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)
Deserving of special attention is the 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 the biggest obstacle for Christians wanting to make their lives a sacrifice to God is the world’s enticements 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 R. C. Sproul warns:
Powerful forces in any culture seek to mold everyone around its pattern. In the United States, many Christians have yielded to the molds of materialism, sexual immorality, gender confusion, greed, and types of injustice. These and other moral issues strike at the heart of biblical ethics and the authority of Scripture. As this nation slides into paganism, Christians who do not conform become targets of ridicule and public shaming.The cost of 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 forces you to eat toxic food. Today’s menu features entrées of sexual immorality and gender confusion, along with taxpayer-funded abortion. Eat these bitter morsels with a smile on your face or incur the wrath of culture-enforcers. It’s easy to see why people and corporations assign five stars to this restaurant 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.
To find a way Christians could participate in these pagan practices without feelings of guilt, a group called the Nicolaitans reinterpreted apostolic teaching. Scholars say those practices also involved sexual immorality. Christ castigated similar teachings by a prophetess he referred to as “that woman Jezebel” in Thyatira (Revelation 2:20).
Like the Nicolaitans and Jezebel, some people today consider themselves more compassionate than Paul. Any attempt to accommodate the flesh is equivalent to handing out cake and pillows to passengers on a train to destruction. God holds everyone accountable, 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).
Christians 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). This world is “passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31), and all 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 warn 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 (Revelation 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.