The GOSPEL TRUTH
CONFORMITY TO THE WORLD
by Charles G. Finney
"Be not conformed to this world"--Romans 12:2
Christians should not refuse to benefit by the useful arts, improvements, and discoveries of the world. The friends of God are not only privileged but bound to avail themselves of these. We must use all the useful arts and improvements of mankind for the Lord.
Christians, however, must not conform to the world in the following things: business, fashion, and politics. In these areas, Christians should not do as the world does or adopt its principles or practices. We are by no means to act from the same motives or pursue our objectives in the same manner that the world does.
LOOKING OUT FOR NUMBER ONE
The first reason why you must not conform to this world in business is that the principle of the world is supreme selfishness. This is universally true. Worldly business is governed and regulated by supreme and unmixed selfishness, with no regard to the commands of God, the glory of God, or the welfare of men.
The business of the world consult their own interest and seek their own benefit, not the benefit of those they deal with. Whoever heard of a worldly businessman doing business for the benefit of those he dealt with? It is always for his own benefit.
Christians are required to act exactly opposite to worldly business principles: "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth" (1 Corinthians 10:24). They are required to copy the example of Jesus Christ. Did He ever make bargains for His own advantage? Can His followers adopt the principles of the world, which contain in them the seeds of hell?
Conformity to the world is totally inconsistent with the love of God and man. The whole system recognizes only the love of self. Go through all the ranks of businessmen, from the man who sells candy on the sidewalk to the greatest wholesale merchant in the United States, and you will find this maxim--look out for number one. The norm is to do, as far as the rules of honesty will allow, all that will advance your own interest regardless of the interest of others.
Ungodly men will not deny that these are the principles of which business is done in the world. The man who pursues this course is universally regarded as doing business on business principles.
Are these rules of conduct consistent with holiness, the love of God and man, the spirit of the gospel, or the example of Jesus Christ? Can a man conform to the world in these principles and still love God? Impossible! No two things can be more opposite.
What did the Spirit of Jesus exemplify on earth? It was self-denial, benevolence, and sacrifice of Himself for others. He exhibited the same Spirit that God does, who gratifies His benevolent heart in doing good to others. The faith of the gospel is to be like God, joyfully denying self to do good. This is the gospel maxim: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
BIBLICAL BUSINESS PRINCIPLES
"Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" (Philippians 2:4). In contrast to this verse, the businessman of the world says, "Look out for number one." This maxim was made by men who knew and cared no more for the gospel than the heathen do. Why should Christians conform to a principle such as this?
To conform to the world in the pursuits of business is a flat contradiction of the confirmations that Christians make when they enter the Church. What vows do you make when you enter the Church? Is it not to renounce the world and live for God, to be led by the Holy Spirit, to possess supreme love to God, to renounce self, to give yourself to glorify God, and to do good to men? You profess not to love the world, its honors, or its riches. Around the communion table, with your hands on the broken body of your Savior, you confess these to be your principles and pledge yourself to live by them.
Then what do you do? Go away and follow rules invented by men, who love the world and whose stated objective is to gain the world? Is this your way? If so, repent! You are sworn before God to a different course, and when you pursue the business principles of the world, you show that you are perjured wretches.
Conformity to the world is such an obvious contradiction of the principles of the gospel that sinners cannot understand its true nature and object. The object of the gospel is to raise men above the love and influence of the world and place them on higher ground. When sinners see professing Christians acting on the same principle as other men, how can they understand the true principles of the gospel or know what heavenly-mindedness, self-denial, and benevolence is?
This spirit of conformity to the world has already eaten out the love of God from the Church. Show me a young convert, while his heart is warm and the love of God glows out from his lips. What does he care about the world? Call his attention to it, point him to its riches and honors, and try to engage him in their pursuit--he loathes the thought.
Then, if he goes into business on the principles of the world for one year, you will no longer find the love of God glowing in his heart. His faith will become the religion of conscience. Dry, meagre, and uninfluential, it will have no glowing love of God moving him to acts of benevolence.
Conformity to the world in business is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to converting sinners. What do wicked men think when they see professing Christians pretending to believe what the Bible teaches and yet as eager as anybody to make the best bargains and deal as hard as the most worldly? They say, "I see these Christians doing the same thing we do, looking out for number one."
These are not false accusations. Many Christians pursue the world in the same spirit, by the same maxims, and to the same degree that the ungodly do. The world says, "Look at the church! I don't think they are any better than I am. They're as worldly as I am."
If professing Christians act on the same principles as worldly men, they will have the same reward. They are set down in God's book of remembrance as hypocrites pretending to be the friends of God. For whoever loves the world is the enemy of God. (See James 4:4)
If Christians would turn the tables over and do business on gospel principles, it would shake the world. It would ring louder than thunder. If the ungodly could see Christians businessmen concerned with seeking not their own wealth but every man another's wealth, and setting no value on the world, any further than it can be a means of glorifying God, what do you think the effect would be?
