In the course of Bible reading, I ran across an interesting translation of a well-known passage, Romans 12:2:
Don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so you can work out and approve what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable, and complete.(NTW)
That phrase, “squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age,” really caught my attention. I normally read this in the more traditional, “be not conformed to this world.” The two translations have essentially the same meeting, but the first helps to bring out some important understandings.
The Greek word normally translated “conformed” is suschēmatizō. (No, I can’t pronounce it.) Literally, the word means to be fashioned or formed to the same pattern as. My dictionary also tells me that it is a word in the passive voice: something that happens to you with or without your awareness or cooperation. Given all that, “squeezed into the shape dictated” paints a good word picture of what is taking place.
The Greek word traditionally translated “world” is NOT kosmos, it is aiōn, literally an age. Not just any age, Paul says, but “this” age. Paul recognized that his age, the world in which he and the early church lived, dictated a shape for people: worship the emperor and the other Gods, sexual promiscuity and perversion, infanticide, pride, injustice, and oppression. His age worked hard to press people into its shape and actively persecuted those who did not get in line with the program.
In our age the shape has changed slightly. Our age no longer worships the emperor; it worships money and political power instead. The sexual “freedom” promoted in our age is every bit as perverse as Rome’s – in many ways even more so. This age has decided that abortion is both a constitutional right and a litmus test.
Our age has its own ways of pressuring people to embrace its shape, and persecuting those who do not get in line. Who would have thought just a few decades ago that promoting faithfulness, family, and fatherhood would make you a target for the pressures of this age?
Paul’s prescription for combating (and it is combat) the molding of the present age begins with a mind renewed in Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, and by our digging into God’s word.
We need to actively work (and it does take work) out in our own thinking, what is God’s will, what is good, what is acceptable, what is complete (mature or perfect). By getting our thinking right, we then approve* God’s ways by making our ways His ways.
Lord, help us not to be passively squeezed into the shape of our age, but to approve by our thinking and by our lives, what is good, acceptable, and complete.
*Approve: You may remember I wrote in a previous article, Approve What Is Excellent, some thoughts about dokimazō – how a money changer would examine each coin carefully and discard counterfeit and light coins. That is the word translated approve here.
Photo credit: Crowd on a narrow Italian street, from Bigstock.com, © by chaoss, Stock Photo ID: 5519793
Jerry Munk is the senior coordinator of the Work of Christ Community, Lansing, Michigan, USA. He and his wife Jan are members of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Lansing.