Conformity is a strange phenomenon. It is arguably the single strongest sociological force there is, yet it happens covertly, without thinking. It can be used for good or for bad, but given the condition of man, most often bad. In the Bible we are called to be “conformed” to the image and character of Jesus (Rom. 8:29), for he has left us “an example” (1 Pe. 2:21), that we might walk in his steps (this takes the Holy Spirit!). On the other hand, we are called not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2) nor “conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (1 Pe. 1:14). But what are the passions of this world? Paul calls them the stoicheion, i.e. the “elementary principles of the world” (Gal. 4:3, 9; Col. 2:8, 20). The fundamental principles of this world (vs. the world to come) are self-preservation, self-promotion, self-exaltation, etc. The stoicheion of this world create a powerful value system that pressures the church to ungodly conformity. Living for this life, putting hope in temporal things, following fallen men—these are results of the roots of stoicheion in modern Christianity, both individually and corporately. Thus, Paul would look at today’s corporate church-run-like-western-corporate-business and the rampant immorality and perversion among individual believers and simply call them both worldly, no different from the unbelievers around them because both are driven by the stoicheion of this age.
In his day Paul similarly lumped the self-righteousness of the Jewish circumcision group (cf. Gal. 2:12; Eph. 2:11; Tit. 1:10) and the self-aggrandizement of the Greek philosophical preachers (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1; 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 2:16) into the same category: followers of stoicheion, i.e. conformity to the “the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air… gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:2-3). Though modern Christianity often covers the ungodly desires of this age with a Christian veneer, do not be dissuaded; rather, “rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance” (1 Pe. 1:13-14, NKJV). “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24-25)