Conformity

For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).

And be not fashioned [conformed] according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).

Conformity involves taking the shape of one’s surroundings. A simple way to see conformity in action is to consider a glass of water: if the glass is tall and thin, the water is tall and thin. If you pour the water into a short and wide glass, the water will take on that shape. If the glass spills, the water spreads over the surface of the ground. It would be an odd day indeed if water no longer took the shape of its environment!

Many people have a very uneasy feeling about conformity. For the most part, being called a “conformist” is not a compliment. Nevertheless, everyone, to some degree, is a “conformist.” Everyone follows some type of pattern! Many young people seek to free themselves from the “conformity” of their parents and/or the “system,” but in the process conform themselves to the “groupthink,” habits, and styles of their peers. Even “nonconformists” conform to something, even if it is not the “standard” mold!

The Bible makes it clear that everyone conforms to something. In fact, there are only two forms to which we can conform: to the world (Romans 12:2) or to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

Conformity to the world is easy: it does not take much effort. You can just “go along” with the flow. Conformity to the world may take on many forms. It may mean that you blindly follow the customs and traditions of your family. It may involve the repudiation of those traditions for other views. It could be just based on cultural conditioning and accepting the prejudices and norms of early twenty-first century America. It might involve following after popular religious trends or forms of “spirituality” that are not consistent with the revelation of God in the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 1:6-9). Or it may be blazing your own path and doing what you think is right. All of these, and many more, are simply different ways to conform to the world and its thoughts and lusts (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). They may be easier to handle in life, but they come with a heavy consequence in death (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!

The more challenging path is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. His way is truly counter-cultural and against “conventional wisdom.” Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Matthew 20:25-28). He was humble, and declared that the humble would be exalted while the exalted would be humbled (Matthew 23:12). He loved everyone, including those who hated Him (Matthew 5:38-48). He ultimately expended His life for God’s purposes, and challenged His followers to do the same (Matthew 16:21-25).

Conformity to the image of Christ is difficult indeed. It requires constant growth and work and all of our resources (2 Peter 3:18, Galatians 2:20). We must constantly and honestly compare ourselves to Jesus our Standard and work to better reflect Him (2 Corinthians 13:5). It may lead to persecution, temptation, hardship, and perhaps even death. Yet, while it may be difficult for the time being, it cannot be compared to the eternal weight of glory that await those who are conformed to the image of Jesus the Son (cf. Romans 8:18, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18)!

That’s the choice with which we are all faced. Shall we just go along with the crowd and conform to the world? Or shall we stand against the corruption of the world and be conformed to Christ? Eternity hangs in the balance. The path may be difficult, but let us be conformed to the image of Jesus the Christ, and obtain eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Reading with Understanding

And they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, so that they understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).

Christianity is designed to be about Jesus the Christ, the means by which a person can become more like Him (Romans 8:29, Galatians 2:20, 1 John 2:6). Yet our knowledge regarding Jesus comes from the revelations given within the New Testament (John 20:30-31, John 21:24-25, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Our understanding of the context of who Jesus was, why He came, and the story of God’s people before Jesus comes from the revelations contained within the Old Testament (Romans 15:4, Galatians 3:19-25, 2 Peter 1:19-21). Therefore, while our faith must be in Jesus the Christ, we must work diligently to understand the revelations contained in both the Old and New Testaments so that we may know what we believe and be better equipped to accomplish the will of our Lord (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17, 2 Peter 3:18)!

An important part of our faith, therefore, involves reading the Bible. Yet, as is made evident in the days of Nehemiah, it is not enough just to read the Bible. The message of the Bible must also be understood and applied to the reader’s day!

About a thousand years had passed between Moses’ receiving the Law from God and Ezra’s reading of the Law before the assembled congregation of Israel. In those intervening years Israel had entered the land of Canaan, lived under judges and kings, were exiled from the land, and had returned to it. While we do not know the extent of the differences, there is little doubt that the precise language and terminology of the 1000-year-old law would be somewhat unfamiliar to its “new” audience, just as 500 and 1000 year old books use words and terminology unfamiliar to us.

Therefore, according to the commandment, the Law was read before the people (Deuteronomy 30:10-11). Yet, in order for the people to completely understand what was written, Ezra and his associates gave the sense of the reading (Nehemiah 8:7-8). Unclear words would be explained. Contexts would be clarified. Direct applications might have been provided. Thanks to the hard work of Ezra and his associates, the people were able to walk away with a better understanding of what God commanded than they had before!

We believe that God provided the message of the Bible for people of all generations and nations to understand what He has accomplished in His eternal plan regarding Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, Ephesians 3:11). Yet the Bible is a book written between 1900-3500 years ago describing events that happened between 1900 and at least 8000 years ago in languages different from what we speak and in vastly different cultures than our own.

Therefore, the question of the eunuch remains apt: how can I understand what I read, except some one shall guide me? (Acts 8:30-31). In order to understand the Scriptures, we must understand a little bit about the people and places regarding whom and to whom they are written. Some must spend much time learning and studying the original languages to provide meaningful and acceptable translations of the texts, rendering them in the language of people today so that it can be understood. Much can be gained from the diligent study of others who have gained insights regarding the contexts, cultures, languages, and other circumstances that frame the Biblical world.

In all these matters, as before, the text of Scripture must stand above all others. In the end, the Bible reveals the words of God, and the commentaries and studies of men remain uninspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Nevertheless, it is a good work to not just read the Scriptures, but to diligently strive to understand the meaning and to apply the message appropriately to the present day. Let us learn more of Jesus Christ and of God’s people in the Scriptures so that we can become better disciples of Christ and citizens of His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

One in Christ

There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Humans find endless ways of making distinctions between themselves and others. Different races, different ethnicities, different cultures, different religions, different languages, different geographical origins, all the way down to different political or sports preferences– all such differences can lead to real division. Humanity seems so fragmented.

Such fragmentation has served evil purposes for generations. When you can separate “them” from “us,” it is easier to discriminate against “them,” oppress “them,” or kill “them.” It is much harder to discriminate, oppress, or kill those whom you consider to be like yourself!

Strong forces always exist that serve to divide people from one another. Yet, in Jesus Christ, all such division is to be healed.

In Jesus Christ, Jew and Greek are one, no longer to be separated by generations of mutual hostility.

In Jesus Christ, barbarians, Scythians, and other such “uncouth” types are one with civilized, “cultured” types; such categories are not to matter any longer.

In Jesus Christ, master and slave are to gather around the same table and together share in the meal of the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

The power of the Gospel and the greatness of the Kingdom can be seen whenever people of different races, cultures, socioeconomic statuses, likes, and dislikes come together to become one in prayer, one in song, and one in remembering the Lord (cf. Ephesians 5:19, 1 Corinthians 14:17, 1 Corinthians 11).

As Christians, we cannot allow differences to get in the way of our service to Jesus Christ. The Kingdom is strongest when people of different backgrounds and different stations in life work together for the Lord’s purposes (1 Corinthians 12:12-28)!

This also means that no matter who you are, you also can be a servant of Jesus Christ, and part of His Kingdom. It does not matter what race you are, your cultural background, what language you speak, whether poor or rich, “cultured” or “uncultured,” “blue collar” or “white collar,” or anything of the sort. Your contribution to the Lord and His body are as important as everyone else’s!

The world may provide every reason to focus on what is different and what leads to division, yet Jesus Christ seeks to unify us all in Him. Let us be one with Christ and one another!

Ethan R. Longhenry