Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world … (verse 2)
This verse is an example of the choices Bible translators need to make when they come to the Greek text. The Greek verb here (“conform”) is either in the active voice (as the NIV translates – “do not conform”) or in the passive voice (“do not be conformed”). The first is something we do. The second is something that is done to us.
In Greek, both forms of the verb are identical in spelling. So, which did Paul mean? That’s the question. We may never know precisely. But since both versions yield significant insights, I wonder if Paul meant us to actually take it both ways.
The first version urges us not to actively adopt perspectives and behaviours of the world. Don’t line yourself up with the wrong team! The illustration that fits best is that of the chameleon, a lizard that changes its skin colour to blend in with its environment. Put it against a green leafy backdrop, it will turn green. When travelling along the ground, it will turn itself a dull brown to fit in. The active sense of the verb tells us, don’t take on the attitudes and actions of the world. Don’t make choices to adapt. Don’t let yourself blend in. Keep your colour true. Align yourself with Jesus rather than the world around you.
The passive sense of the verb yields a slightly different emphasis. Here, the world itself is seen as exerting active force on our lives, willing us into its own shape. J.B. Phillips helpfully translated the text this way by saying, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” Resist the pressure. Stand your ground. Don’t be squeezed.
When it comes right down to it, we need to hear both angles. It is all too easy to seek security and approval from the world around us by making choices, conscious or otherwise, to adapt our behaviour to come into conformity with everyone else. Don’t be a shape-shifter. But equally, be aware of the relentless pressure bearing down on us, sometimes keenly felt and other times subtle and seductive. Keep alert. Don’t be the frog in the beaker that doesn’t even notice the steadily increasing temperature of the liquid it’s in. Resist. Jump out of the beaker. Submit instead to Jesus’ shaping- work.
Ultimately, both versions warn us that our environment can so easily get us off track from our Lord. Don’t allow it.
Instead, “be transformed!” (But that’s actually the theme for the next posting – stay tuned!)
Dear Lord, give me eyes to see when I am tempted to fit in, to yield my thoughts and values, perspectives and behaviours, to the world around me. Strengthen me by your Spirit to align myself instead with you, at every step.
And sharpen my awareness to those moments when the world exerts pressure, seeking to squeeze me into its own shape. Help me, Lord, to see it and to resist. To the glory of Jesus. Amen.
Reflect: Are you more likely to be active or passive when it comes to conformity to the world? Do you choose to conform (like a chameleon) or do you get squeezed?
Pray for eyes to see. Pray for Spirit-strengthening to align with Jesus.