And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
We all struggle with changing our behaviour, our thoughts and our beliefs so that they match up with the Word of God, it’s our human nature. Human beings tend to behave and think in ways which they feel has the most benefit for them, our behaviours and thoughts are easily modified and swayed by others particularly if it is the reigning norm. God calls us sheep and indeed we are, we have a tendency to follow others maybe because we think that they know better/more than us or maybe because we don’t want to be seen as being odd. Human beings like to fit in, we like to belong and feel a part of something bigger than us, it makes us feel more comfortable and secure. But whether we change our thoughts, beliefs or behaviours because we think that someone else knows better than us or because we want to fit in, we are still being influenced by outside forces, psychologists call this behaviour conformity.
The Bible warns us against conformity particularly to things that are of the world, conformity is the direct opposite for God’s will for us to be a set apart people. The desire to conform is what has led God’s people to fall into idolatry time and time again simply because they wanted to fit in with the world around them or because they felt that what others were doing seemed better than what they were doing. The Bible is full of such examples:
- Israel decided that they wanted to be like the other nations round about them so they decided that they didn’t want God to be their Lord, they wanted to have a king instead (1 Samuel 8: 5-9). We all know where this desire led them, into idolatry and sin so that first Israel (the northern tribes) were carried away into captivity and dispersed around the world and then later on Judah (the southern Kingdom) was led into exile and captivity.
- God accused both Israel and Judah of whoredom and adultery against God, their husband, Judah was even bold enough to proclaim that they preferred to worship in the way that the nations did because it brought them prosperity and peace through their allegiances!
But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goes forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of food, and were well-off, and saw no evil.
Jeremiah 44: 17
- Moving into the Newt Testament, we see a different form of idolatry, the remnant of Judah at that time had swapped the authority of the king for the authority of the religious leaders. Whatever they said went, it became tantamount to God’s law on earth and in many cases this is still the same amongst religious Jews today as there traditions originate from here.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honour your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honour his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honours me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
(Matthew 15:1-9 ESV)
These are three examples from the Bible but I am sure you can think of more where God’s people preferred to copy or listen to others rather than God. If God’s people could conform to others before then we are also susceptible to conform today, that is why we are warned not to conform. If we were immune to conformity then there would be no reason for this warning. We need to guard ourselves against changing our beliefs, thoughts and behaviours because we want to fit or because we think others know more than us because we could adopt something which leads us into a place of idol worship.
How do we guard against conformity?
Conformity in essence is adopting or changing something about ourselves without fully knowing what we are getting into, instead we assume that the change is OK because others are doing it or think or feel the same way. The Bible invites us instead to “test everything”, this means putting the behaviour, thought or belief to the test against the Word of God. If it doesn’t match up with God’s Word we chuck it away. We should use God’s Word as a measurement for any area of our life, our spiritual, psychological and physical life, if we are still uncertain then we go into the throne room of God and ask Him more specifically for an answer and the Bible says that we can be sure that He has heard our request and that He will answer us.
- How regularly do you examine your beliefs, thoughts and behaviours against the Word of God?
- Are there things that you do, think or believe because others around you, maybe friends and family or other church members also do the same thing because you don’t want to be different?
- Maybe you think that they or your church elders or leader, a renowned preacher on TV or Biblical scholar know better or more than you, so you adopt their own behaviours and beliefs? It’s not an impossible or unlikely situation to occur!
In October, I was surprised when a friend of mine told me that a national Christian radio station were discussing the spiritual origin of Halloween and were discussing how Christians should behave in relation to this day. I was even more surprised by her response because it seemed that God was beginning to show her and others that Halloween is not only unbiblical but paganic/occultic, her dilemma was how she would spread the Light of God if and when ‘Trick or Treaters’ came to her door. The occultic nature of Halloween was also confirmed when I went into work the next day and was introduced to a “2nd grade Zombie”, apparently he belongs to a group of people who carry out zombie behaviour which he did on Halloween. When I told him that I didn’t like zombies he’s answer was that I was lucky that he hadn’t taken his serum?!? Nevertheless, there are many Christians who ‘get into’ the occasion, they get dressed up and dress their children up to go out and trick or treat, conforming to a tradition that has its roots in idol worship.
I have a friend who was raised in the Eastern Orthodox church, every Easter she would paint her eggs red, she had no idea what she was doing. For her it was a fun thing to do during Easter. As an adult she has come to realise that these Easter rituals are not biblical but have their basis in idol worship, they are a ‘Christianised’ version of the ritual that took place to honour the goddess Oestre. Infants would be placed on an alter and then sacrificed so that there blood would run through allowing the gathered people to roll their eggs around in the blood, they believed that doing this would encourage personal and agricultural fertility!
Now we are approaching Christmas, and it seems that everyone is talking about Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas wreaths etc. and I can’t help but think to myself how Biblical is all of this, is this just a Christianised form of idol worship? When I was younger and people used to ask me about Christmas, I would defend it by saying you can see that it’s Christ’s birthday because it’s called “Christ Mas(s)”, again conforming with no real idea of why I was doing what I was doing and what I believed in. This will be my third year of not ‘celebrating’ Christmas, and to many people near and far this is very strange, but it wasn’t a decision that I took lightly or easily. I was convicted to test Christmas by the Holy Spirit, and each year I learn something new which re-affirms my decision to not ‘do’ Christmas. Does this mean that I walk around grumpy on the 25th of December, or look down at others who celebrate Christmas? No of course not, but because I am more aware of the spiritual root of Christmas I feel more prepared to behave and think in a way that glorifies God first and last and doesn’t just conform to traditions rooted outside of God. So this post isn’t meant to point a finger or cause offence to anyone, it is really just encouragement in love for you to begin to test why you think, believe and act in particular ways with a goal to avoiding idolatry. At the very least be certain in yourself that you are not conforming but that you really do wish to act or think in a certain way because we are all accountable for our actions before the throne of God. At the end of days it will not matter whether you did what everyone else did, the most important thing for God is whether we worshipped Him in spirit and in truth.
Yours in Messiah