conform or transform?

Following up my last past, the “Demise of Guys,” where a commenter asked, “What are verses that can help with this issue?”  Another suggested Romans 12, and since I had a post sitting in my brain featuring Romans 12, leggo!

What I love about Romans 12:1-2 is Paul’s juxtaposition of the words “conform” and “transform.”  Do not conform; instead, be transformed.  This, I would argue, is the heart of Christian living.  Don’t conform.  Be transformed. 

In recent years, the hot topic in youth ministry has been the fact that too many students are graduating high school and leaving church behind.  The numbers reported are alarming; it is a legitimate issue.  And even if it’s only 20-30% of high school graduates who are leaving the church, I believe that’s too high.

Two of the books I’ve read on this topic specifically address how parents can model faith and walk with their teens in order to produce, as one book suggests, Sticky Faith – a faith that lasts.  Isn’t that what we’re after in youth ministry – faith that lasts?  The consensus in these two books (Parenting Beyond Your Capacity and Sticky Faith) is that too many Christian parents are settling for the appearance of faith in their children.  That is, they are happy so long as their children conform to the rules of Christianity and play the part.  Upon graduating, these students quickly find new roles and new parts to play.   In the same way, youth ministry is to blame when we teach “behavior modification” rather than transformation in the likeness of Christ. 

We are teaching conformity rather than transformation, and conformity doesn’t always stick.   Here is where I pick up my argument from the beginning:  The Christian faith isn’t so much about “conforming” as it is “transforming.”  I believe there is a difference, and that difference speaks to issues present in my previous post on the “demise of guys.” 

Paul says, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world.”  Resist the temptations the world provides!  Flee from evil.  So we in the church say, “Here are some new patterns to which you need to conform.”  On one hand that doesn’t sound so bad, but conformity isn’t the same as transformation, is it?  The Gospel is about transformation!  A relationship with Christ is about being changed, so that the believer can “test and approve God’s will.”  Conformity is about doing things without really understanding the meaning or reason behind the doing.  This may be fine for the beginner in Christ, but transformation is the goal. 

My desire for my students is that they would resist evil desires and sinful living not because of sheer determination or “conformity” to a religious code, but because their desires have been transformed to imitate those of Christ.  My hope is that the student confronted with temptation would begin to naturally resist the patterns of the world because she has been transformed and trusts in the power of the Holy Spirit to deliver her from these temptations.  

The power of the Gospel story is that Jesus death and resurrection has made change in the world.  Things aren’t the way they used to be.  Death is defeated.  Sin is overcome.  And the power that raised Christ from the dead is available to those who seek God.  Conformity says, “Keep trying to live up to the rules, be a good person, and hopefully you’ll learn self-control and earn salvation.”  Transformation says, “Salvation has already occurred, Jesus already did the work of defeating sin, now submit your life to Christ and let Him do the work of changing your heart and mind.”

There is a difference, and it matters.

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