What effect did it have in Jerusalem when the early Christians gave up their businesses and turned out en masse to pursue the salvation of the world? A few ignorant fishermen and a few humble women turned the world upside down. If the Church lived so now, it would cover the world with confusion and overwhelm them with convictions of sin. Infidelity would hide its head, dissension would be driven from the Church, and this charming, blessed spirit of love would go over the world like ocean waves.
WHEN PRIDE REIGNS
The world of fashion is directly at war with the spirit of the gospel. What is minding earthly things if it is not to follow the fashions of the world that continually fluctuate in their forms? Many men of wealth think they care nothing for fashion. They are occupied with their businesses, and they trust their tailors. But if they made an unfashionable garment, you would see that the affluent do care about fashions.
Although their thoughts are not much on the fashions, they have a higher object in view. They think it beneath the dignity of a minister to preach about fashion. They overlook the fact that with most men fashion is everything. Most people are not rich and never expect to be, but they try to make a respectable appearance. Nine-tenths of the population looks to the world and follows the fashions. For this they strain every nerve. And this is what they set their hearts on and what they live for.
The rich man deceives himself, therefore, if he supposes that fashion is a little thing. Most people set their mind upon it. The thing they look for in life is to have their dress, hair, furniture, car, etc., like other people's--respectable, as they call it.
When people join the Church, they profess to give up the spirit that gives rise to fashion. They profess to renounce the vanities of the world, repent of their pride, follow the meek and lowly Savior, and to live for God. And now what do they do? Nothing will satisfy them that is not in the height of fashion.
What lies at the bottom of all this shifting scenery? What produces all this gaudy show and display? It is the love applause. When Christians follow the changes of fashion, they pronounce all this innocent. The waste of money, time, and thought, the feeding and cherishing of vanity, and the love of applause is approved by the Church when she conforms to the world.
Like the ungodly, many professing Christians show that they love the world by their conduct. They give evidence that they are motivated by one principle: the love of fashion. When "Christians" do this, they show most clearly that they love the praise of men. Like sinners, they love admiration and flattery. Isn't this inconsistent with Christian principle, to follow the very things that are set up by the pride, fashion, and lust of the ungodly?
STEWARDS OF REPUTATION
Conforming to the world in fashion shows that you do not hold yourself accountable to God for the way you spend money. You practically disown the stewardship of your wealth. By spending money to gratify your own vanity and lust, you take off the keen edge of truth that ought to cut sinners in two. You practically deny that the earth is the Lord's!
The cry comes to our ears on every wind from the lost of all nations, "Come over and help us, come over and help us." Every week brings some call for tracts and Bibles from missionaries. If you choose to spend money in following the fashions, it is obvious that reputation is your idol.
Take the case of a woman whose husband has died. There she is, toiling and saving, rising up early and sitting up late. She eats the bread of carefulness because the father of her children is dead. Go to that woman and tell her that it is innocent for her to follow the fashions and dress like her neighbors--will she do it? Why not? She doesn't want to do it. She hardly buys what she needs, so intent is she on raising her children.
Suppose a person loved God, the souls of men, and the Kingdom of Christ--does he need a direct order from God to prevent him from spending his money and wasting his life in following the fashion? No; instead he will probably need an order to take what he needs for his own comfort and the support of his life.
Take the case of Timothy. Did he need a prohibition to stop him from indulging in wine? On the contrary, he was so cautious that it required and express injunction from God to make him drink a little wine as medicine. (See 1 Timothy 5:23)
Many Christians have followed the world of fashion so closely that God seems to have given them over to the devil for the destruction of the flesh. They have little or no religious feeling, no spirit of prayer, and no zeal for the glory of God or the conversion of sinners. The Holy Spirit seems to have left them.
When the elders and leaders in a church are fashionable Christians, they drag the whole church along with them into the train of fashion. Once a rich Christian lady comes to the house of God in full fashion, the whole church is tempted to follow as far as they can.
Suppose a reformed alcoholic should surround himself with wine, brandy and hard liquor and from time to time taste a little--isn't he tempting himself? Or imagine a woman who has been brought up in the spirit of pride and show but is reformed. If she keeps her wardrobe and continues to follow the fashions, pride will drag her backward as sure as she lives. She tempts herself to sin and folly.
By following the fashions, you are setting the world into a fierce and hot pursuit of these things. The very things that the world loves and are sure to have scruples about, professing Christians fall in with and follow. You thus tempt the world to continue in the pursuit of what will destroy their souls in hell.
When you follow the fashions, you open your heart to the devil. You keep it for him--empty, swept, and garnished. Every woman or man that follows the fashions may rely upon it: they are helping Satan to tempt them to pride and sin.
