When I was growing up in church, this passage from Romans was paramount in the pulpit.
The not in the Bible phrase, “Be in the world, not of the world,” was basically a mantra. Unfortunately, this was wielded as a conformity weapon to bludgeon us into looking and acting the part we were supposed to play.
Specific hairstyles, types of clothing, music and words were deemed “worldly” and not allowed. One could only have friends that were Christians because anyone else might lead you astray – even then, friends had to be our brand or they were labeled “worldly” too. Everything focused on the appearance of evil and not looking like “the world.”
"The world" was pretty much anyone outside of the same denomination, organization or permitted social circle.
I was always so afraid of making a mistake, causing someone else to stumble or being hurt by someone in the “world,” that the life Jesus came to bring wasn’t thriving inside of me!
Fast forward twenty years or so and my beliefs have changed. Those same people in leadership who were not “conforming to this world” have since done all sorts of “wordly” things – divorce, affairs, child sex abuse, stealing, tattoos, drinking alcohol, watching porn, etc. They’ve lost relationships with their kids. Their own extended family wants nothing to do with them.
For a time I was jaded. For a time I was down right confused.
But slowly I began to understand the problems. People are people. People mess up, people make mistakes. The world in which I was raised tried to make people look good on the outside while hiding the real stuff going on inside them. Truth? They were hurting, covering up, confused, pretending and sinning – but because we had to exude perfection and Godly living, no one could admit the truth.
God’s intent is in the exact Scripture that was used to control us.
I was taught that “be not conformed to this world,” meant not looking like and doing the physical things the world does and “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” was something that new believers went through getting rid of those “worldly” ways. Nope.
Perhaps we would find the freedom of Christ, the grace of Christ and the redemption of Christ if we look at it this way…
We are proving what God teaches by transforming our MINDS. This isn’t about some rule-following, fear based conformity to prove we are Christians. This is about God removing falsehoods from our minds and replacing it with His truth. We are proving what God wants from the inside out. Not the other way around.
I mean duh...
God isn’t so concerned with the length of your neck or hemline, the color of your hair or the markings on your body, the music you jam to or if your kid says, “Yes, ma’am.” He’s looking at your insides first, not your outsides.
This tweak in mindset has changed my world.
It’s changed how I parent – Instead of focusing on negative behavior modification, I try and take the time to dig deeper into the why behind the behavior before there is discussion of discipline. We talk through things, pray about it, emotions are validated and the heart is addressed. Children’s behavior is from the inside out - parent that way too, from the inside out.
It’s changed how I “wife” – I didn’t used to cut my husband much slack. I expected him to always act the part…after all, that’s what had been expected of me! Again, I've learned that it's the heart that matters most.
It’s changed who I “friend” – Now, I have a much more diverse group of friends. They are all different. We believe different things. I’ve been challenged and grown because of them.
It's changed how I minister - Before, I saw the outward appearance and actions and made snap judgements. Now, I am able to look past that (most of the time, with grace) and ask, "What are they feeling? What are they experiencing? What are they living through at home? What kind of pain and shame are they carrying? Is there an actual physical/mental condition?" I try and get at the core of the situation or person and not assume why right off the bat.
Do you really think "the world" cares if Christians listen to the Beatles, wear a one-piece, or drink wine? Absolutely not! They do care if we claim to be a Christian and lie to or steal from them. They do care if we treat them poorly. They do care if we say we love like Jesus, but reject our own gay family member. They do care when we stand for family values and have an affair with the church secretary.
Focus on Jesus – not rules, not do’s and don’t’s, not appearing that you fit the part. You’re not in a club, you don’t have to buy a place at the table. Growth, learning, being real and honest are more important to God than being perfect.
Read your Bible, pray, talk to Jesus, live your life. Ask Him to change the error in your thinking that effects your actions, based on His truth. Do what you know is right. Follow the Golden Rule. You can’t change you, that’s His job. You can’t fake it ‘til ya make it with God.
You are here, in this world, living – now go, thrive, let Him transform your mind proving what is good, acceptable and His perfect will!