The word “nonconformity” is coined from the words found in Romans 12:2, where we read, “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” To “conform” means “to be in harmony with” or “to pattern after”—and therefore the admonition to be not conformed simply means “do not pattern after” or “do not be in harmony with” this world-system. The child of God is to be separated from the world-system.
The Bible teaches separation from the world—separation from the whole political, commercial, and ecclesiastical system that is trying to make itself happy without God. The average person works for this life only; he prepares for this life only; he lives for this life only. The aims and ambitions of most unsaved people center around the brief time they spend here in this life. The typical citizen desires to acquire some property, to make a name for himself, and to satisfy his physical appetites. A scientist, when asked the question, “Do you believe in a future life beyond the grave?” said, “To tell the truth, I’ve been so occupied with making myself happy in this life that I have not even had time to think about a future life.” That is the philosophy of the world-system from which the disciple of Jesus Christ is to separate.
The Scriptures are clear on this teaching. The whole tenor of the Bible from beginning to end, indicates that the people of God are to be separate from the pride and vanity and extravagance of this world-system. And we are not only to be separated from the world, but at the same time we are to be dedicated and consecrated and devoted to the service of God.
We want to consider the Bible background for the subject of nonconformity, and then we will discuss some of the more practical details. Notice the following Bible passages:
Leviticus 20:24 “I am the Lord your God, who have separated you from other people.”
Romans 12:1-2 “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
1 John 2:15-17 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
James 4:4 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
2 Timothy 3:1-5 “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves . . . having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away.”
The words in James 4 are very clear. They are God’s words. Talk about a worldly Christian; there is no such thing. A person might be worldly, but then he is not a Christian. One may as well talk about a heavenly devil as to talk about a worldly Christian. “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
The words in 2 Timothy 3:5 are also very clear. Paul could have advised Timothy to be “a good mixer” and “to play ball” with the apostates of his day, but instead, he said, “From such turn away.” People today seem to have the idea that we must mingle with and become like the world in order to win them, and yet when a man falls into a deep pit, no one ever dreams of jumping down into the well (alongside him) in order to get him out. Instead, he stays way up at the top, and from there he lets down a ladder or rope and lifts him up.
Each of us believes in God’s physical laws of separation. When a quart of milk begins to sour, what do you do? Mix it with a quart of sweet milk so that both will be good? No. You set it aside until it becomes altogether sour. You separate the bad from the good. Or if a man has a sore leg and gangrene sets in, what do the medical experts do? Cut it off. They separate the bad from the good. God has always been a God of separation. He separated light from darkness, good from evil, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, the wise from the foolish, and He expects the Christian to be separated from the world-system. In addition to all the Bible portions quoted earlier, 2 Corinthians 6:17 serves as a kind of summary statement: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
We want to note now some practical applications of the Bible doctrine of nonconformity. Worldliness is related to what we say, how we dress, how we spend money, how we drive on the highway, our attitude toward work, our reaction to tragedy and death, etc. It is related to outlook, motives, manner of life, aims, and ideals. However, in this particular message, we want to discuss two much neglected aspects of nonconformity: (1) The Christian and worldly dress. (2) The Christian and worldly amusements.
1. The Christian and Worldly Dress
How should God’s people dress? Is there any prescribed way for the Christian to adorn his body? If we approach the New Testament with the idea that we are going to find in it a set of dress regulations with the material and the pattern all described, we are bound for disappointment. It is not there. The Bible lays down great principles on the matter of dress just as it does in many other areas of the Christian life. For example, the Bible does not specifically say that we must stop at a stop sign. Is it wrong not to stop then? And the answer is, “Yes—it is wrong not to stop.” It is wrong, not only because we might get caught, but also because there is a principle in the Bible which says that we should obey the state authorities. And they say we shall stop, and therefore in obedience to this divine principle in the Bible, we are to stop. And just so the Word of God does not specifically tell what color clothes to wear, or how long the dress should be, or of what particular material our clothing should be made—but the Bible principle is found in 1 Timothy 2:9-10. The Word of God says, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” These are God’s words, and if these are the standards for the Christian woman, then surely they should be the standards for the Christian man who is to be the head of the woman.
