Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 2, 1960

Not Conformed -- But Transformed

Jack Freeman, San Pablo, Calif.

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Rom. 12:1-2.)

One of the words often used in the vocabulary of today is the word "environment". No longer is it a rare thing to hear one remark that man is a product of his environment. It does not require any special intelligence to perceive that our thoughts, our character, and our conduct are, to a certain extent, molded by our surroundings. But to what extent man is affected by his environment depends on the individual himself. Believing that men are what they are because of circumstances surrounding them, the biographer will usually begin the story of a man's life with an account of the circumstances in which he was born and raised. The biographer will include a description of schools, teachers, the home life, and the social and religious influences of the man's life. Since men are, to a certain degree, influenced by circumstances and conditions surrounding them, we can see the importance of seeking to improve both the physical and spiritual environment in which we live. Civil government has the obligation of providing for its citizens an environment that will be favorable to their physical and moral well-being. It is the duty of parents to make the home life profitable to the development of children in body, mind, and spirit. It is the duty of the Church to provide for her members those things that are conducive and essential to spiritual growth and spiritual strength (edification).

While it is certainly true that man may be influenced by his environment, this is not the whole truth about the matter. It is but a half-truth, and when half-truths are taken for the whole truth, they are no more falsehoods. There has been a tendency, both in and out of the Church, during the past several years to exaggerate the importance of environment. We often hear remarks which indicate that man is altogether a creature of circumstances, the tool and toy of his surroundings. By the way some people talk, you might imagine that character is just a question of climate, that the condition of man's mind changes with the weather, and that man's spiritual condition is simply a matter of Geography. Some would have us believe that the soul of man is a dead piece of clay shaped by external circumstances over which it has no control. However, throughout His Book, God teaches that we are responsible beings. The theory that man is completely at the mercy of environment is a theory that minimizes individual responsibility and paralyzes individual effort to live according to God's commandments. If my character is simply the product of my surroundings, then I am not responsible for my actions; I am not to be blamed for my sins. Why should I make any attempt to steer a safe course through life, if I am nothing but a creature of circumstances? Through the Gospel of Christ, God gives us the power to mold our lives — to choose our own destiny. We are not to drift, but steer. We are not to float, but swim. Though we may at times seem to be at the mercy of the waves, the Gospel will chart a safe course for us. When we go adrift, it is our own fault. We readily admit that circumstances would sometimes lead us to sin. Certainly, impure surroundings make it difficult to live a pure life. But difficult does not spell impossible.

Have you considered the circumstances which surrounded the Christians in Rome? Paul commanded them, "Be not conformed to this world . . . . but be ye transformed. . ." But these people lived in Rome, a wicked, a corrupt, an idolatrous city. The environment of that city was not only unchristian but antichristian. The external surrounding in that city were hostile to those abiding in the doctrine of Christ. The city was filled with sin which was poison to the soul, yet Paul, taught that it was possible to be a Christian, even in Rome. In the first chapter of his letter to these people, Paul addressed the epistle to "all that be in Rome . . . called to be saints". This shows again that it was possible to be a saint in Rome. Later, Paul speaks of those who were saints in Caesar's household. But in order for men to be saints in Rome and in Caesar's household, it was absolutely essential that men refuse to conform to their environment. It was essential that man be transformed that he might live as a saint in that city or in any other city. Man then has no right to become a slave to his surroundings. Paul did not preach the doctrine of conformity but he did preach the doctrine of "transformity".

Since "conformity" is one of the favorite doctrines of today, we have great need of Paul's exhortation to remind us that we are not of the world though living in it. We, too, are called to be saints in a crooked and perverse generation. The world today is still as hostile to the true Church as it was when Paul wrote to the saints in Rome. It has always been true that the majority of men follow the path of least resistance, and are content to drift with the tide. Anyone can conform to the world, but it takes some effort to be transformed. To many it may seem that the world is no longer antagonistic to the Church. If this be true where you worship, let me assure you that something is wrong with the Church. The Church has conformed to the world. Churches, as well as individuals, are sometimes too much influenced by external circumstances. The nation of Israel departed from God's Law in seeking to be like the world — the nations around them. The Church in many localities today has departed from the Truth in seeking to be like denominations around us. One of the first arguments made in defense of the "Herald of Truth" and benevolent societies tied to the Church was; "The Catholics are doing it — Protestants are doing it — we want to be like them". Such foolish arguments are yet made today by those who would have the individual and the Church conform to the world. Surely in many institutional churches today there must be some members who know the Truth on these issues that trouble and divine us, but they are content to drift with the tide of digression. Their only excuse is, "everyone else is doing it." So long as the individual and the Church conforms to the world, we will see these unscriptural and anti-scriptural organizations among us. When we all determine not to conform but be transformed, these unscriptural organizations will die.

