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. (Romans 12:1–2—NKJV)

The words conform and transform sound somewhat the same, but there is a striking difference in meaning, not always evident in English. This subtle difference is magnified in the Scriptures. In English, conform means to comply, to act in accord or harmony with a standard, acquiescence, agreement; to correspond in form or character. Transform means to change in form, appearance, or structure; metamorphose; to change in condition, nature, or character; convert.

Conformity is more concerned with your relationship to standards whereas transform is concerned with the standards by which you relate. The rebel within mankind yearns to be non-conformist, but even non-conformists have a code of conduct. Codes of conduct are a form of conformity, an external form or fashion. Structure and form, congruity and agreement, fashion and style are prime movers to the conformer/non-conformist.

Transformation is illustrated by the world of electronics. A transformer is an electronic device which transfers electric energy from one circuit to another such that the frequency of the energy remains unchanged while the voltage and current usually change. The transformer on your toy train set utilizes the same household electricity that powers a heavy duty washing machine by transforming the energy so that the electricity is tame enough to run your little street lights and engines in the layout. The integrity of the energy is the same, it is just the application of the energy which morphs to meet the need, hence the idea of conversion.

In the Scriptures, conformity is from the root word “schema,” meaning outward fashion, one thing fashioned as another, to shape. Philippians 2:8 says of our Lord, “being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself” to the death of the cross. Our verse above reminds you not to be conformed (fashioned after) the world. 1 Peter 1:14–15 reads, “As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Such conforming (relation to standards) is transitory, unstable, changeable—just as fashions are. The word is never used in the Bible to describe moral transformation or conversion. Actions, conventions, behaviors and manner of life which are nothing more than external expectations and codes (even good intentions and worthy resolutions) ignore the reality that those standards will be short-lived unless there is fundamental transformation within. Lasting standards of conduct arise from within. 1 Corinthians 7:31 tells you, “For the form of this world is passing away.”

Biblical transformation (“be transformed by the renewing of your mind”) is the work of the Holy Spirit. When new life is planted within you at your conversion by God’s grace, a “metamorphosis” takes place. The energy of redeeming grace and new life is yours; eternal life starts within and is seen by all without. Like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly, your new nature will be unmistakable as a new form that conforms to the principles within you. “But we all…are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed (summorphos—inner, complete change as well as outer conformity) to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

You cannot be a Christian merely by conforming to Christian codes of conduct. You can only be authentically Christian by the work of God transforming you from within, through faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. Are you born again? Are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind? Trust and obey.