affirms that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As followers of Christ, we must resist the temptation to define ourselves based solely on our sexual orientation or the color of our skin. When we do that, we are defining ourselves according to the flesh. Rather, we are to identify ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ.
We are called to constantly renew our minds. Through the renewal of our minds, we see the systems of this world the way God sees them. And God sees them as the worldly powers and influences which are vying for our hearts and our souls. Paul reminds us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). As Christians, we must be on guard lest consumerism, patriotism, godless goodness or sensuality come to us disguised as “powers of this dark world.”
I’ve never forgotten what one of my college professors said, that truth overstated becomes truth invalidated. That applies here. Some consumerism is necessary and there is a place for love of country, for goodness and even for sensuality. But when those things draw us away from Christ, then we are being conformed to this world. Let us instead intentionally submit ourselves to the One who died to save us from ourselves and from the powers and influences of this world.
Yours for the mission,