March 19. Romans 12:1-2 part 7. Transformation, Conformity, and the Hipster Effect.

Romans 12:1-2. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Yesterday we started talking about transformation. We said that there is a paradox to transformation: the more we strive for spiritual change, the less likely we are to find it. Why? Because transformation comes from grace, and often striving for change comes from the self.

Is there a striving that comes from grace? Yes. But it’s what the book of Hebrews calls the “striving for rest.” The striving to receive grace will paradoxically produce the change that we need, although it will most often be very slow over time.

This is why Paul’s language is literally “be being transformed.” We are constantly being transformed into Christ’s likeness. This is a process for those who are in Christ that never ends. It is slow, difficult, and often mundane. As we have said many times in this blog, there are no shortcuts to sanctification.

Christians tend to not like these answers. We want quick conformity rather than transformation. But Paul tells us to resist conformity. But what about conformity within the church?

Is the church suffering from the Hipster Effect? That phenomenon that occurs when non-conformists all end up looking alike. Ironically when the MIT Technological Review published an article about the hipster effect, a man threatened to sue the publication because it used his picture without permission. You guessed it, it wasn’t actually his picture. He couldn’t even differentiate himself from other hipsters. The point is that the church needs to be aware that sometimes the world’s most non-conformist entity (the church) might be guilty of trying to force everyone into a specific mold, rather than letting Christ express himself uniquely in each individual Christian.

In Christ there is another paradox at work. We are all transformed into the likeness of Christ, and yet we are all going to express Christ in very different and unique ways. Christlikeness is not meant to make us all look, sound, think, and act exactly the same. It is meant to turn us into the unique creation of God that we are.

A fascinating discussion on conformity (the Hipster Effect), freedom, and individuality. Does Christ, by offering a new identity, offer us the real freedom that Sophy Bot speaks of?

Of course there is always going to be a place for some conformity in the body of Christ, because we are all united in Christ and seeking to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. And yes, everything I am saying must be bounded by true holiness and love (there is no real freedom without these boundaries). But could it also be true that the church tries to fit too many round pegs into square holes? Isn’t our discipleship more often about turning that disciple into a version of us, rather than guiding them deeper into their freedom and uniqueness in Christ?

True joy in Christ does not come from co-dependency within the Christian community. It comes from admitting your dependence upon Jesus, finding your independence in Jesus, and then choosing to live interdependently with other believers through the church community. The Christian community should be a place where each of us can find our true selves – which is our Christ self. Who does Jesus say WE are corporately? But also, who does Jesus say YOU are individually? How can we help each other to discover that?

In scripture we’ve seen how this conformity can play out in a church. The church in Galatia demanded conformity to the law. The church in Corinth expected everyone to have the same spiritual experiences. Paul rebuked them both.

What about us? What do we expect everyone to dress like, sound like, worship like, even serve like?

This is not about freedom unto selfishness, or “do your own thing.” Nor is it about growing spiritually apart from the church. In fact, I would argue that increased conformity leads to increased desire for independence. Non-conformity is not about finding greater independence; it’s about finding greater interdependence. Freedom is never about moving away from the body, but about moving toward it to serve it and bless it with the unique manifestation of the life of Christ in you.

Yes, “to live is Christ” is transformation, not conformity. But transformation is love. It is submission. It is interdependence. It is sacrifice. It is Christ. It is the cross.

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