CONFORMATION AND TRANSFORMATION
by C. Parker Thomas
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the March-April 1973 issue of the Midnight Cry Messenger.)
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 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.” Rom. 12:1-2.
Let us consider these two words and their significance in the order given here.
The Greek word for conform is “suschematizo,” (soos-khay-mat-id-zo). It means to fashion alike, i.e., conform to the same pattern (fig.) conform to, fashion self according to.
Apart from the Greek definition, it is quite obvious from the text itself that Paul simply meant for us to not be like the world of mankind who is not motivated by the Spirit of God. Conformation is doing whatever is considered proper and right by the society or environment in which you live. Sometimes it is on a worldwide scale. Sometimes it is national, sectional, or an even smaller segment of society. It could be social, educational, economic, political, or religious.
Very often conformation is following the lead and doing as others do because it is popular with those whose favor you desire. An example of this is found in John 12:42-43. “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
Like the Jews in Christ’s day, it is often outward show because we cannot bear the reproach of being different from the crowd. In some cases it is true conviction (although in error) because you have been convinced in your mind to believe it is proper and right.
Regardless of the manifestation of world conformity, it is the result of external influences brought upon us by our own base nature and the society in which we live. It is a way of life, not based upon divine principle revealed by God’s Spirit through his word, but rather what men are thinking, saying and doing.
So often we think of world conformity as motion pictures, style of dress, hair-dos, makeup, drinking and running with the crowd. And beyond doubt there is an excess that Satan leads society into in these things that does not glorify God. At the same time I believe there is an extreme in the other direction that is equally inspired of Satan. An example of this is the roving bands of hippie type youth with their long hair, weird sloppy dress, rebellion against society, and irresponsible way of life. Many of these are supposedly becoming “Jesus followers.” In the same way many of the idolatrous practices of imperial Rome were brought over into the Church upon their merger, much of the hippie style, language and way of life has been made a part of today’s religious youth movement.
Although many adopt these things thinking they are becoming true non-conforming followers of Jesus, they are actually as guilty of conformation as the society they condemn. Most of them are simply conforming to a way of life they have been taught to believe is nonconformist.
In fact much that men believe and practice in religion — including nominal Christianity — is world conformity. This includes their traditional creeds, doctrines, ordinances, religious forms and experiences. They believe in and practice their particular brand of religion because it was given to them by tradition from their Church fathers. I Peter 1:18, Matt. 15:1-3. Gal. 1:11-16. Col. 2:8.
What man comes to believe and practice becomes to him the truth and everyone else must bow or be damned. Invariably he becomes intolerant toward anything outside his own camp and will resist change as much as the Scribes and Pharisees did.
Although the Jew’s religion began with a true revelation from God, it had degenerated into self-righteous legalism with emphasis on the external rather than inward. In simple language they were putting on a self-righteous show. Jesus thoroughly describes their condition in Matt. 23.
Like the Pharisees we can have the outward appearance of righteousness with a heart that is unchanged. Religion without a changed heart is most delusive and intolerant. Jesus would be again condemned and killed by this religious spirit.
Although it was the truth that Jesus spoke that made manifest the wickedness of their hearts, they usually pointed to something outward that he did to condemn him. They thought it was terrible that he ate and drank with publicans and sinners and even accused him of being a winebibber and a glutton. Mark 2:15-17. Luke 7:33-34. On another occasion they condemned him for letting a poor, obviously fallen woman touch him. Luke 7:36-39. They were blind to the mercy, grace, truth and love he manifested toward the weak, sick, sinful and despised.
It is my conviction the more we emphasize externals, the more Pharisees we will produce today. Such preaching not only produces Pharisees but it taints the saints with a legalistic, self-righteous spirit. It is possible for Christians to be spoiled by such teaching even though they are in Christ themselves. Col. 2:8. Christians can be brought to the place where all their preaching has to be spiced with legalism or their special pet doctrine. Their spiritual digestive system becomes so adjusted to it until they despise anything very different. Many of the “love everybody, everything” groups are just as guilty. Their conformity simply goes in the opposite direction.
Deliverance from this type of world (religious) conformity is more needed than deliverance from the opium dens of Hong Kong. The drug addict often realizes he needs help. The religious addict that doesn’t know Christ is deluded and feels no need of deliverance.
The word transformed, as used in Rom. 12:2, in the Greek is “metamorphoo” (met-am-or-fo-o). It means to transform, (lit. or fig.) change or transfigure. It could refer to passing from one form or shape into another. An example is the butterfly that goes from the larva state to the beautiful creature that finally bursts the prison of its cocoon. This, of course, is a physical process of nature. The transformation that Paul had reference to is accomplished by a renewal of our minds. It is a spiritual transformation that causes us to think, talk and act differently from the world.
This is the change that God wants, and it starts from within. It begins with the new birth of the Spirit that Jesus spoke of in John, chapters 1 and 3. Paul called it circumcision of the heart in Rom. 2:28-29 and the washing of regeneration in Titus 3:5.
This transformation or change must and will continue as we walk in the light of God’s word and behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. John 8:31-32. II Cor. 3:18. The ultimate of this transformation is to be made like Jesus. But this is a process also with time and means involved.
Someone will say, “If people get right on the inside there will be a change on the outside.” Maybe not as much as we would think. According to Paul in I Cor. 3, it is possible for Christians to be such spiritual babes that they walk as men. If the outward change were as complete and thorough as some contend, there would be no room for growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I Peter 2:2, II Peter 3:18.
If this concept were entirely true, there would be no need of the ministry nor the Church to enable us to “...grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Eph. 4:11-15.
