If you happen to be from my generation, you may remember the line of toys (and corresponding cartoon) called “Transformers”1. If that’s the case, the title of this article probably makes sense to you, as well. Variations on this concept included the Go-Bots, and probably other toy lines from companies who saw an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.
Of course, what was significant about these fictional characters, as well as the corresponding toys (action figures?), was that they could be manipulated – by bending pieces and swiveling components – to change from robots to vehicles, and back again.
The leader of the Autobots (the “good guys” of the Transformers world) was named Optimus Prime. This was the ultimate Transformers toy that a kid could own at that time (think of kids who also had the original Millennium Falcon toy set). When not a robot, this Transformer changed into a semi-tractor, and the trailer folded out into a play set. While I didn’t personally have either of those (preferring Lego blocks and other building sets), I still remember a friend having the Optimus Prime set at his house, when we were kids.
Because of this context from my childhood, the Transformers’ slogan (just the theme song; not the little morality lesson that usually came at the end of a Saturday morning cartoon) sometimes still comes to mind when I read the following verse:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 NASB
Consider the first part of this verse: If we do nothing, the world will push us to conform. Like a low-quality chair or couch cushion, where repeated use leads to the furniture conforming to those who sit in it, if we don’t find a way to be better and stronger than our surroundings, we will just yield to the pressure applied to us.
Under pressure to think in a certain way, and act in a certain way, even followers of Jesus who don’t actively seek His will and direction may start to take on “the appearance of the average”. We risk becoming more and more like those who don’t even acknowledge Jesus, since apathy and entropy are passive, and the world around us is not.
If we want to be different, though – as Jesus calls us to be – we will have to stand up against the norm, and seek to follow God’s will even when it goes in the opposite direction of the path of least resistance.
Jesus calls us to make an impact in the world. Like a well-made chair whose lumbar support and weight distribution remain strong, despite years of use, we can remain helpful to others around us even when the stresses and strains of service would have left us crushed, otherwise.
Note from this verse, though, that the transformation doesn’t come from just “doing better”. The Christian walk isn’t about willing ourselves to do better, or telling ourselves to be strong. Instead, I think of this “renewing” of our minds like getting a fresh perspective on the universe. If we started out thinking that we were good enough, strong enough, or smart enough to succeed, we might try to live that out for a while, but we would be headed towards disappointment. Once we realize that we are never going to measure up to the righteousness of the God of the universe, we might be even more bummed than we were previously.
However, upon discovering not only that God provided a solution to bring us back into His family, but also that He actively wants us to accept that offer and be restored to Him, our motivation changes. We are no longer failures, scrabbling towards an unreachable goal. Instead, we are grateful, redeemed people, who seek to emulate aspects of a God who is fully righteous. Our behavior is driven by gratitude and aspiration, rather than obligation. Our strength comes from our Father, and not our fragile selves.
If we think that we are tough (like a solid piece of furniture) or strong enough on our own, the weight of doing the right thing will eventually begin to take its toll on us. Gritting our teeth and just trying to make good choices on our own just leads to fatigue (and a sore jaw). We simply do not have the ability to keep going through brute force of will.
The good news is that we are not on our own. Like a nice-looking couch with a steel frame, we are undergirded by the strength that comes from God Himself.
When we are done, we “prove” God’s will. Having stood the test of time, and demonstrating the strength that can only come from Him, we become living examples of the legitimacy, viability, and wisdom of following His will. We have the opportunity to show the rest of the world that God’s will is the only plan that makes sense, and that it – in the long run – is the only one that leads to true life.
I hope that you have found the freedom and joy that comes from this renewal. Some of your actions might look the same as those who are still trying to earn something (salvation, success, recognition, or just peace) through brute force. However, over time, I hope that your source of strength and proving of God’s will eventually helps those others to find the transformation that makes all the difference. May there be more to your life that meets the eye!
In the second part of this article, let’s look at conforming and transformation from a slightly different point of view.
- Let’s ignore the recent movies for the sake of this discussion. Although I watched one (or maybe two) of them, I feel that they were less about kids’ toys and more about appealing to adolescent vices. ↩