(a) The wearing of jewelry
According to the biblical principle just established, the Christian should not wear gold for the sake of decorating his body. And yet there is enough gold in our churches to make a countless number of golden calves. If all the finger rings, ear rings, wedding bands, and other pieces of jewelry displayed on the body (“because everybody does it”) were melted together, it would be easy to make many calves like the Israelites made while camped at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Some say, “But can’t I keep on wearing jewelry and still be a faithful Christian?” Probably it is best to answer by asking another question: “Can you be a Christian and willfully disobey the Word of God?” Certainly not—and no person who is painted like an Easter egg and decorated like a Christmas tree should ever be brazen enough to call himself Christian.
(b) The wearing of modest clothes
According to the principle found in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, dresses that are short, tight-fitting, thin, low-necked, sleeveless, and in any way designed to accentuate the female form—are a disgrace for any Christian woman to wear. Low necks, tight dresses, slit skirts, bare arms, and painted faces may be the order of the day in our society, but God says, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel (clothing that properly covers) . . . not with gold, or pearls, or costly array.” God doesn’t expect our clothes to look like the front cover of the latest fashion magazine.
Why must you follow the fashions of the day? Suppose you are peculiar, what of it? It would be a thousand times better to retain your modesty and please God, than to adopt a manner of dress that borders on the immoral. There must be a dividing line between the Christian and the world. The Christian woman wears modest apparel and veils her long hair. The Christian man avoids appearing publicly in shorts; he keeps his shirt on his back; he is careful to see that his whole family guards purity by being modestly attired.
You say, “But no one is going to tell me what kind of clothes to wear.” Yet every one of us (consciously or unconsciously) dresses according to someone’s pattern. We either get our pattern of dress from the Word of God (as understood by godly men and women), or we get it from the world and worldly-minded people. Whatever fashion decrees, no matter how ridiculous or how immodest it is, that’s the goddess that many are worshiping, and this world is dictating what to wear. Never say, “No one is going to tell me what kind of clothes to wear.” Someone is telling you—never forget that.
2. The Christian and Worldly Amusements
There is a teaching in many so-called Christian circles today which implies that the Christian life is a jolly affair, and that to follow Jesus is barrels of fun. Many a modern church ought to blow the steeple off its roof and hang up a night-club sign. They have more suppers, parties, and fun-nights—than prayer meetings and Bible studies.
The Bible principle on worldly amusements is found in Hebrews 11:24-26. “By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” The Christian faith involves “suffering affliction” and bearing “the reproach of Christ.” If you have a popular brand of Christianity, you have the wrong kind! Our Lord talked about the cost of discipleship; too many of us talk about how much fun it is. Within the soul of every person there is an inner longing and a deep quest for peace of mind. The world tries to satisfy this quest which is common to all men by offering the movies, the dance, television, drugs, smoking, drinking, etc. The child of God does not need the momentary, short-lived satisfaction that this world pretends to offer, for the Bible says of our Lord God, “He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9).
(a) Hollywood movies
There may be some good Hollywood movies. There is some good food in garbage cans too. The theater page of a local newspaper, however, soon reveals that murder, sex, and the free spending of money are the major themes of Hollywood. The filthier, the dirtier, the more degrading, the most lustful, the more suggestive, the more ungodly a film is—the bigger the hit it makes with the American public. It is difficult to imagine a Christian’s supporting the filthy, immoral, ungodly pictures which are conceived in the heart of the devil himself. My blood runs cold to even think of a Christian’s viewing the hell-soaked immoral stench of Hollywood.
Nearly all the popular movies are later shown on television, and television makes a theater out of your home. The television set is a mechanical device which is neither right nor wrong. It is not wrong because it is new, but some of the filth that is displayed on the screen is definitely wrong. And it is almost impossible to develop controlled viewing habits.
