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Conformity - The Good and the Bad

Non-conformist

by Dennis Pollock

When I was in my teens young people prided themselves in being non-conformists. This was the time of the hippies. I never quite made it as a full-fledged hippie, but I dabbled around the edge of hippiedom. We young guys were not about to look (or act) like our World War II generation dads with their neat, respectable clothing and their short hair, sometimes kept carefully in place with a little dab of Brylcreem.

We fancied ourselves pure non-conformists, but as I look back now I have to laugh at that. The truth is, nobody was ever more conformist than we were. We nearly all looked identical with our long hair, bell-bottom pants, flowery shirts, and necklaces. To see one hippie, or in my case “hippie-wannabe,” was to see them all. We not only looked the same, but we used the same expressions, listened to the same music, voted for all the same liberal candidates, and adopted the same values (i.e. drugs were good; the Viet Nam War was an abomination, the police were party-poopers, and our parents were hopelessly out of touch). Although we did not conform to our parents’ looks and values, we surely did conform – to a standard that somebody, somewhere had decided was the cool look and behavior for America’s youth.

The New Testament Scriptures recognize the concept of conformity, with Paul and Peter saying some very powerful things about its good and bad side. According to the Scriptures, you will be conformed to some standard and set of values. The question is not whether you will be conformed, but rather to what or whom will you be conformed. The idea of conformity is simple. Human beings are constantly changing and those changes are largely determined by outside influences. Groups and strong leaders have a mysterious power which moves their followers to begin to change their own behavior, values, and even looks in order to match the ones that they follow. Sometimes this conformity is conscious and we diligently try to be like the one we admire or the friends with which we associate. But often this conformity is unconscious. We find ourselves changing and being transformed gradually without ever thinking about it or even desiring it.

Not Conformed but Transformed

Imagine a young teenage girl who has become obsessed with a famous pop singer. She watches her music videos again and again, and looks for her interviews on the Internet, memorizing nearly every word she says. She finds herself shopping for clothes that mirror her idol, using identical language and phrases that the singer uses, and even adopts a speaking style similar to the singer’s. She dreams of having a singing career, just like the lady she so admires, and spends countless hours singing her songs with a karaoke machine. What has happened to her? She has been stamped into an image, albeit imperfect, of the one she so admires. She is being conformed.

The apostle Paul wrote these words:

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).

First, he tells us that we are not to be conformed to this world. He is not talking about our planet. It would make no sense to tell us not to look like or act like the mountains and rivers, and the grass and the flowers of our world. No, he is telling us not to be conformed to the ungodly standards, habits, ways, methods, values, and irreverent language that have become commonplace among people in our world who do not know or love Jesus Christ.

If we all lived on separate islands, conformity would not be much of an issue. We would have no one to observe or admire or influence us. We would develop our own habits and styles according to our own fancy. But of course we do not live on islands. We live in the midst of thousands and millions of people, and through television, movies, social media, and the Internet we are exposed to all kinds of additional powerful influences, most of which are bringing direct pressure to lead us away from God, His thoughts, His attitudes, and His ways.

The Power of Celebrity

Celebrities are a huge influence upon people. Because of their fame, looks, and skill we tend to admire them, and where there is admiration, conformity will typically follow. When they give interviews and freely spout their opinions, their likes and their loathings, their priorities and those things or people they find disgusting, viewers, who may have never previously given these things much thought, now find themselves nodding their heads in agreement. And they find themselves unconsciously being drawn into alignment with the current standards and values of what the Bible refers to as “this world.” It is a gradual, silent, and often unconscious process, but it is tremendously powerful and to some extent, nearly irresistible if one has not found a stronger influence still, which anchors the soul.

In Psalm 15 we find the Holy Spirit’s description of the man or woman who is given the privilege of experiencing the presence of God, or to use the exact words, “abiding in God’s tabernacle and dwelling in His holy hill.” This entire short psalm is a description of such a person. Some of the characteristics are predictable. This man or woman walks uprightly, speaks the truth, and does no evil to his neighbor. But one aspect of this psalm would probably come as a bit of a surprise when first read. It says that this godly individual “despises a vile person.” He looks at the ungodly and says, “Yuk – how horrible.” He does not hate the individual. After all we are commanded to love even our enemies. But still, he looks at the lifestyle of the ungodly and shudders. Regardless of how famous, how popular or how skilled they may be, there is no admiration; there is only loathing for the ungodly life and values he sees in this person.

