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Against the Tide—Do Not Be Conformed to This World

Based on a sermon series on “Overcoming Secularity”
by Peter Shee—Singapore


The word “secular” comes from the Latin saecularis, relating to an age or period, which is in turn derived from saeculum which means ”generation.” The Bible mentions two ages – “this age” (cf. Heb 2:2) and the “next age” or the “age to come” (Heb 2:5). The former refers to our lives on this earth, and the latter, to the future world where we will spend eternity with God in bliss.

The author of Hebrews urges us to anchor ourselves to the things we have heard lest we drift away (Heb 2:1–2). Such a warning hints at the characteristic of “this age”—there are whelming tides that may sweep the unwary away and prevent his or her entry into the “next age.” We must always examine our mindsets and check our behavior against the things we have heard. We must clearly discern: which age do we seek to align ourselves to?


God has not put the world[1] to come in subjection to angels (Heb 2:5–6). Citing the Psalms (cf. Ps 8:4–6), the author of Hebrews informs us that Jesus Christ will rule the world to come. And this world ruled by Christ has already begun; the kingdom of God has been inaugurated on earth as His church and those who have been baptized into the church of Christ are His subjects. This is why Jesus tells us not say the kingdom of God is here or there, “[f]or indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21).

Jesus died for our sins and His blood redeemed us from this age. His resurrection marked the inauguration of His messianic kingdom (Acts 13:33; cf. Ps 2:6–7; Heb 2:5–8). Through baptism, we identify with His death and resurrection, escape from the corruption of this age and enter into His kingdom. As subjects of God’s kingdom, we must first seek God, His kingdom, and His righteousness instead of the things of this age. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is now given to us to empower us to obey God and walk according to His righteousness (Rom 8:11–13). If we persevere, resisting conformity to this age, we show ourselves to be true citizens of the heavenly kingdom.


Jesus is the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10). He shall bring us, together with other children of God, into glory in the world to come. However, this demands that we submit to Jesus as captain and accept His absolute rule in our lives; this requires us to reject any affiliation to this present world.

God has deemed us worthy to be called His people. However, we must constantly remember that this world is not worthy of God’s people (Heb 11:38). Hebrews 11 is a list of victors who had overcome the fiercest battles in their lives. Despite intense persecution—some were even sawn into two—they maintained their faith to the very end. These people of faith could persevere because they stayed away from a world that was not worthy of them. They wandered in mountains, deserts, dens, caves and so on in order to avoid the corruption of the world, and remained holy.

Today, we may not be physically removed from society. However, we need to be spiritually separated from this world and her values (2 Cor 6:17). We must resist drifting along with the tide of the world. Jn 17:1417 provides many teachings on how to be spiritually removed from this age—we must not be influenced by the world to sin together with them (v14) and we must lead a holy life (v17).


I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:1–2)

Although we are still living in the world, we must present our bodies as a living sacrifice, i.e., we should conduct our lives in a worthy manner, holy and acceptable to God. Such a sacrifice of our bodies “is our reasonable service.” It is a conscious act on our part to offer our entire life as a continual worship of God. Only by sustaining communion with God can we remain secure and not drift away with the tides of this age.

There are three steps to presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. First, do not be conformed to this world[2]. Second, we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Third, we must prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

The following focuses on the first step.


The Course of the World

The world that we live in is in rebellion against God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly warns that His people will always be at loggerheads with the people of this world (Jn 14:14, 16). Being of God and being of the world are two mutually exclusive categories; we can only be of one or the other. If we choose the former, then we must be ready to stand against the world and against the tide of secularity.

The tides of this world are no gentle ripples which lap and eddy around us as we stand. Instead, the tides of secularity are often huge waves that rush in to sweep us out into the ocean. Even as we strive to align ourselves to God, the world strives—insidiously, incessantly and relentlessly—to make us conform to it.

[I]n which you once walked according to the course[3] of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Eph 2:2–3)

Before we came to know the Lord Jesus Christ, we were part of the world, conformists to this age. Paul warns us that there are three things that threaten us and our salvation—the devil (the prince of the power of the air), the course of the world, and our fleshly lusts. Our lusts draw us towards the current of the world. Through our lusts, the devil controls us. If we can control or even eliminate our desires, the devil will no longer be able to sway us to walk according to the course of the world. However, if we are still conforming to the world and walking according to our lusts, it means that we are under the control of the evil one to disobey God.

