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 2:12
Pragmatism vs. Principles
- We’re leaving the church because there is no children’s program
- Teens won’t listen to “just” the Bible being preached- they need stories and personal anecdotes to make it relevant!
- We don’t have very much money coming in these days so we just won’t give any offering
- How could we not both work? There’s no way we can give up my benefits or extra income. This city is just too expensive to live in to even consider giving up one job to stay home with the kids
- I know how our money should be spent so even if my husband [wife] disagrees with me, I’ll just keep pushing until I get my way- after all, it’s for our family’s well being!
- If I confront my friend about that issue, I’m worried she’ll be upset with me so it’s best just to avoid it rather than stir things up.
- As long as I’m being a good example to my friends in the workplace, it’s not that big of a deal if I don’t share the Gospel with my words. I wouldn’t want to make things awkward. After all, didn’t someone once say “Preach Christ, and if you must, use words”?
- I can’t make it to evening service, AND prayer meeting every week. What do they expect of me, I have a baby and it’s hard to get out of the house with her or find someone to watch her for me!
I have to include a disclaimer before I try to tease out this thought I’ve been wrestling with. Every point above (except for maybe one or two), are things that I have personally struggled with. Personally as in, “I’m the one dealing with the issues”, not “I’m the one looking at other people dealing with the issues”. Although, I do think these are common things that people generally struggle with. And the list isn’t exhaustive; I’ve just tried to come up with a few that happen to have been issues over the past few years. So what is the problem with answering questions in the way I’ve suggested above? The problem begins with the types of questions we’re asking, and the place we’re going to find the answers.
That word pragmatism has a positive connotation that’s usually associated with it. If a person is pragmatic, they’re looking at ways to practically make decisions with the information they’re given. So if a principle is by definition a “basic truth, law, or assumption” or “A rule or standard, especially of good behavior”, then how do we practically make decisions based on principles and avoid going down the road of being pragmatic at the expense of our principles? We need to go backwards a few steps in our thought process to get to the heart of the problem.
Our first response isn’t always the best or right response. A good friend of mine named Amy once told me that the first thoughts we think in any given situation are often wrong and if we stopped to think about why we want to do a particular thing, or why we’re thinking a particular thought, we’d see that we are not thinking rightly. Every day we are faced with choices to make. What should I eat for breakfast? What car should I buy? Where should I go on vacation? How should I spend my paycheck? Probably the majority of our choices are ones that are fairly inconsequential, but there are many decisions we need to make that will have serious affect on our lives and the lives of those around us.
The problem begins when we don’t want to think things through or when we want to think them through primarily based on the way our situation appears, rather than what God’s word says. By default, we assume that our thoughts are the right thoughts or our ways are the right ways. But isn’t that the way sin is? Just like in the garden when Adam and Eve were presented with choices to make, they believed that choosing their way seemed best, in spite of what God had instructed them. Rather than thinking of His word to them first, and believing it and applying it to their situation, they believed themselves. That verse I started off with from Romans should be a sort of compass that helps us think about the direction we need to go everyday, every moment, with all our thoughts. If we start out on the basis that our minds need to be renewed because they don’t think the right way and they don’t understand everything clearly, then we will have a starting point at which we begin to make choices. Rather than decide to do something because “it works” or “everyone else does it that way” or “I can’t think of any other way that this could be done”, we would begin by saying, “What does God’s word say?” It is easy as Christians to say that we believe God’s word is perfect, God’s word is true, and God’s word is sufficient. But, I think that we don’t always live that way in the choices we make. Our culture promotes and encourages self-reliance and conformity to its ways. And avoiding conformity to the world isn’t just adhering to clearly marked out dos and like “do not get drunk on wine”. There are many subtler, and maybe even more dangerous ways that we begin to make way for sinfulness when we don’t realize that the word applies to every situation and decision. There are choices we need to make that require wisdom and discernment, and when we are unwilling to think through the impact, consequences, or implications of our choices and what they say about what we believe, then we’re walking a slippery slope downwards to disobedience. Just because a choice we have to make doesn’t scream “WRONG!” or “SIN!”, it doesn’t mean that it might not stem from a wrong understanding of scripture, or lead to a bad outcome.
If we begin by believing that the Bible teaches that our hearts are deceitful and wicked, and that in order to walk pleasing to God, we need to know what His will is, and so we must go back to the book. We must everyday be asking ourselves the same questions. Will my decision in this situation bring God the most glory? Am I doing what He wants according to His will, or according to my way of making choices? His word is what will ultimately transform our thinking and enable it to be pleasing to Him, and bring about the most good and blessing in our lives.
The story of King Uzziah in 2 Kings 14 is a telling one. The king had experienced numerous military successes. He was loved by the people and had built up for himself a strong kingdom. And then, one day he decided that he would act as a priest and enter the temple to offer sacrifices. This was a proud, arrogant assumption of a role that God had clearly commanded no one except the priests to fulfill. But he decided that his way was best. I’m sure he had lots of reasons to justify that choice. Maybe he thought that God had shown him favor in the past, or that he had earned the right. Either way, he decided to do things his own way, rather than God’s, and he was struck immediately with leprosy. The point of this passage is to illustrate that God’s word is given for us to obey, not for us to choose which points suit our circumstances and situations. And if he’s called us to do something, He most certainly will enable us to do it. This doesn’t diminish the fact that He is gracious and forgiving to us in spite of our bad choices, but it does highlight that we need to obey and we need to do it to honor Him, to show that we believe and trust His word, and to do it for our good. This also serves to remind us that we need to be wary of pride and confidence in our own understanding of things- like I said, often our first response (or even our second or third!), isn’t the one that would be most honoring and glorifying to God.
“Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”- it’s an ongoing, continuous, life-long command and process; one that we need to be consciously engaged in, not passively assuming that it’s already happened. Why? So that we can know what God’s will is, remembering that it is GOOD, it is PERFECT, and it is PLEASING. And that’s what will enable us to then make the right choices and keep us from conformity.