Lent 2010: Day 16 – Where It All Begins: Step 2

Yesterday we began trying to answer the questions of where and how do we make the changes in our life to become, to be the person, God is calling us to be. We looked at Step 1: Offering ourselves as living sacrifices (see previous post). Today we examine the second of our three steps.

Step 2: Do not be conformed to this world

The Amplified Bible text says, “Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs].” At first glance that looks pretty basic and straight forward. Negatives usually do. We think it’s simple; don’t be corrupted by what is out there. Christian bravado says, “Not me. I’m not tainted.” Paul, however, warns the Corinthians: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Cor. 10:12.

It is when we begin to draw lines, to cross or not to cross, that the difficulty begins. How far do we go? After all, Jesus set a very high standard that calls into account even our private thought life, saying there was a moral equivalency between the thought and the act, the willing and the doing. Paul tempers that with the reality that even when we think we are succeeding in righteousness we are teetering on the precipice of failure. That is a sobering actuality.

I have a favorite descriptive phrase that I use when I lead study groups, “the water in which we swim.” It illustrates the many problems we face that are caused by the world, age, social constructs, and environments we have grown in. We pull from what is around us and culture, macro and micro, are not value neutral. All of it influences us in uncountable ways, obvious and hidden, direct and subliminal, to conform to its current state. To say it more classically, we are largely people of our time and place.

Paul warns us that we must realize this and then we have to stop conforming. To do that we must realize that we do have some measure of control. We are not completely at the mercy of our surrounding water; indeed God demands we take responsibility for who are and what we become rather than taking the easy route of giving in and conforming to the “spirit of the age.”

We must never forget who is the ruler of this world/age/system in which we live (not the physical world, but the social/political/economic/religious systems that populate it). The ruler is Satan, the one who offered to turn all of this power and influence over to Jesus if he would just worship him. That is a temptation we all face sooner or later, more often than not. I believe it is not too dramatic to say that this former light-bearer to the Most High does not have our best interests at heart, or to even to argue that his real goal is our destruction and the sooner the better.

That is the water in which we swim and why Paul is adamant that we do not conform, but resist its tainting influence with all of our being. Jesus told his listeners on the Sermon on the Mount that they could not serve two masters, they could not serve God and mammon, or expanded, serve God and the water, the social/political/economic/religious systems under the subjugation of Satan.

Mammon is not money itself but avarice and greed in the service of the enemy of God. It is masked as something good, something we should just breath in, swim through, allow to become part of us. Gordon Gekko, the ruthless antagonist in the movie Wall Street, illustrates the problem clearly in his “Greed is Good” speech.

I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.

Isaiah warned in the strongest terms against this deception, this twisting on its head of what is right and true.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!  Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!  Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:  Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! Isaiah 5:20-23

We are not to conform. We are not to be influenced, changed, controlled, motivated, guided, or directed by the world (system) in which we live. It will call evil good, it will corrupt us It is, in the end, a honey trap that we must diligently avoid. Instead, it is God in whom we are to live and move and have our being, not the water polluted by Satan’s rebellion.

That is hard to do. It is a really difficult task, one that all of us fail from time to time. However, the call is not optional since if we offer ourselves to God, we must remove ourselves from the world’s system around us, break the ties of conformity, and free our souls from the entrapment. We are citizens of heaven Paul argues and to God we owe our allegiance.

May God bless your day. May He open your eyes to the bindings that hold you down and give you power to begin breaking free from the corruption that taints your every decision. We can do this; we can work out our salvation, because He is at work in us, to will and to do that which brings Him pleasure, pleasure in us.