Do you remember when you were younger and your parents talked about the dangers of peer pressure all of the time. We were warned of the dangers of allowing people to convince us to do things that we we should not be doing Peer pressure has long been a way that certain people get others to follow them and do what they want them to do. This is no more true than when we think about the ideas of our society. We are coerced by people and by media organizations to believe certain things and even act certain ways.
I remember in High School I was a jock. I played many many sports and had more varsity letters than I could count. I understood my mannerisms as they fit into being a jock. I hung out with jocks and I dressed like a jock. Now I was not mean to people, but i tried so hard to make sure I was accepted by my jock friends. I acted like a jock and I was lumped in with that group of students at the school. My entire being had become that of being a jock.
I had conformed to be accepted as part of the school. This is an act that has become an all to real reality in our society. Conformity has become a part of our society as a whole and not just in schools. While we would like to think it stops once we leave High School, but we can look oat the world and see many examples of how we conform to be more like society. We feel we must change ourselves to be a part of a certain group and we change who we are to fit in.
Whether we care to admit it or not I am sure we have all conformed to society. We have all tried to conform to the norms of our society or to the group of people we really want to be like. However, Paul, in our scripture today, is calling us to not be this way. He is calling us to not be conformed to who the world wants us to be. Rather he notes, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.” When we conform to who the world thinks we should be we often forget who it is God is calling us to be, and God can slip away from our thoughts all together.
In chapter 12 Paul begins an explanatory that runs from chapter 12-15. Paul talks about what it means to be a Christian, and what it involves. Over the next month and change we will explore these chapters as we look at what it means to be a true Christian. We consider what Paul taught as our original theology and our original example of how to live. A lot of this we still must hold on to as we understand the people we are supposed to be as Christians.
Paul in this passage wants people to understand the change that should be occurring with God. He is reminding them by saying, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Paul is laying the foundation here of where it all starts. This relationship we should have between ourselves and God. It is to be a sacrificial relationship. We are supposed to give of ourselves to God’s love and God’s glory here on earth. Paul is setting forth the precedent that when we make this sacrifice to God it is not to be taken lightly. We are supposed to brings ourselves in a holy and respectable way to God. We are to be new people.
Paul goes on saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We so often in our society try to conform to who we think we have to be or who we want to be. These ways can sometimes be helpful, but can also be very hurtful.
As I considered my life as a jock I realized that this was not the person God had called me to be. It was in this same time during High School that I began hearing my call to ministry. I had a difficult decision to make as my time in High School was coming to a close. I could either continue on the sports track and continue to try to fit in with this group. Or I could listen to God and see what he had in store for me. Now that is not to say God does not call people to be athletes. I think God calls us all to have certain careers, but if we don’t listen to him we will never know what that call is. When we conform to what the world wants us to be we lose sight of God’s call on our lives.
Too often our society tries to dictate who we are and what we do, but we must realize that we are not driven by what others are calling us to do. We must be willing to giving ourselves to God. When Paul says “do not be conformed” we must understand what that truly means. Our Hebrew Bible lesson offers a lesson in nonconformity. As we see these three guys Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They refuse to worship King Nebuchadnezzar. Most rest of the Jews have surrender their beliefs to worship this King. They had conformed to what society had told them. However, these three have stood apart and have refused to worship the King. They knew that following God meant not conforming to what society wanted. Even in the face of being burned to death they refused to give in.
Paul says we cannot be conformed to this earth. He offers instead an alternative of being transformed by the renewing of our minds. We must know that under God we become a new person in a way. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego we too must not allow what everyone else is doing to turn us away from God. Through this we open ourselves to God’s work in us. This transformation is not just in who we are, but the way that present ourselves to and act in the world. Transformation is what our faith becomes about we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves and who we are for what God has planned for us.
Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon in 1954 on this passage and he urged people to be transformed nonconformists. Because being nonconformists are good. As nonconformists we do not allow society to impact who we are, but King notes we cannot be nonconformists for nonconformists sake. We must have a greater understanding. Paul notes that being a nonconformist is nothing if we are not transformed and renewed by the spirit of God. As King talks about nonconformity he offers a metaphor first from Henry Longfellow and then of his own. King says, “Longfellow said, ‘In this world a man must either be anvil or hammer,’ meaning that he is either a molder of society or is molded by society. Who doubts that most men are anvils and are shaped by the patterns of the majority? Or to change the figure, most people, and Christians in particular, are thermometers that record or register the temperature of the majority opinion, not thermostats that transform and regulate the temperature.
How true is that statement. When we think about our lives are we merely the thermometer and allow ourselves to be changed by the outside world? Or the anvil that is shaped by someone else and molded to their ideas? Or are we the thermostat and transform ourselves to be an agent of change for our society? Or a hammer that is used to form and to shape?
King saw the hurts and the pains that conformity in society had caused. He could not only look at his current period during the civil rights movement, but could look back throughout history and could see how not only people, but specifically Christians, conformed to society and allowed terrible things to take place. Things that were not of what Jesus calls us to do, or to be. Even as Christians we allow ourselves to be conformed by society still. We become conformed to society and neglect God’s transforming power. We have been doing it for many a century. Christians are called to be transformed and discern the will of God, and here they are just moving right along with society. Like the Jews in the story from Daniel we too do it to be a part of society. Often out of fear of judgement, or even just wanting to be like the other people around us. We often may not even recognize it.
In his sermon King goes on to say, “We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians who were nonconformists in the truest sense of the word and refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world. Willingly they sacrificed farm, fortune, and life itself in behalf of the cause they knew to be right.” Imagine if we lived our lives according to the transformation of Christ. Imagine if we thought like the early Christians and focused more on the transformative power of Christ instead of all of societies whims and wishes for us. What if instead of living by societies rules and being dictated what to do and believe we follow what God calls us out for.
Think about the ways in which you have conformed yourself to the world. Think of the ways in which you have allowed the world dictate who you are. Are you allowing the world to conform you even? Is it out of fear for what might happen or out of wanting to be accepted. Remember that even Jesus calls us to let go of things of this world. We are called to be his disciples in the world and to do his will for the good of the Kingdom of God.
Think about where God is calling you to. Remember God’s call on our lives. The call to love, the call to do his work, the call to disciple to other people, and the call to be transformed. However, not only to be transformed, but to also transform others for the Kingdom. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this passage as being a transformed nonconformist. It was the idea that we were more than nonconformists, but we are also transformed and live our lives by that transformation.
So as you go forth live your lives as someone who does not conform to societal ideals that lead us away from God. Continually be transformed by God’s renewing presence. Remember that you are a child of God and not a child of the world. And we should go out and remind others of this same idea. If we allow ourselves to be conformed by society we allow society to speak over God. So do not be conformed by society, rather allow yourself to be transformed by God. Being transformed means allowing God to continue to work in you and allow him to use you for his purpose in the world.
We all have a call from God that has been placed on our hearts, and when we conform to society we can lose sight of that call. So be transformed by the renewing of your mind through God.
NOTE: Excerpts taken from MLK Sermon Transforming Nonconformist; Martin Luther King Jr. Strength to Love p. 11-20