…to think the way the world thinks.
My home has become a menagerie. As of this writing, we have two dogs and three cats, and ten chickens. One of our cats is named Scooper. She’s not normal. In fact, if cats had a self-image, I would have destroyed her’s months ago. I tell her to her face that she’s a freak, a weirdo, and a creep-a-zoid. Why? Because she licks people like she’s a dog. Dogs joyfully greet people at the door and give “kisses.” Scooper kisses too. I’ve never seen a cat that enjoys it or even tries it. She’s not normal. She does not think like a cat. The other cats are noticeably uncomfortable around her. I suppose Scooper just thinks differently.
Perhaps you’ve been around someone who just seems off. They don’t think like others. They make a comment only to have everyone else in the room remain uncomfortably speechless until some brave soul says, “Wow, some weather we’re having, huh?” We just expect people to speak and act according to the norms of our culture. Even those who seem to rock the boat, function within our comfort parameters. From the introduction, Jesus was the best at breaking out of molds. Try these on for size: Eat my body and drink my blood, take up your cross and follow me, I and the Father are one, and you must hate your father and mother. Those statements are not normal thinking. Our world has an acceptable way to think that transcends cultures and languages. It’s normal to take care of yourself, not go too overboard, and to think more highly of oneself than everyone else does (just to name a few). The Christ follower should look for something outside the mold. In fact, he has a whole other worldly mold.
As a new believer, one of the first Bible verses I ever memorized was Romans 12:2. Paul writes, “Do not conform 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.” We have two commands to obey.
Many of us had a hero or movie star we tried to emulate. When Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the screen, some took up wearing the fedora hat because Indy was so cool. Halloween pirate costumes hit resurgence when Captain Jack Sparrow arrived. In other words, people conformed. Paul addresses something so much more critical than what we wear. He refers to our very core. In the book of Romans, he spends the first eleven chapters discussing in almost one transcontinental sentence (ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s quite a treatise) our sin nature and the new nature found in Christ. The whole Old Testament law is fulfilled (not removed) by the person and work of Jesus. The pain of Genesis three melts away by Jesus. Paul’s praise and amazement for God flows on to the page. And once he lays down that framework, one of the first responses we should have is not to conform. It’s a prohibition in the strongest wording Paul could use. “Don’t, by no means, without compromise, in no way, or even think about, conform.” “No” certainly means “no” here. But, don’t conform to what?
From the day of our birth (and possibly before), we begin the process of molding. No, not growing of fuzz. We subtly but solidly learn the ways of this world. Paul does not mean the world like a globe, but he refers to the way our world works, the way this world thinks and responds. It does not matter how unique one’s drumbeat is, we have conformed to this world. This is usually in attitudes and values. For example, we usually think of ourselves first. In fact, we usually think of ourselves second, third, and fourth. In other words, we are self-centered. We look out for number one. Consider how much effort you and I put into daily meals and how much time we spend getting ready in the morning. We want to make sure WE eat. We want to make sure that we smell good for other people and wear enough make up to hide the blemishes. Yes, me, myself, and I are my top three core values. The fourth value is to be in charge. My “god default” is me. If we had godlike powers, we would use them for ourselves (again!). We are prideful and selfish. We do not think of others as much as we think we do. We sin, and hold ourselves guilt free because we are God. And, now imagine a whole world system full of these self-serving narcissists! Paul’s command about this kind of thinking: knock it off. You have a new nature (see Romans 1-11). You have been recreated in the image of God by the grace and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. You’ve been exonerated of all guilt.
So, all that programming from birth needs to be scrapped. It is incongruent with the Christ follower. But, Paul does not stop there. Remember…there are two commands.
This command is positive. It’s not a prohibition. So, in contrast to the conformity to the world, Paul says you and I need to be transformed. It sounds like a process, and it is. He uses the same word the Gospel writers use when Jesus transfigured (Matt. 17 and Mark 9). So, that should give us an idea of how much of a transformation we are talking about. The word Paul uses also has the idea of a block of stone transforming to a statue. So, rather than thinking of me, I should think of others. Specifically, I should be thinking of Jesus. He is my God now. I don’t consider my needs, but I transform my thinking to what He wants from me. He’ll take care of my needs. This is not compartmental living either. It’s hard to imagine obeying this command with only a “Jesus box” in my life. When we think like this, we are weird.
As mentioned, this is a process. Jesus is actively working in my mind and yours to transform our thinking. Frankly, he’s got a ton of work to do. It starts with the changed nature that Paul described in the first chapters of Romans. It is also a process with purpose. Paul continues and writes, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” This idea of “test and approve” does not mean that we have authority over what God’s will should or should not be. It rather has the idea of verifying or discovering. So, as this mind changing occurs, God’s will to transform this sinful, heartless world will be vindicated. Our changed lives serve as evidence of his plan. Mankind has messed the whole place up since the beginning. God has been busy making it all right again. The critical step in the process is the work of Jesus on the cross so that you and I may have a new nature. And, this will of God is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Daily, what do these commands mean? They sound good in theory, but what about in reality? These are heart issues. As you work your way through this process, you need to be willing to be pliable. In high school, I tried my hand at pottery. I was not that good. But, we had a barrel full of used clay. When a project did not turn out well, the teacher allowed us to put it in the barrel even it had previously dried out. Over time, the clay would again become soft and moldable. Many of us are hard and crusty in the world’s ways. So, it becomes an issue of the will. Abandon to God your will and hardness that’s been formed to the world. He wants to soften you. Next, let him continue the work and transform you to an entirely new paradigm. You and I will find new ways to fight God at every step. Don’t try to hold on to issues or parts of your life outside God’s transformational work. You won’t win anyway! He began an amazing work in you at the moment of salvation. Not conforming and transforming continues that process. You may have to daily remind yourself of this commitment. In the end, we should all refuse to think like the world thinks.