“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
We evangelicals seem to like that verse but I am not sure we understand it fully. For the most part we think of this verse in a context of theology. To not be conformed, we imagine, is to hold and express views that run contrary to much of popular culture. We say we are pro-life in contrast to pro-choice; that we believe in traditional marriage in contrast to a society rapidly trending toward acceptance of same sex marriage. With these and a host of other views under our belts we can smugly assure ourselves that we are not conformed to the world.
Last week I saw an article from the Washington Post that cited a study that showed that most people are reluctant to admit their wrong doings. They gave as examples the number of politicians, celebrities and sports figures that, when accused of wrong-doing, denied it over and over – right up to the point it was conclusively proven they were guilty. The study drew the following conclusion:
“No one likes to admit that they made a mistake. We have an ingrained reticence to do so, a near-primal response that little kids learn probably before they can speak. Admit your mistake, get punished. Don’t, and maybe you can wiggle your way out of it.”
My first thought was “Duh! You needed a study to figure that out?” But the more I thought about it the more I realized that this says something important about conforming to this world. It says that it is only natural to deny any wrong-doing; that everyone does it. This would tell me that conforming has a lot more to do with our actions than our beliefs. Do we act the same as the world in dealing with wrong-doing? Are there examples where Christians follow our natural, human desires to exalt ourselves and our causes, and our natural unwillingness to admit to wrongdoing?
Yep. I’ve been following the flap that President Obama caused several days ago when he said that Christians too have things to be appalled by in our history. The Christian response was immediate and widespread. This guy said that Muslims were responsible for the crusades. This article notes that many Christians feel we have nothing to apologize for. The track record of Christians saying that we’ve never supported slavery or segregation in face of the overwhelming fact that many of us did says the same thing.
Yes, all too often we are conformed to this world with denials of wrong-doing; both our own and those who share our faith. As Christians, we ought to be the first to admit that Christians have done (and still do) wrong. We ought to be the first to examine ourselves, the first to confess our errors and faults, and the errors and faults of our group or community. The fact is that many times our faults are visible to the observing world anyway– and when we deny or are blind to them, we only come across as hypocrites.
One of my favorite things about the Gospel of Mark is how its focus is almost always on the fallibility of the disciples. Their flaws and failures are constantly on display. The reality is that we can and should identify with the disciples in this. Their calling by Jesus reflects the story of every believer. Their inability to understand the teachings of Jesus portrays our struggles. Their failures to be faithful to Jesus should remind us that we are no different.
The reality is that Christ would have us humble ourselves, be assured of His grace, and let go of our fear of being found in the wrong. Hostile denial and defensiveness is about as worldly as it gets. Shouldn’t we be distinctly different?
Jesus’ promise to be with his church in the power of the Spirit and unto the end of the age does not take away the fact that this church is full of flawed disciples and that there are no exceptions to this rule. Let’s trust that promise and dare to be nonconformists in admitting that sometimes we screw up.