A desire for non-conformity often drives us directly into the arms of conformity. Most readers over the age of 30 will quickly grasp my meaning. We not only see it around us, we’ve lived it. We were going to be different. We wore bell-bottoms and beads. We were bearded and pony-tailed. We became so “different” that we were barely distinguishable from all the others in the horde of radical youth of our day — all of whom looked exactly like us. Today those radicals may have spiked hair — in a variety of not-natural colors. They may wear dog collars and leather. They are very radical in their sameness.
Is all this conformity good for us? In order to answer that question, we need to define our terms. What, exactly, is conformity?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, conformity is a “state or quality of being in agreement.” We conform when we accept the “norm.” We conform when we allow the group, whether it be a small group of friends, or a club, or a society, to dictate how we live, dress, or talk; what music we listen to, what TV or movies we watch.
God’s Word views conformity in a different manner. In Scripture, conformity is only used in a negative manner. The only place we find the word (suscematizo) is in Romans 12 and in 1 Peter 1. In each case we are exhorted to “not conform.” Romans 12:2 warns us:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In 1 Peter 1:14, the warning reads: As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
The first instance counsels us against being sucked into the cultural madness of the world around us. The second advises us that we are better off not returning to our pagan ways — the ones we adhered to before the saving grace of Jesus was applied to our lives.
Yet conform we do! Especially those of us in comfortable circumstances (by that I mean just about everyone in America). We have made conformity a lifestyle. We want to be like everybody else — even when we’re supposedly trying to be different. In the church, we want our music to be like everyone else’s. We want “Christian rock” and “Christian heavy metal” instead of the old hymns of the faith. We change our worship services and our language so we’ll fit in with everyone else. We need to be inclusive. Certainly we don’t want to talk about “the blood.” We accept perversion of all kinds and try to make them sacraments in the church.
If God wanted His people to live just like everybody else, He might have just as well have left things alone. Why would He bother to send Jesus to us to live among us; then die for us? Conformity with the society around us is not the way God wants Christians to live. He expressed this very explicitly in Leviticus, where we read:
Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations. (Lev. 20:22-24)
We live in a land filled with pagans. We’re the pilgrims here. We are set apart, consecrated, chosen. Are we different?
There is a radical alternative to conformity. There is a better way than societal sameness. Paul outlines it in Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.
God, through Paul, calls me to be a sacrifice. This is not a call to be a martyr — at least not in the physical sense. This is a call to spiritual acts of worship. How? Here’s one answer:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise —the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:15-17).
This entire chapter of God’s Word can be viewed as a mini-manual in how to offer ourselves as spiritual sacrifices. Hebrews 13:1-5 advocates:
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have….
Besides not being conformed, and proactively seeking to be living sacrifices, Christians, according to Romans 12:2, are supposed to “Be transformed.” Note that this exhortation is passive. Accept transformation. Allow God to change you—He will not make us into automatons, but transform us with the gifts He has given us. Some people, it’s true, need greater transformations than others, but few need the radical rework the Apostle himself required. The Greek word for transformation is μεταμορποσοσ. It indicates complete change—as radical as the one described by Kafka in the book of the same title.
While justification is instantaneous, this transformation is a process. In the only other use of the word μεταμορποσοσ in the New Testament we are taught that “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We are being transformed. We are in the process of being transformed. We are a on a journey toward being transformed.
We shouldn’t just sit back and enjoy the ride. We need to remember the “spiritual sacrifice” part of being a non-conformer. On the other hand, God is at the controls of our transforming journey. Strap in.