Do Not Be Normal
Do not be conformed to this age [or world], but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
~ Romans 12:2
We must cling to God's Word as perfect, eternal, timeless, and transcendent; otherwise, what good is it? If we think the Bible is anything less, it becomes just another human work of philosophy and history. If we follow only those parts we agree with, we are not reading the Bible; we are writing it.
If we disagree or dislike something we read in the Bible, is God thereby wrong? Will He change to conform to our thoughts?
The famous writer and theologian G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried.” We could say that the primary purpose of the Bible is to show where our thoughts are wrong, so that we might change our thoughts to conform to God. So if we revise, ignore, or misinterpret something in the Bible, we are getting it backwards. We are blinding ourselves to a truth God has given us, because we do not like it. We are conforming God’s Word to agree with our sinful minds, instead of conforming our sinful minds to accord with God’s perfect truth.
Such is precisely what Paul wants to get across to us, in Romans 12:2. By telling us not to be conformed to the current “age,” he actually identifies not one, but two sources of temptation we must avoid. In fact, the passage is translated, correctly, two different ways.
The first, and most common translation, is: “Do not be conformed to this world . . . .” Translating the passage like this speaks to the eternal evil inherent in physical life. Lust and greed are not confined to a specific time or place; they are endemic in our human makeup.
The second (more literal) translation, “Do not be conformed to this age,” more specifically addresses the temptation to follow societal mores — the temptation to be “normal,” as defined by one’s current society.
For example, if we lived in Western Europe in 1900, the norm of our society would be that fornication was wrong. If we live in Western Europe in the 21st century, the norm of our society is that fornication is fine. In fact, fornication is today held as a mark of freedom, and those who oppose it are generally considered to be aberrant, “up tight,” enslaved by inhibition. But if we conform our thought to the Bible, rather than to the current age, we see that fornication is sinful.
Have we fully conformed ourselves to the Bible? Probably not. Many church members and leaders will rail and preach against homosexual fornication, eager to tell us it is sinful, while failing to mention the more widespread issues of heterosexual fornication and lust. We are more likely to criticize homosexual promiscuity than currently-accepted heterosexual “dating,” with its overtone of non-marital sexual behavior. Even if we only criticize in our own mind, most of us will condemn gay sex faster than straight sex.
Then, of course, there is the opposite error. The Bible clearly condemns homosexual behavior. More “liberal” churches simply ignore the teaching, and the most radical extol it as human “love” and ordain practicing homosexuals as pastors. Recently, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church advertised that girls should send her their “purity rings”—rings worn by those who have taken a vow to remain chaste until they marry—so that she could melt them down and create a vagina statue to go in the church. (I'm not surprised that she has no regard for the Second Commandment, either.)
The degree to which Christians are swayed by societal norms, rather than the Bible, is pervasive and subtle. The banker who foreclosed on a widow’s house last week, the lawyer who encourages lawsuits, the shop owner who sells string bikinis — these will sit proudly in their church pews, filled with anger at, say, the current push for acceptance of gay marriage. And yet, they all engaged in conduct specifically prohibited by the Bible. They hide their sin behind societal norms.
If we are to know what God says, we must set aside our preconceptions of right and wrong and cease to absorb the values of the world around us.
Lord, let me never be swayed from your truth by the changing values of the world. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer