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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC Weekly, 2004-07-04

Text: Romans 12:2

"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) 

Conformity presents the least problems to the Christian. It is the path of least resistance, because it is the easiest way to gain the world's acceptance, and to avoid any criticism and ridicule. When a person tries to be different from the rest, he is liable to draw attention to himself and stick out like a sore thumb. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to conform to what everyone was doing in front of Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue, everyone could see them standing while all the rest were bowed down to the ground. Their non-conformity brought instant attention and reaction from the people and from the king himself (Daniel 3:7-13). 

The problem with taking the easy path of conformity is that it establishes a close relationship between the one who conforms and the world. James calls it 'being friends with the world' "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (James 4:4) John the apostle calls it 'loving the world' "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." (1 John 2:15,16)

According to both of these passages, the close relationship that is forged by our conformity with the world is incompatible with our relationship with God. James says that being friends with the world makes us enemies of God. You cannot be a friend of the world and a friend of God at the same time. John says that loving the world means that the love of God is not in us. You cannot love the world and love God at the same time. In this we can now see the serious nature of the peril that comes with conformed living - it puts us at variance with God. Conformity to this world is tantamount to committing spiritual defection or adultery. It is akin to idolatry, which is the ultimate sin against God, and a violation of the first commandment "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:3).

Conformity with the world brought about the downfall of Lot's family. Lot was the nephew of Abraham. When he left Abraham with his family and flocks, he pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). By the next chapter, Lot was already dwelling in Sodom (Genesis 14:12). As a result of this Lot ended up being taken prisoner in the battles that were fought by the kings of the east against Sodom and Gomorrah. This is perhaps a picture of a compromising Christian who gets hurt in the crossfire between warring factions in the world, because he has conformed to it. Instead of learning his lesson, Lot became even more conformed to Sodom. By Genesis 19:1, he is sitting in the gate of Sodom, i.e. he has become a recognized member of the community. The story of Lot ends tragically with the loss that he suffered when God destroyed the two cities because of their sinfulness. Although he survived, his wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back longingly at Sodom, and his two daughters who had imbibed the immorality of Sodom became vile with sins of incest. 

Conformity with the world brought about the downfall of Israel during the time of the Judges. The world that Israel faced was the world of the Canaanites who had their own idolatrous culture, customs and practices. Before the Israelites entered Canaan, God had already warned them not to be conformed to the Canaanites, but to keep themselves separate from them "When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:29-31). Despite the stern warning, Israel conformed to the Canaanites not long after Joshua died, and the Lord had to chastise His people by bringing other nations to oppress them.

In the New Testament, conformity with the world brought about the downfall of a person named Demas. Demas was one of Paul's fellow workers at Rome. His name is found in the greetings that Paul conveyed in two of his epistles (Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24). But the only other verse where Demas is mentioned after that gives us a brief but sad comment about him: 2 Timothy 4:10 "For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica"

Having seen the danger of being conformed to the world, let us consider what exactly we should not be conformed to in this world. When God's Word instructs us to "be not conformed to this world" it is not referring to the created physical world, nor the world of sinners that God loves (John 3:16). The world that we should not be conformed to is the world system of sin, pride, ambition, pleasure and power that sinful man has built up under Satan. It would include the materialistic and hedonistic attitudes and values which we find prevailing all around us, which influence the lives of the young as well and the old. In this world system success is measured in at least four ways. 

The first is by a person's achievements. The world tells us that the great rule in life is that every one can get whatever he wants in the end, if he only tries hard enough. Those who work are constantly expected to conform to high standards of achievement in meeting deadlines, improving quality, productivity and efficiency. The desire to achieve is inculcated in our children right from the time they begin their first day of school! It seems that in every place we go, we are always being tested, examined, judged and evaluated all according to our achievements. We are accepted if we have reached a certain level of achievement, but rejected, if we have not. That is the way that the world sees our worth. But this poses a problem, because not everyone can reach those standards of achievement. Many who try to do so, fail. Some even take their own life when they cannot achieve. It is a fact that achievement-oriented societies have a higher suicide rate than others.

The Word of God teaches us not to have such a high regard for human achievements. The Lord says, "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth" (Jeremiah 9:23, 24) Let us recognise the danger of making worldly achievements our measure of success. 

