I am currently a member of a United Methodist congregation. Unless you have had your head in a hole in the ground, you know that our denomination has gone through some struggles in recent months.
As a result of the St. Louis conference, the “traditional” plan has been passed upholding the position of the Book of Discipline, which states that homosexuality is not compatible with the Christian faith. It has caused much discussion among our churches.
The Apostle Paul must have faced similarly divisive issues with those who were part of the Church at Rome. He gave them this instruction in Chapter 12: 1-2: “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your proper worship as rational beings. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Today’s New International Version)
The question for any congregation — or for that matter, any believer — is this: On what basis do we make decisions? Conforming to the pattern of the day or being transformed by the renewing truth of Scripture? Perhaps if we dig further into these two approaches we will find clarity.
Conformity is the result of external pressure applied so as to bring about change. Each of us is faced with certain kinds of pressures. Often we feel the expectations of those around us — neighbors, peers, family and even the members of our church family. External pressure can become stifling to the point of emotional bondage. Obviously that implies that something or someone outside of our thinking can impose their will on us. Such a pressure needs to be examined very closely to decide whether it is liberating or imprisoning. Paul’s warning was: “do not conform to the pattern of this world.”
Transforming, on the other hand, occurs from within. Just like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly through a radical transformation, a human mind gains insight and understanding. Obviously, Paul thought that instruction in spiritual truth would free us to prove what the will of God really is. Even the smallest of candles in a dark room creates a light by which we can see. So the eternal light of Scripture sheds light and judgment on our behavior. That is transformation!
Jesus said He came to change people — that is, to call sinners to repentance. Only those who admit their need of a Savior will come. Those too proud to admit their need won’t. But the change from within is more than a reform of one’s behavior; it is the basis of a relationship that produces new insight and creates new character.
Paul said it so simply and magnificently: “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” No matter how we describe it, there is one factor determining what acceptable behavior is for believers: the unchanging Word of God, the Bible.
May its truth transform us and lift us above the confines of the cultural patterns!