—Anthony Wong and Dave Stepp
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
If you’ve been in or around church for a while, you’re probably familiar with this verse. But you may have struggled to understand just what it really means for the way we are to live. Last semester we tackled this passage with our middle school students, and used the image of a cat “conforming” to a sink to get them thinking (web search: “are cats a liquid” for more pictures). While the pictures of cats in various types of containers are humorous, the concept is also quite helpful in understanding this passage.
How much of our experiences make us feel like a cat in a vase, just filling the mold of whatever situation we’re placed in? For our middle schoolers maybe it’s fitting in with friends at school or not speaking out when someone makes a crude joke. But is it that different for us adults? We still want to fit in with our social group. We often want to avoid making a scene about our moral values. We feel the draw to conform, to not draw undue attention to ourselves or the gospel, and just “fit in.”
But to stretch this analogy a little further, imagine a cat stalking prey, ready to pounce. In your mind’s eye, is it distinctly a cat? Would you mistake it for a sink/vase/wine glass? Even when a cat is trying to be inconspicuous and sneak up on something, its shape is still unmistakably that of a cat.
We’re commanded to not conform to this world, or be like the cat filling a sink. Instead we’re supposed to be transformed into a distinctly Christian shape. We’re supposed to be active, and focused with a purpose, like a cat stalking prey. For the Christian that purpose is knowing God and making disciples (John 17:3; Matthew 28:19). As we read the Bible, pray, engage in Christian community, participate in the sacraments, listen to preaching, and live our lives before God and men, the Holy Spirit renews our minds, and we take on a shape that is uniquely Christian.
And while in some ways this seems like an obvious conclusion, the imperative part of the verse points to the fact that, in practice, it often feels like a battle. In our personal lives, work and family life sometimes makes us feel like we need a break, and we can quickly become the cat lounging in the sink. In those times, it takes a concerted effort and the movement of the Spirit to get us to engage in the disciplines of the faith, and to step out in hope, even though we know it’s good for us.
To sum up: don’t be the cat in the sink; be a disciple of Christ, like the cat stalking prey!