Romans 12:2 is consistently one of the most quoted verses in the Bible. In that little passage we are warned that there are forces competing for our attention and loyalty and that even Christians are at times torn between the two. “Do not be conformed to this world,” says the Apostle Paul, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Paul assumes that we will not and cannot remain unchanged in life. We will not and cannot remain who and what we are right now. The question, then, is how we will change and who we will allow to influence us. Will we be conformed to the world around us or will be we transformed by God?
Conformity is an ever-present danger. I recently found myself considering it and thought of two ways that we can be conformed to this world—we can actively pursue the world and worldliness or we can simply be passive and allow the world a slow but steady eroding influence.
The first way to be conformed to the world, then, is to be drawn to it, to be enamored by it and to imitate it. This is a great temptation to many people and perhaps especially to young people who have been raised in Christian homes. When I was a teenager I saw many of my friends get swept up in this kind of worldliness. We had all been raised in Christian families, but when my friends began to experience the independence of young adulthood, as they began to distance themselves from their parents, many decided they wanted to experience what the world had to offer. So they studied how the world acted and acted that way. They studied how the world dressed and they dressed that way. In a hundred little ways they conformed to the world until they were indistinguishable from the world. Some eventually experienced a work of God to draw them back. Many others never did. They were deliberately completely conformed.
For most of us, though, the conforming power of the world comes in a much subtler form. We become conformed to the world by just lowering our guard, by neglecting to maintain a watchful demeanor, by failing to hold an offensive posture against the encroachment of the world. If full-out pursuing the world is the equivalent of being instantly crushed in a giant industrial mold, then this other kind of conformity is being slowly, slowly squeezed in that mold, one little crank at a time. Eventually both methods will conform you to the shape of the mold, but one will happen much slower—so slowly that you might not even notice some of the changes as they are taking place.
We can be conformed to the world this way through our entertainment, by not being cautious about what we see, hear, and read and about how much of it we consume. We can be conformed through our education, by being influenced too much by people who are opposed to God and too little by those who love him. We can be conformed through our friendships, maintaining our best and most formative relationships with unbelievers or outright antagonists. We can be conformed to the world through our apathy, neglecting God’s ordinary means of grace dispensed through the local church, failing to engage in private and family worship.
And what happens? Over time, our understanding of our purpose is shaped by whatever is on the bestseller list instead of by what God says in his Word. Our understanding of the world’s origins is set by the classroom instead of being measured against the Bible. Our understanding of sexuality owes more to movies or pornography than to the Creator of both our bodies and our sexuality. We are conformed slowly through carelessness, through lack of attention, through plain neglect. Where are you tempted to lower your guard? Where are you allowing the world just a crack into your heart and your mind? This may be the means through which you are being conformed to the world.
Worldliness is like gravity, always there, always pushing down on you, always exerting its influence on you. As a Christian you are charged with resisting it day by day. You must and you can. You must because your spiritual life and health depend on it. You can because you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit whose joy is to transform you by the Word of God into the image of the Son of God. Do not be conformed to this world!
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