“And do not be conformed to this world (aiōn -age), 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.” The “spirit of the age” (Zeitgeist) is “get it now for myself” – a temporal and self-focused mindset. Scripture calls us to be God-focused, others-focused and to have an eternal mindset. Satan uses the mindset of the world and our flesh to tempt us to focus on our self and this life rather than God, others and heaven. This ungodly mindset is in the air, we breathe it every day, and unless we continually renew our minds with God’s perspective as seen in Scripture we will, by default, be conformed to this worldly mindset. It is like the frog in the kettle. If you put a frog in a kettle of hot water he will jump out but if you put him in cool water and gradually turn up the heat he will remain in it and boil to death. Satan has been turning up the heat and Christians are buying into a worldly mindset without even knowing it. In 1956 Ed Sullivan allowed Elvis to appear on his family TV program and the mainstream media was shocked and critical because he was shaking his hips. We’ve been “slouching toward Gomorrah” ever since. Let’s study this verse so we can avoid being cooked in Satan’s kettle and better yet, to know God’s will for our lives which is good, acceptable and perfect.
We learned in our last lesson from Romans 12:1 that we are to offer our lives to God as living sacrifices because He has been so merciful to us (the gospel seen in Romans 1-11) and because we can trust His mercy to continue as we take steps of faith to please Him. But gratitude to God alone is not enough to continue to motivate us to obey Him. We must grasp our new identity in Christ which is revealed to us in Scripture as Romans 12:2 exhorts us to do. No butterfly (believers are new creatures in Christ) wants to be squeezed back into the cocoon and become a caterpillar again.
“Do not be conformed to this world” – the verb tense here means “stop being conformed to this world,” stop trying to fit in and be like the world. This is the outward pressure of Satan using the world and our flesh to squeeze us into its mold. The Greek word for conform, syschēmatizō – means to fashion one’s self. Paul exhorts believers, new creatures (glorious butterflies versus earth-bound caterpillars) to not try to fit in with the world anymore and thus be like unbelievers who live for themselves and this life only. Peer pressure is strong and even after we are saved and are new creatures, we still struggle with wanting to fit in and wanting to be loved and accepted by people even if it means we have to compromise who we really are and what we really value. Jesus and His followers were the opposite of “political correctness” even in the religious world of Judaism. We have to play to an Audience of One and seek to please the only One that really matters, our Lord and God. Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for playing to the crowd and seeking man’s approval more than God’s approval: “How is it possible for you to believe [how can you learn to believe], you who [are content to seek and] receive praise and honor and glory from one another, and yet do not seek the praise and honor and glory which come from Him Who alone is God?” (John 5:44)
“But be transformed” – The Greek word for transformed is metamorphoō – from which we get the English word metamorphous and it means “to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure.” http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G3339&t=KJV Again, believers change into another form even as caterpillars become butterflies and the contrast should be dramatic and noticeable. Paul rebuked the carnal (means worldly) believers for that very reason. “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. 2 I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, 3 for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? 4 When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you acting just like people of the world?” (1 Cor. 3:1-4)
Conformity comes from pressures outside us, from the world, the devil and the flesh (our new spirit-man is our innermost being and the flesh is outside of it). Whereas transformation occurs from the inside and works outwardly. We are to look more and more like the new person we are on the inside, more and more like Jesus.
“Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. 2 As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.” (Matt. 17:1-3) When Jesus was transfigured He looked exactly like He was on the inside – like God because He was and is God. We are to look increasingly more like Jesus the Man Who perfectly modeled how man should relate to God and others.
Note we don’t transform ourselves; God does that as we renew our minds by His powerful Word. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (emancipation from bondage, freedom). And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18)
“So that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – God’s will for our lives is perfect even when we don’t feel it is good, acceptable and perfect. Since He is Almighty (has all authority and power in the universe and over every detail of my life) and is all-wise and all-loving, I can trust that His perfect will for my life is being worked out. But unless we have an eternal perspective we may doubt His love and wisdom as He breaks us and remakes us on the Potter’s wheel. When we do, let us heed Paul’s exhortation: “Therefore we do not become discouraged (utterly spiritless, exhausted, and wearied out through fear). Though our outer man is [progressively] decaying and wasting away, yet our inner self is being [progressively] renewed day after day.17 For our light, momentary affliction (this slight distress of the passing hour) is ever more and more abundantly preparing and producing and achieving for us an everlasting weight of glory [beyond all measure, excessively surpassing all comparisons and all calculations, a vast and transcendent glory and blessedness never to cease!],18 Since we consider and look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are visible are temporal (brief and fleeting), but the things that are invisible are deathless and everlasting.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” (Romans 8:28-29) Scripture calls us to be continually changing into the likeness of Jesus Christ and this quote from Dietrich von Hildebrand helps me grasp that growth in Christlikeness should be a passionate and daily desire and prayer: “Unreserved readiness to change (into the likeness of Christ) is an indispensable precondition of the conception (formation) of Christ in our souls and it must endure with undiminished vigor all along the path of our transformation. The significance and the value of such an attitude also appear from the fact that the better a man’s inward condition and the more he feels touched by God the wider the doors of his heart will be opened and the readier he will show himself for being changed.” (Transformation in Christ by Dietrich von Hildebrand) Since conformity to Christ is God’s highest calling, a question we can ask ourselves is, 1) what motivates me to want to grow in Christ and 2) what demotivates me or discourages my ongoing growth? It is crucial that we can clearly identify both of these to continue to grow in Christlikeness.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) What motivates you to want to change and grow more and more into in Christlikeness? Make a list of these and share these in our discussion.
2) What demotivates you or discourages your ongoing growth? Make a list of these and share these in our discussion.
3) How does the phrase “set in his ways” relate to this message?
4) Do you believe Christians can stand still; i.e., not grow but not digress in Christlikeness?
5) How can we look to the unseen, invisible things and not look to the seen, visible, temporal things? (See 2 Cor. 4:16-18)