August 20, 2017

Be Not Conformed

Don Johnson

A continuing meditation on Romans 12.1-2:

Romans 12:2 And 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 acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Romans 12.2 is so familiar to us that we easily slide by it in Bible reading. I wonder if we turn our minds off when we hear it announced as a sermon text. We’ve heard all that can be said on this one, right? Why yet another one?

One reason preachers frequently turn to this text is that the pair of verses at the beginning of Romans 12 are foundational to the Christian life. They carry a lot of weight. I believe they are the focal point of the book of Romans, everything that precedes it leads up to it, everything that follows rests on it. Recently, in preaching through this passage I brought eight messages from these two verses alone. I did so in order to fully consider the concepts, but even more importantly, to give the significance to the passage that it deserves and to help our people sit up and take notice of these familiar lines.

Be not conformed to this world how much of the Christian walk rests on those five English words?

The first thing to consider is the word world — a word many claim is impossible of definition. It is true that the word has many uses both in Greek and English, so we do need to know the word and discern its usage in context. The task is less difficult in this case than some might make it out to be.

The word is not the same as the word famously used in the ‘worldliness’ sequence in 1 Jn 2: Love not the world… There the word is kosmos, from which we get cosmetics and other assorted words. Kosmos refers to the world as an ordered system, the world organized in opposition to God. Certainly we ought not love that world.

The word in our text is aion, from which we get eon. It is frequently translated ‘age’ and has the meaning of ‘eternity’ when it is used in a phrase “into the age”. It is a synonym for the Greek word chromos, time. An ancient Jewish writer named Philo said something to the effect that chronos was the measurement of the life of the senses [i.e. the material world] while aion was the measure of the life of God and the realm of the mind. In other words, the word has a spiritual connotation, referencing eternal things. In Jewish thinking, there are two ages. This age, the age that now is, and the age to come (the kingdom of the Messiah). The Jewish concept is picked up in the New Testament.

In other words, we are called on to refuse conformity to the age – the present age, the age that now is. While this is true about external things (love not the world – the organized world system), it is much more true in our passage of the thinking and values of the world. We are not to think the way the world thinks. We are not to value what the world values. We are not to allow the world’s delights to become our own delights. We are not to allow the world to dictate our inner life. Why?

This world, this age, produces all kinds of pressure on right thinking (Mt 13.22). Just raise the issue of homosexuality in public these days and the world will try to shout you down. The value system of the world will not allow challenges. We recently linked to an astonishing article describing a visit by Rosario Butterfield to Wheaton College. Incredibly, a group of students at Wheaton protested her visit and her views. Even more incredibly, as far as we can tell from news reports, virtually nothing was done to these students, even though the position of Wheaton College is well known and students must sign to it as a condition of enrollment. The world is putting incredible pressure on anyone who would dare to raise the issue of homosexuality from a biblical perspective.

The course of life of this world, this age, is one which we all lived in once, before our salvation, when we were dead in trespasses and sins. In that state, the ‘age’ of this world (kosmos) was our guide (Eph 2.2). The reason we blindly followed that thinking was that we, like all others in the world had been blinded by the god of this age and we could not see the truth (2 Cor 4.4). This world, this age, in consequence is full of evil (Gal 1.4).

Be not conformed The word for conformity has the idea of following a pattern, a schematic. Unlike builders of any electrical circuit follow a schematic drawing, we are to reject the pattern of this age, to not allow it to influence our thinking, to avoid adopting its value system.

The Bible has a very sad testimony of a man whose ministry apparently ended when he loved this age. The man had worked alongside Paul in many circumstances and for several years. Yet in the end, Paul says, Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present age.

Demas has a lot of company these days. The effects of this age and its thinking permeate society and, alas, much of the professing Christian church. We can decry the decay of standards of behaviour all we like, the problem is not merely the external standards – it is the heart, the inner man, that has allowed the schema of this age to be its pattern for thinking. We are inundated by the messages of celebrities, be they sports heroes, star musicians, or newscasters. Or your friend from next door, or in your office, or… the sources are limitless and many Christians are being carried along by the thinking and value system of this age. And loving it!

Brethren, the call of the apostle Paul is clear – be not conformed to this world – this age knows nothing of the ways of God. If you would value your Christian testimony, you are going to have to think as God thinks.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


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