If professing Christians would show their contempt for these things and not follow or regard them, it would shame and convince the world that they were striving for God and for eternity! How irresistible it would be. What an overwhelming testimony in favor of Christianity. What thunders it would pour into the ears of the world to wake them up to follow God!
ELECTING GODLY CANDIDATES
Christians also must not be conformed to the world in politics. The politics of the world are entirely dishonest. The policy of every party is to cover up the defects of their own candidate and the good qualities of the opposing candidate. Isn't this dishonest? Every party holds up its candidate as a piece of perfection and them aims to ride him into office by any means, fair or foul. No man that is committed to a party can be entirely honest. Can a Christian do this and keep a clear conscience?
By falling in with the world in politics, Christians are guilty of setting up rulers over them (by their own vote) who do not fear or love God and who defy the law of God. Some politicians break the Sabbath, commit adultery, fight, swear profanely, and leave the laws unexecuted. Christians put them into office! Where parties are divided, as they are in this country, there are enough Christians to tip the scale in any election.
By following the present course of politics, you are helping to undermine all government and order in the land. This great nation staggers and reels because the laws are broken and trampled under foot, and the executive power refuses to act. Either politicians don't want to put down disorder, or they compromise and let the devil rule. This is true in all parts of the country and in all parties. Can a Christian be consistent with his profession of faith and still vote for men like this? What greater stumbling block can we place before sinners?
No wonder the world has a hard time believing "Christian candidates." I myself often doubt whether many of them believe the Bible. They show, as far as evidence goes, that there is no change of heart.
What is Christianity? Is it going to the communion table once a month and sometimes to a prayer meeting? Is that a change of heart? The world would be foolish to believe in a change of heart on such evidence.
If Christians acted perfectly conscientious and consistent in this matter, they would say, "We will not vote for any man unless he fears God and will rule the people in righteousness." Then ungodly men wouldn't nominate candidates who set themselves against the law. Every candidate would be obliged to show that he was prepared to act from higher motives. Then he would strive to make the country prosperous, promote virtue, and put down vice, oppression, and disorder. They would have to do all they could to make the people happy and holy. It would shame dishonest politicians to show that the love of God and man is the motive that Christians have in view. What a blessed influence would flow over the land!
If we had a holy ministry, it would be far more important than an educated ministry. If ministers were holy, they wouldn't need so much education. I don't mean to undervalue an educated ministry. Let ministers be educated as much as they can--the more the better, as long as they are holy.
But to suppose that education can convert the world is a farce. Let the ministry have the spirit of prayer, and let the baptism of the Holy Spirit be upon them. Then they will spread the gospel. If Christians lived as they should, the Church would shake the world. The report would soon fill every wind, until the earth was full of excitement and inquiry. Conversions would multiply like the drops of morning dew.
BE YE SEPARATE!
Christians must be singular. They are called to be a peculiar people, essentially different from the rest of mankind. To argue that we are not to be singular is to maintain that we are to be conformed to the world. This is the direct opposite of the command in the text.
The nearer you bring the Church to the world, the more you annihilate the reasons for their changing sides and coming to Jesus Christ. Unless you separate from them and show that you are not of them in any respect, how can you make the ungodly feel that a great change is necessary? The change that is necessary is a change of heart.
Many people may argue that if Christians are too separate, then people will become disgusted and take to the world altogether. This is about as reasonable as it would be for a sober man to get drunk now and then to avoid offending alcoholics or to retain his influence over them. People must see in the lives of Christians that they have given up the love of the world and its pride. We must live holy lives in watchfulness, self-denial, and active benevolence.
Your heart is not right unless your conduct is right. What is outward conduct but the acting out of the heart? If your heart was right, you would not want to follow the world.
By non-conformity to the world, a great deal of time may be saved for doing good that is now consumed and wasted in joining in the pursuits of the world. At the same time, Christians would preserve their peace of conscience, enjoy communion with God, have the spirit of prayer, and possess far greater usefulness.
Something must be done! You say that you want to have sinners converted. But what help is it if they sink right back again into conformity to the world? I am filled with pain at the Church's conduct. What are the results of the glorious revivals we have had? I believe they were genuine revivals and outpourings of the Holy Spirit, yet many converts are a disgrace to the Lord!
One holy church crucified to the world would do more to promote Christianity than all the churches in the country, living as they now do. If I had strength to go through the churches, I would preach to bring them up to the gospel standard of holy living. Of what use is it to convert sinners and make them such Christians as these? Of what use is it to try to convert sinners and make them feel that there is something in religion, and them by your conformity to the world prove that there is nothing in it?
Where shall the Lord look for a church--like the first Church--that will be separate and serve God?
Do you believe that God commands you not to be conformed to the world? Do you believe it? And dare you obey it, regardless of what people say about you? Will you separate yourself from the world and never again be controlled by its principles and practices? Will you do it?
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