We are a society that prides itself in personal freedom and personal expression, to a point. Yet, we seldom break away from groups to "go it alone". If we do leave one group we usually end up joining another. It is easy to understand why: There is safety in numbers.
It is hard to stand out in a crowd, to take an opinion not shared by the majority, to speak up with a different song to sing. If we think differently from the majority of people we often look around for people of similar thinking so we do not feel so alone. It is difficult to develop a society born into true freedom because we must also protect the rights of other people. So, we try to say that we have freedom unless our freedom is bringing harm to another person.
Even then, it is hard to find a truly "free thinker" in our society because we are always comparing ourselves to other people. This is where "trends" come from. We compare our possessions, our styles, our attitudes, our behaviour. Some people will stick to what the majority of people are doing (the trend) and others will fight for individuality but join a smaller group for safety. I don't mean an actual group, but a segment of like-minded people that we identify with.
Now, some people may find it rich that I am writing this from the perspective of the Church which has for centuries tried to get people to conform by brutal force. But many of us disagree with the practices of the Church in the past because God has never asked us to get people to conform to man's ideas of God's will. At the same time it is our drive for independence from God and self-will that has gotten us into this mess. So we need to understand what we are talking about here in the Church, where we see our young people either conforming or struggling to express their individuality.
Jesus was never into conforming because his purpose was to bring about transformation. Conforming often blocks the transformation that Jesus wants to see take place in our heart and mind. We can do very little to change us but the Spirit of God transforms us into a new creation. Now, as this new creation, we have been set free from sin and all things so we have the freedom to individually choose to follow Jesus. No longer do we accept judgement from anyone but Jesus, and no longer are we concerned with comparing ourselves to others. When we compare we tend to conform to the behaviour of that person or that group but the only one we are suppose to be comparing ourselves to is Jesus. We do not imitate a copy but the original:
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 2:5)
Although we belong and are part of the Body of Christ and are thus united by the Holy Spirit, God still sees and treats us like individuals. He has called us each to our purpose which is unique in him. What he calls one person to is not what he has called another to do. What he takes another person through is not what he is taking us through. We tend to compare, conform and not obey what God is speaking to us individually because there is safety in numbers. Paul told the Galatians:
"If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load." (Galatians 6:3-5)
Notice he said "own load" and not "own burden". Just before this Paul was writing how we need to help carry each others burdens. We are responsible to help, support, and encourage each other but we do not have the responsibility to change each other. That is the Spirit's work. Paul warned those who tried to conform people to their own way of thinking and behaving:
"Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (Romans 14:4)
I know it is hard because we are in the rescue business, our Father's business. And I know it is hard when you can see the answer so plainly and others cannot. But life is a journey with Jesus and we are taught different things at different times according to God's purpose. When we try to force a lesson on someone before God has prepare them then we are causing damage. If we judge them without God's transformation happening in that area that we are trying to conform them to what we know. It is the reason we are told:
"We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up." (Romans 15:1-2)
If the Church is in the business of conformity then we are in the wrong business. We have been called to be encouragers, supporters, burden bearers. The Spirit is the one who is in the transformation business and he does it over the period of our life's journey. The only one we are suppose to be watching is Jesus and that is what we should be reminding each other. Get your eyes on Jesus and learn from him. The beauty of the Church is that we are all in different places, at different levels, serving the same Jesus, united by the same Spirit and his love enables us to accept each other as the Spirit works on , in and through all of us. Praise the Lord for his grace.