"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection,
and the fellowship of his sufferings,
being made conformable unto his death."—Philippians 3:10
The concept of conformity has the thought of being submissive to or complying with an accepted standard or pattern. It is the heavenly Father’s will to have a divine family with Christ Jesus as its head and 144,000 individuals redeemed from amongst mankind who ultimately will receive glory, honor, and immortality. The specifications of this class are found in Romans 8:29: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." Believers in Christ have appreciated the scriptural testimony that the path to such a lofty reward involves a process of self-denial, cross-bearing, and following in the Master’s footsteps. The Apostle Paul in this connection states, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Romans
A key to the successful completion of this course is the submission of ourselves to the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. The holy spirit’s influence, as revealed through the study of God’s word, will guide us into all truth, and when applied faithfully in our lives, will yield a righteous character.
To the extent that, as Christians, we are becoming conformed more and more to the will of God, the sanctifying influence of the truth will enable us to progress spiritually. However, sometimes there can be pressures both from within the ecclesia and from the world outside to have our behavior or beliefs conform to standards which do not necessarily represent what we understand to be God’s will for us or what we believe are scriptural teachings on a given matter. Since each Christian must render an account of his stewardship to God (Romans 14:12) and should not be guided entirely by what others may think, we must make the truth our own as we "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21), as did the noble Bereans of old (Acts 17:11).
Prejudice at Antioch
In considering influences toward conformity of thought or action within the ecclesia or by giving undue regard to how fellow believers might perceive us, a forceful lesson is brought to our minds in Galatians 2:11-21. The Apostle Paul recounts an occasion when it was necessary for him to rebuke the Apostle Peter who was probably considered by many Jewish Christians as the chief apostle. When Peter first came to Antioch, he freely ate with Christian converts who formerly were gentiles. Subsequently a group of Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem for a visit. Apparently, they still held to various observances under the Mosaic law, and when they arrived, Peter ceased to fellowship with the gentile brethren for fear that news of his conduct would get back to Jerusalem. Additionally, Barnabas and others followed Peter’s example. Peter well knew, in connection with the conversion of Cornelius, that God was not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34); and, therefore, he erred by refusing to eat with uncircumcised believers, implying that the Mosaic law afforded a higher level of sanctification than the righteousness of faith. Paul, appropriately, accused Peter of hypocrisy by pointing out that Jewish Christians had a new standing on the basis of faith in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ and that they were dead to the law. Accordingly, since the law could not justify anyone, gentiles should not be placed under it. If a spirit-begotten pillar of the church, such as Peter, could wrongfully succumb to the influence of an improper belief held by some of his Jewish brethren, could we not be vulnerable today to the opinions of others within the church?
The ecclesia is a very special arrangement which our heavenly Father has provided so that we might be nurtured and developed as we seek to make our calling and election sure. In our mutual studies, we should consider not only the factual content of what we are studying, but also the spirit behind the message.
We read, for example, in 1 John 3:14, "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death." In all of our interactions with one another, that is surely a scripture to be kept in the forefront of our minds. Yet, because we have this treasure of the new creature in an earthen vessel, and because we are eager and zealous to serve the Lord, it is quite apparent that at times we will find that there are opportunities for friction when we may express ourselves differently from another individual in our class. Let us conscientiously strive to look at one another not from outward appearances according to the flesh but let us believe and act upon the knowledge that just as God has called us so he has found other jewels who are struggling with their flesh as we are; and we should focus upon those things which bind us together in the spirit of love.
The matter of Christian liberty with regard to those items of truth which are not supported by a "thus saith the Lord" is to be recognized. It is not a matter of mere conjecture that each of us should engage in, but if indeed we have a scripture to prove what we have to say, that should be the end of all controversy. If there is a thought given that is not in harmony with the way in which we believe it should be expressed, then we should be free to speak to our brethren and discuss it in love until such a time as the heavenly Father designs to clarify the matter for one or the other. In any event, force should not be used to attain conformity of thought but, as the Bible declares, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Romans 14:5).
