More nonconformed or more transformed?

Jan 17, 2018 by

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“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 perfect and acceptable will of God.” — Rom. 12:2

Are there any verses better known among Brethren and Anabaptist congregations than the above verse, with the possible exception of John 3:16? Has there been any concept taught so clearly to us as the need for practical and biblical nonconformity against the ungodliness in the world around us? We have been blessed with a godly heritage and the biblical emphasis that we have inherited to recognize ourselves as being called out to walk a different path than the fallen world around us.

Yet how easily we read through the 12th chapter of Romans and Paul’s exhortation that we “be not conformed … but be ye transformed …” — it is possible that our theological understanding on this subject has been (at the very least) imbalanced by our cultural development over time? Likewise with Peter in 1 Peter 2:9, when he reminds us that we are called to be set apart unto the Lord as “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

It seems an important (and easily overlooked) grammatical point of note how Paul’s emphasis and focus in Rom. 12:2 rests not on his initial negative warning to “be not conformed” to the world around us, but rather upon his primary positive command to “be … transformed.” Imagine that I have told you, “Don’t paint the kitchen wall white, but paint it blue.” By this, you would immediately know that my primary desire and instruction was specifically for the wall to be painted blue, not for you to focus on painting it any color other than white — that would come as a natural result; we see the apostle’s instructions following this same pattern.

His intent seems not so much for us to create or pursue a path or artificial form of nonconformity; rather, he points us instead to something higher and entirely different, something more foundational — the active choice to be “transformed” through a renewed mind! In essence, he commands us to seek a spiritual transformation; he does not command us to achieve said transformation by creating a practical nonconformity. An honest spiritual transformation will certainly manifest itself in an outworking of nonconformity in our daily lives as we are made new creatures in Christ Jesus, seeking God’s will daily by our new nature.

So what exactly is it that Rom. 12:2 is calling us to? Nonconformity to the world, conformity to God, or perhaps both? It might be said that the end results of nonconformity and transformation are not so very different from each other, but I suggest that that there actually is a very real difference in the principle behind the concept. Furthermore, this difference will have a radical effect on our direction and our focus as followers of Jesus Christ. We may focus on the world and do our best to be different and nonconformed against it, or we may focus on the Lord and his Word, purposing to be conformed into his will and image.

The first choice will result in a constant focus on the world, whereas the second results in a constant focus on the Lord; the first way is dependent upon our fallible human attempts to be different, no matter how sincere we may be, whereas the second way relies upon the Holy Spirit to direct and empower our human convictions to be holy.

Separation from the world creates many different cultures as each one emphasizes a different aspect; separation unto God will create one body as each emphasizes the same objective. When our focus rests primarily upon creating artificial forms of nonconformity, the resulting separation will actually serve to separate us more from one another than it separates us from the world. History has proven that a special focus on separation from the world, rather than upon transformation and renewal, has splintered the church time after time, producing countless denominations through painful church divisions all through the spectrum of Kingdom Christianity. We often wonder if, when we truly bring our focus back onto separation unto God, we may experience a loving unity and testimony such as we have never seen before, as God works through his people!

Our heavenly Father calls us, saying, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” Holiness unto the Lord should be a desired objective of every professing believer. Through transformed lives lived for him and his kingdom, we may learn what it means to become wholly holy to the Lord. Just as this is his longing for us, is it ours as well? When it is, we will find ourselves becoming separate from the world as our Savior was and is.

As Christians, we are called to be a separate people, but where is our focus? When our emphasis rests primarily upon being separate from the world, we actually produce a focus on the world, whereas when our emphasis is first upon being separated unto God, we will produce a focus upon our God and his holiness, rather than on the world and its temptations. But what does this look like?

A primary emphasis upon separation from the world requires constant adjustments and ever-growing forms and regulations to meet new developments in the world, coupled with growing amounts of enforcement; all too easily does the presence of this emphasis in our lives find its impetus in a selfish spirit which relies more on human effort and preference than divine power.

On the other hand, a primary emphasis upon separation unto God automatically directs constant attention to his Word and to his call on our lives, being both motivated and self-limiting in adjustments and regulations by a spirit which desires to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. Separation from the world requires restrictions and fences and safeguards to cover all possibilities, whereas separation unto God calls us to follow simple Scriptural principles and behaviors that do not change. A primary emphasis on separation from the world will eventually lead us to establish guidelines in hopes of making it more difficult to commit sin, while separation unto God will prompt us follow after the teachings and principles of truth in his Word, and make sin ever more undesirable to us.

When our emphasis is especially upon separation from the world, how easily we slip into a faithful adherence to practical (and even useful) forms and yet let our relationship with God grow cold; when our focus is fixed upon being separated unto our heavenly Father, our love for his ways will grow and draw us ever closer to his heart. Through an emphasis upon separation from the world, we can be different without any real conviction, but when we first seek separation unto God, we will find ourselves walking differently from the world because we are his children and we love his ways.

Ask yourself, is your mindset one of opposition to the culture that surrounds you, or is it one of conformity to our heavenly Father and his Word? Do you find that you have an aggressive “not part of the culture” attitude, or do you possess a submissive “not of this world” heart mentality? How often are we guilty of simply reacting to modern developments, rather than seeking a constant sense of the Holy Spirit’s leading? How often do we focus on the world and God’s judgment, rather than purposing to focus on his work in us and his promised salvation? When our focus rests upon being separate from the world, our desires are by nature defensive and for self-protection, whereas the concept of being separated unto God should give us the confidence that we can rest in the protection and defense of our creator himself!

Separation from the world must be an organic outworking of our separation unto God through holy transformation. Consider some of the results of this focus. We will grow in the Scriptures as we constantly turn to them, and we will find that we grow more in the image of Christ, truly becoming his disciples in a richer, deeper way. As we get to know the heart of God, we will live the fruits of the Spirit and express the gifts of the Spirit as well. We will grow in the holiness and power that God desires for us as we come to know truth in a fuller way, and learn to not only hear, but to answer, God’s call for our lives.

Where does my separation as a child of God begin? In trying to create separation from the world, or in a constant pursuit of the holy transformation that comes by being separated unto him? “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 perfect and acceptable will of God.” — Rom. 12:2.

Christian Filbrun is a member of the Mt. Zion congregation of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church, New Conference, and lives with his wife and three children in the Cumberland Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania. He blogs at Heirbyadoption, where this post first appeared.

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