When Rome was at the height of her glory and power, there appeared a disturbing sect called Christians. Because of a fire that burned within them, these people dared to be different.
In an era when immorality, lavishness and luxury were stylish, Christians refused to be defiled by the sensual practices of a disintegrating civilization. In a period when human life was cheap, they put a high value upon human beings, their souls and their destinies.
These Christians refused to be absorbed into the godless society of Rome. They had not heard of the rule that we hear today: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” The Roman high tribunal initiated a drive to stamp out Christianity as a disturber of pagan unity.
The Romans had a false notion that a person’s conscience could be controlled by law, so they made it illegal to be different. All had to bow to Caesar. All had to conform to pagan custom. All had to behave like true Romans. Nonconformists were threatened with death, and many chose death rather than to conform to Rome and to compromise their consciences.
A Roman Christian named Paul took up his pen and wrote a word for all Christians of all times: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).
Times have changed, but human nature hasn’t. Though the methods are different, the pagan world is still trying to put its stamp of conformity on every follower of Jesus Christ. Every possible pressure is being brought to bear upon Christians to make them conform to the standards of the world.
The Apostle Paul urges Christians everywhere in all ages to be nonconformists as far as the world system is concerned. A true Christian, living an obedient life, is a constant rebuke to those who accept the moral standards of this world.
In our desire to make Christ known and to increase the influence of the Church, we are prone to think that Christians and the Church can be made popular with the unbelieving world. This is a grave mistake. Christ crucified is anathema to Satan, and the message of the Gospel is still a stumbling block and foolishness to the world. Our Lord warned His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18, NIV). The Apostle John writes, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13, NIV).
When the Christian or the Church becomes popular with the unbelieving world, something is seriously wrong with the Christian or the Church. Because Christ runs counter to evil and because we are Christ-owned, we also must stand against evil.
Christians may be shown a grudging respect at times, but if we are faithful to Christ, we will surely incur the wrath of the world. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” says the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:12, NIV).
The Scripture teaches that popularity with the world means death. Satan’s most effective tool is conformity and compromise. He is aware that one man standing in the midst of a pagan people, declaring, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, NIV), can move more people in the direction of God than thousands of insipid professors of religion.
Patrick Henry, with his heroic declaration, “Give me liberty or give me death,” did more for the cause of freedom than a million who were bent on saving their own skins. Martin Luther, who said, “Here I stand. … I can do no other. So help me God,” did more to further the cause of religious liberty than a million conformists who had lost the vitality of true religion.
We often ask ourselves, “How could the early disciples turn the world upside down when millions of Christians can’t even keep it right side up today?” The answer is simple. They didn’t conform their faith to the world. They had the truth, and they refused to water it down. They held a faith that would not compromise.
Because they dared to buck the tide of public opinion and be different; because they dared to believe when other people doubted; because they were willing to risk their lives for what they stood for; because they chose death rather than to live an empty life; the world took notice of what motivated these men and women. In due time, they turned the philosophical and religious world upside down.
The words of Paul, “Do not be conformed to this world,” have tremendous significance and meaning for us today. These words cut like a sharp sword across our way of life. They are not comfortable words. They have the tone of the battle call in them. They separate the weak from the strong. But they are words of inspiration, and we need to hear them today.
First, we must not be conformed to this world mentally. The world–by its advertisements, its conversation and its philosophy–is engaged in a gigantic brainwashing task. Much entertainment is slanted to those who feed on violence, sex and lawlessness. It seems that some diabolic mastermind is running the affairs of this world and that his chief objective is to brainwash Christians and to get them to conform to this world. The world’s sewage system threatens to contaminate the Christian’s thought. Satan will contest every hour you spend in Bible reading or prayer.
However, above the din we can hear the voice of Scripture: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5, NKJV). And: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).
Second, we must not conform to the world physically. These bodies of ours are intended to be temples of the Spirit of God. We are not to prostrate them before the temples of Baal. We are to present them wholly to God as a “living sacrifice.” Our dress, our posture, our actions, should all be for the honor and glory of Christ.
God’s purpose for us is that we ought to be conformed to the image of His Son. The world may exert its pressure to deform us, but we are told, “Be transformed … that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2, NKJV).
Third, we must not conform to the world socially. The world attempts to absorb us into its secular society and to conform us to its earthly image, but Christ urges us not to conform. Clearly He says of those who believe in Him, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16, NIV).
The Gulf Stream is in the ocean, and yet it is not a part of it. Believers are in the world, and yet they must not be absorbed by it. The Gulf Stream maintains its warm temperatures even in the icy water of the North Atlantic. If Christians are to fulfill their purposes in the world, they must not be chilled by the indifferent, godless society in which they live.
Much of our talk as Christians is secular, not spiritual. In our conversation it is easy to fall into conformity with the world and spend an evening discussing politics, new cars and the latest entertainment. We often forget that we are to edify one another with holy conversation, and that our conversation should be on heavenly things, not exclusively on earthly things.
It is true that Jesus dined with publicans and sinners, but He did not allow the social group to conform Him to its ways. He seized every opportunity to present a spiritual truth and to lead souls from death to life. Our social contacts should not only be pleasant, they should be opportunities to share our faith with those who do not yet know Christ.
Fourth, we must not conform to the world spiritually. We are not to be conformed to the world’s definition of what it means to be religious, but we are to make sure that we have met God’s requirements for discipleship.
No nation was ever more religious than Israel in the Prophet Isaiah’s day. The Temple was filled. The altar ran red with the blood of sacrifice. The religious festivals were strictly observed, and the voice of prayer was heard in the house of God. But there was a lack of true devotion in Israel’s worship. The nation was deteriorating morally, even though crowds were attending the Temple. Speaking as God commanded, Isaiah said, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations–I cannot bear your evil assemblies” (Isaiah 1:13, NIV).
These people lived according to the formalities of their religious laws, but they were not living righteous lives. Isaiah warned of the judgment of God.
Then Isaiah told them how they could be cleansed from their sin. He said: “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong. … ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:16,18, NIV).
There are thousands of people who do not give themselves to Jesus Christ, because they have conformed to the world. They are afraid of being called fanatic, pious, puritanical or religious. A true Christian is a nonconformist.
I’m asking Christians everywhere to become committed followers of Jesus Christ–not conformed to the world, but conformed daily to the image of Jesus Christ.
Why don’t you, right now, give your life over completely to Jesus Christ?