Some argue that the world is beautiful and ask what is wrong with enjoying the world. It is true that God created a good and beautiful world (cf. Gen 1:3–25). However, when the Bible says not to conform to this world, the Bible is not referring to the physical earth, but the ways of the world or the course of the world. Not conforming to this age means not conforming to the world’s values, mindsets, and ways of doing things. Galatians 1:4 provides us with the correct translation—“this (present evil) age” as opposed to “this world,” thus clarifying the distinction between the physical creation and the ways of the world. God created a wonderful world to be inhabited by His children. Tragically, since the fall of Man, “this age” now occupies God’s world and we have become corrupted. However, the apostle Paul reminds us that Christ has saved us from the corruption of this age (Gal 1:4).

Jesus Christ sacrificed His life on the cross to deliver us from the corruption in this age. We must respond to this freely-given grace by no longer conforming to the world but conforming to the will of God, our Father. This means being wise and making prudent choices regarding the things that affect our lives—our friends, studies, career, and where we live. Beware of making Lot’s choice.


Lot: A Family Tragedy

Lot chose to live in Sodom because it was a thriving city (cf. Gen 13:10–12). But Sodom was also a place full of evil (cf. Gen 18:20–33) and full of the thinking of this age. By choosing this depraved society to live in and bring up his family, Lot subjected himself to unnecessary and continual bombardment of evil. The community he lived with was evil and Lot was tormented daily because his soul was righteous (2 Pet 2:8).

Despite Lot’s righteousness, he and his household suffered a tragic end. When two angels visited Lot to save him and his family, all the men of Sodom wanted to have sex with these two beautiful angels. The whole city came and knocked on Lot’s door. Under intense stress and in his desire to save the angels, Lot offered his virgin daughters to the men of the city in “exchange” (Gen 19:6–8)! Later, Lot’s wife could not detach herself from the attractions of this age and was turned into a pillar of salt. Besides losing his wife, Lot also lost his two daughters to immorality. His two daughters made Lot drunk and committed incest with him.

This tragic account should make us reflect on the choices we make. Like Lot and his daughters, have our choices corrupted our moral values? Like Lot’s wife, do we have such great attachments to this age that these will cost us our life one day?

Not of This World

And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. (Rev 11:8)

This age that we live in is spiritually Sodom because it is filled with debauchery and immorality. This world is spiritually Egypt because it oppresses Christians and enslaves people to sin. Do we still find the world attractive? Do we still want to conform to its ways?

We do not belong to this world and that is why the world will hate us (Jn 15:19). Moreover, our real opponents are not human; our real enemy is the spirit of the air. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but dark forces (Eph 6:12). The prince of darkness seeks to entice us over to his side by appealing to our lust of the flesh, lust of the eye, and pride of life. However, we must not compromise. In fact, Philippians 2 tells us to make our stand clear. We have to shine as lights in the world and show ourselves to be different from this age. The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth but He will abide with us forever (Jn 14:16–18). Hence we do not seek acceptance by the world; we have overcome the world and those who are of God hears us (1 Jn 4:56).

As Lot found out too late, this age (or this world) may not gently invite us to imbibe its values. At times, it threatens and forces us to conform. And often times, we—like Lot—have long been corrupted by the views and values of the society we live in. The only solution according to the word of God is to crucify (Gal 6:14). No matter what threats we face, we have to crucify the world. If the world does not take “NO” for an answer, then we have to crucify ourselves. In other words, let us happily die in defiance of the world and obedience to God, rather than live in sinful conformity.


This world will eventually be judged when Jesus comes again, signifying the end of this age. John 16 tells us that when Jesus comes again, He will convict the world of sin and righteousness, and the prince of this age will be judged.

Paul also tells us that we—the saints—will judge the world (1 Cor 6:2). If we are going to be judges of the world, how can we defile ourselves by conforming to this world’s values? We must thus carefully examine ourselves and repent from inappropriate behavior so that we will be worthy judges and not end up being judged with the world. James tells us that friendship with the world is enmity with God; it is spiritual adultery (Jas 4:4).

Demas was a good co-worker with Paul (Col 4:14; Phm 1:24) but left his ministry because he loved this present world (2 Tim 4:1). We were entangled with the world before but now that we have been saved, we have escaped the corruption of this age. Let us be wary lest we entangle ourselves again with the pollution of this age and our latter end will be worse than the beginning (2 Pet 2:20).

Let us strive to be among the victors of Hebrews 11. We are people who have faith, who truly believe that God exists and seek God (Heb 11:3). Most importantly, as one of those in Hebrews 11, we must remember that the world is not worthy of us. Never drift along with this world. Stand against the tide!

[1] Greek: οἰκουμένη from which “ecumenical” is derived rather than αἰών or κόσμος; the emphasis is thus on a new world order.

[2] Greek: αἰών meaning “age.”

[3] Greek: αἰών meaning “age.”