By: Sarah Norman
When I was growing up, I was always the different one. I was different than my family. I would rather read for an afternoon or play my piano than give any attention at all to a sport. I was different than my friends. I spoke differently, I listened to different music, I dressed differently. Growing up, it can be hard to be different. We're taught from an early age that we should conform, that we should be like those around us. We're taught that anything that deviates from the norm is not what the culture we live in expects. So we conform to fit in, we conform to not be made fun of. We conform to make others happy. When we do that, we lose ourselves and who God uniquely made us to be.
Psalm 139:13 tells us “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” God made each individual in this world. He made us with our likes and dislikes. He made us with our unique talents. He made us with our unique personalities that are unlike anyone else on the earth. God made us in his image, each of us important with a specific purpose.
The culture we live in spends lots of energy telling us to be “nonconformists”. But what the world wants is us to conform to their ways, leaving behind who we are. The world celebrates individuality as long as it's a certain kind that looks like everyone else's individuality. But God tells us something vastly different than what the world tells us. Romans 12:1-2 says “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 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.” If we are to conform to anything, we are to conform to God, not this world. Paul tells us here to not conform to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Conforming to this world is easy, but making the choice to live for God is not...unless we allow God to transform our mind.
Living for God is impossible on our own. I tried for years and years. I lived a legalistic, moralistic life, thinking that I just had to follow the rules and be good enough. I knew who Jesus was but I didn't fully understand what He came to do, I didn't fully understand how to live in His grace. So I tried and failed, over and over again. The more I tried on my own, the more my life always went back to looking like the world around me. When I met Jesus, I learned to stop trying on my own. I learned that in my own strength, I would always fail, but when I allowed Jesus to transform me, that is when my life began to look different. That's when I began to see the world differently. Then and only then, I was able to live for Jesus.
God makes us individuals with unique qualities, not to be conformed to the world, but to live for him, to work for him, to live our lives for his glory and his kingdom. We are all image bearers, made to work together. Verse 3 tells us to “not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment...” and verse 4 tells us “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” While God makes us all unique, the purpose of that is so we can work together for one purpose, to bring glory to His kingdom. Instead of calling people out for their differences, we should celebrate their differences and what they can bring to the table that we can't.
The next section in Romans 12 gives us practical ways that we can live out our walk with God, practical ways that we can love the people around us, believers and nonbelievers and how we can choose to not conform to the world we live in. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor...” Tony Evans says in his commentary that “love is not primarily a feeling. Love is an action, meeting the need of someone else, even at personal expense.” In our world, this is difficult. The world tells us that everything is about us, look out for yourself, do what's best for you, contrary to how it effects everyone else. To a certain extent, yes, we have to take care of ourselves because we can not serve others if we have nothing left to give. But looking out for ourselves is a priority of the world. We're told to “outdo one another in showing honor.” That requires sacrifice on our parts. That requires thinking of others first, putting others first, dying to yourself and loving those that Jesus has put in front of you to love.
The only way we are able to do this, to love those who seem unlovable, to work in God's kingdom in the unique capacity he's given us, is by allowing Jesus to transform our hearts. On my own, I will always chose to live for myself, maybe my family, but mostly for myself. I will do what's best for me. But when I let Jesus transform my heart and my mind, I begin to see others differently, I see others the way Jesus sees them, as image bearers of God. When I consider what Jesus did for me when he died on the cross and consider that he did that not only for me, but for every single person I meet, that changes how I interact with people.
Justin said in his message today, “Everyone may not be a Christian, but everyone can be and Jesus died so that everyone would be.” What if we looked at every person we come into contact with through that lens? Those that make us angry, those who vote differently than us, those who parent differently than us, those who make more or less money than us, those we see suffering on the street, those who have never heard of Jesus, those who have heard of Jesus but want nothing to do with Him? What if we looked at them and treated them as if Jesus actually did what he did? He died on the cross for the one who votes differently, for the one who looks different, for the one of a different culture. And he didn't die on the cross to change what makes that person who they are. He died to save them from their sins, just like he did for me. I'm not called to judge people by the choices they make just because they are different and I think I make better ones. I'm called to love genuinely, outdo others in honoring them, bless those who persecute me, rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I am called to be different than the world, to not conform to what the world conforms to. Most of the time, that is uncomfortable at best, impossible at worse, but my God specializes in the impossible.
I'm not saying we will ever do this perfectly. I don't do this well most of the time. But when we let God transform our hearts, he will help us to live differently. He will help us to see others the way He sees them. He will conform you, not this this world, but to someone who walks in His will.