From earliest New Testament times, congregations of the Lord’s people were established in various locations. The scriptures give rules for the setting up of these units (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11; 1 Peter 5:1-3). Those who serve, be they elders, deacons, or whatever, are elevated to positions of service by the vote of the ecclesia. As such, it places the congregation as a higher authority; should the judgment of the class with regard to certain policies or practices differ from that of the elder, the elder should submit to the will of the class where it is just a matter of ecclesia preference, as opposed to doctrinal matters, moral issues, or violating one’s conscience. On the other hand, however, in keeping with the responsibility of selecting elders in whom they have confidence, and recognizing that the Lord has overruled so that by the vote of the congregation a specific individual was chosen, it would be the obligation of the class to support and encourage the elder in proportion as they note his striving to know and to do the Lord’s will in a faithful manner. Should it subsequently be determined that an error in judgment was made on the part of the class in their selection, such a matter should be rectified at a subsequent ecclesia election.
Party spirit among the fellow members of Christ’s body should be striven against. We read in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?"
The concept of division among the people of God should be of concern, especially if there are pressures exerted to hinder opportunities for fellowship with other believers that we consider to be spirit begotten. Loyalty to, and support of, one’s ecclesia should be expected, but efforts to prevent the exercise of one’s liberty to attend a large gathering of brethren not of our immediate fellowship would be improper. There are, of course, very legitimate reasons why a physical separation among the Lord’s people is sometimes necessary. Nevertheless, to the extent that we recognize one another as brethren in the body of Christ, there should be no manifestation of a party spirit. If we create man-made barriers which are not Scripturally authorized and believe some brethren are unworthy of our fellowship because of minor differences, then there is a possibility of exercising a party spirit which is contrary to the doctrine of the unity of the body.
Closely allied with the foregoing is the possibility of creating idols of our leaders in the ministry. Revelation 19:10 reads: "And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said, unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
It has been suggested that the Apostle John in this context is representing the faithful members of the body of Christ, especially at the end of the Gospel age. Carrying this thought further, we would be admonished not to worship angels or messengers who would be instrumental in nourishing us with God’s truth. There is a tendency or danger to worship the creature rather than the Creator who uses human instrumentalities in his service. We should appreciate the faithful efforts of all who are engaged in the Lord’s service but we should not place them as idols of worship. This same thought seems to be found in the words of the Apostle Paul, as we read in Colossians 2:18: "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind." The giving of undue homage to those who serve is an improper spirit of which we should be aware, and we should not promote such an attitude even though we should recognize and acknowledge all who are faithfully ministering in God’s service.
Pressures from the World
Concerning pressures which may come from the world in conformity to its standards, there are many influences which would be pleasing to our flesh. It is for this reason that we read: "Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:2,3). Many activities that are not sinful are pleasing to the flesh relating to culture, recreation, and hobbies. An appreciation of Christian liberty reminds us that unlike certain prohibitions which were given to the nation of Israel under the law covenant we do not find many "thou shalt nots" in the New Testament as they relate to the conduct of believers. Thus we desire to fulfill in our hearts the spirit of the law of love and the law of righteousness. Although Christian liberty does not allow any of us to make a set of rules for one another, it also does not mean we are free to do as we please without repercussions. Thus, it is essential that we seek scriptural guidelines to help us determine the degree to which various experiences either gratify the flesh or comport with the spirit of sacrifice and consecrated living. If, upon individual scrutiny, we find that a particular activity is edifying, ennobling, and glorifies the heavenly Father, we should participate in it to the greatest extent possible. If, on the other hand, it does not appear to have spiritual value, we may desire to put even such a good thing on the altar of sacrifice.
