A strange stream of circumstances put me in a front seat of an ambulance, parked at the corner by “Aux Deux Magots.” This is the well-known cafe on the left bank of Paris where Sartre sat and discussed the existential philosophy that changed the thinking of so many of today’s people. I sat in this ambulance seat for six hours, watching people walk by, stand on the street corner, go in and sit at the tables on the glassed-in sidewalk section of the cafe or disappear into its main portion. Six hours of watching people … people … people.

As I watched thousands of people walk, run, stand, stop, sit, frown, laugh, gesture, talk, be silent, I was struck by the amazing conformity in this spot of the world where non-conformists speak in loudest tones! There were the Vogue-look people—the new straight-cut boots wrinkled properly under the whirl of flared midlength skirts, capes swirling above them, hats of the twenties back again. One could see a parade of the haute couture; models appeared to be meeting the right people at the right place at the right hour, conforming to a pattern in every detail.

There were blue jeans in another stream of conformists walking by, blue jeans with fur jackets, blue jeans with cashmere sweaters, blue jeans with blue-jean jackets and old shirts, blue jeans with expensive silk shirts and tweed jackets, blue jeans with the newest of capes, blue jeans with soft suede jackets—all conforming to the “must” of blue jeans.

Then scattered in between were the obvious non-conformists conforming to a pattern of non-conforming! There were the longer-than-long-haired men with strange clothing that matched others looking just as strange, and the girls whose combination of found-in-the-attic or second-hand-store clothing looked the same as that of others.

Sitting on this particular street corner in Paris, beside the cafe where ideas flowed forth that have affected even the churches in your town as some of your pastors preached existential theology, or sitting on a corner in mid-western America, Hong Kong, Vancouver, or Miami, observing human beings for a time, just from the outside—everywhere one sees people conforming to other people, striving for their good opinion, interest, or approval. And when God speaks to us in Romans 12:1 and 2, he is speaking in an area we all can recognize as a part of our own experience since childhood. We all know by experience what it means to want to conform to this world in some way.

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But the admonition comes to us to experience something very different now as children of the living God. We are given a dash of cold water in our faces as we read these verses in Romans, and realize we cannot “copy” someone else and be all right in God’s eyes. We cannot “copy” the person we think to be the “best Christian” and in that way “fit in” to the Christian family the way we have copied or conformed to other things, other patterns, other groupings of people in this world.

The dash of ice water is this: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be ye not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” After these first two verses, Romans twelve goes on to tell us that we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, and on the background of all that, we come to the fact that we have not all the same office but that we are a “body.” Some are to be feet, some hands, some eyes, some ears, some knees, some elbows. We have diverse things to do and be, as diverse as the parts of the body. Something is to happen that is just the opposite of a sheep-like conforming. We are to become willing to be different, and to accept the part God gives us to do.

This is a call to come directly before God and to be ready to do and be what he plans for us. To do this we must be transformed. Our minds are involved in this transformation, not just our feelings and emotions. We are to have different attitudes and also a set of evaluative “sieves” different from the world’s.

These renewed, transformed minds do not come by hard work, Titus 3:5 tells us: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Titus 3 starts out by speaking of how we were sometimes foolish, disobedient, serving a variety of lusts in malice and envy—in other words, conforming to the world’s emotions and motives. Now, as Christians, we have been transformed. The transformation takes place at the time of salvation: our sins are washed away, and the renewing or transformation through the entrance of the Holy Spirit starts. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, and he alone can transform us, moment by moment.

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Romans 12 goes on to tell of some of the things that will show forth the reality of our transformation:

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you; bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense no man evil for evil.… Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

It takes “living sacrifice” to act this way, day by day. It takes a changed, renewed mind, transformed attitudes that do not conform to the world’s attitudes, to live according to Romans 12:10–20. It also takes a willingness to stand directly before God in day-by-day, moment-by-moment practice, not simply a conforming to many Christians’ ideas of non-conformity.

Are you, am I, conformed non-conformists or transformed conformists in our practical lives? Let us ask the Spirit’s help for 1976.


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