As we move into verse 2 of Romans 12, we see some attributes associated with the living sacrifice of ourselves on God’s altar. God knows how hard it is to sacrifice the old self, and He understands the many things that Satan has designed to purposely trip us up and give us a desire to reclaim our independence. Remember that the main problem with living sacrifices is that they tend to crawl off the altar. Our existence in a world of half-hearted cynics, greedy and Godless culture, nominal Christianity and rampant evil doesn’t necessarily bring great empowerment to our goal of living a life that is holy and righteous. The world works against us, but since we can’t move to another planet, we should probably learn to live a life for Christ in the world where we’ve been planted, and we should live that life in a state of preparedness.
12:2 - Do not be conformed…
Conformed here is the word “suschématizó” (Gk). It’s meaning is “fashioning oneself in accordance with another (i.e., one’s mind and character.). It also means to “assume the similar outward form of another.”
The conformation that Paul is referencing here is twofold, including both an internal and external change. Frankly, in either order, one would most likely always follow the other. It is conformity that would cause us to act like and even begin to look like something else. This conformity takes place because of our exposure to something, and I would say, on many occasions, it happens because of our unprepared exposure to something.
12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world…
As I mention above, we live in Godless and greedy world that is literally overflowing with all kinds of evil, but Paul isn’t referencing the earth in the sense of the our “orbiting world” of dirt, stone and water.
World here is “aión” (Gk), and it means “an age, an era (characterized by a specific quality or a cycle (of time), especially of the present age as contrasted with the future age.”
This is important, because the terrestrial ball on which we live doesn’t have a say in the weighty conversation of how sin effects the life and eternal security of man. The world itself, with its vast and beautiful horizons, mighty oceans and magnificently rugged mountain ranges is a creation of God, and in that creation, we can clearly see the glory of Him who spoke it into being. (See: Romans 1:19-20; Psalm 8:3-4; Psalm 19:1-6). The earth screams the splendor, beauty, sovereignty and magnificence of God. The earth itself is not evil; however, those inhabiting it tend to be.
Paul is referencing the age and cultural qualities of the timeframe in which we live. He’s calling into focus the evil practices that seemingly worsen with the passing of each year. He’s calling out a generation of people who have embraced humanism (an outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters) and dismissed God as something of lesser importance than their own current and growing selfish and evil desires.
Paul urges us to not let this age alter us, internally or externally. He knows the clear and present dangers to the disciple of Christ sojourning on this earth, in this age, with the Godless and humanistic mindset of culture. Although he doesn’t word it this way, Paul, in verse 1, is literally pleading with is to be prepared for our brush with this age by laying our very life down to the power, purposes and promises of God. He’s calling for us to kill off the old and sinful self, which would very much enjoy the delicacies of humanism, devote ourselves to communication and growth in God, which will prove necessary in avoiding crawling off the altar and back into the muddy filth of culture, and to allow God to be the Author of good works in our life. Paul knew that we would have to live our lives among such great evil and Godlessness, and he didn’t want us to experience it unprepared to engage it in a manner that is reflective of God’s love and power in our own life, laid on the altar of God as a living sacrifice.
We live in such a difficult age of hatred and recklessness. We see evil and Godlessness at every single turn.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”
Matthew 24:6-8 (ESV)
We see it across the globe, as strife and conflict continue to grow on a worldwide stage, nation against nation. It will only get worse.
“And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
Matthew 24:12 (ESV)
We see the pure hatred of political movements bent on dividing the races and dismantling the laws which delicately hold together such a fragile structure of peace in our societies. Our peace is purposefully being disturbed, and, in that, our love for one another is placed under pressures that challenge even the most loving and forgiving among us.
“For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray…And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.”
Matthew 24:5,11 (ESV)
We even see evil parading around as "well-dressed Godliness" from many pulpits. This shouldn’t surprise us, as the church was the enemy of Christ when He walked this earth. Why would we assume it would be different today? Sadly, celebrity pastors, more concerned with creating a name and following for themselves, can be seen leading and abusing way more churches than I am comfortable admitting. We have seen it with the atrocity of Mars Hill. Some would hide their true intentions behind Biblically-based messages, making it hard to detect the evil in their real motives and character. Other false prophets would just outright teach a contrary gospel. Many spiritual leaders are now “stepping away” from the faith, claiming there is no God. Either way, the church is now in more danger from the pulpit than it has been in the past, and it’s up to us to become self-feeders of the truth so we can see God clearly. A living sacrifice, prepared to engage with an evil world, will have this clarity of vision.
My last point today is this, and it’s an ugly truth that many casual Christians dismiss outright, but it’s in the context of Romans 12:2, and it’s important to know and understand.
Possibly one of the most stark and pointed warnings of Matthew 24, regarding the signs of the end of the age, is found in verse 9 and 10.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.”
Matthew 24:9-10 (ESV)
Bad things are coming on this earth for the true child of God. The casual Christian with only a nominal understanding of God’s Word doesn’t like to discuss things like imprisonment or death for their faith in Christ. I don’t know if they have never read the Bible, don’t believe it, think that these things will come thousands of years down the road, or just don’t care, but either way they are important to understand in the context of today and what Paul is trying to prepare us for in this present and evil age.
Hiding behind the profound Scriptural ignorance of many who would today call Christ Lord is the lack of understanding that these things (imprisonment and death) are already occurring on our globe. Christians are imprisoned and killed every single day for their faith in many countries, and we can be assured that those tribulations are headed to our very nation. Shouldn’t we be mentally and spiritually prepared to meet this aspect of an evil culture when it arrives at our doorstep?
For so many, the punishment of “death for belief” isn’t even in the orbit of personal rationalization for them, because they can’t even comprehend being disliked or hated for their faith. This is going to sound harsh, but my description here is clearly intentional: The average bobble-headed worshipper found in so many churches today, sporting their Christian jewelry and snazzy screen-printed t-shirts, that boldly read “Blessed,” (or some other feel good message) is probably not hated for the “faith” that is so pronounced and defined by their t-shirt. Why is this? I would say it’s because their faith is thin, feckless, and without depth of character and integrity. If it were a faith that was life-changing and sincere, there would be those in the world who could identify it (without the assistance of the t-shirt), and they would hate them for it. They would hate them because Scripture promises us they will, no other reason is needed. Yet, we see so many “Christians” who are embraced by a culture, and they have an embrace for a culture, where they should not fit in. What’s the reason for this? The reason is they have been conformed to culture and their lives, lived in a manner that is not challenging the corrupt evils around them, are accepted by the present age. Their faith isn’t a challenge to Satan’s agenda, and their lives, although full of good works, are not leaving a definitive mark for Christ on the world around them. They, and their snazzy t-shirt, have crawled off the altar, because they met have met the “aión” (the present age) unprepared.
So, Paul is directing us to not allow the evil of culture found in this present age to mold us into its disciple. We should be prepared to engage this present age of evil, greed and humanism with the timeless message of God’s love, His sovereignty and His eventual return.
If we read Scripture, specifically Matthew 24, we know where the world is headed. Love it or hate it, that’s where we’re going, and the speed of the trip seems to be increasing exponentially. We might as well embrace the truth and prepare for the actions of an evil world toward Christ and those who would claim His name. These things are Satan’s fleeting attempts to corrupt and destroy as much and as many as possible in a battle that he has already lost.
Thank you for reading, and I pray you leave a definitive mark for Jesus on your world today.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!