Against the Tide—Do Not Be Conformed to This World
Based on a sermon series on “Overcoming Secularity”
by Peter Shee—Singapore
DEFINING SECULARITY—A TALE OF TWO AGES
The word “secular” comes from the
Latin saecularis, relating to an age or period, which is in turn derived
from saeculum which means ”generation.” The Bible mentions two ages – “this
age” (cf. Heb 2:2) and the “next age” or the “age to come” (Heb 2:5). The
former refers to our lives on this earth, and the latter, to the future world
where we will spend eternity with God in bliss.
The author of Hebrews urges us to
anchor ourselves to the things we have heard lest we drift away (Heb 2:1–2). Such
a warning hints at the characteristic of “this age”—there are whelming tides
that may sweep the unwary away and prevent his or her entry into the “next age.”
We must always examine our mindsets and check our behavior against the things
we have heard. We must clearly discern: which age do we seek to align ourselves
DETERMINING OUR STATUS—A PEOPLE OF THE NEW AGE
God has not put the world
to come in subjection to angels (Heb 2:5–6). Citing the Psalms (cf. Ps 8:4–6),
the author of Hebrews informs us that Jesus Christ will rule the world to come.
And this world ruled by Christ has already begun; the kingdom of God has been
inaugurated on earth as His church and those who have been baptized into the
church of Christ are His subjects. This is why Jesus tells us not say the kingdom
of God is here or there, “[f]or indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk
Jesus died for our sins and His
blood redeemed us from this age. His resurrection marked the inauguration of His
messianic kingdom (Acts 13:33; cf. Ps 2:6–7; Heb 2:5–8). Through baptism, we
identify with His death and resurrection, escape from the corruption of this
age and enter into His kingdom. As subjects of God’s kingdom, we must first
seek God, His kingdom, and His righteousness instead of the things of this age.
The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is now given to us to empower
us to obey God and walk according to His righteousness (Rom 8:11–13). If we
persevere, resisting conformity to this age, we show ourselves to be true
citizens of the heavenly kingdom.
DISCERNING OUR DESTINY—FUTURE GLORY IN THE NEW AGE
Jesus is the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10). He shall bring us,
together with other children of God, into glory in the world to come. However,
this demands that we submit to Jesus as captain and accept His absolute rule in
our lives; this requires us to reject any affiliation to this present world.
God has deemed us worthy to be called His people. However, we must
constantly remember that this world is not worthy of God’s people (Heb 11:38). Hebrews
11 is a list of victors who had overcome the fiercest battles in their lives.
Despite intense persecution—some were even sawn into two—they maintained their
faith to the very end. These people of faith could persevere because they
stayed away from a world that was not worthy of them. They wandered in
mountains, deserts, dens, caves and so on in order to avoid the corruption of
the world, and remained holy.
Today, we may not be physically removed from society. However, we need
to be spiritually separated from this world and her values (2 Cor 6:17). We must
resist drifting along with the tide of the world. Jn 17:14–17 provides many teachings on how to be
spiritually removed from this age—we must not be influenced by the world to sin
together with them (v14) and we must lead a holy life (v17).
BECOMING A LIVING SACRIFICE
I beseech you therefore,
brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living
sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do
not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your
mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of
God. (Rom 12:1–2)
Although we are still living in the world, we must present our bodies as
a living sacrifice, i.e., we should conduct our lives in a worthy manner, holy
and acceptable to God. Such a sacrifice of our bodies “is our reasonable
service.” It is a conscious act on our part to offer our entire life as a
continual worship of God. Only by sustaining communion with God can we remain
secure and not drift away with the tides of this age.
There are three steps to
presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. First, do not be conformed
to this world.
Second, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Third, we must
prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
The following focuses on the first
NOT CONFORMING TO THIS AGE
The Course of the World
The world that we live in is in
rebellion against God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly warns that His
people will always be at loggerheads with the people of this world (Jn
14:14,16). Being of God and being of the world are two mutually exclusive
categories; we can only be of one or the other. If we choose the former, then
we must be ready to stand against the world and against the tide of secularity.
The tides of this world are no
gentle ripples which lap and eddy around us as we stand. Instead, the tides of
secularity are often huge waves that rush in to sweep us out into the ocean. Even
as we strive to align ourselves to God, the world strives—insidiously,
incessantly and relentlessly—to make us conform to it.
[I]n which you once walked
according to the course of
this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now
works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted
ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of
the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Eph 2:2–3)
Before we came to know the Lord Jesus Christ, we were part of the world,
conformists to this age. Paul warns us that there are three things that threaten
us and our salvation—the devil (the prince of the power of the air), the course
of the world, and our fleshly lusts. Our lusts draw us towards the current of
the world. Through our lusts, the devil controls us. If we can control or even
eliminate our desires, the devil will no longer be able to sway us to walk
according to the course of the world. However, if we are still conforming to
the world and walking according to our lusts, it means that we are under the
control of the evil one to disobey God.
