Living within any culture can make it hard for us to honestly assess the values and priorities of the culture. Certain things that we have come to take for granted may in fact be detrimental and destructive, yet because they are commonplace we fail to notice them. At the same time, because the society around us is largely oblivious to various needs and ills we too may become (or remain) oblivious even though our negligence in addressing them may actually be sin.
In Romans 12:2 we are commanded not to “be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind”. While it is exceedingly important that be “transformed” (positively), we must realize the impossibility of that so long as we remain conformed to the culture around us. Some negative effects of our culture might seem obvious – a twisted view of sexuality, a growing depreciation of marriage and family, a cynical view of and disrespect for all authority. But other affects may be less obvious to us. Consider just a couple:
1. We are immersed in a culture and age that believes everything must be done faster and easier.
Microwaves and fast food restaurants, instant messaging and texting, accelerated computer processors and broadband internet connections are just a few examples of the ways in which this manifests itself materially. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but the attitude toward life that has accompanied our society’s saturation with them is. We have begun to believe that everything must be instant or it is not good. We have become increasingly impatient and shallow. We do not like waiting and view it almost completely as a waste of time. Rather than daring to use our wait times toward the cultivation of our character, we try to cope with them through myriad forms of instant entertainment (watching videos and playing games on our cell phones, purchasing vehicles accessorized with DVD players, listening to music everywhere and at all times). This is bad enough by itself, but it becomes worse when we transfer this way of life to our relationship with God. We think that God must instantly answer us; that He must immediately change us or our circumstances. We evaluate the effectiveness of Bible reading and prayer based on the results we can perceive within a few hours or days (or maybe, if we’re slightly more patient, months, but never over the course of years or decades). If we, or our relationships, or our circumstances are not quickly transformed through a day’s reading of the Bible, attendance at a few church services, or five minutes of praying we question the profitability of such activities. In short, we become short-sighted, shallow, and impatient. This is what will happen if we are not careful to keep ourselves from being “conformed to the world” in this regard.
2. We are immersed in a culture which teaches us that our way is the right way.
Advertising continues to play on our desire to rule every aspect of life, while at the same time validating all of our decisions and desires (even if, when biblically-assessed, those decisions and desires are quite wrong). We see this every time we view a billboard or commercial that includes the keyword “my” (“my way”, “my healthcare”, etc.). “Buy from us because we’ll ensure you get it your way, because we understand that your way is the best way,” the corporate advertiser would have us believe. As a consequence, we are becoming more and more selfish, self-centered, egotistic, and narcissistic. We have bought the lie hook, line, and sinker that we can be like God through self-assertion (cf. Gen. 3:5). But the more self-centered we become (and the less God-centered), the less like God we become and the more corrupt and instable our society becomes, because we were never meant to function with every person at the center of their own universe. We were created to function in every respect with God, our Maker, at the center of life. Further, as Christians, we are not to seek to be served but, like our Lord, to serve others (Mark 10:45).
Examine yourself. Are you persevering or impatient? Are you God-centered or self-centered? Are you narcissistic or altruistic? Do you look more like the culture surrounding you or the Christ you profess to be in you?