Conform or Transform

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I believe the inner transformation we all need flows first out of a deep experience of God’s love for us.

I am writing this mere days after Russia invaded Ukraine. I don’t know what the war will be like by the time you read this. It was my turn to lead the congregational prayer in church the Sunday after the invasion. Of course I prayed for peace. But I didn’t simply pray for a ceasefire.

The world often creates peace through external coercion. Either the winner forces the loser to surrender, or more powerful forces coerce both to stop fighting. The latter is more about “keeping the peace,” akin to parents stopping their kids from fighting. But these are false and temporary forms of peace.

Genuine peace requires transformation of hearts and relationships. That Sunday I prayed that God might transform the hearts of “power-hungry warmongers,” turning their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, that they may turn from war to love, from violence to mercy, from power to justice.

According to David Bailey, peacemaking is part of our Christian spiritual calling. His article “Polarization as a Spiritual Problem” (p. 32) is the third in our “Seeking Shalom in the Midst of Polarization” series in partnership with The Colossian Forum. Bailey reminds us that peacemaking is not optional for Christians.

Bailey has in mind not wars between nations, but polarized conflicts between Christians. We know we have our own battles in the Christian Reformed Church. If genuine peace comes from transformed hearts and relationships, not from external coercion and control, then our Christian peacemaking must be transformative.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Notice that it does not say, “but be now conformed to the pattern of the church!” It’s not replacing one set of conformity with another (progressive or conservative). Conformity focuses on compliance with rules and standards brought on by control and coercion. Transformation, however, is far more radical and holistic, including change from the inside out.

Are our church’s default practices and attitudes centered on conformity or transformation? Which will foster true peace and which will foster more polarization? Sure, some level of conformity might still be needed, but ultimately, is Jesus in the business of conformity or transformation?

I don’t believe outward conformity will lead to inner transformation. Renewing our minds requires more than simply exchanging one set of ideas and beliefs for another. The apostle Paul’s use of the original ancient Greek word for “mind” in Romans 12:2 has more the sense of a “disposition … an inner orientation or moral attitude” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p. 637). It’s not our Western idea of “mind” as rationality. It’s more like renewing our spiritual and moral compasses.

Ultimately, I believe the inner transformation we all need flows first out of a deep experience of God’s love for us. This experience of being loved by God leads us to faith and to change. And we need God’s people to channel God’s love.

As we celebrate this coming Easter, may we experience God’s love for us and be transformed from the inside out into agents of God’s peacemaking.

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

You can follow him @shiaochong (Twitter) and @3dchristianity (Facebook).  

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