Some argue that the world is beautiful and ask what is wrong with
enjoying the world. It is true that God created a good and beautiful world (cf.
Gen 1:3–25). However, when the Bible says not to conform to this world, the Bible
is not referring to the physical earth, but the ways of the world or the course
of the world. Not conforming to this age means not conforming to the world’s
values, mindsets, and ways of doing things. Galatians 1:4 provides us with the
correct translation—“this (present evil) age” as opposed to “this world,” thus
clarifying the distinction between the physical creation and the ways of the
world. God created a wonderful world to be inhabited by His children. Tragically,
since the fall of Man, “this age” now occupies God’s world and we have become
corrupted. However, the apostle Paul reminds us that Christ has saved us from
the corruption of this age (Gal 1:4).
Christ sacrificed His life on the cross to deliver us from the corruption in
this age. We must respond to this freely-given grace by no longer conforming to
the world but conforming to the will of God, our Father. This means being wise
and making prudent choices regarding the things that affect our lives—our
friends, studies, career, and where we live. Beware of making Lot’s choice.
Lot chose to live in Sodom because it was a thriving city (cf. Gen 13:10–12).
But Sodom was also a place full of evil (cf. Gen 18:20–33) and full of the
thinking of this age. By choosing this depraved society to live in and bring up
his family, Lot subjected himself to unnecessary and continual bombardment of
evil. The community he lived with was evil and Lot was tormented daily because
his soul was righteous (2 Pet 2:8).
Despite Lot’s righteousness, he and his household suffered a tragic end.
When two angels visited Lot to save him and his family, all the men of Sodom
wanted to have sex with these two beautiful angels. The whole city came and
knocked on Lot’s door. Under intense stress and in his desire to save the
angels, Lot offered his virgin daughters to the men of the city in “exchange”
(Gen 19:6–8)! Later, Lot’s wife could not detach herself from the attractions
of this age and was turned into a pillar of salt. Besides losing his wife, Lot
also lost his two daughters to immorality. His two daughters made Lot drunk and
committed incest with him.
This tragic account should make us reflect on the choices we make. Like
Lot and his daughters, have our choices corrupted our moral values? Like Lot’s
wife, do we have such great attachments to this age that these will cost us our
life one day?
Not of This World
And their dead bodies will lie
in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt,
where also our Lord was crucified. (Rev 11:8)
This age that we live in is spiritually Sodom because it is filled with
debauchery and immorality. This world is spiritually Egypt because it oppresses
Christians and enslaves people to sin. Do we still find the world attractive?
Do we still want to conform to its ways?
We do not belong to this world and that is why the world will hate us
(Jn 15:19). Moreover, our real opponents are not human; our real enemy is the
spirit of the air. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but dark forces
(Eph 6:12). The prince of darkness seeks to entice us over to his side by
appealing to our lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and pride of life. However,
we must not compromise. In fact, Philippians 2 tells us to make our stand
clear. We have to shine as lights in the world and show ourselves to be different
from this age. The world cannot receive the
Spirit of truth but He will abide with us forever (Jn 14:16–18). Hence we do
not seek acceptance by the world; we have overcome the world and those who are
of God hears us (1 Jn 4:5–6).
As Lot found out too late, this age (or this world) may not gently
invite us to imbibe its values. At times, it threatens and forces us to
conform. And often times, we—like Lot—have long been corrupted by the views and
values of the society we live in. The only solution according to the word of
God is to crucify (Gal 6:14). No matter what threats we face, we have to
crucify the world. If the world does not take “NO” for an answer, then we have
to crucify ourselves. In other words, let us happily die in defiance of the world
and obedience to God, rather than live in sinful conformity.
CONCLUSION—THIS WORLD WILL BE JUDGED
This world will eventually be judged when Jesus comes again, signifying
the end of this age. John 16 tells us that when Jesus
comes again, He will convict the world of sin and righteousness, and the prince
of this age will be judged.
Paul also tells us that we—the saints—will judge the world (1 Cor 6:2). If
we are going to be judges of the world, how can we defile ourselves by conforming
to this world’s values? We must thus carefully examine ourselves and repent
from inappropriate behavior so that we will be worthy judges and not end up being
judged with the world. James tells us that friendship with the world is enmity
with God; it is spiritual adultery (Jas 4:4).
Demas was a good co-worker with Paul (Col 4:14; Phm 1:24) but left his
ministry because he loved this present world (2 Tim 4:1). We were entangled
with the world before but now that we have been saved, we have escaped the
corruption of this age. Let us be wary lest we entangle ourselves again with
the pollution of this age and our latter end will be worse than the beginning
(2 Pet 2:20).
Let us strive to be among the victors of Hebrews 11. We are people who
have faith, who truly believe that God exists and seek God (Heb 11:3). Most
importantly, as one of those in Hebrews 11, we must remember that the world is
not worthy of us. Never drift along with this world. Stand against the tide!