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. Romans 12:2
The first phrase of this verse is often quoted by Mennonites; many words have been spoken over the pulpit and written in books about the doctrine of non-conformity to the world. However, after hearing this for many years we have the unfortunate tendency to focus on avoiding certain things that we identify as worldly, keeping some distance between ourselves and “worldly” people, and therewith comforting ourselves that we are not conformed to the world.
When that happens, we are missing the true import of Paul’s message. First off, “this world” is a translation of the Greek word aion, which refers to an age, or period of time. If we consider the verse as a whole, it should be evident that the antithesis of conformed and transformed is referring to the way we think. The apostle is warning us not to allow our thinking to conform to the prevailing spirit, attitudes and feelings of the era in which we live (the zeitgeist), but to allow our thought patterns to be transformed and patterned after the will of God which does not change from era to era.
Secondly, this verse is the introduction to a wealth of instruction about what it means to have our minds transformed. This instruction continues up to the first few verses of chapter 15. I will not quote what the apostle says, you can read it for yourself, I will just give a brief exposition of several main points.
Paul exhorts us to love without dissimulation, that is with no hint of hypocrisy. Neither should we hold back our expression of love and appreciation for our brothers and sisters. We have all been given different gifts to be used for the benefit of the brotherhood, let us be fervent in exercising those gifts, and in encouraging others to exercise their gifts for the benefit of others.
We should live peaceably with all men, not seeking vengeance when we are wronged, but rather doing good to those who have mistreated us.
It should be a matter of conscience with us to be respectful and obedient to those in authority, except in those rare instances where they attempt to compel us to do something that is contrary to the faith. Governments are faced with conflicting demands from many powerful groups in our land. They cannot satisfy everyone, nor can they make the kind of sweeping changes that some Christians seem to expect. Politics is the art of compromise, it is really no place for a Christian. Yet we should pray for all those in government, at all levels, and appreciate it when our governments make small steps that protect our freedoms. Critical and derogatory remarks about the makes of our laws, and the enforcers of those laws, should never be heard from the mouth of a Christian.
Those who are weak in the faith
We should not criticize, much less ridicule, those who are weak in the faith. Rather, we should love them and be careful that our actions and attitudes are not a stumbling block for them.
None of these instructions are telling us that we should be people pleasers, afraid to say or do anything that would be a little different from the attitudes and actions of our peers. A transformed mind is a mind that is tuned to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, leading to a transformed way of life. As we individually follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves walking side by side with fellow believers. Attempting to achieve this unity by our own attempts to conform to what we perceive to be the values and priorities of our peers leads only to disappointment, hurt feelings, jealousy and discouragement.
Here is how Paul concludes his instructions on being transformed by the renewing of our mind:
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7