My dictionary defines “conform” as follows: 1) to act according to law or rule; be in agreement with generally accepted standards of business, law, conduct or worship, 2) become the same in form; correspond in form or character.
Paul uses the latter definition in Ro. 12: 2. We, Christians, should not become the same in form as the world. We know we are different, and we should live outwardly to reflect the inward change. After the resurrection, Jesus was a different person, “He was a new creation” and was not recognized by those closest to Him. Mary thought He was a gardener, His disciples didn’t recognize Him on the shore nor on the road to Emmaus. He appeared on occasions in rooms full of people behind locked doors, but still had the nail prints in His hands and feet, and the wound in His side. Yet He communicated with humans. Paul tells the Romans in 6: 4 that we were buried with Him so that “we too may live a new life”. That doesn’t mean heaven; it means a new life now as a person [see Ro 6: 4-14].
Paul spends the remainder of chapter 12 expanding this concept of being “nonconformists”. There are three components to his message [see 12: 3-21]:
- Keep yourself in perspective (vs 3)
- Do what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it; do it well and do it cheerfully. (vs 4-7)
- Love one another (vs 9-21)
It is no accident that Paul discussed each of these in increasing emphasis. He spends one sentence about how we should think of ourselves, three verses about how we are to serve and use our gifts, and the remainder of the chapter discussing love.
There are different ways to be nonconformists. Here’s my view:
Statistics gurus will immediately recognize the normal distribution curve; non conformists are the “tails” on each end of the curve; the “upper” and “lower” 5%. The lower 5% would be the folks who hate everyone and everything; violent criminals, satan worshippers, etc. It isn’t terribly difficult for most of us to be different from this group. The next group is the majority, the middle 90%. They are in general apathetic, have few opinions about things, they “go with the flow” and, as a group, are a homogenous mixture. They are the pattern of the world. The group is composed of non-Christians as well as Christians and the Christians are precisely what Paul is telling them not to be. You can’t tell they are Christians because their lives indicate they are no different from the rest of the homogenous mixture. These Christians are what we would call “lukewarm”, neither hot or cold. John, in Rev 3: 14-22 described the church at Laodicea in this way. Finally, the upper tail is the folks who live differently in a good way, in a way pleasing to God, and in the manner described by Paul in chapter 12. [NOTE: IT IS NOT OUR CHRISTIAN DUTY TO SEE WHERE OTHER PEOPLE FIT INTO THIS SCHEME. IT IS OUR DUTY TO MAKE SURE WE ARE IN THE UPPER TAIL!]
There is a penalty for being a nonconformist. If we are truly different, we will be seen as different. We will likely be talked about, made fun of, etc. And while we are to be nonconformists to the pattern of the world we are conforming to be like Christ [see Ro 8: 29]. What does it mean to be like Christ? An article in Decision Magazine [Nov 2002] lists the following characteristics:
- Obedience- Paul said in Philippians “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross”. How are we to obey?
- Devote ourselves to seeking God: to prayer, to reading His Word, to doing good.
- Avoid deceit, dishonesty and careless talk. If there are things in our lives contrary to the teaching of the Bible, confess and repent.
- Make things right: pay debts and resolve differences with anyone we have wronged
- Be an active part of a church that honors Christ and the Bible.
“The way to obedience is to start where we are, obeying what we already know. As we practice whatever obedience we are capable of, God’s plan for our lives will unfold.”
- Love- Christ exemplified unconditional love. It is the nature of Jesus to pursue the most unlovable, the most hurting, the most undeserving. And it is supposed to be the nature of those of us who carry His Name.
- Justice- From the beginning of His ministry Jesus demonstrated a passion for justice. There is no greater example than the promise of eternal life made possible through His sacrifice. He brought into the Kingdom the outcasts of society, the Samaritans and tax collectors. We need to follow Christ’s example by displaying mercy, love and kindness in a world filled with hate and evil.
- Humility- The entire life and ministry of Jesus was one of humility, from His birth to His death. He never chose His own comfort or convenience; rather He looked for ways to serve. The abundant life focuses on the towel not the top. The Bible clearly says that the greatest rewards will be given to those who humbly serve without receiving recognition.
- Solitude- During His earthly life, Jesus made a habit of withdrawing to be alone with the Father. He deliberately and purposefully made time to be alone with God the Father. The focus of Jesus’ life was to stay perfectly attuned to His Father’s voice. He knew that to fulfill this purpose would require long stretches of time, sometimes all night long, alone with God. If Jesus needed this solitude to keep His earthly steps in sync with the Father’s heart, then how much more important is it for us? This solitude is not so God can hear us, but for us to hear God. He has things to tell us and truth to impart to us that we can only hear in silence.
In conclusion, do not conform to the pattern of this world but be conformed to the likeness of the Son.