Another thing that the world uses to measure a person's success is his appearance. People often judge one another by their physical features, their personality, and their public image. There has been a significant increase of advertisements in the newspapers on slimming programmes, beauty treatments and face lifts. Spiky hairstyle, tattooed skin and exposed midriffs are in vogue today, and many want to have them. Why? Because of the common belief that their looks bring them love and acceptance. Everyone naturally wants to be loved and accepted. That is the reason why many spend a lot of time and expense on keeping up a good outward appearance.

Dear Reader, if you are spending a lot of time and money on your outward appearance, or if you feel depressed or insecure because you are not as impressive outwardly as others, please be careful: it means that you are conforming to the world's standard of success, not God's. 

Those who work must also be careful about conforming to the world's standards. To the world, the busier you are at work, the more important you are. Hence many Christians compromise time for spiritual things in order to be busier at work, e.g. doing more overtime and taking on more projects than others. But outward appearances are not worth much in God's sight. According to 1 Samuel 16:7 "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart."

The third way in which the world measures a person's success is by his affluence. Affluence or material wealth is the chief pursuit of most people. The media always seems to portray the rich as the most successful and respected people in the world, and as people who have created their own heaven on earth. Because of this it has become the desire and dream of many to become materially rich. Wealth in itself is not evil. It is not sinful to be rich - Abraham and Job were both materially rich, and yet they were godly men. It is the attitude of covetousness which the Scriptures frequently warn us against (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10). 

The fourth way in which the world measures success is by amusements. The hedonistic philosophy of life tells people to 'eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.' With multiplied means of enjoying oneself today, the pursuit of pleasure has become extremely prevalent in the world. Some may frequent game arcades and cinemas or try out all the various exotic spas. Others spend much of their time and money engaging in different forms of entertainment: from tiny nintendo or playstation games, to sophisticated home theatre systems, and now Digital TV, providing hours and hours of listening and viewing pleasure for 'couch potatoes'. Whatever the pursuit may be, always ask yourself, "Would I be comfortable doing it with the Lord beside me?" Those who are IT savvy would go for broadband internet access that provides them with pictures, songs and movies from thousands of global websites at the click of a mouse. But with that also comes easy access to on-line sinful pleasures like pornography and gambling. 

Thus we have seen that the world measures success by a person's achievements, appearance, affluence, and amusements. Dear Reader, when you feel tempted to conform to all these, think of the perils that were mentioned in the earlier part of this article: Conformity with the world puts you at variance or enmity with God. If you are friends with the world and you love the world, you displease your Lord who has saved you. You may also end up in the same sad state as Lot's family, or as Israel in the time of the Judges, or as Demas who forsook Paul having loved this present world. Let these thoughts be so deeply etched in your heart and mind that you will never forget them! Ask the Lord to seal them there so that you will not be blinded by all the dazzling sights, and charmed by the hypnotic strains of the world.

God's Word teaches us how to counter the strong influences of the 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 'renewed mind' is a mind that has been re-programmed to think like Christ, to discern the true value of all things, and to prove what is really good and worth our time and efforts. It is a mind that is focused on doing one thing - the will of God! It is by this renewing of the mind to prove God's will, that you can become less and less conformed to the world, and more and more transformed to the image of Christ.

This is why you must be careful with your thought life. Whatever thoughts you allow your mind to dwell on will make an impact on your life. How can you develop a renewed mind? By allowing the Word of God to dominate and fill your thoughts as much as possible. "But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." (Psalm 1:2) "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8)

If you invest much of your time in the Word of God by reading it, studying it, talking and thinking about it, your thinking will change. Your old selfish and worldly thought processes will be replaced by new ones that are conformed to the mind of Christ Himself. 

When your thinking changes, your life will be changed. You will want to live henceforth as a pilgrim, having no lasting attachment to this present world, and no attraction for the ever-changing trends and fashions of this world. Your renewed mind will help you to be like Abraham and his descendants who "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." (Hebrews 11:13). You will no longer regard this world as your home, but as a temporary place that you are just passing through. Instead, you will keep looking forward to the world to come (Mark 10:30) and desire to lay your treasures up there in your eternal heavenly home. And that will certainly be a better world to be conformed to!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25