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.
I worked on the editorial team of Tabletalk magazine for over a decade, and one of my favorite pieces of art was featured on the cover of the November 2002 issue. The issue was titled "The Myth of Influence," and it depicted a sheep dressed up as a wolf surrounded by a pack of wolves, who are clearly not fooled. That issue addressed the subject of Christian leaders attempting to influence the world by conforming to the world.
I don't recall all of the details of the various articles in that issue of Tabletalk, but I've never forgotten the cover. I think it's the obliviousness of the sheep to the danger surrounding him, or the vacuous look in his eyes, or a combination of both that gets me. This sheep apparently thinks he has pulled the wool over the eyes of the fierce predators surrounding him, but the only one he has fooled is himself.
Most Christians are aware of Jesus's warning to “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15). There, Jesus is warning His followers that false prophets will come, and they will often have all the outward appearances of a true sheep. He notes, however, that we will know them by their fruits.
I think this piece of artwork reminds us of a different danger, the danger Paul mentions in Romans 12:2. It warns us about the danger of Christians - us - becoming conformed to the world. And let me be clear that I'm not pointing my finger at anyone in particular here because whenever I do that and the dust settles, I usually discover that I'm pointing at a mirror. I'm talking about a very real danger we all face.
We can be conformed to this world in many ways. Even those who self-consciously reject worldly philosophies can sometimes slip into a more subtle, and therefore less noticeable, kind of conformity. When we do this, we can easily become an oblivious sheep in wolves' clothing.
One of the most subtle ways we can become conformed to this world is by letting the world dictate our vocabulary of truth, goodness, and beauty as well as the conceptual categories that accompany it, rather than letting those concepts be defined by the Word of God. We can easily allow the world to dictate the rules of the game, define the teams, define their slogans and shibboleths, and then play along without ever realizing that we are the ones being played.
The world, for example, tells us that truth is relative. It uses phrases such as "my truth" and "your truth." And yet, at the same time, without any apparent awareness of the contradiction, it condemns "your truths" as non-truths. The world tells us that ethical judgments are merely personal expressions of one's feelings. There can, therefore, be no objective right or wrong. The way we resolve ethical disputes, therefore, is by shouting louder than those whose ethical preferences differ from ours and labeling their preferences irrational phobias. Why do we let such a confused world dictate our categories of true and false, right and wrong?
I suspect that Christian conformity to worldly categories and practices is why so much so-called Christian discourse, especially online, quickly devolves into "enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy" (Galatians 5:20–21). When we become conformed to the world by joining its teams and playing by its rules, it should be no surprise if our language to one another looks like what Paul speaks of as the works of the flesh. Wolves in sheep's clothing aren't the only ones known by their fruits. It's how we can know when we've become sheep in wolves' clothing.
Thankfully, we have a Good Shepherd who loves and cares for His foolish sheep, for us. By God's grace, let us be conformed to Him rather than to the world. He defines what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful. May we desire what He desires, hate what He hates, and love what He loves. May we love God. May we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And may we love our lost neighbors as well.
Whatever our lost neighbor's ethnicity or nationality, whatever his or her bumper stickers, whatever his or her favorite sports team, he or she is a human being created in the image of God and a captive in the kingdom of darkness. If we love our lost neighbors, we will want good for them, in this life and the next. The greatest good for them is eternal life in Christ, and if we love them, we will want that greatest good for them. In short, what our lost neighbors need us to share with them is not a comment mocking them about this or that. What they need us to share with them is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
P.S. Regarding the title of the blog post, I am aware that the proper spelling is "werewolf." But I am a big fan of bad puns.
Image used with permission of Tabletalk magazine.