Over the centuries, these verses have caused consternation and controversy among followers of Christ. It is not my intention to upset or offend; however, I am compelled to present my thoughts.
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2 NLT (http://bible.com/116/rom.12.1-2.NLT)
Many took these words to mean that they should separate themselves from the world, and live as hermits. Others joined like minded individuals and founded monasteries, where they could live in seclusion from the world, to study God’s Word. Like everything human, these became flawed institutions where men and women took the LORD’S instructions and perverted them. Please don’t misunderstand. Not every person became an extremist. That is, unfortunately, one of the flaws we carry in our humanity; the ability to take something good and holy and twist it. We ALL do it to some extent. There are many good and decent men and women who have taken the vows to become monks and nuns; many more who are truly committed to following the Lord than those who twist their vows into something ugly. Take for example the practice of self-flagelation. How, in the Name of all that is Holy, can harming ourselves be conceived as something our God would condone, or encourage? I think not. Paul addresses this in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT (http://bible.com/116/1co.6.19-20.NLT)
Whether harming ourselves through self-flagelation, physically or mentally or emotionally, or doing it to someone else, it’s wrong. Just consequences for wrongdoing are necessary because of our sinful nature’s, and they (hopefully) help us learn right and wrong. Setting one’s self apart from the world for a time of mediation and study can be enlightening and help us find peace with inner turmoil. The key is to use the time wisely, and then to rejoin the world to be an example for Christ. If you go back to Romans 12:1-2, it is clear that we are to be a light in the world. We should be different from the world, discerning in our dress and attitude. Our minds and our bodies belong to God, and when we surrender our lives to Jesus, our souls then belong to Him as well.
“We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you.” – 2 Corinthians 1:12 NLT (http://bible.com/116/2co.1.12.NLT)
“In Christ Alone” just came on K-LOVE radio, one of my favorite new hymns, recorded by Kristian Stanfill. We are God’s children through His Son Jesus, and it is through Him that we are able to live apart from the world while at the same time we live in the world. I believe that this is what Paul meant when he said not to copy “the behavior and customs of this world,” and not to seclude or exclude ourselves from it physically.
Again, just my thoughts.