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. (Rom. 12:2; NIV)
Using profanity is a habit you can find your way into pretty easily. There are some four letter words that are highly expressive of our emotions, and letting them rip can sometimes effectively encapsulate, with shock value, some frustration we’re facing. There is even a bit of relief when you let them out. They are so commonplace in our culture that we don’t think too much about them, outside of certain Christian or family environments. The media is rife with them; paid networks like HBO and Showtime use them frequently and gratuitously in their programming.
I’m not picking on this issue in particular, but it’s something many of us can relate to, where we’ve had phases in our lives when we’ve used profanity more than a little bit. The habit usually develops because we’re spending time with people that use profanity. Hearing the words used over and over can prompt us to do the same. As the habit develops, it's difficult to leave them out of any expressive sentence.
It’s not just about profanity, though. It’s just an example that, if you’ve had that experience and later broken the habit, you can relate to. My interest is really in the values that surround us all the time. These values permeate every area of our lives. Unless we live in a Christian bubble (e.g., work at a church, attend a Christian university, cancel our cable subscriptions), the tendencies, habits, and beliefs of the world we live in are constantly being impressed on us. It's like diving deep beneath the surface of a lake; you can hold your breath for a while, but it is difficult not to take some water in.
As with profanity, we find ourselves adopting the habits everyone else does. We find ourselves acting like everyone else, getting excited about the same things, seeking the same goals. We are amused by the same raunchy programming, the same sense-dulling addictions, and the same time-wasting distractions.
The problem is that the vision of life which captivates almost everyone in this world is not Christ’s. To the degree that we become drawn to the world around us, we distance ourselves more and more from the heart of the one who called us to something greater (see James 4:4).
We’re stuck in habits from overexposure to worldy values. The church today, as a whole, looks a lot more like media’s framing of American culture than it does the first group of men and women who gave their lives for Christ. It is not just a disconnect in values; it is a disconnect in what it means to follow him. Christ called men and women to leave their old lives behind and follow in his steps. This isn’t possible when our new lives are fundamentally the same as our old ones.
To know Christ – to follow him and experience his power – we need to break free of the habits and values which have been impressed on us. We find ourselves stumbling from failure to failure but refuse to reorient our values to those which are eternal. Paul directs us, in Romans 12:2, not to conform to the world’s pattern, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we do, we will be able to live out and exemplify God’s will in our lives. We can train ourselves to resist conformity, but we have to extricate ourselves first.
Renewing your mind is not something you do, it is something that happens automatically by surrounding yourself with values that are true, noble and pure (Phil. 4:8). You do that by staying in community. Investing in relationships that draw you near to Christ, spending time with quality people. You do it by studying God’s word and serving him. You do it by listening to praise music. You do it by avoiding places and situations that draw you into sin and change you, rather than you changing them. Your mind is also renewed by not putting garbage into it. It's like a wound that will not heal until you keep it clean. We don't keep it clean. We put sketchy content into it. Yes, I mean that cable network show you really like.
As we experience his renewal, we experience his power. His path leads us away from failure and toward fulfillment. And most importantly, we experience his presence. Paul promises that if we turn our minds to what really matters, the God of peace will be with us (Phil. 4:8).