Life is a dance. We can dance according to one of two rhythms. Our dance steps can be conformed to the rhythms of this world or they can be transformed to the dance of God.
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. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The rhythm that follows the pattern of this world is something that we dance quite naturally. These are the patterns of life that we simply do because they go unquestioned. We live the way we do because that is just the way the culture around us does life. Most of us grow up dancing these rhythms without our ever knowing it. When the dance floor is the world you were born into and everyone around you is dancing the dance of the world then we learn the dance by watching and copying, not by taking any lessons or reading a book about it.
Many times I've heard this passage applied to moral issues like promiscuity and drug usage. The argument is that the rhythms of this world are immoral and those of God are moral. While I do recognize that morality is part of the rhythmic differences, if we stop there then we miss the point of love. We make following Jesus a out what we don't do and fail to see what the dance is really about.
For instance, there are many cultural patterns of life that are so common today that they simply go unquestioned. Some of these include things like consumerism, individualism, isolationism and many others. These broad cultural patterns have progressively advanced since the 1950s. The advancement of the individual to the point of becoming unrooted from friends and family along with the need to be perceived as being successful, which usually means buying lots of stuff, has become a way of life that we no longer question. Or if we do question it, we don't really know what to do about it.
Most Christians track along with me up to this point. But we must take it further. What if we really take seriously the idolization of Christmas and the obsession we have with buying needless stuff for that holiday? What if we put aside the assumption that job advancement, more money and bigger houses is the dream Jesus has for us? What if we look seriously at what we call a good work ethic and ask if it is simply an excuse to hide behind work so we don't have to do relationships.
However, if we go down this path, our defenses arise. We ask things like: "What else would we do for Christmas if we didn't buy gifts for he kids; they'd feel so left out?" Or "Why wouldn't I go for the better paying job? I'm worth it and we need the money." Or "If I don't put in 65 hours a week then someone else will. Haven't you heard about the layoffs?"
Questioning the norms of a culture is challenging to say the least. The questions are hard to raise and the answers are even more difficult to find. Oh there are some that think it is easy but when we look at life honestly most of the issues are difficult to address. Even if you recognize that something like consumerism has a hold on your life and you make a plan to change things, the fact remains that we live in a consumeristic society.
I just saw a new book be a Christian leader which challenges people to put down roots in a community and stay put over the long haul. We live in a transient society where the average person moves once every four years. But that is not long enough to establish a presence in a community and invest in the lives of people. But even when we make commitments to put down roots, it's remains difficult because most people that live near you will be moving soon.
If we don't enter a different dance we will be conformed to the patterns of this world. This word "conformed" is one that refers to being shaped from the outside in. We are conformed to a mold that is set from the outside and that mold makes us. And if we don't choose otherwise, this mold will shape us even when we don't realize it. Even Christians fall prey to being conformed to the mold of the world. After all the letter to the Romans was written to Christians.
The dance of God will always be an upstream experience in this life. It will be one that resists the status quo. It won't be something that lots of people will chose to embrace.
This is an inside out experience of God's discipleship process. This is exactly what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount and the beatitudes. He is not trying to get us to simply act right. He wants to show us how to live. This is about being his kind of living not just doing his kind of living. Transformation like this takes time. It's something that happens to us, not something we make happen. We just give ourselves over to it. It is a long death in the same direction, the direction of trusting God when you are walking uphill, against the wind when everyone else seems to be going the other way. This is the narrow road of discipleship, the formation of and by the Spirit of God.
I love the way The Message translates Romans 12:1-2. It seems to make the point quite well:
here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday,
ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around
life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for
you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted
to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead,
fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.
Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of
immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed
maturity in you.