In America today we so love our celebrities. We tune in eagerly to the constantly growing number of awards programs to watch them preen and gush as they accept and give each other various awards for singing, acting, directing, television work, and other achievements. We drink in their rambling, disjointed, and irreverent acceptance speeches as though hearing great philosophers sharing truths that will liberate us forever. The result of celebrity-worship and the exaltation of Hollywood culture has been essentially a total makeover of American attitudes and values. Divorce used to be considered a shame but now it is something to joke about. Sex before marriage was once considered immoral but now it is routine and healthy. Homosexuality was once called perversion but to criticize it today is to incur the wrath of nearly every celebrity, all the media, and much of the nation.

We have changed and are still changing. Millions of young people are growing up and being stamped, cookie-cutter fashion, into an image that is far from God. What is the answer? The inspired apostle gives us the solution, when after telling us not to be conformed to this world, goes on to say that we should be transformed “by the renewing of our minds.” And since our minds tend to be conformed to that which we observe in our environment, and upon which we concentrate, we must shift our focus. We must find a new and different Person and set of values which we will admire and desire to emulate.

Transformed by God’s Word

BibleGod has three major ways by which this is accomplished. First is His inspired word. While groups, cultures, and celebrities have the power to influence, the word of God has more. The Scriptures have the power to enable us to think like our Creator, to value what He values, despise what He despises, love what He loves, and live as He desires us to live. From the moment we sit down and begin reading: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” there is a subconscious influence at work in our minds and hearts. The influence and the changes do not happen overnight. It will take some time. But they start immediately and with each passing day, with each chapter read, with each eloquent description of God’s likes and dislikes, of His priorities and standards, we are being transformed. We are being shaped not by the ungodly passions and priorities of this world, but by the holy and righteous values of the One who created us. We begin to adopt the same perspectives as those holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Peter writes: “…as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). We become, gradually and imperfectly, like the One we love and admire. Biblical phrases and language strangely begin to work their way into our conversation, and people we used to admire we now pity or find that they invoke a feeling of disgust. Things that once meant everything to us now mean almost nothing, and other things which we never even considered become paramount considerations in our lives. What is going on? We are being conformed.

The Power of the Church

Another means by which God conforms His people is through the church. Just as gang members tend to think and act like other gang members, and Hollywood starlets tend to think like, talk like and dress like all the other Hollywood types, when new believers begin attending church and mingling with other believers, there is a strong influence and power which begins to work. The baby Christian is suddenly engulfed in a world of new people and new attitudes and values that he may never have experienced in his life. In a sense the church becomes his “gang” and he finds himself conforming to the rules, practices, and standards of those who surround him. If the church and the members adhere to Scriptural values and ways, this is a very good thing. In such a case, he is not merely being conformed to a group of people but to Jesus Christ Himself. With every sermon, every home group meeting, every fellowship dinner, every Bible study, and every outreach he is learning, absorbing, and practicing the ways of God. Values first declared by Moses, and then reinforced by David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter, and John take deep root in his heart. This is no doubt why we are instructed in the Scriptures not to “forsake the assembling of yourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25).

Of course, this process is largely negated when the extent of a person’s church experience is to go to church on Sunday morning only, and then leave quickly after the sermon, forming no relationships or bonds, and never really interacting with other believers on a personal level. And the importance of relating personally to one another is summed up by the word fellowship. As Christians, it is vital that we develop friendships and relationships with other believers. The Bibles says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Friendship with God

Another means by which we are conformed to Jesus Christ is through fellowship directly with Him and with our Heavenly Father. The Bible says, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). There is no substitute for time in the presence of God in that amazing practice we call prayer. It may seem strange to us, but the truth is, the simple act of making the time to talk to our invisible Creator and His Son Jesus Christ has a way of transforming us. Just as Moses’ face shone after spending time with God, our lives will shine with the glory of God when spending time with Him becomes more than a brief duty to be performed before our meals.

God is the ultimate celebrity. He is the one we should admire, respect, and desire to emulate. And as we make Him our best friend, we find ourselves being drawn toward His way of thinking, talking, and behaving. The disciples spent over three years living with Jesus, which was in effect living with God. By the time their training was accomplished they were not the same. Even the world noticed that “they had been with Jesus.” May it be so in our lives, and may divine conformity be accomplished in all who name the name of Jesus.

 

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