Imagine Me – Don’t Conform; Be transformed

Do you remember Mock exams? What was your K.C.S.E index number?


We are looking at the life of Paul, one the most influential leaders of all time. In the last sermon post, we discovered that we have many people far more qualified that God could have used, but somehow, He chose Paul. God is not waiting for perfect people who have their act together to spread His love. Instead, God loves unlikely candidates!

In a sense, exams and index numbers prepare us for life because life is about assessment and ranking. At work, we have regular assessments that tell us who is doing well and who is not making the cut. In relationships, things are pretty much the same. How true this is ? They say that girls assign an index number when they meet any prospective guy within the first few seconds of their interaction! While the clueless guy is grinning at her, she’s already shredded him with her eyes and noted his shoes, belt, watch, shirt and what type of cologne he’s wearing. The poor ignorant guy has no idea that he has already been ranked and found wanting. Seriously though, just by looking at how people dress, or what they drive or their accent when they talk, we instantly have a category for them. We can tell who is like us and who is not; who is ‘in’, and who is hustling their way in. We can tell who is important and who is not so important. It’s rather convenient that just from how people look/sound or smell, you know how to respond to them.

What do you think when you meet an old classmate you haven’t seen in years and he or she is driving a brand new Range Rover? You say, wow, the guy’s doing well! Can I have your card please – let’s definitely get together soon! Perhaps you’re left wondering, ‘what have I been doing with my life!’ But what if they’re wearing dusty shoes, an oversize coat, has bad breath and they’re looking really haggard? You think, ‘my, looks like life has been tough! You don’t really ask for their card! You say, ‘tuko pamoja – it’s so good to connect – let’s keep in touch!’ – but you know as you walk away that you have no such intention! Conveniently, just from their external looks, you know how to respond to them.

Many times, this is true in church as well. There are those who are seen as really spiritual and then there are those who are just there to fill space.  Now that’s probably what many think. But it’s interesting that God thinks so differently! That’s what we are learning this month!

Acts 15:1-21


Saul had earned a reputation as a skeptic who hated Christians. But then in a dramatic encounter, he had become an unlikely follower of Jesus and almost immediately started to fearlessly preach about his new faith. At first, other Christians were afraid of him and didn’t want to associate with him. But one of the leaders named Barnabas decided to take him under his wing and became his mentor. He soon realized that Paul was actually a great leader, and after a while, he took him along as his partner on a journey to share the love of Jesus across different cities.

The church that Barnabas and Paul belonged to was in a city called Antioch. It was the happening church of the time and everyone was talking about it! Exciting things were happening and many were signing up to become followers of Jesus. For the first time, Jews and non-Jews, people who’d traditionally had nothing to do with each other, were eating together and loving each other. The great apostle Peter even came from Jerusalem to visit the church and loved what he saw. But then, while he was there, some influential church leaders came from Jerusalem and frowned on what was going on. Since Jesus had been a Jew like them, they felt that it was important for people to know that those who were ‘really saved’ were those who also practiced important Jewish customs like circumcision and dietary laws.

This caused a major problem in the church, there was this division between those who were ‘really saved’ (ie. those who practiced Jewish laws and customs) and those who didn’t really quite belong, the second class members. In one of his NT letters (Galatians), Paul says that even leaders who should have known better, like Peter and Barnabas, got caught up in the ranking system and started eating separately from the non-Jews, before Paul strongly reprimanded them. But apparently, things just continued to get heated with this issue, and the church leaders finally decided to send a delegation to Jerusalem, where Jesus’ disciples lived, in order to get a final resolution to the matter.

The teachers from Jerusalem had no problem with people following Jesus. Their thing though was that people who were truly following Jesus were people who also displayed certain behaviors. In their case, a truly saved person was one who was also circumcised according to the traditions passed down by Moses.

Today most of us would find that strange – why would anyone ask you to cut your body in order to prove how much you love and follow Jesus? But while we may find their demands strange, the reality is that many of us have heard similar teachings. A truly saved person is one who has gone through certain rituals like baptism, or confirmation. Or a truly saved person is one who is a member of a certain church. Or a truly saved person is one who dresses a certain way – decently covered with no tank tops or tight clothes or tattoos or nose rings. Or a truly saved person is one who speaks in tongues or attends overnight prayer meetings.

Human beings love classifying and ranking people based on external criteria. And in a sense, it’s quite understandable because it’s how we’re able to know who to emulate and who to avoid, who to trust and who to fear, who to spend time with and who to not waste time on.

That’s also one of the biggest temptations for us as Christians. I mean how else can you tell who is really serious with God? It’s so hard to measure a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’. I mean, that’s quite intangible, subjective and messy! How can you tell if someone is being sincere or if they’re just pretending? On the other hand, it’s far easier to measure how well people are doing in their faith through a clear system of do’s and don’ts. Do you read the bible daily (check), do you come to church every Sunday (check), do you look like a serious Christian (check)? Now that we can clearly see!

Think about it, if you have a brother who’s an alcoholic and they come to church, what’s the first thing you’re praying for? That they stop drinking! If your sister is sleeping around and is in danger of catching all kinds of diseases and she comes to church, what are you hoping for? That she’ll stop endangering her life! This is a natural desire, and it comes from good motives. And it’s true, those behaviors are not good, and they’re probably causing them and others around them a great deal of harm. The problem however, is that when spend all our energy trying to get people to behave a certain way, we may even succeed eventually, but find that they’ve not really changed on the inside. Yes, the guy is not drinking uncontrollably any more and even looks respectable. But now he’s learn to hide his real issues under that respectability. Pride, lust and greed are dominant in his life, but you could never tell because he looks like such a great Christian. He’s learnt to show you what you want to see! When we focus on behavior modification, we are focusing on the symptoms of the disease and not the real cause.

Interestingly in our story, Peter, who had initially been rebuked by Paul for rejecting the non-Jewish Christians, now took the opposite direction. He reminded the leaders present that none of them had been accepted by God because of how qualified they were. They had all been saved ‘by grace’. ,their salvation was a free gift from God. But now they were in danger of imposing a burden of do’s and don’ts – a human ranking system – on those who were just beginning to follow Jesus. They were now focusing on behavior modification, rather than trusting God to bring inner transformation. Tell your neighbor, don’t conform; be transformed! 

When we began Mavuno’s journey 10 years ago, our passion was to be a church where unlikely people could come and feel at home. Our mission was not to conform them to be like us, but to introduce them to Jesus, and to trust Him to transform them so they became like Him. Our invitation to our family members, friends and colleagues is not ‘come because you need to get your act together’. Instead it’s ‘come just as you are’ – because we are convinced that when you meet Jesus, he is able to transform you to be the person that He created you to be. Don’t conform; be transformed


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