In our current culture it is important to look at where we find meaning and assurance as followers of Jesus. There are obvious pressures in any culture, peer group or family to push us toward conformity. For better or worse that is the nature of life. Yet, while it is common it varies in intensity. In the time of the early church many risked their lives by being counter cultural. Those from the Jewish community who embraced Yeshua as the Messiah would be removed from the synagogue and ostracized from their family and friends. They could only pray that others from their previous community would join them, or seek to build an alternate community. Those in the Gentile community had their gods, in particular Caesar, that they were supposed to worship. They underwent similar hardships upon conversion. The church became that alternate community.
As an aside, if you want to understand how these same pressures affect some of our fellow believers around the world look at Voice of the Martyrs website.
In our modern western culture, we don’t face the same pressures around danger to our physical lives for following Jesus, though there are at times serious family issues, particularly if converting from another faith. However, in general persecution is not an issue for western believers. What is an issue is drift and the accompanying pressure to conform to the surrounding culture. The writer of Hebrews and Paul put it this way.
1 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. Hebrews 2:1 (NKJV)
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1–2 (NKJV)
We are likely familiar with these warnings in scripture. It is easy to drift if we are not paying attention. For example, I love hiking. In the mountains it is easy to focus on navigating a difficult trail, eyes down to avoid obstacles. After 15-20 minutes you look up and are amazed at how much elevation you have gained. You have gone further than anticipated. While this is not an example of drift it does illustrate the point. When we become caught up and focused on our immediate surroundings we are not attending to the larger picture. The same is true in our spiritual walk.
The calling for each of us is not to ‘live our best life’ or to ‘become all that we can be.’ Embracing those ideals merely demonstrates that we have already been conformed to the surrounding culture. We are called to high ideals and a life of excellence. The qualifier is the context, we are to be our best at building up the body, our fellow believers, and the best at being salt and light to those around us. Let us look at an example of Paul’s apostolic heart cry. I see the following verses as a fuller expression of Galatians 4:19, Paul’s desire to see Christ formed in us.
1 For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1–3 (NKJV)
Paul’s teaching, challenging and praying were all focused on one goal, attaining a full assurance. In breaking these verses down, we see the importance of the body to which we have been joined. Paul says it is through being ‘knit together in love,’ that everything else is attained. There is a positive side to conformity, the pressure to being conformed to the image of Jesus. Loving and caring for one another. The pressure to follow the godly example of others.
With this in mind let us seek to respond to and be the pressure to others to conform to the image of Jesus that we might corporately attain ‘the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The more we grow together the deeper encounter with, and understanding of, we have of the Father and Jesus. This helps us all to ‘live our best corporate life’ reflecting Jesus to others.