Tuesday, 23 June 2015

of Subtle Conformity to Worldly Values

"For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son."
(Romans 8:29; NIV).

I remember once reading the story of how a psychologist brought several groups of ten students at a time together in a room for a little experiment. The instructions were simple enough; raise your hand when the psychologist pointed to the longest line on a series of charts. However, unbeknown to one student in each group was the fact that the other nine students in that group hand secretly been told ahead of time to raise their hands on the second longest line, regardless of the instructions given to the group.

In virtually every case, the one student who knew nothing of the ruse would glance around in confusion and ultimately, despite his/her better judgment, also raise a hand at the second longest line instead of the obvious longest line like the group had been instructed to do. This happened time after time; rather than confront the error of the group, that one poor self-conscious student simply went along with the rest of the group.

As I reflected on that psychologist’s experiment, I wondered if the same doesn’t also often happen with the church; not the institution, but rather individual Christian lives. Do we too tend to sometimes self-consciously go along with the group, even if we know deep down inside that they’re wrong? As I wondered about this, I was reminded again of one of my favourite Scriptures, Romans 12:1-2, which in the ESV reads:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by the testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
I don’t know about you, but every time I read those verses, the one thing that stands out loud and clear is the question of exactly who is being “conformed,” or “transformed,” by whom? Sometimes I feel like that one lone student being duped into raising my hand at the second longest line, rather than the longest line that I know is correct.

Sometimes, instead of being beacons of light that, with the Spirit’s leading, draws the unsaved to Christ, I cannot help but wonder if the reverse is not true instead. Like that lone student in the group of ten, could it be that the world has subtly “conformed” and “transformed” many Christians (myself included) into its version of pseudo-light instead? After all, sometimes it seems virtually impossible to tell the believer and the non-believer apart. It’s almost as if everything now somehow has become acceptable and there is no longer a recognized morality versus immorality, even in the church. Have you ever wondered about that?

I think about these things every now and then.

Now I realize that I’m talking about outward appearances, which obviously does not necessarily represent the condition of the heart within, but is it not logical to assume that the inner condition would somehow also manifest itself externally? If the joy of the Lord is truly in my heart, then why does it not show itself more than it does? Is my faith a secret? Am I self-conscious too like that lone student in the psychologist’s experiment? If so then haven’t I seriously misread my New Testament and seriously misunderstood the teachings of my Lord and His apostles? Jesus once told His hearers,
Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Let’s take that verse apart a bit.

“Let” is the same as saying to “allow” or “permit.” It’s something that we have control over. It’s a choice we make; I choose to “let” it happen or I choose not to “let” it happen. It’s completely up to me. If it were not so, then Jesus would not have given us the admonition to make it so. But He did; He said, “Let your light shine.” Still, the choice is mine, but how I choose then also brings with it the question of obedience versus disobedience to my Lord.

At the risk of digressing too far, this begged another question and that is, if I choose to deliberately disobey, then can I still rightly call Him Lord? Hmm, I wonder, but that’s a topic for another post.

“Shine” is more than simply being lit. There can be light, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bright. We can drive in the light of the day’s sun, on both cloudy and non-cloudy days, and see reasonably well; certainly better than driving at night. But try driving east as the sun comes up over the horizon, or driving west as the sun begins to set, and it “shines” so bright in your eyes that you can hardly see anything else around you. It’s in that sense that I think our Lord would have us to shine; so that the world can barely see anything else because the light of the "Son" is right there in their faces and in their eyes that they are essentially blinded to everything else.

This kind of reminds me of Moses who used to have to cover his face with a veil after having been in the presence of the Lord, because his face just radiated God (Exodus 34: 29-35). Ever meet Christians whose faces just seem radiate Jesus, no matter what the circumstances? I know a few like that. One would almost have to veil their faces too in order to keep from being “Son-burnt.” I confess that sometimes I’m even a little envious, wishing I too had such a witness.

“Good deeds” implies just that; our actions matter and we will be doing good deeds for the benefit of others. In other words, our walks will line up with our talks. Someone once said something to the effect of, “I won’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Deeds do matter. James went so far as to say that “faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). Furthermore, if we can speak of “good” deeds, then it stands to reason that there can also be “bad” deeds, or maybe better yet, “evil” deeds. As Christians, ours are always to be of the “good” variety.

“Praise your Father in heaven” is the ultimate purpose of what Jesus was driving at. The goal is that my life and profession of faith be of such a nature as to lead others (and by that I include non-believers) to “praise your Father in heaven.” Again, please understand that I do not mean this as a guilt-trip for others, but rather I see this as an exercise in my own walk of faith. Does my day to day lifestyle, my “deeds,” my activity and “light” lead others around me in my circle of influence to “praise your Father in heaven” or not? If I were honest with myself, I would have to admit that it probably doesn’t happen as often as it should. I wonder why that is.

Where do I go from here? Well it’s a good thing that Jesus isn’t a baseball umpire; I would have struck out long ago. Where I will go from here is to not dwell on the "would-have’s, should-have’s, could-have’s," but to move on in His grace and love, striving to listen a little more to the leading of the Spirit, and to let my light shine a little more before men, striving to excel a little more in the “good deeds” department, all so that God may be glorified a little more as others come to the place where they too “praise your Father in heaven.”

I wonder how many experiments that psychologist would have had to perform before she found one student to stand up and choose the longest line, regardless of the fact that the other nine chose differently? Furthermore, despite their earlier instructions, I wonder if some of the other nine might not then have “transformed” their earlier vote and become “conformed” to the vote of the one lone student.

It’s easier to go along with the masses, there are plenty of examples in society of this, but it’s better to “not be conformed to this world.” Something to think about. Peace & Blessings.

1 comment:

  1. (from Gord H. via Facebook) interesting article - I would hazard that the subtle pressure to conform more frequently comes from the religious people within the religious organizations, and not from the world.

    More times than not, some well meaning religious person will tell a new convert what they need to do or not do, what to throw out, who to stop hanging out with... - basically usurping the role of the Holy Spirit ... and tragically in the process rob the new Christian of ever discovering the small nudgings of the Holy Spirit in their life. Further, the new Christian soon becomes conditioned to hear instruction from man, and not God...

    Another churchified nullified saint...

    (...but everyone feels good, warm & fuzzy doing the in-house churchy thing...)

    For years Billy Graham was criticized for not endorsing particular churches in his crusades. He would always encourage new converts with "This Sunday, go to the church of your choice." In his biography, when asked why he left it so open, he said something along the lines of "I trust God enough that He can show people where to attend..."

    And we should do the same in all matters - it is all about the heart... not the outward actions and appearances ...