“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
“Ha! You Christians think you’re so perfect, but you can’t even change your stupid sign.”
This was the thought that ran through my mind as I sped passed the church. It was just off the highway I drove every day to and from work. You know the type — a billboard with a Christian slogan or scripture verse. I supposed it was the Church attempting to attract people to visit.
Normally, it changed weekly, but I was making fun of them because it had been seven weeks since they had changed it. I now can think of a dozen reasons it might make sense to leave a scripture on a billboard for an extended time. At that moment, I guess I assumed it was a dereliction of their duty – a failure.
This childish glee continued for another week as I yoyoed between work and home while the sign remained unchanged. Then I became bored with that mental game and started another.
As I began to actually comprehend the text, I fixated on the first four words – “And be not conformed”, I doubled down in a new condemnation: “What do you guys know about non-conformity anyway? You’re all about conformity. I’m a true non-conformist. You’re just about the status quo, you conforming little sheep.”
I had always been an outcast and unaccepted – at least in my mind. I did not attend a single school for two years in a row until high school, so I learned to go it alone and not get too attached. In high school, I found I did not fit in with any of the cliques. I spent most of my time with the drama group who seemed like a diverse mix from the island of misfit toys to me. Even here, I felt like an outsider.
I found some weird type of safety in seeing my identity as a non-conformist – even to the non-conformist. Certainly, this church was not about non-conformity.
I played this game for a week longer picking on the conforming goodie-two-shoes that could not even faithfully change their ridiculous sign. But I read it each time I went by. Back and forth, day and night, its words seeping in.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformedRomans 12:2a
by the renewing of your mind.
This amusement became tedious as well and was replaced by this daring declaration, “I bet that’s not even in the Bible!”
I am confident that anybody will likely catch why this is a bold, if not comically arrogant, thought. I mean, this was a church billboard and I was not a Christian at the time – certainly not a Bible reader.
I was not unaware of Jesus and God. I was raised Catholic – casually – meaning mass on Christmas and Easter and when we visited my grandparents.
If you have not experienced a Catholic mass, you may not know that the faithful do not use a Bible since the Church conveniently provides the scripture necessary in a missalette. This little printed pamphlet contains an outline of the service. It tells you when to pray, what the Priest will say, what you will say in response, and when to sit or kneel. It also includes readings from the Old and New Testament printed with very formal references to the scripture such as: “A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans.”
Despite my limited exposure, I did have moments growing up where I felt a connection and heart calling to God. I also thought these readings were correspondence that some missionaries at our church had written and had no idea they were in the Bible.
I was pretty sure we had a Bible at the house, even though we never used it. Sure enough, I found it on a top shelf in our living room and after cleaning the mountain of dust off it, I dove in to prove this passage about non-conformity was in error.
I discovered all these tabs on the edge of the book pages and ascertained they were abbreviations of the sections in the Bible. So far, so good. I was shocked when I opened to the beginning of Romans and saw the words, “The Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans”.
“Wait! That’s the guy from all those letters at mass! That’s from the Bible!”
Mind a bit blown, I made my way to Romans Chapter 12, Verse 2 – deciphering the structure for the first time. Confirming that the verse was mostly as advertised on the church billboard, I decided I needed to understand the entire context. Maybe that would make it different somehow. Romans 12:1-2 told me:
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1-2
I found these little symbols in the text – T and R. Continuing my improvised study of Biblical structure, I found references that led me somehow to the book of Matthew.
Once there, I was confronted with something new. Some words were red and some were black. Reading a few of each, I quickly saw that the red letters were the words of Jesus and I was very intrigued by what I read.
Before I knew it, I had read this entire Gospel and I found myself in love with Jesus and frustrated, if not a bit angry, that my Christian friends and church people had not been able to share with me what I clearly saw now.
To be honest, I had never really had a Christian treat me poorly. Yet, somehow, I had in my mind that they thought of themselves as perfect and they (and I) knew I was a hot mess and not accepted by them – even though I had never really been shunned or treated badly.
In the Bible, I found Jesus going, not to the religious people, but to the hot-mess, non-conforming, outcasts like me! I could hardly believe it. But the pattern was clear over and over again. I realized the Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious holier-than-thou elite and Jesus was constantly trying to help them get over themselves and their rules so they could love people.
What was not to love about Jesus?
I did not have anyone there with me to teach me the sinner’s prayer or tell me my next step – but I did not need that. God had disrupted my seemingly non-conforming, tragically truly conforming life and showed me the only real non-conformist, Jesus Christ, His son who laid down His life for others instead of claiming His right to it – because he loved us that much.
What is Real Non-Conformity?
I have spent about 37 years with Romans 12:1-2 since that night and God still shows me amazing new things from these two verses. That is crazy-awesome-miraculous.
It is still sad to me when this verse is used to heap judgement upon people – Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world with the pattern being drinking, sex, cussing or whatever other infraction being condemned by the speaker. The pattern of this world is self, separate from God, and the Pharisees as well as those they condemned as sinners were stuck in this pattern. The modern equivalent is no different.
The transformation that comes from renewing your mind is the one that Jesus enabled for us – by us viewing instead, His mercies that enable us to be a living sacrifice because we too give up our life to let Christ live His through us.
Even after we become a Christian, Satan accuses us constantly that we are not good enough – as if we were still separate from Christ. But Christ already disrupted Satan’s power when He claimed us and came to live in us as one with us – as our very life.
That is what disruptive faith is – the faith of Christ to overcome both sin and death in us, which he has already done. This is why we must continually renew our minds to see the mercy and grace Christ already provided – Christ in us, the hope of glory – and continually let this revelation transform our lives.
Why Does This Matter?
People are often amazed when I share how I came to know Christ through a billboard rather than another person. I am sure others had talked to me before about Christ, but it never seemed they had introduced Him to me. I think that is true for most of us, even if we come to Christ when another shares the gospel with us. Usually, there were previous experiences too but this one is the one in which Christ reveals Himself to us – even if facilitated by another. Saint Paul tells us it requires God’s revelation:
But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.Galatians 1:15-16a
When we see Christ as one with us, it is not our environment, behavior, capabilities or even beliefs that change – It is our identity. We are now one with Him, inseparable. This is true regardless of our environment, situation, or circumstances. This is true despite our behavior whether good or bad. We are not operating under the law of good and bad – but under the reality of Christ’s grace and life in us as one.
When we are one with Him, we love Him and His life in us begins to transform us as we journey with Him. Like Paul, God reveals His son in us for a purpose God reveals His son in us SO THAT we might live out a unique calling with Him in our life.
Seeing His presence in us is how we come to know how we are uniquely called to live and love others. It empowers us to co-create with Him the same types of environments of love and grace He created when he walked the earth.
We are not here to only work and live and consume and experience our culture. Christ has disrupted all that. He has replaced life with life abundant. We are here to partner with Christ in the restoration of all things – to create His culture – on earth as it is in heaven.
If you have invited Him in, Christ lives in you and through you and is disruptively revealing Himself to you, SO THAT you can disruptively partner together. Your calling, His mission through you is at stake.
- Do you see Him?
- How will you partner with Him?
- Will you accept His disruptive calling and live life abundantly?