The Life of Christ Challenges Us to Non-Conformity
When one becomes a Christian, it does not take long for reality to sink in. Living like Jesus is difficult. Pressure and instructions come from all places, yet the one place that is supposed to triumph all is the voice of Jesus Christ. That one voice is the one that the world tries so desperately to distort, ignore, or silence. How is the Christian supposed to live up to the old adage, “You are in the world but not of the world”?
Consider deeply the character of Jesus Christ. Do your very best to put the media’s image of Jesus out of your mind, and allow the word of God to paint the picture. How did Jesus respond to each situation? How did He act toward those who were sick? Those who were sinful? Those who were hypocritical? Those who were politically powerful? Those who were hungry? Those who were dead? Consider deeply the character of Christ. Did He allow the world to shape His thoughts and actions?
During Jesus’ three years of ministry on earth, how many people did He heal, forgive, rebuke, teach, feed, and raise? We do not know. Apart from the many times the gospel authors simply said “multitudes” or “crowds,” John helps us understand the enormity of Jesus’ impact on the lives of others when he writes:
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written. John 21:25.
It is important that we consider the character of Jesus Christ before we commit to our passage at hand, which is:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2.
Romans 12 Challenges Us to Non-Conformity
Prior to chapter 12 in the letter to the Romans, Paul teaches on the status of Israel in the eyes of God. After chapter 12, he teaches God’s view of the Gentile world and those who come into the kingdom as Gentiles. Both Jews and Gentiles are susceptible to the influence of the world. Though perspective is different, the temptation is the same.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 1 John 2:16.
The words of Romans 12 have been strategically placed between the address to the Jews and the address to the Gentiles, because no one is free from the temptations of lust and pride. Romans 12 and 13 teach that all people ought to not exalt themselves. We must utilize our gifts properly. We must love genuinely. We ought to be sympathetic with those in pain. We must never retaliate. We must respond to evil with the love of Christ. We must live obediently under civil law.
We know all of that is part of the Christian lifestyle. We would know that even if Romans 12 and 13 were never written. Jesus Himself both taught and exemplified all of these imperatives and more. So, why did Paul write them? Why did he take the time to command these Christians to do what they had already committed to do? It is because all of the commandments in Romans 12 and 13 go against the natural flow of life.
If a person were to simply follow the whims of his heart and body, he would not obey a single imperative in this passage. It takes no effort to be conformed to this world. “Do not be conformed to this world” should not be treated as a commandment by itself. Instead, it should be seen as the removal of stumbling blocks on a Christian’s path of transformation.
Why Non-Conformity Is Important
Why is it important that Christians do not look like the rest of the world? Is it simply to “make the world a better place”? No. It is because Christians are to belong in a different “world.” According to many scholars, the word for world (aiōn) in this passage is sometimes difficult to translate. It is translated as world seven times in the NASB. However, it is rendered as age 20 times. Consider Galatians 1:4.
who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (emphasis added).
With the coming of the kingdom of Christ, a new culture, a new society, a new age has been ushered in. Christians have been transferred from the domain of darkness (this present evil age) into the kingdom of God’s Son (Col. 1:13). It is as Jesus prayed:
I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:15-19.
Christians are living in the world and among worldly people. Yet, Christians do not assimilate into the world. Instead, Christians are transformed into the image of Christ by the renewing of the mind. Such renewal is often difficult, as the voice of the world is loud and demanding.
The voice of Christ says:
- Make peace.
- Return violence with love.
- Feed your enemy.
- Be compassionate.
- Deny self.
- Forsake possessions.
- Above all, love.
The voice of this age says:
- Revenge is sweet.
- Hit your enemy harder.
- Destroy your enemy.
- Mind your own business.
- Take care of yourself first.
- Buy, buy, buy.
- Love those who love you.
The will of God is to be like Jesus. To be like Jesus is to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Being conformed to this age is easy and natural, but being transformed is disciplined and spiritual (see Rom. 7:14-25).
Avoiding Worldly Distractions
In addition to contradicting the will of God, what the world offers today is also distracting from a Christian’s duty as a soldier for Christ.
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:3-4.
Among those things that distract Christians from true service for Christ are those things that appear quite good on the surface. Many well-meaning Christians spend much of their free time concerning themselves with the politics and policies of this world. Entangling oneself with such things may help “make the world a better place” (then again, it may not), but one must remember that Jesus did not call Christians for that purpose. Legislating morality is not the same thing as making disciples. Righteousness can only truly be obtained by the righteousness of Christ, not the good deeds of a society. While it is true that “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov. 14:34), Christians must remember that “nation building” take priority over, or even distract us, from faithfulness. Good works done apart from the work of Christ is vanity. Even to the nation of Israel, God’s elect people, when they did not have the right frame of mind, Isaiah was able to say, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6).
Christians must remember that the world and the kingdom of Christ are and will always be two separate domains. It is not the Christian’s job to persuade the world to be conformed to the kingdom. It is the Christian’s job to call people out of the world and into the kingdom.
Again, consider deeply the character of Jesus Christ. How should the Christian measure up? How would he measure up if he closely followed the imperatives of Romans 12 and 13?
The world has many things to offer. Some of them are horrendous. On the other hand, some even seem good. However, Christians will always be called to be separate from the world. The disciple is to avoid participating and being distracted by the deeds and policies of this world. He is to look more like Jesus and less like the world every day. Doing so will “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” and “please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”