Do not conform to the pattern of this world

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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. - Romans 12:2 (NIV)

In my first post I spoke of Charles Taylor’s social imaginary – the idea that we accept many narratives, values and priorities from our society without thinking about them. What’s more, when we think and reflect, it is on the basis of these received ideas that we evaluate choices and ideas. The apostle Paul also spoke of this concept, and he saw how conforming to the world around us could lead us away from God’s plan for us.

That isn’t to say that everything society tells us is bad in itself. Even if we are all stained by sin, we are also created in God’s image, and we all benefit from his common grace which keeps the world from complete submission to the effects of the fall. Each person has tendencies to act both according to, and in rebellion against, God’s plan, and as a result, every culture holds certain values that align with God’s plan, and others that go against it.

So to not be conformed to the pattern of this world, we must be conscious of the unchallenged ideas of our society, so that we can discern the good and harmful tendencies among all the voices that inundate us every day. The task before us is to learn to think critically about our culture, so that we can both lift up what is good in it, and expose that which is not.

In the words of Tim Keller, the Gospel confronts and completes the desires and dreams of each culture. If we can show how some elements of what society holds dear find a greater completion in God’s plan, we can also see, and help others to see, how other tendencies that we have received are harmful.

As we begin to think in this way, it is very easy to jump to thinking of how we will convince our non-believing friends of our faith, but this is just as strong a need for us as believers. Our three types of people 1 are all carried by the same cultural currents, and to be able to understand that God’s will is good, we also need to understand why that which contradicts it is not. As we expose these tendencies, and how God’s plan is better than what the world promises, we can help all three draw nearer to Jesus at the same time.

And that’s why the apostle wrote the text I cited above: because what we can find in God is unimaginably more satisfying than what the world offers. Just beforehand, he wrote :

Oh, the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments
and untraceable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?

And who has ever given to God,
that he should be repaid?

For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen.
– Rom 11 : 33-36 (CSB)

1: The committed believer, the questioning believer, and the non-believer. See Reaching Three Types of People at the Same Time

Next post : A Christmas Present

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