Do not fashion yourselves like unto this world

by Mike Ratliff

3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Galatians 1:3-5 (NKJV) 

In the late 1970’s I read of a physician in a large urban hospital finding a man admitted with many of his vital organs failing due to extreme alcohol and drug poisoning. He recognized him as one whom he had treated a few years earlier for the same problem. The man was destitute and had been given free medical care. They had treated the man as a project to recover his health. After many weeks he appeared to be completely recovered so they sent him back into the world free from the affects of drugs and alcohol. However, it looked now as if that merciful reclamation project had been totally wasted. The man died the next day.

My brethren, our Lord Jesus Christ did not go to the cross to simply provide the possible reclamation of people from the sentence of death that claims all born into this world. No, as He gave up His spirit on the cross He cried, “It is finished!” He accomplished all He came to do. He purchased with His blood those whom the Father gave Him. At the proper time, each of them are drawn to the Son and regenerated as God makes the Gospel call effectual in their hearts. They then repent and believe. God then justifies, sanctifies, and adopts them. They are held firmly in His hands. While there are many who appear to be on this pilgrimage, they did not enter by the narrow gate, but came in some other way. However, all who did come by the narrow gate to the cross are delivered from this present evil age. Therefore, God calls each of them to be separate and not be fashioned after the pattern of this lost and dying world.

If a Christian can by possibility be saved while he conforms to this world, at any rate it must be so as by fire. Such a bare salvation is almost as much to be dreaded as desired. Reader, would you wish to leave this world in the darkness of a desponding death bed, and enter heaven as a shipwrecked mariner climbs the rocks of his native country? then be worldly; be mixed up with Mammonites, and refuse to go without the camp bearing Christ’s reproach. But would you have a heaven below as well as a heaven above? Would you comprehend with all saints what are the heights and depths, and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge? Would you receive an abundant entrance into the joy of your Lord? Then come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing. Would you attain the full assurance of faith? you cannot gain it while you commune with sinners. Would you flame with vehement love? Your love will be damped by the drenchings of godless society. You cannot become a great Christian-you may be a babe in grace, but you never can be a perfect man in Christ Jesus while you yield yourself to the worldly maxims and modes of business of men of the world. It is ill for an heir of heaven to be a great friend with the heirs of hell. It has a bad look when a courtier is too intimate with his king’s enemies. Even small inconsistencies are dangerous. Little thorns make great blisters, little moths destroy fine garments, and little frivolities and little rogueries will rob religion of a thousand joys. O professor, too little separated from sinners, you know not what you lose by your conformity to the world. It cuts the tendons of your strength, and makes you creep where you ought to run. Then, for your own comfort’s sake, and for the sake of your growth in grace, if you be a Christian, be a Christian, and be a marked and distinct one. – C.H. Spurgeon

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2 (NKJV) 

Carefully read this passage. I like the way the William Tyndale rendered this in His translation of the New Testament in 1525.

2 And fassion not youre selves lyke vnto this worlde: But be ye chaunged in youre shape by the renuynge of youre wittes that ye maye fele what thynge that good yt acceptable and perfaycte will of god is. Romans 12:2 (Tyndale Bible) 

The reason I like Tyndale’s translation is that he captured the essence of Paul’s command to not take on an outward expression that does not reflect the regenerate and Christ conformed heart. The Greek word translated as “conformed” and “fashion” (fassion) above is συσχηματίζω or suschēmatizō. It means “to fashion.” This verb is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice. That means it is a command to do something in the future that involves continuous repeated action. However, Paul negated this so this is a command to not fall in with the external and fleeting fashions of this age nor be fashioned to them, but undergo a deep inner change in full cooperation with God since this change is something only He can work in us.

The word ‘world’ should best be translated as ‘the spirit of this age.’ This is referring to the sum of contemporary thinking. What is assaulting the Orthodox Church right now? There is a multi-pronged attack going on that is especially devastating. The Purpose Driven and Willow Creek paradigms, which are based in the church growth movement, have decimated a vast majority of local churches throughout the world. This movement uses the world’s marketing techniques to reform local churches into a form that waters down the Gospel, making salvation a work of man. Along with this, there is the New Evangelism, which is simply a new rendition of the Liberal Christianity. These are only two parts of this attack. There are many others. It as if the spirit of deception is holding sway with the visible church while the Spirit of Truth is ignored.

In any case, those who truly belong to Christ are commanded to not fashion themselves with an outward expression that does not reflect what is inside. This would include conforming ones dress and appearance to resemble Pop culture. It would include using marketing techniques to sell Jesus. These are all part of the spirit of this age. What is the alternative?

Instead of fashioning ourselves after the spirit of this age, we are commanded to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind,.” The Greek word translated as “transformed” here is μεταμορφόω or metamorphoō. Again, this verb is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice. So, Paul tells us to ‘be transformed’ instead of patterning ourselves after the spirit of this age as a way of life. This word is where we get the English word ‘metamorphosis.’ This word is used to convey a change in outward appearance. Matthew used it to describe Christ’s appearance at His transfiguration. In this case, however, Paul is saying that we should not allow our appearance to be conformed to the spirit of this age. Instead, we are to allow our appearance to be altered by ‘the renewing of our minds.”

The Greek word translated as ‘renewing’ is ἀνακαίνωσις or anakainōsis. This word describes something or someone as being qualitatively new. This would be used to describe a home remodel through the act of renovation. In the case of Christians, it describes the outcome of a process that makes him or her different than in the past. What is being renovated? It is the mind. The Holy Spirit is in control of this process, changing how Christians think as they immerse themselves in consistent study and meditation of Sacred Scripture (Psalm 199:11; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 3:10,16; Philippians 4:8). This also happens when Christians go through the fire. Tests and trials and battles with sin as well as entering the battle as a good soldier of the Lord all qualify as refining processes that God uses to transform us. We must remain consistent in studying and learning God’s Word.

It is imperative that we do not fashion ourselves after the spirit of this age. However, the only way we can avoid doing this is to be transformed by the work of God in our hearts as we pursue Him through His Word, conforming ourselves to what the Holy Spirit teaches us about our premier role model, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!