I drove a school bus for a number of years. One evening a little girl about to get off the bus was crying, and declared that she did not want to go home. When asked why she didn’t want to go home, she explained: “My parents were watching television last night—and one program showed a man crawling out from under a little girl’s bed, and killing her. I couldn’t sleep all night last night because I thought a man was under my bed and would kill me. I don’t want to go home.” Friends—I’m glad I don’t have to stand in those parents’ shoes on the Judgment Day. The Bible says it would be better if such parents had a millstone cast around their necks, and they were drowned in the depths of the sea, rather than to offend such a little one.
Television nearly always glorifies impurity as love, pictures murder as entertainment, exalts nakedness and indecency as beauty, shows drinking and gun fights as proper, and assumes that taking God’s name in vain is legitimate. It ruins the influence of a Christian, debauches the minds of children, inflames the lust of youth, and hardens the hearts of sinners. And most people admit that the tendency is to slip into more and more careless habits of watching whatever is to be seen.
The word “dance” is used many times in the Bible, but only a few times does it compare with the modern dance—and then it is always condemned. When David danced, he danced alone. He didn’t dance all over the streets of Jerusalem in the arms of another man’s wife. David leaped and praised God for sheer joy! There was no embracing the opposite sex. He knew nothing of the waltz, the bunny-hug, and the two-step.
No person in his right mind will deny that the modern dance with its dim lights and suggestive music is solely for the purpose of getting the sexual thrill that comes from the contact of the bodies of the opposite sex. Anyone who says that youth of both sexes can mingle in close embrace on the dance floor without suffering harm, is a liar, and all of us know that’s true. The dance is an incubator which hatches out lust, sin, adultery, fornication, broken homes, and broken lives.
One third of America’s smokers are women. The heart of the infant fetus being carried by an expectant mother beats five times faster each minute while the mother is smoking than it does under normal conditions. The University of Virginia says that the nicotine intake of the normal smoker is almost one pound per year. They fed an equivalent amount of nicotine to eight thousand cats, and it killed them all.
Smoking is a dirty, nauseating habit. I would just as soon have another person spit in my tea or hot chocolate or coffee as to have him blow smoke in my face. The smoke goes through the nasal system and the mucous lining of the mouth and throat, and then it is blown into the faces of others. The most tragic result of smoking however, is the effect tobacco has on the smoker’s own body. As a Christian, your body is intended to be a temple (a dwelling place) of God, and the Lord says that to defile the temple of God is to ask for destruction (1 Corinthians 3:17).
(e) Drugs and drinking
There are many drugs that have been found to be helpful to mankind when used properly. In the hands of trained and skillful doctors, drugs can relieve pain and aid in healing sick bodies. But many in our day have experimented with such things as marijuana, heroin, LSD, and other mind-expanding drugs. These give the temporary feeling of being superior, while at the same time making the drug-user a slave of addiction and tearing him down mentally and physically.
It is no surprise that unsaved people get involved with drugs. Having no faith in God and no respect for God’s Word, they are easy prey for the devil. The use of drugs is only one of the tricks Satan uses to enslave people. But because the body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20), we should not allow it to become enslaved by wicked and degrading habits. That rules out habit-forming and mind-expanding drugs for the Christian. It also rules out alcohol as a beverage because that too is addictive.
Are you looking for real satisfaction? Turn your life over to Jesus Christ and start living for Him. You will find, as Peter did, “. . . joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (1 Peter 1:8). Dig into your Bible and it will expand your mind. But it will not endanger your mental or physical health. There was a time when I was afraid to live and I was afraid to die. But one day I was invited to accept the peace that Jesus offers. Jesus Christ says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I accepted—and since then, the things of this world have grown strangely dim. There has been a peace in my heart and a joy in my soul such as the things of the world could never supply. Jesus knocks on the door of your heart too. The Bible says, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).