By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and
acceptable and perfect.
This is a great verse. One that I use frequently when looking at the mess of a culture we have. It’s fantastic to say when you see something that’s wrong and to take a brave stand against it. Think about the ways in which our culture is steeped in a history of racism. Systems and structures are set up to advantage certain people over others. This is done intentionally, so that those with power can perpetuate their own power. So when we take this verse seriously, we decide that we should endeavor not to conform to this standard of living, and instead should strive to pursue a countercultural path of righteousness.
There are systems like that all over the world. They suffuse our lives. Systems of oppression, race based, economic, gender based, religion based. This is the water in which we swim. This is the world that we live in. I’m writing this on Amazon Prime Day, a fake holiday made up by Amazon where they reduce the prices on crap that I don’t want, but now that I see it’s 35% off I just may pick it up anyway. It’s enticing to pursue these deals. But is it worth it? Is the money I send to Amazon going to make the world a better place, or will it just line the enormous pockets of a plutocratic multi-billionaire while increasing the work load on an already overburdened and cruelly treated workforce?
So I say no, and I don’t buy that ‘smart-light’ or the movie Cats on Blu-Ray. I feel smugly proud. Look at me! Not conforming to the world! I’m transformed! But then I remember that I also have an Amazon Prime subscription. Perhaps my smugness was premature. Perhaps I am, indeed, conformed.
It will never be possible to be truly transformed to the point where we have no conformity with the world. Everything we do has some negative effect on the world around us. We’d have to grow our own food, produce our own electricity, make our own clothes from sheep we’ve sheared ourselves. I guess we do have to conform sometimes.
I love this passage, but one thing I’ve never noticed is the communal nature of this transformation – “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds." This is plural. This is what we do together. We are transformed together to create the world that we want to live in. We are transformed with the express purpose of discerning the will of God. We are transformed in a way that encourages us to build one another up, to replace systems of the world that oppress, to break out of our conformity to confirm our identities as children of God.
And now I’m finally connecting this verse with the ones that come after it. One body, many parts. And each part has its own unique part to play. If we are to be transformed as a people, we must recognize that discernment happens amongst all people. That we discern together using our own diverse perspectives and unique lenses what it is that it means to not conform to the world.
We are to discern together what it is that we are transformed into. Having been transformed, it is our duty as a people to then coax the world to conform to this vision of a beloved community, united in our vision of peace, love, and justice.