Today’s post is about conformity. What is it? Is it God’s will for us as Christians? In this article I answer both these questions and give Bible verses for context.
If you’re new here to this blog my name’s Anna and I share Christian devotions and reflections, homemaking resources, and specific content for mothers, as well as short stories for children.
Conformity is a topic I think about a lot, and I’ve even written a chapter about it in my book Impact (due to be pubished in the Fall of 2022). This post is a summary of said chapter, and because it’s long I’ve broken it down into sections. Check them out in the table of contents below.
Is Conformity God’s Will For Us?
What is conformity?
The dictionary defines conformity as “the process whereby people change their beliefs, attitudes, actions, or perceptions to more closely match those held by groups to which they belong or want to belong or by groups whose approval they desire.” (definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica)
So conformity in this sense has to do with either denying one’s own internal beliefs, and moulding one’s attitudes or actions to those of a particular person or group; or changing one’s own beliefs point blank. It’s about shaping our behaviour or belief system to that of others.
Now the next question that arises is: does God want us to conform? Well first let’s look at what the Bible says about conformity
Bible Verses about Conformity
The Bible says different things about conformity. Here are some key verses:
“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);
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” (1 Peter 1:14)
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1);
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29);
“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what s sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)
Is Conformity God’s Will for Us?
The above verses show one thing clearly: conformity is neither good nor bad in itself. It’s actually what we conform to and the motivation behind it that makes a difference whether the conformity is God’s will for us, or not.
I will term conformity that is not God’s will as worldly conformity. When we confirm to the enemy, the flesh, and the world, we are not conforming to God. We are conforming to the prince of the power of the air. Yet, when we conform to God and His word, this is godly conformity and it is therefore God’s will.
So first, let’s look at ways in which we can engage in worldly conformity.
Types of worldy conformity
Conformity to the world
Conformity to the world has to do with conforming to friends, family, culture, instead of following God’s will. When we pursue popularity and status instead of faithfulness to God’s calling. When we put relationships with friends and family over our relationship with God. When we pursue money or a career over God’s Kingdom first.
God’s word addresses this in Paul’s letter to the Romans: ”Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Conformity to sin
Conformity to sin, is conforming to our fleshly desires. When we conform to our desire for control, instead of surrendering our circumstances to God. When we desire self-glorification instead of God glorification. A great passage that addresses this is Galatians 5:13-17: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
Conformity to the enemy’s lies
Conformity to the enemy has to do with what we’re listening to. Are we listening to God’s truth or the enemy’s lies? Do we believe that happiness will come if we pursue entertainment, money, or food? Or do we believe that joy comes from putting God’s kingdom first?
Paul talks about this in his second letter to the church in Corinth: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.” (2 Corinthians 4-5 – ESV)
Ok, so now that I’ve looked at worldly conformity, I want to take a look at godly conformity, or Biblical conformity.
According to the verses I shared earlier, conformity is God’s will for us when we surrender to His word, the authorities He placed in the country, and when we conform to other people’s conscience in order to stop them from stumbling.
Surrendering to God’s word means living pure lives, free from sexual immorality; giving generously to the poor; loving our enemies; forgiving each other; not being consumed with consumerism, entertainment, or food; living selflessly and humbly.
Submitting to the authorities means paying our taxes; obeying the road rules; not resorting to film or music piracy; obeying the laws of the land.
And finally conforming to other people’s convictions is what Paul describes in Romans 14, where Paul tells believers that each needs to be convinced in his own mind of that which he believes in his conscience. In effect, Paul says there may be occasions where one person refrains from a certain action, because it would influence another to act in that same way and thus go against their conscience. (Romans 14:20-21)
Examples of conformity
In my conscience, I believe it’s God’s will that I take a day of rest from my work once a week. Yet, I have friends who do not believe so. If suddenly one of those friends came up to me and said it was ok to work every single day, and I conformed to that person’s convictions, instead of my own, I would be sinning. In effect, that person caused me to stumble, and I sinned because I conformed to the convictions of another person, instead of my own. I conformed in a non-Biblical way.
Now another situation: let’s imagine I meet a Christian who believes drinking alcohol is against God’s will. Even though I do not hold to the same belief and I drink alcohol privately, it’s God’s will that I conform to this person’s conscience when I’m with them, and refrain from drinking alcohol. This is so they do not replicate my action and thus sin by going against their conscience. So in doing this, I would be conforming in a Biblical way.
Growing in Biblical Conformity – Growing in Uniqueness
To let go of conformity to the world, the flesh and the enemy, we need to surrender to God and His word. When we do, we will grow in uniqueness in the calling God has for us as His children. And the world will see our light and glorify the Father of Lights.
When we base our every decision on the desire to follow God’s will first, and surrender our daily walk to Christ, our lives will look extremely different to those who are in the world. In being non-conformists to the patterns of the world, we discover God’s amazing will.
As Romans 12:2 says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Conformity is neither good or bad in itself, but it’s the object to which we conform that makes a difference between whether the conformity is Biblical or worldly in nature. God desires that we conform to Him and His word, rather than conforming to sin, the world, and the flesh. And the more we know and love God, the more we can grow in conforming to His ways rather than our own.
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