” For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29, NIV)
Earlier today, I was reading this article on Beneath the Tangles. As I drove home, I began thinking, and this subject came to mind. In truth, I’ve wanted to start writing these “Faith Articles” for a while now, but never have gotten around to it. I even have an idea for what I intended to be my first Faith Article, but now I feel compelled to share this one, however long or short it may end up being. So, here it goes.
As the title suggests, what are you conformed to, and how do you know? Are you conformed to what you spend the most time/money/thought/energy on? That certainly sounds like a possibility, although evangelist Oswald Chambers may not entirely agree: ” It is not the thing we spend the most time on that moulds us most; the greatest element is the thing that exerts most power.” I can’t say I’m largely knowledgeable about Chambers’ teachings, but I remember seeing this quote in a daily devotional once. I think this is a good place to start.
So, what exerts the most power over you? What makes you want to change? What do you try to be like? No matter who you are, you are conforming to something. If you think you’re a non-conformer by joining a crowd of non-conformers, then you’re simply conforming to the beat of a different crowd. True, you’re rejecting conformity to what’s popular and choosing to walk another road, but conformity by any other name is just the same. How many times do we see it in the anime–or, perhaps I should say–otaku subculture? Just read the article above, and perhaps the resulting comments. Anime has a variety of genres, and yet the perversity in it always seems to get the attention. It’s what opponents attack and, if the article linked is any evidence, it’s what the proponents laud. Maybe that’s a bit broad, as I’m sure there are plenty of people who stay away from the sexualized stuff, but what about in individual fandoms? Do we sacrifice original opinion to fit in with the majority of the fandom? For example, does every Hetalia fangirl who pairs two male characters together start out that way, or does she begin to conform to what seems the “norm” of the fanbase? If we go back to Chambers’ quote, then does our fandom exert more power over us than it should?
Perhaps we just become more conformed in a slow, steady fade, though. It’s fully possible that we start out morally opposed to the immoral aspects of anime, but over time–a little fanservice here, some sexual immorality there, a bit of nudity every now and again–we become desensitized to it. Maybe we don’t participate in it as jovially as some, but we find ourselves less aghast at it and more tolerant of its presence. Wouldn’t this still be a form of conformity? Aren’t we now approving the same things our peers are, at least to some degree, when we were originally against the grain? I admit that this may not be a perfect formula, either. For example, one may start out vehemently opposed to violent depictions in anime, but then realize that sometimes these depictions serve a greater purpose, such as making a deeper point about the realities and far-reaching effects of war. We can, of course, debate over how graphic such depictions need be, but the point is that someone who is completely anti-violence in media may come to see that, at times, it can actually serve a purpose.
I suppose the best way to figure out what we’re conforming to is to simply look at what’s influencing us the most. For the Christian, the obvious goal is to be like Christ, and if you don’t believe me, just look at the Scripture that began this post. The end goal–the only goal–for the Christian is to be like Christ. How do we measure this? Well, prayer and a thorough reading of the Scriptures is a good place to start. Scripture tells us that we become a new creation in Christ, which says to me that we can’t recreate ourselves, so if we want to change then we better well include God in the plans, hence prayer. But we also need to know what’s expected, hence the Bible reading. We need more than a cursory knowledge of Jesus. We need to know who He was, His mannerisms, His attitudes, His responses, His everything. It’s hard to conform yourself to something you have no knowledge of. At this point we also have an element of will to add into the mix, though. After all, if it was simply an act of immersion, then no one who was taken to church every Sunday and Wednesday and had the Bible read to them every day at home should ever fall away. We need to desire it. We need to let Christ have power over us.
If we spend hours reading the Bible, but our minds are concerned with when we get to watch the newest episode of Golden Time (or your favorite anime here), then we’ve wasted our time. Conversely, if we watch an hour of anime and only read the Bible for five minutes, but we count that five minutes of reading as the most important thing in our day, then we are allowing that to exert more power, in my opinion. After all, don’t we tend to think about the things that are most important to us more?
Now, I don’t know if it’s morally acceptable to devote an hour to anime and only five minutes to God’s Word, but my point is that we need to consider our priorities, not just how much time we devote to something. Spending two hours in prayer and an additional hour in the Bible means nothing if we do it out of a rigid schedule, with no true desire to know God or let Him have an effect on us. We need to give in, we need to desire Him more and more, and we need to let Him exert His power over us. If we think we can change ourselves, we are simply fooling ourselves. If I may share a bit of my personal story:
I was a pervert, through and through. I grasped on to that trope in anime and ran with it. Granted, I was perverse long before, but I think it got worse after I discovered anime, and particularly fanservice anime (remember that whole conformity thing?). It’s probably no exaggeration to say that I was like the people being discussed in the Beneath the Tangles article. At one point, after several years of dating my girlfriend (now fiancée, soon to be wife), I watched Suzuka, and something about it hit me. I started to regret my impurity and my perversion. I wanted to change. That resolution lasted for maybe a couple days, and I fell back into my old habits. Conversely, when I came to Christ back in 2012, my life changed rapidly. I can’t give you an exact time frame, but I don’t think it was more than a couple months before perversity was behind me. That’s not to say that I didn’t struggle with inappropriate thoughts and urges. I did, and still do. Temptation will always be there, but the difference was this: something new was exerting power over me, something greater than the perversion to which I conformed before. That something greater was Jesus Christ.
I would argue that the only time we can truly break our conformity to something is if we find something we esteem to be of greater value. Theoretically, this could be an endless cycle. You find one fandom you like, so you learn everything about it and adopt the mannerisms, attitudes, behaviors, etc. of that fandom and continue in it until you grow tired and find another fandom, and so on. Perhaps you leave anime and find a new interest, and the cycle continues. The only way to truly break the cycle is to find something that it so much greater and so far above the things you’ve been conforming to that nothing could ever top it. Jesus Christ is precisely what–or rather, Who–I’m getting at here. It only makes sense to allow God to conform us to His likeness, as there can be nothing greater than the One who created it all. A creation cannot become greater than its creator, so how could a creation of the creation become greater than the Creator? In short, it can’t. We can continue the cycle of conforming to one thing after another, or we can surrender and let God conform us to the image of His Son.
Even as I write this, though, I fully acknowledge that I have not attained this level of perfection. All of this is easy to say. I’ve read the Bible, I know what we’re supposed to do, I know what Christ wants from me, but putting it all into action is another story. I include this because I want to be real with you, the reader. I don’t want you reading this and simply thinking I’m another Christian on his moral high horse looking down on the world. In all reality, I’m probably still trying to get into the saddle. This article is already too long for me to delve into my personal struggles, but my point is that I’m far from being conformed to the image of Christ.
So, what are you conformed to?