Do Not Conform
Setting the Stage
When most hear the word conform, we think of things being "the same". When it comes to the Word of God, Paul uses this word to talk about how conformity fits with the Christian:
Romans 12:1-2: Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Paul's words here follow a section of Romans where he has rounded out a preaching the Gospel of Christ with a closing in a Praise to God for His mercy and compassion. This next section in Chapter 12 begins by talking about our worship.
Our worship is to offer our bodies to God as a sacrifice...holy and living. When we are baptized into Christ, we are no longer the same, although the old person inside fights to come out. Paul's next statement is a "how to" instruction on how to present yourself as a living sacrifice to God. "Do not conform to the pattern of this age", is what Paul writes. But what does that mean? What does that look like? Well, according to Webster's Dictionary, to conform means "to be similar or the same as something; to obey or agree with something; or to do what other people do; to behave in a way that is accepted by most people." So you might say that to conform means to comply, follow or even be in harmony with. And this is exactly what Paul is getting at.
To stand different than our culture is not something most Christians have had to really worry about up until the past 30 - 40 years. Mostly the situation has gotten really bad in the past 10 - 15 years. Now Christians are being faced with indoctrination and pressure to conform culturally in many different ways while our Lord and Savior says different in the Gospel. While there are blatantly obvious things in our culture that I could address, allow me the pleasure of focusing on one that isn't quite so obvious.
Halloween is one of those holidays that most people see as good clean fun. However, people don't have a clue as to what they put up as "Halloween decorations" at their house, "costumes" they put on their kids, and they "fun" they partake in. Some, in fact most, will tell me I'm wrong, overreacting, or that I just need to "loosen up and have fun". That is ok. We can disagree. However, please hear me out.
When people hang Satanic symbols like pentagrams, demons, and witches on houses and dress their kids up as horrific creatures, witches, and devils, they are basically inviting Satan in. Whether purposefully or accidentally, any invitation given to Satan he will take and run with. In the spiritual realm, these things aren't for fun; it doesn't work that way. There are powers and forces out there that we cannot see that are waiting for Christians to give them an opening to cause utter destruction (See Ephesians 6:10-18). As Christians we cannot have it both ways.
Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with celebrating the harvest, fairytale creatures, or having costume parties with appropriate costumes. The issue here is dabbling in the occult, especially if we are claiming Christ as Lord and Savior. Does that mean we cannot have fun? No! We can have fun, however we need to do research into things we are having "fun" with. We need to be aware and not ignorant of things. There are things people do at Halloween they wouldn't normally do otherwise. Just look at the decorations and costumes. The Halloween "holiday" is inherently evil...I mean when was the last time you saw a house decorated with the cross of Christ at Halloween? Most houses that decorate have all kinds of scary stuff like demons, witches, ghosts, ghouls, and downright hideous things in their yard.
However, as Christians, we are to evangelize and not hide away from the world. It is recommended to do something that brings light into a dark "holiday", such as creating a "safe" party, passing out educating materials on Christianity and youth group info along with great candy; try soda or whole candy bars...you want them to remember you. It's not that participation is forbidden, we simply need to steer clear of evil and bring the light. We cannot look like the world in this regard. Conformity in this area can and will be disastrous to the Christian walk. However, calling everyone Satan who participates, even those Christians trying to bring the light won't do any good either. We must find a way to evangelize without compromising the Gospel of Christ in sin.
If we are bold enough to go against the grain and not conform to the norm, we run the risk of being called kooky. Judging by the last section, a wild guess is that some of you are thinking that about my view of the Halloween holiday. Christianity asks that we not conform to the ways of the world, but to the ways of Christ. The world however, will tell you they want diversity yet they ask for conformity.
Paul goes on to talk about the diversity of gifts given to the church and that while we have many diverse gifts, we are to function as one body. So, while the world asks for diversity yet conformity, Christianity asks for conformity yet diversity. The difference? The world asks for people all over the world to come together and think and act the same. Christ asks that you conform to the Gospel, yet function as one body in diverse ways. True unity is the difference. The world will shame those who dare to differ. But fellow Christians, I urge you not to conform to the ways of the world.
No matter what we do as Christians, we must look different and in our post-Christian culture, there will be more and more opportunities to do so. Allow me to give some examples.
Thanksgiving: A lot of places open for shopping Thanksgiving evening and on Black Friday. Refuse to be a part of such greed and materialism. Dare to spend time at home with your family. Dare to actually talk of Christ and be thankful for what He's given us.
Christmas: This holiday has gotten way out of control. Refuse to be party to Santa Claus and the materialistic gift exchanges. Give without expectation of return...in fact, give to those less fortunate. Perhaps instead of buying gifts for everyone possible, pick a family less fortunate and pour everything into them. Share the love of Christ with them. Talk about the one gift God gave to the world that is the whole reason we celebrate during this time of year.
New Years: This holiday is another that's gotten a cultural facelift. Instead of making promises to lose weight in the next year or take on Mt. Everest, celebrate the opportunity to get another year to live and serve God. Instead of drinking yourself silly, spend it with family playing games or even talking about what you think God has in store for in the coming year.
Resurrection Day: Start by calling it what it is. Easter is the world's way of hiding the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ away from people. Don't partake in Easter bunnies or the chocolate overload. Instead feast and celebrate in the resurrected Lord in which through Him, we may have eternal life! Try enjoying a traditional Passover Seder meal. It will bring new light to the Last Supper Jesus shared with His disciples.
Redefinition of Marriage: Just because the world redefines what constitutes marriage doesn't mean that Christianity has to also. Stay away from redefined marriages. In the same breath, don't partake in shaming those who engage in such alternative lifestyles either (see self-righteousness below). Christ died for them too, so share the Gospel and watch God work.
Divorce: This one really hits the church hard. So many couples who are Christ followers divorce. In fact, I am divorced myself and my parents are divorced. Divorce was not in God's plan for a man and wife. In everything, try to work things out unless the situation is life-threatening. Even in adultery, the best option is restoration of relationships.
Abortion: Just because something is legal doesn't make it right. Adoption is always an option...there are people who would love to have a child, but cannot due to various circumstances. Give them a chance to be parents.
Gossip: Talk about a church destroyer. Gossip has caused more problems in churches that anyone can possibly count. Absolutely refuse to listen to gossip. Stop it in it's tracks and call out the sin. It is one of the most socially acceptable sins we partake in. We must not conform to the norm on this one.
Self-Righteousness: Westboro Baptist anyone? Self-righteousness is not going to win souls to Christ. In fact, it will push them away before it draws them to Him. Be very aware of your own sins before calling anyone else out. Humility goes a long way in restoring a brother...believe me, I battle my own despicable sins too. I need Christ just like everyone else. I am simply a beggar who's found bread wants to share it.
Paul rounds out verse 2 by saying to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Doing this will enable us to have the gift of discernment. We will be able to tell good from evil and what it is that God desires.
The list in the section above is a list that has taken me around the block a time or two. I love several of the holidays I listed above. It's taken God a long time to transform my mind in some of these areas to let go of the unhealthy and keep the good. What was shared is simply a brief look at that transformation.
My friends, I urge you to not conform to this world. I encourage you to open your mind to the Lord, allow Him to transform your mind so that you can be able to discern what it is that is best for your life, for your family and most importantly, for your walk with Him and how you affect others. Godspeed friend.