Arthur Pink, 1949
"And be not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2). In the preceding verse the believer's duty Godward is set forth: the same is continued here, first warning against that which will seek to prevent a continuance of his surrender and dedication to Him. The relation and attitude of a believer unto this world is a matter of no small consequence, and one upon which the Scriptures have not a little to say.
Christ gave Himself for our sins "that He might deliver us from this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4), therefore we are bidden "Love not the world, neither the things in the world" (1 John 2:15), and we are warned that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God: whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). But before proceeding further, we must ask:
Precisely, what is meant here by "this world?"
What is signified by "conformity" to it?
Is the Christian's nonconformity to be a relative or absolute one? If the former, where is the line to be drawn? It should be obvious that answers to these questions must be obtained before we are in a position to render intelligent obedience to this Divine precept.
"This world" is in contrast with another "world," it is the present and temporal world, as distinguished from the future and eternal one, and since faith is engaged with the latter, then the former is that system of things which is the enemy of faith. It is that world which hated Christ (John 15:18) and whose princes crucified Him (1 Corinthians 2:8). It is that world the whole of which "lies in the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). It is therefore the mass of mankind who are strangers to God, haters of His holiness and of all who exhibit His image (John 15:19; 1 John 3:1). It is both a society and a system. The members of it are described as "men of the world, which have their portion in this life" (Psalm 17:11)—whose chief good resides in the things of time and sense, whose consuming object is to crowd as much as possible of earthly joy into their brief lives. All who are self-willed and self-pleasing belong to its wide empire. As a system it is under the dominion of Satan: he is its "prince" (John 16:11), regulating its politics and policy; he is its "God" (2 Corinthians 4:4), directing its religion.
This world is therefore the embodiment of Satan's spirit: bearing his image, and wearing his livery. In their unregenerate days the saints also "walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2)—mark well those last words, for they define the outstanding feature of its subjects. The language of their hearts is "Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him? What profit shall we have, if we pray unto Him?" (Job 21:15); while their secret thought is "The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard" (Psalm 94:7). The world listens willingly to its seducer and readily credits his lies. They are persuaded that God's commandments are grievous and His service hard, yet they cherish the idea that somehow His indulgence may be safely counted upon in the end. Enlightened eyes should have no difficulty in recognizing what is and what is not a part of "this world" and the need of separation from it. The world is the open foe of Christ, and it is acting the traitor's part for any of His followers to hold close converse with the enemy's camp.
"And be not conformed to this world." In view of what immediately precedes, this means, Allow not the evil example of those surrounding you to mar or modify the completeness of your devotedness unto God. Be not like the unregenerate in heart and life. Be neither animated by their spirit nor regulated by their principles. Fashion not your ways after the disobedience to God which marks them.
This is evident too from what follows, for the antithesis drawn in the second half of the verse shows plainly what is prohibited in the first: "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
The unregenerate would gladly have you believe that He is a hard Taskmaster, that His commandments are unreasonable and harsh. But so far from that being the case, if you run in the way of His commandments, you shall have experiential proof that God's preceptive will is blessed, agreeable to the one who yields thereto, yes most excellent.
The transformation begins within. The "mind" here signifies the entire inner man; the soul is purified by "obeying the truth through the Spirit" (1 Peter 1:22).
"Be not conformed to this world" means neither that the Christian is to decline all fellowship with its subjects, nor that he should impose upon himself any restraints not required by Scripture in order to make himself as unlike the world as possible. If, on the one hand, we must sedulously avoid any sinful compliance with the world, on the other hand, we need to be on our guard against a vain singularity which springs from self-righteousness and which repudiates the spirit and liberty of the Gospel. If instead of blindly following a multitude to do evil, or fashioning ourselves after the traditions, customs and whims of men—we are resolutely determined (by grace) to be guided by the Word, and have our "senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14), then little difficulty will be experienced in applying this Divine injunction to all the varied details of our lives. To renounce the society of the world was the error of those who fled to the monastery, for that made it impossible for them to "let their light shine before men" (Matthew 5:16).
Nor is the Christian required to renounce the duties of family life or to become careless in the discharge of the same. Rather is he to conduct himself according to the rules of God's Word in that station wherein His providence has placed him, whether husband or wife, parent or child, master or servant, magistrate or civilian; bearing rule or yielding obedience as unto God, being faithful and diligent in the management of his temporal affairs. Neither are Christians required to refuse a moderate use of the comforts and conveniences of life, suitable to the place which God has appointed for them in the world.
It is nothing but pride and "will-worship" which supposes there is anything praiseworthy in long fastings, abstaining from pleasant food, wearing poorer clothes than are suited to their rank of life.
There is certainly great need of constant watchfulness against allowing lawful things to become harmful to us by their abuse, yet many have adopted an austerity which the New Testament nowhere enjoins. Some attract as much attention to themselves by their prudery, as others do by their pride.
Taking upon ourselves unpleasant tasks and the practice of outward severities may be carried to great lengths without their performers having a spark of life. The mortifications and bodily macerations practiced by the Brahmins of India far exceed the most zealous superstitions and self-imposed severities obtaining among fanatics in Christendom. There is a "strictness" which arises from ignorance rather than knowledge, which is wholly concerned about externals, and which in reality gratifies the spirit of self in one way as much as it seems to deny it in another. It is possible to starve the body in order to feed pride, but to those who fear God and order their lives by His revealed will, "every creature of God is good, and nothing is to to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:4). In seeking to avoid the sin of epicureanism, let us beware of the folly of spartanism.
Notwithstanding the above limitations, the precept "Be not conformed to this world" is very extensive. Christians are "strangers and pilgrims" on earth (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11). Heaven is their country, and Christ is their King. They are to be known and noticed as His subjects. They are not to be assimilated to the sentiments of "the children of disobedience," regulated by their counsels, nor dominated by their aims and ambitions. Believers are neither to be allured by the smiles of unbelievers, nor intimidated by their frowns. They are neither to be swayed by their opinions and objects, nor to adopt their standard of expediency.
"Be not conformed to this world" means allow not your characters to be
molded by the influences of this present scene, where all who are
unregenerate act according to the principles and proclivities of fallen
human nature. The things which mark "this world" are:
its spirit—selfishness, self-will, self-seeking;
its pursuits—the things of time and sense;
its inspirer—Satan and not Christ;
its religion—which is but an external rite, or a sop for the conscience.
Christ declares of His disciples, "they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:14).
They count its religion a delusion,
they regard its principles as corrupt,
they deem its happiness an empty bubble,
and they know that its course is Hell-ward.
Just to the extent to which we are not conformed to this world, but are transformed by the renewing of our minds, walking in subjection to His scepter—do we really witness for and honor our Master. The world itself is conscious of that fact, for it is quick to see the inconsistencies of those claiming to be His followers, and despises them for the same. The world perceives and derides the insincerity of empty professors.
Reader, you are either a man of God, or a man of the world. You are either pursuing shadows and missing the Substance, or proving for yourself that in keeping God's commandments "there is great reward" (Psalm 19:11).