The Pattern of This AgeRomans 12:1-2Theme: “Isms.”This week’s lessons teach us about the dangers of secularism, humanism, relativism, and materialism. LessonThere are some verses in the Bible that are enriched when we read them in other translations. Romans 12:2 is one of them. In the New International Version the first part of Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.”
This verse has two key words: “world,” which is actually “age” (the Greek word ain, meaning, “this present age” in contrast to “the age to come”), and “conform,” which is a compound having at its root the word “scheme.” So the verse means, do not let the age in which you live force you into its scheme of thinking and behaving. This is what some of the translations try to bring out. The New American Catholic Bible says, “Do not conform yourselves to this age.” The Jerusalem Bible says, “Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you.” The Living Bible reads, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world.” Best known of all is the paraphrase of J.B. Phillips which states, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.”
The idea in each of these renderings is that the world has its ways of thinking and doing things and is exerting pressure on Christians to conform to it. But instead of being conformed, Christians are to be changed from within to be increasingly like Jesus Christ.
The first phrase of verse 2 is a warning against worldliness, of course. But as soon as we say “worldly” we have to stop and make very clear what real worldliness is. When I was growing up in a rather fundamentalist church, I was taught that worldliness was such “worldly” pursuits as smoking, drinking, dancing, and playing cards. A Christian girl would say,
I don’t smoke, and I don’t chew,And I don’t go with boys who do.
That is not what Romans 12:2 is about, however. So to think of worldliness only in those terms is to trivialize what is a far more serious and far more subtle problem.
The clue to what is in view here is that in the next phrase Paul urges, as an alternative to being “conformed” to this world, being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This means that he is concerned about a way of thinking rather than merely behaving, though right behavior will follow naturally if our thinking is set straight. In other words, the worldliness we are to break away from and repudiate is the world’s “worldview,” what the Germans call a Weltanschauung, a systematic way of looking at all things. We are to break out of the world’s categories of thinking and instead let our minds be molded by the Word of God.
In our day Christians have not done this very well, and that is the reason why they are so often “worldly” in the other senses too. In fact, it is a sad commentary on our time, verified by surveys, that Christians in general have mostly the same thought categories, values, and behavior patterns as the world around them.
How do Christians avoid being conformed to this world?
What is a “worldview”?
How should a Christian’s worldview differ from a non-Christian’s?
ReflectionThe Jerusalem Bible translates Romans 12:2 as, “Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you.” In what ways have you imitated the behavior of the world around you? What do you need to do to avoid being forced into the world’s mold?