This growing up into him — or transformation — will result in our being more concerned about men’s hearts than their outward appearance. Transformation on our part will enable us to communicate with many that we would otherwise censure and condemn.
Paul said, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.” I Cor. 9:19-23.
This spirit and attitude of Paul’s and also our Lord Jesus Christ was completely opposite from the holier-than-thou attitude of the legalistic Pharisees. Their self-righteous spirit kept them busy condemning and finding fault with those they should be trying to help. When religion fixes us where we can’t mingle and communicate with those who desire and need help, we have, at the very least, been spoiled. Col. 2:8
Being made all things to all men didn’t mean Paul became a drunkard to win the drunkards. Neither did he become a gambler, whoremonger or thief to win that type of humanity. It simply means he did not self-righteously look down on and separate himself from anyone he might be able to help. He had the grace to love people regardless of their moral or religious state.
Jesus could sit down and eat with sinners and the hated publican while the scribes and Pharisees could not. He could receive and speak kindly to a harlot whom the Pharisees wanted to stone. He could also attend a wedding party and provide more wine when their supply ran out.
The spirit of the Pharisee and the conformist is still alive in our religious world today. They would condemn and crucify Jesus again if he were here. And the more like him we become the more they will hate and condemn us.
Transformation, although it begins with the new birth, is a progressive work that is accomplished by the renewing of our minds. When Jesus spoke of continuing in his word that we might know the truth and be set free, he had reference to this progressive renewal of our minds. John 8:31-32. This is also what he meant in John 17:17 where he said “Sanctify them through thy truth: Thy word is truth.”
This same principle is also brought out in II Peter 1:2-9. Verse 2 speaks of grace and peace being multiplied unto us THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE of God and of Jesus our Lord. Let me emphasize how this grace and peace is multiplied unto us. It is through the KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Knowledge means to KNOW. We come into possession of knowledge as God reveals his word to us by his Spirit. This results in the renewing of our minds by which we are transformed.
Verse 3 says all things that pertain unto life and godliness are given to us by divine power THROUGH THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIM that hath called us to glory and virtue. Once again let’s note that it is THROUGH KNOWLEDGE that all things pertaining to life and godliness are given to us.
Verse 4 defines this knowledge as EXCEEDING GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISES. And it further states that it is BY THESE we are made partakers of the divine nature. The divine nature is simply God’s nature, God’s Spirit, or the Spirit of Christ.
God’s Spirit is ministered to us by faith according to Gal. 3:2-5. How do we get faith? Rom. 10:17 says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Rom. 5:1-5 gives us a beautiful picture of the step by step order by which this transformation is accomplished.
The first step is justification by faith which brings peace with God. This, of course, is the new birth, regeneration or circumcision of the heart, which we have already mentioned.
The second step or phase is a victory which causes us to rejoice in hope of the glory of God. As in justification it is through faith we have access into this place of victory or rejoicing.
The third phase of transformation enables us to enter a door of victory not mentioned in the first two and, I might add, not experienced by very many Christians. It is a victory that enables us to glory in tribulations. The reason given for our ability to glory in tribulations is because we KNOW the divine purpose for the tribulation. That purpose is patience, a virtue most needed by God’s people. Without it we can’t accomplish very much as Christians. Like little children, the Lord can’t trust us with very great things.
Once this patience has been worked in us, the Lord begins to manifest himself to us in a more definite way. Paul calls it experience which leads to an even greater hope. This hope becomes such that we become totally unashamed of Christ and the gospel as the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. This could be called the fourth or fifth phase.
This is a progressive picture of transformation that leads us to the place where God can manifest himself to us. Let’s not forget that the purpose of this transformation by the renewal of our minds is that we might “prove [know] what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2.
Jesus stated the same truth in John 14:21-23. Those who have his word and keep or obey it are the ones that love him. Those who love him will be loved by the Father and he will manifest himself to them.
The transforming work of the Spirit is not accomplished through some mystical experience apart from God’s word. This is the vehicle through which the Spirit is ministered to us. Truth and Spirit are inseparable. In John 14:17 and 16:13 Jesus specifically calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth.
Too long the wrong emphasis has caused multitudes to think that some great, phenomenal, spine-tingling experience is what we need to fix us up.
By nature man is prone to despise the simple in his quest for God and righteousness. The truth is, he wants a quick way that eliminates the necessity of daily taking up his cross and becoming a true disciple (learner) of Jesus Christ.
This explains why so many are flocking to all sorts of meetings today that emphasize the supernatural. This includes much of the charismatic movement, spiritualism, witchcraft, and the supposedly great healing campaigns. Many simple, unbelieving souls are looking for some great man of God to lay his magic hands on them and, presto, they think the work will be done.
I have to say what Paul said to the church at Corinth. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” II Cor. 11:3.
This corruption of minds is what we find has happened to much of our religious world. The renewal of our minds that Paul speaks of is necessary to undo the work of corruption that has been wrought by deception, some of which we do not question because it has been handed down to us by religious tradition. This being the climactic day of strong delusion when men are being turned over to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, the corruption of human minds is even greater. II Thess. 1:1-12. I Tim. 4:1.
The transformation that we must have is effected by the renewal of our minds which causes us to see, think and act differently from what we have known in the past. True revelation from the throne above will wash away the corruption of error and accomplish this renewing of our minds. No presto experience, however great, will suddenly transform us into spiritual giants.
It is a step-by-step and day-by-day process as we open our hearts and minds to the searchlight of God’s word. As we do, our minds will be renewed, our lives transformed, and we will enter a new dimension of spiritual reality and service.
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