Transformed, Not Conformed
In light of the gospel, Paul calls believers to live in a certain way. As the chosen, redeemed and justified people of God, he calls us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. To offer ourselves as living sacrifices is to yield the whole of our being to God, submissive to his will and purpose in every area of life. Such yielding and submitting is what Paul calls worship.
However, on the road to living such a life, there are bumps ahead – the flesh, the devil, and the world. Paul zooms in on the world in Romans 12:2 as a great hindrance to the life of worship to which he calls us. Therefore, he admonishes us not to conform to the world. The world is in rebellion against God, his Christ, and his people. The world is a system where the will and pleasure of man reign supreme. As believers, we are to realize that friendship with the world is enmity with God since the will and pleasure of God is what we live for. In essence, believers are to live for the will and pleasure of God above the will and pleasure of man.
However, Paul did not leave us here. If we are to live a gospel-shaped life, it is not enough to avoid conformity to the world. Avoiding conformity to the world is one part of the coin. Paul introduces us to the other part of the coin.
Be Ye Transformed
At the opposite end of conformity to the world is transformation. It is either we are conforming to the world, or we are being transformed. The word for transformation here connotes the idea of metamorphosis (the Greek word is “metamorphoo”). It is to “change into another form, to transform, to transfigure.”(Strong Dictionary). It is the same word used to describe the transfiguration experience of Jesus in Mathew 17:2.
To metamorphose is to go from one form to another. Therefore, the question is, “what is the form we are moving away from, and what is the form we are moving towards?” We get some insights from Jesus’s discussion in John 17. In verse 6 of that chapter, Jesus prayed to the Father in these words, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word.” Jesus here states that his disciples were taken out of the world. They were in the world, but Christ has now drawn them out of the world as his prized possession. Before conversion, every believer “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:2).
Therefore, when Paul calls us to transformation, it is a call away from a worldly state (form) to another state (form). It is a call for us to metamorphose away from the worldliness that has characterized our lives prior to conversion. But to what does Paul call us? If we are going through a change of form or state, what is the new goal, the desired state?
Paul used the word “metamorphoo” in one other passage. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul, after exuding in the glory of the new covenant in contrast to the glory of the old covenant, talks about the veil that covers the face of those who still cling to the old covenant, failing to see in the covenant itself its prophesied obsolescence, paving way for the new covenant. Only when a person turns to Christ is the veil removed. In describing the Lord, he said, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness, with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
The members of the old covenant could not behold the glory on the face of Moses (even though it was a fading glory). He had to veil his face. However, for believers in the new covenant, we can behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ without any veil. But, we do not just behold the glory of Christ; we are transformed/transfigured/metamorphosed into his image. It is a continuous process. The more we behold the glory of Christ, the more we are transformed/transfigured/metamorphosed into his likeness. John, in his letter, reminds us that this process will be completed when we see Him face-to-face (1 John 3:2).
When Paul calls us to the transformed life, it is a call to forsake worldliness and embrace Christ-likeness. We are moving from one form (conformity to the image of the world) to another form (conformity to the image of Christ). This principle goes back to the Psalms. In Psalms 135:15-18, the psalmist, after exposing the realities of the idols of the nations (mouth that can’t speak, eyes that can’t see, ears that cannot hear, no breath in their mouths), makes a huge statement about worship – “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust on them.” When Paul calls us to the transformed life, it is a call to forsake worldliness and embrace Christ-likeness. We are moving from one form (conformity to the image of the world) to another form (conformity to the image of Christ).When Paul calls us to the transformed life, it is a call to forsake worldliness and embrace Christ-likeness. We are moving from one form (conformity to the image of the world) to another form (conformity to the image of Christ). Click To Tweet When Paul calls us to the transformed life, it is a call to forsake worldliness and embrace Christ-likeness. We are moving from one form (conformity to the image of the world) to another form (conformity to the image of Christ). Click To Tweet
Consequently, when we worship the world (remember the definition of worship from verse 1), we become like the world, and when we worship the Lord, we become like him. To be transformed is to move from worldliness to Christ-likeness because the object of our worship has changed (verse 1). The question then is, “how does this transformation take place?”
Transformation Completed and Continuous
There is a sense in which the transformation takes place at conversion. We make a decisive break with the world, as we become the people of God. This is why Jesus described his disciples as no longer of the world (John 17:14, 16; 15:19) even though they are in the world. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which this transformation is continuous. In a similar construction, we are no longer under the rule of the flesh but the Spirit, but we have to live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit so we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-26). In the same way, we are not of the world but of Christ. Yet, we have to experience that transformation continuously (be transformed).
To live a gospel-shaped life, therefore, is to experience a continuous transformation from a life defined by the world and a desire to conform to the world to a life that is defined by Christ and a desire to be like him. The goal of every believer is to become conformed to Christ, to be like the one who has bought and redeemed us, rather than to be conformed to the world that is in rebellion against our Lord. We are no longer to live to ourselves or as captives to the devil or in conformity to the world. Instead, our duty is clear- become like Christ. We shun the world to become like Christ, and there is no exchange more satisfying.To live a gospel-shaped life, therefore, is to experience a continuous transformation from a life defined by the world and a desire to conform to the world to a life that is defined by Christ and a desire to be like him. Click To Tweet
Where does this transformation start? Stay tuned.