Romans 12.2 Do not conform yourselves
to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a
complete change of your mind.
Changes advance upon Christianity
like a swarm of buzzing wasps around a honey pot on a warm afternoon. It
seems to me sometimes that the faithful are rather like picnickers trying
ineffectually to swat the marauders. But change, like persistent insects,
doesn't go away.
The phrase I've chosen from Paul's letter to the Romans
(12.2) is about change. It renews in me a conviction which, when I mention
it, raises hackles and elicits protests like few others. It's rather like
criticising an Archbishop of bigotry while taking tea at Lambeth Palace,
or questioning the motives of the President of the United States in front
of the TV cameras.
To get a better idea of my conviction, it might help to
look back at the world in which Paul worked.
It was one in which the first Christians were under
attack. They mostly thought of themselves as Jews who had found and now
followed the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. Traditional Jews did not like
this - if only because it seemed nonsense to them that the Messiah could
have died a criminal's death on a cross at Jerusalem's rubbish dump.
Understandably, the young Church came to perceive itself
as a bastion of light and truth in a world of moral darkness and false
teaching. Many Christians still think of themselves this way. But I
suspect that Paul didn't mean us to go this route when he wrote wrote, "Do
not conform yourself to standards of this world ..."
In my dealings over many years with fellow-Christians
I've concluded that we seldom pause to wonder what are some possible
consequences of relating to others from an "I'm right, you're wrong"
position, as the Church does so often. I can understand the early Church's
need to take this stand. But must I do the same?
Although it's often a struggle, and though I as often
fail, I conclude that it's not right for me to judge others. For that is
what I do if I preach at them from a "saved " position, as though I can
somehow bring God to them through my own power.
First, I know I feel bad when someone else preaches at
me. Why should anyone else feel differently when I come to them as one who
has what they need? Second, I'm reminded that Jesus didn't do it and that
he counselled us not to do so either. Third, anyone worth their salt is
likely to resist being devalued as a person, which is what happens when we
take centre-stage as so-called "people of God."
In short, it seems to me that I am utterly mistaken if I
think that anything I can do - especially from a holier-than-thou position
- will transform anyone. That's God's job and Paul is absolutely correct
in counselling us to "... let God transform you inwardly."
So if we feature at all in God's transforming process
it's in a supporting role at most. You and I may succeed in altering an
opinion here, shifting an entrenched position there, and lifting a veil
somewhere else. But transform
another person? Hardly likely!
I say we can't do so for two reasons:
- Whatever standards I may preach, it's those I live
out day-by-day which in the end really mean something. A life without
words is powerful. Words without a life are empty, blocking the
"complete change of mind" Paul is addressing.
- How God goes about transforming us all, without exception, is no
secret. We call the method "life." Every life that has ever been lived
has contained within it all required for the person living it "... to
know the will of God - what is good and is pleasing to him and is
perfect." Transformation - not magical, or spiritual, or miraculous, but
astoundingly normal - is readily available to us all every day of our
So if the world is a stage and we are actors in it, it's worth keeping
in mind that the play's the thing. God is the leading character and is
bound to steal the show. We're just bit-players in minor supporting roles.
Life itself does the rest.