Conformity or cooperation?

“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” (Romans 12:2 ESV).

Conformity has a bad connotation in the modern mind. It is portrayed as being forced into an artificial mold that society (or government) has adopted as the correct way of thinking and behaving for its members. One popular expression denoting the concept is the demand to “stay in one’s designated lane.” There are many who understandably rebel at any requirement which seems to result in their having to be like everyone else, even to that of driving on their side of the road.

Though the phrase mentioned above is not always meant to refer to traffic lanes and the activity of driving or riding, I was led to think along these lines over the past days as I have once again been on Asian roads where it seems that no one stays in his own lane. People here do not drive on the wrong side (the left) of the road – they are all over the road, especially in the center or bearing down on head-on traffic as they insist on passing where there is no space for it.

To suggest that traffic laws requiring driving on a certain portion of the road only are intended to demand mass conformity is obviously ludicrous. It is easy to see the distinction between conforming (being like everyone else) and cooperation (working in concert with others for mutual benefit). Obeying traffic laws keeps everyone safe and helps us to move more efficiently. When even one person ignores those laws (for instance by going the wrong way on a divided highway), it may endanger or harm many and disrupt the smooth flow of travel. No one is benefited, including the one who chooses to be a rebel.

Scripture encourages non-conformity in certain regards. One is to resist being molded into the pattern of sin and material pursuits in favor of a spiritual remaking in the image of Christ (Romans 12:2). Some patterns are helpful and even promote our happiness. Others turn out to be prisons which capture us in destructive habits and lead us to eternal judgment. So we are taught,

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16).

By serving righteousness we are in fact cooperating with one another by doing good, avoiding destructive evil, and denying selfish ambitions. Not least, we are also cooperating with the One who created us “in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). God made us to be his people whom he loves and for whom he wants all good things. When we obey his will we bring those intentions to fulfillment, resulting in the best of all results for ourselves as well.

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