How do we keep from letting the world press us into its mold?

As a Christian leader, I am grieved by statistics indicating that believers and non-believers live almost identical lives: similar sexual ethics, spending patterns, and lifestyle choices. Despite spending millions of dollars on transformation campaigns, conferences, books, curricula, worship music, small groups, multimedia, Internet churches, and all forms of relevance and engagement, Christians are remarkably like the world.

This is compounded by real confusion about how to healthily engage the culture around us. So we end up, sadly, "of the world but not in it." Why do our best efforts seem to make so little difference? And how can we help our people grow into actual Christ-likeness?

I agree with James Wilhoit, author of Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered: "Spiritual formation is the task of the church. Period. Spiritual formation is at the heart of its whole purpose for existence. The church was formed to form. Our charge, given by Jesus himself, is to make disciples, baptize them, and teach these new disciples to obey his commands."

The apostle Paul addressed this issue in a letter to a young church in one of the worldliest cities in history: Rome in the first century. After describing the human condition and the character of God, the power of the gospel, sin, law, grace, election, and love, Paul calls for a response: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Rom. 12:1-2).

Paul knew, and I am coming to realize, that before we see real gospel transformation, we must be aware that the world in which we live is not neutral. We live in heavily contested space: The enemy of our souls is seeking to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10; 1 Pet. 5:8).

On a human level, corporations compete for brand loyalty, educational institutions compete for worldview, and we are continually marketed to, mocked, rewarded, seduced, and compelled by the things around us.

Maybe Paul was trying to rouse the Romans to see that until we identify and confront the forces that seek to conform us, our attempts at transformation will be continually undermined. It's like trying to bail water out of a sinking ship, while ignoring the work of plugging the holes that are causing the ship to sink.

Jon Tyson is pastor of Trinity Grace Church in Manhattan, New York.

Adapted from "Breaking the Mold," by Jon Tysonis, Leadership Journal. Click here to read the original article in its entirety and for reprint information.

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