12:2—Don’t let the world shape you into its mold.
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. (NASB)
Today let’s focus on that first phrase: “And do not be conformed to this world.” And again reminds us of Paul’s flow of thought from verse 1. Paul knows that if his readers want to make a sacrifice of their bodies to God, the world will entice them to use their bodies in its preferred ways.
The meaning of “conformed”
This Greek verb means to be shaped according to a pattern—in this case, the pattern of the world. Charles Swindoll says, “The most common use of the word in secular literature is in reference to molding clay around a form or casting metal.” The word is found in the NT only here and in 1 Peter 1:14.
Christians quite obviously can go overboard with nonconformity, sometimes doing it for nonconformity’s sake, as RC Sproul warns:
Powerful forces in any culture seek to mold everyone around its pattern. In the United States, it’s undeniable that many Christians have yielded to the molds of materialism, divorce, sexual immorality, and certain injustices. As this nation slides further into paganism, will Christians begin to take more seriously Paul’s command not to conform? Current moral issues strike at the heart of biblical ethics and the authority of Scripture. Will Christians resist being molded even as they become targets of ridicule and public shaming?
The cost and reward of refusal to compromise
The passive voice of the verb “conformed” suggests Christians encounter a pressure to conform that comes from the outside. We must not let the world squeeze us into its mold.
Imagine a restaurant that tries to force you to eat food displeasing to you. Today’s menu features same-sex marriage, gender flexibility, and homosexuality, along with taxpayer-funded abortion. Eat these bitter morsels with a smile on your face or incur the wrath of culture-enforcers from the White House to ESPN. It’s easy to see why people and corporations rush to display the gay pride rainbow lest anyone question their commitment to the favored cause.
For the courage to resist this pressure, maybe we can learn something from the example of Christians in first-century Greco-Roman culture. In Smyrna and Pergamum, two of the cities mentioned in Revelation 2, traders and craft-workers had to belong to an appropriate guild. A requirement of membership was participation in sacrifices to a pagan deity, and this practice over time developed into worship of the Roman Emperor. Christians who refused to compromise their faith lost their livelihoods, and some lost their lives.
According to G. K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation, a particular group called the Nicolaitans tried to redefine apostolic teaching so Christians could participate in these pagan practices without feeling guilty doing so. Scholars say those practices also involved sexual immorality. Christ castigated similar teachings by a prophetess he referred to as “that woman Jezebel” in Thyatira (2:20).
Today, like the Nicolaitans and Jezebel, some who claim to be Christians now attempt to redefine Paul’s teaching on homosexuality and marriage. Considering themselves more compassionate than the apostle, they serve cake and hand out pillows to passengers on the train to Destruction. You can serve both the Lord and your flesh, say these seducers.
So long as we can feel comfortable with a little bending of Scripture, what’s the problem? The problem is that God holds everyone accountable. And he sees everything, as evident in Christ’s words to the church in Pergamum: “So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (2:15-16).
Those believers in the church at Smyrna who suffered for their faithfulness were comforted to know that Christ saw their tribulation and poverty. Their reward far outshone any temporal losses: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer…. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).
This world is passing away
The pressure on believers to conform comes from “this world”—translation of a Greek word meaning “this age.” Douglas Moo defines it as “the sin-dominated, death-producing realm in which all people” naturally exist. Its God is Satan, who blinds unbelievers from the truth of the gospel to keep them from escaping his grasp (2 Corinthians 4:4). We also know that this world or age is “passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31), and that we who trust in Christ have been delivered from it (Galatians 1:4).
We reside in this temporary world but we belong to the world that is coming:
As we refuse the world’s pressure to conform, may we also be faithful in warning others of the peril ahead. Our message is one of love and compassion, not hate. Christ loves sinners and bids us come to him. There are things he hates, however, and he commends the church in Ephesus for also hating them (2:6). He hates the deeds of those who seduce believers to compromise, who rationalize conformity to a sinful culture, and who tell sinners they are not sinning. As the book of Revelation makes clear, he will have the final say on these matters.