“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 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.”
This verse made a lot more sense once I moved to the Middle East and started to learn culture. There were many things that I learned intentionally. Arabic for example is something that I have spent and continue to spend many hours learning. The order in which you serve guests, how to make people feel welcome, what to do at the grocery store, and more are all things that I have learned over time. However, there are many things that I have “learned” unintentionally and not all of them are good, but not all of them are bad either. I have “conformed” to the culture around me.
All Things to All People
Obviously Paul is not saying here not to conform to a new culture. In fact he says of himself that he would become all things to all people in order for the gospel message to be received (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Rather, this concept of not conforming only made sense to me as I found myself unintentionally conforming to my new culture.
“It has surprised me how deep the new culture has seeped inside of my thinking and behaviours without me even trying.”
I never trained to think differently, these thoughts and feelings have just happened.
It is not something that I cannot slip on and off. But I discover where the conformity has happened as I am confronted with a different way of thinking/behaving, that is, when I return to my home country. For example, in my home country when you want something on the table you ask the person closest to pass it to you. However, where I live in the Middle East you just reach for the item. Let’s just say that I have had to apologize many times after I have reached across the table for an item only then realizing that this is not ok.
I have also had to learn how not to be offended by behaviours in my home country that are considered rude in my host country. For example, in my home country when people eat in front of me without offering their food to everyone around or when people wave across the room rather than coming over to greet me I have to explain to myself that these are nice people and it is just a different culture.
Conforming happens without intention.
The same is true for our spiritual lives. As we sit in the world we may not know how much conforming we are doing until we are confronted with a different way of living. As believers we are citizens of heaven. How do we return home? We return home by reading the Word, through spending time with people of deep faith, sitting in God’s presence, or any number of other ways. As we “return home” we are transformed by our Father. This transformation allows us to know what His will is.
I love this other verse from Isaiah 30:15,
“In returning and rest is your salvation.”
Returning home and rest is where the transformation happens by the power of the Spirit.
So, whether you enter a new culture intentionally trying to learn a new way to live or perhaps you are in your home country and are adapting to the ever changing culture around you, we both need to remember this, we must not conform to the pattern of the world but rather return to our home in heaven and be transformed so that we can see God’s perfect and pleasing will.
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