Another possible area for our consideration deals with our dwelling places. Certainly all of the Lord’s people are differently circumstanced and the financial resources of which we have been made stewards vary considerably. It is for each individual to seek God’s guidance in this realm, as in every undertaking. We know for a fact however, in the world great stress is placed upon having a fashionable home. Most of us are probably aware of individuals who have mansions furnished with every possible convenience and yet, for some reason, have become dissatisfied, sold them, and purchased an even larger, more exclusive dwelling. We have probably heard of individuals who have bought a beautiful home and before moving into it have had the entire interior gutted and rebuilt at great expense. Similar illustrations which could be given are probably endless, but we ask the question, "Could the Lord’s people also be affected by an extraordinary concern for the appearance and size of their homes?" It is possible to rationalize that we must make extensive changes in our present abode, at the cost of great time and expense, because we want to accommodate visiting brethren in a comfortable manner. Do we enjoy frequently changing the furniture or other furnishings of the house every few years because we want a new look? No one is in a position to judge what another brother or sister may be doing along this line, but we may need to prayerfully commune with the Father for some time and inquire whether or not this is his will for us to do, and whether or not such involvement or activity will detract in any way from the covenant of sacrifice we have made.
In the Work Place
With regard to our jobs, some of us may find ourselves in very difficult, trying situations which bring considerable discomfort to our flesh. Sometimes an extremely favorable job opportunity might present itself, but it might require working a different schedule or at a distant location, the ultimate effect being a disruption of our spiritual fellowship. We might have to miss certain meetings now because of new working circumstances. How much we need to rely upon seeking the Lord’s will before making any decision one way or the other! Is it not possible that the difficult condition to which the flesh was subjected was permitted because the Lord saw that we needed to have some experiences that would teach us patience and reliance upon him? Surely there could be extreme pressure to yield to the flesh in this matter.
On the other hand, a move could be the Lord’s will, as it was when he sent Phillip to the desert to witness to the Ethiopian eunuch. We would be well advised to consider the question as to how we might avoid any inclination toward compromising in seeking to be conformed to the will of God. The obvious answer is by remaining very close to the Lord.
Four Important Steps
The four important steps to resisting peer pressure are:
1. Engage in frequent personal study of God’s word. Since we are committed to being footstep followers of the Master, it is essential that we find time to regularly search the scriptures for the purpose of seeking the Father’s will and leadings in our lives and to become familiar with the scriptural principles which can be applied in our conduct. If God truly is first in our lives, we must arrange our schedules so that we can communicate with him and receive the strength which he desires to give us.
2. Support our ecclesia through regular attendance at the meetings. We are very familiar with the admonition to "forsake not the assembling of ourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25), and we should appreciate the ecclesia arrangement as an important means of receiving instruction from the heavenly Father. Such association with one another in this setting will facilitate, among other things, the kind of interaction which will allow the diverse contributions of one another to provide for the mutual strength and edification of all if we are rightly exercised. We are informed that "every joint supplieth" (Ephesians 4:16), and as we meet with those of our immediate fellowship and other brethren as we have opportunity, we will be guarded against the spirit of self-exaltation.
3. Live a life of sacrifice. The greater the degree of our self-denial, the less exposed we will be towards a covetous spirit by which the adversary seeks to entrap us. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16) are all obstacles which can and must be overcome through the influence of the holy spirit and obedience to the heavenly Father by striving to walk even as our Master walked.
4. Engage in frequent, focused prayer. If in the personal scrutiny of our lives we find that, contrary to God’s word, we have erected some idol in our hearts, we can take comfort from such texts as 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Thus we see that it is our privilege to go to the throne of grace for cleansing and assistance with regard to those things that we do that are not pleasing to the Lord. Additionally, if we are very sensitive towards righteousness and pleasing God, even when we are not aware of some indiscretions, the prayer of our hearts will be such as is recorded in Psalm 19:13, 14: "Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer."
When we consider that we have been called to be part of the divine family, it should make us so revere God that we would do anything to please him, to honor him, and to sanctify his name. Truly, reverence for God is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10).