Be Not Conformed to This World

3rd of 5 messages preached at EPC Youth Camp, on Maria Island, Tasmania,
29 Dec 2005- 3 Jan 2006

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans 12:1-2).

We have been considering the appeal of the apostle Paul that on the basis of mercies of God known unto us, that we should present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

This, he reminds us, is our reasonable or logical service. It is what is expected of us. It is what we can conclude we should do if we think about how great God’s compassion and love towards us are.

But Paul does not end his exhortation with this call. His exhortation continues in verse 2. You will find in this verse, two appeals: one negative and one positive.

So Paul is appealing to us on the basis of God’s mercies to: (1) Present our bodies as living sacrifices; (2) Not to be conformed to this world; and (3) To be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

We have considered the first exhortation. The Lord helping us, we must now consider the second exhortation.

Paul says, "Be ye not conformed to this world." What does that mean?

Well, in the first place, we must understand that Paul is not saying that we should isolate ourselves from the world.

1. Not Isolation From The World

Some think that if they do that, they will be more spiritual than others. But if this is true then we should build a monastery and we should become monks and nuns. Or perhaps we should find a plot of land in the wilderness of Tasmania, and we all move over to stay by ourselves away from civilisation.

Fortunately, this is an error. God does not intend us to be monks or ascetics. We are to be in the world but not of the world; but nowhere in the Scriptures are we told to take ourselves out of the world. What does the Lord Jesus says in His high priestly prayer?

"I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil" (Jn 17:15)

Now, this statement is a very striking one. Notice how the Lord recognises that we must be left in this world. But notice also how the Lord desired for us to be protected from the ‘evil.’

In saying this, the Lord is suggesting that there are some things in the world that is evil and He wants us to be kept from them. But at the same time, He is suggesting that there are some aspects of the world that fall under matters of indifference. And therefore we do not need to be kept from them.

So then, when the apostle Paul says, ‘Be not conformed to the world’ he is not telling us to cut ourselves from the world.

So he is not telling us that we must not listen to the news or read the newspapers or use the internet or watch television. The fact that the world does these things does not mean that we cannot do them. We must be discerning, but it is not required of us to shut ourselves completely from these things.

Neither is Paul telling us that we must totally refuse to use entertainment and recreational facilities in the world. So not being conformed to the world does not mean we cannot play cricket or Australian Rule. Nor does it mean we cannot visit the SeaWorld, or DreamWorld or DisneyWorld.

Nor is Paul saying that we cannot make use of the educational institutions of the world. Of course, studying in a secular college or university will involve certain dangers especially of being influenced by the secular way of thinking. But Paul does not require us to cut ourselves off from such institutions.

Nor is Paul saying that we should not follow the tradition of greeting one another at the New Year or at someone’s birthday! Well, I would not greet anyone Merry Christmas. I think it is sacrilegious. But I do not think the apostle Paul is telling us that we cannot greet one another ‘Happy New Year’, or to have a birthday cake and give birthday presents. No, no! The Bible forbids all superstitions, but it does not require us to be culturally insensitive and rude as it pertains to the innocuous customs of man. When Paul says, "unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews" (1 Cor 9:20), he is,—among other things,—speaking about his respect and even observance of the custom of the people so long as they are not done superstitiously nor violate the Word of God.

Many things in the world fall under matters of indifference. Thus, Paul is not telling us to isolate ourselves from the world. Elsewhere Paul suggests that we may use the world but not abuse or misuse it (1 Cor 7:31).

Of course, when using the things of the world, though they may be indifferent, we must consider 4 things: (1) Does it glorify God? (2) Is it profitable? (3) Does it edify or build up others? and (4) Is it enslaving? For example, if you should listen to a particular CD that someone gave you, you should ask: (1) Does the content glorify God or bring dishonour to His name? (2) Is it profitable or detrimental to my soul? (3) If I share it with someone else will it build him up or stumble him? and (4) Will I become addicted to it? We must always ask these questions when using the world, but we do not need to isolate ourselves from the world.

What then does the apostle Paul mean when he tells us not to conform to this world?

He means.…

2. Not To Love The World Or to Be Like The World

In the first place, the word translated "conformed" (suschmativzw) literally means "to form or to mould after something."

I used to collect seashells. I have hundreds if not thousands of different types at home. Now, if you pick up two of the same kinds of seashell and examine them carefully, you will realise that they are not identical. No two pieces of seashell in the world are identical.

On the other hand, some of you would have seen chocolate seashells. I am not exactly sure why a piece of chocolate shaped like a seashell would be tastier than a piece shaped like a domino. But there you have it: chocolate seashell! Now if you take up two pieces of say, trumpet snail chocolate, and compare them, you will realise that they are identically shaped.

Why? Why is it that two trumpet snail seashells from the beach differ from one another, whereas two trumpet snail seashells from the chocolate box are identical?

The reason is: Seashells from the beach are not moulded into shape. They grow into their shape. Whereas, the chocolate seashells get their shape from the mould.

What the chocolate maker would do is to pour the liquid chocolate into the metal mould. Then when it is cooled down, they knock the chocolate out. In this way they can make hundreds and thousands of identical pieces of chocolate. The pieces of chocolate are moulded into shape.