Do brethren today doubt the possibility of man living above the level of his environment? We have already considered the environment in Rome. Let us look at other people surrounded by evil who found it possible to obey God. Cannot we remember Moses who was surrounded by all that Egypt had to offer? Wealth, political power, and the pleasures of sin could have been his for a season. But Moses chose to change his environment; he chose to be "with the people of God. Yea he chose to be with God's children at a time when it was dangerous to be known as an Israelite. Cannot we remember Elijah who stood one time alone opposed by 450 false prophets? Elijah did not conform to the idolatrous circumstances which surrounded him; rather, he challenged the false prophets to a test. As a result of Elijah's stand, the false prophets were put to death and Israel again turned to God. Cannot we remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, the three non-conformists of Babylon who preferred the fiery furnace rather than conform to the environment which surrounded them? Have you read their answer to King Nebuchadnezzar? "Be it known unto thee, 0 king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Cannot we remember Daniel who chose possible death in the lion's den rather than conform to the world? Cannot we recall reading of Abraham leaving the sinful environment of Ur, or Lot fleeing Sodom, or John the baptizer who preached against the sins of that age, or Stephen who died rather than conform to Jewish thinking, Or Paul, or Peter, or James? Cannot we remember these and other Bible examples which prove that man is not forced to conform to the world? We could continue to list examples for God's Book which prove the same point, but the greatest example of all is Jesus of Nazareth who lived in the world and yet was not "of the world". It was He who said, "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." Yet this same Jesus was tempted in all ways like as we are. Though seen at times in the company of publicans and sinners, though surrounded by thieves, murderers, and transgressors of the Law of Moses, He was never found to be contaminated by the circumstances which surrounded Him. It was the Saviour who proved beyond any doubt that we need not be overcome by circumstances which surround us.

There is another point that needs our consideration. We have learned that some men sin because of evil surroundings. But some people sin in spite of the best environment. Look back at Adam and Eve in Eden. Was ever man surrounded by more favorable circumstances? (Not even in the modern orphanage and college regardless of the claims made by men). Yet in the Garden of Eden, man was subject to temptation, and under the most favorable conditions, man sinned, man conformed to Satan's thinking. Look back at Judas who had the privilege of being with Jesus for a period of time, who saw the miracles and heard the lessons taught by the Lord. Yet, in spite of those circumstances Judas chose to conform to another part of his environment. The point is, that wherever man is, he will be subject to temptation, but a way of escape has been provided. We must learn to obey God regardless of the circumstances which surround us.

Brother, are you a member of a church which endorses and supports human institutions designed to do the work of the Church? You need not be like a piece of wood drifting along with the tide — you need not conform to the world — you must not, if heaven is to be your home. True, you may be more popular with men if you conform to the ways of those who are more interested in "their institutions" than in the Church built by Christ, but to be popular with God you must be transformed. If you have been unable by your teaching to change that sinful environment, then like Abraham. "get thee out." If there is no true Church in driving distance, have enough faith and courage to preach the Gospel and start one. If, at present, you find this impossible, move yourself and yours to a place where God is still respected and worshipped in spirit and in truth. Like Moses, you need to consider the reward that lies ahead and remember that the pleasures of season are but temporary.

Brother or Sister, do you work at a job or live in a community where you are surrounded by those things which make it difficult to keep yourself unspotted from the world? Remember that Jesus and the Apostles were not afraid to be non-conformists. We will always have oppositions as long as we strive to keep His commandments. We must fight, but ours is the "good fight" and the victory will be ours if we use the armor and weapon provided by God.

Brother or Sister, have you found that you alone in your family have an interest in making heaven your home? Do ungodly parents, brothers and sisters, or husband or wife urge you to conform to the world? Of all the evil sights which the world presents to our view, the ungodly home is second in evil only to the ungodly church. But remember that it is possible to be a saint in Rome, even in Caesar's household. In refusing to conform to the world, your salvation is assured, and you may lead others in your family to obey the Gospel of Christ. Heaven will be our eternal home if we love God more than self, other people, and possessions.

As Paul gave parting instruction to the elders of the Church in Ephesus, he said, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified." Yes, the eternal inheritance will be ours if we refuse to conform to the world; if we are transformed; if we live according to the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.