Well, Paul is telling us that we must not be moulded by the standards and fashions of the world, or else we will be like the world. The world is like a worldly-chocolate moulding machine. We must not allow ourselves to be moulded by the mould of the world.

Now, if you look at the Greek, you will see that Paul is literally saying: "Do not continue to be conformed to this world." Or, "stop being fashioned by the world. Do not have a habit of allowing yourself to be fashioned by the world."

In saying this, Paul is suggesting firstly, that we have been conforming to the world; and Secondly, we will continue to feel the pressure to conform to the world.

Is it not so? Like the Romans, we live in a high pressure modern society that constantly attempts to mould us to be like the rest of the people in the society. Anyone who is different is considered strange.

There is an unspoken norm of society to which everyone is pressurised willingly or unwillingly to conform. This norm changes from age to age, but the pressure to conform does not weaken. Indeed, the word rendered ‘world’ (aijwvn) here may be literally translated as ‘age.’ Paul is literally telling us not to be conformed to the standards or mould of this present evil age.

Now, this mould has many faces. Let us consider three of these faces, namely: fashion, expectations and principles. Believers must be mindful not to assimilate these worldly standards.

Consider fashion. Think of dressing fashion. Consider how it moulds us. Few of us will want to be caught wearing bell-bottom jeans, because it is out of fashion. I used to have a pair of bell-bottom jeans which I inherited from my cousin; and I wore it for many years until one day, it suddenly dawned upon me that I was the only one wearing bell-bottom jeans as far as I could see. O how embarrassed I was!

Now of course Paul is not really concerned about bell-bottom jeans or anything like that. He is not saying that we should always dress differently from the world, nor is he saying that we should dress like the first century saints, or like the Amish community. Surely not! For the Lord Himself says: "Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed" (Mt 6:31). Paul is not concerned about the implications of the fashions of the time. What he is concerned about is that we do not fashion ourselves according to the former lusts (1 Pet 1:14). In other words, we must not be very concerned about keeping up with the fashion of the world.

Indeed, we must especially resist the fashion of the world when it makes us immodest. I do not have to go into a lot of details about this…

In the church I minister in, we face the problem every time a couple gets married. Every couple planning to get married will tell us of how they were pressurised by the wedding shops to buy a wedding dress that looks more like swimming costume than something you would wear in church!

Now, beloved young people, we must never allow ourselves to be moulded by the world in terms of external fashion.

Perhaps it is fashionable in school for you to have a cool or funky hairstyle or to wear a certain brand of sweat shirt. Or perhaps it is fashionable to dress in a certain way. But remember: You do not need to, nor should you be conformed to the fashions of the world.

Let the world deride us as being Victorian or prudish. We are accountable to God, not man!

But now consider the expectations of the world. In Singapore, we have the notorious 5 or 6-C’s—Career, Cash, Car, Condo, Credit card and Country club. In the eyes of the world, you have made it if you have obtained these things.

These things are not necessarily wrong in themselves. But the problem is that these are the things that many in our society live for.

I am not exactly sure what the expectations of the society in Tasmania are especially for people your age. But I suspect that the expectations in the world are worldly, materialistic and sensual.

Perhaps the expectations of most of your peers is to own their first car at 16. Perhaps it is to have the freedom to party all night in the pub by 17. Perhaps it is to have bedded someone by 18. Or perhaps, more decently, it is to have a high paying job in Hobart or Sydney or Melbourne.

Whatever it may be, I would ask you: Are you being moulded by the expectations of the world, beloved youths? If you are, then you have been overcome by the world. But the apostle John says:

"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 Jn 5:4).

Beloved, do not allow yourselves to be moulded by the expectations of this world. "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mk 8:36). How sad it will be if while pursuing the expectations of the times, you loose your soul. How sad it will be if you give in to the pressures of your peers to drink in the pub and get drunk and end up destroying your future by the sin of fornication. How sad it will be if you leave home to work in say, Sydney, and then drift away from the Lord. Think carefully about your life, beloved friends. Do not be moulded by the expectations of the world.

But consider thirdly, the pRINCIPLES of the world. What are the principles of the world? There are many.

"Do it, but don’t get caught!"

"The Law is made to be broken"

"So long as I do not hurt anyone, I am OK!"

"If it works, it must be good!"

"If you like it, buy it!"

"If they have it, I must have it."

"Grab it first before others get it!"

"Just do it! Now!"

"Have fun, that’s what count."

"Don’t worry, be happy."

Now, we can spend a lot of time talking about these things, but I will only leave you with this thought in Colossians 2:8—

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

It is so easy to simply drift along with the tide of this age, and to do so unconsciously. But at the end of it we find that although we profess to know God, we are merely living some form of beggarly existence no different from those of the unbelievers in the world.

So beloved youths, let us wake up from the slumber. Do not continue to conform to the worldly fashion, expectations and principles of this age. Remember the exhortation of the apostle John:

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn 2:15).

Let us begin truly to walk with Christ, with spiritual eyes wide open to do the will of God in our lives.


Of course, the things that I have said are easier said than done, for the moulding work of the world is done subtly. You would not even know it. But by and by you become more a worldling than a covenant child.

How can we be inoculated against such subtle influences and demands of the world? The Lord willing, we shall consider this question in our next message. Amen.

—JJ Lim