I don't know about you, but it is hard for me not to be changed by the things I see and hear around me all the time. These influences wreak havoc on my thoughts, pulling at my emotions, and challenging my beliefs all the time. It is a daily battle to just take a stand for what I believe to be right and then to actually remain standing at the end of the day sometimes! It is easy to be changed into something we are not, simply because we aren't paying close attention to the influences which are pulling on us so frequently throughout the day. By the end of the week, you could probably miss how much you have "adapted" to those influences until you really take the time to examine just how closely you are doing what you truly know God wants you to be doing. We have to be on our guard to not let the world change us, but to go frequently to God, allowing him to change us from the inside out - influencing our thoughts, emotions, and ultimately our actions by his grace.
Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. (Romans 1:2 ERV)
How is it we are changed by the world? We have to recognize the answer to this before we can possibly realize if it is God changing us, or the world's influences changing us. If you want to find your way to San Diego from Phoenix, you have to possess at least a rough idea of where San Diego is in the first place. If you just knew if was in California and not that it was in the Southern most portion of California, you might drive a long way out of your way to get to where you wanted to be going. This is why is it important to recognize the things which are influencing our choices - life is more than just knowing we are moving in the right direction. Often we think movement is nothing more than being assured of the end result of where it is we want to be going. I may know I want to end up in San Diego, but if I take the I-17 North out of Phoenix, I will end in Flagstaff, nowhere near the sunny beaches of California!
How do we recognize if it is God changing us? I think this might be more easily understood or recognized. Why? We have confirming truths which remain consistent no matter what comes our way in life - truths which we can use as "judgment points" to consider whether a certain action or belief is really "right on" when it comes to what God wants for his kids. We also possess the "niggling" presence of the Holy Spirit who lets us know when something is askew in what we are doing or entertaining in thought. The challenge comes in us paying attention to the truths we have at our disposal in the Word of God and the niggling urges of the Holy Spirit to run from some things and run toward others. Just a word of caution here - we can make the Bible say anything we want it to say simply by excluding certain passages or even by us saying those truths are not "relevant" to today. If we "cherry pick" what we believe, we are not going to know the safety we need to know in life.
It is also important to realize that the influences of the world work on us from the outside, while the influences of God work on us from the inside. If we can see the change coming because of the things we are hearing, seeing in those we hang around with, etc., we have to examine those carefully because they may not all be the best of influences. I am not questioning our every move here - just reminding us to be cognizant of the presence of "transforming influences" in our lives. As I watched the news last night, they featured a couple of experts in psychology who were saying one of the newest shows to hit the summer viewing schedules was actually too harsh and very damaging to the minds of children. It made me wonder if this show with animals come into overwhelming power on the earth, overrunning humankind was actually maybe more than a little damaging to even the minds of adults! If kids can be influenced and have bad dreams, where does that leave us adults? Maybe we can do a better job of separating reality from fantasy, but I think we might just hold onto a little of that fantasy in the recesses of our brain. In fact, I still can recall scenes from monster movies I saw years and years ago! Our minds are like traps - what we let it will eventually find a place of influence!
Looking again at our passage, when the influence of God and his Spirit are within us, we will begin to separate the good from the bad, the pleasant from entertaining, and the good-enough from the perfection we desire. His influence within helps to purify our motives, leaving us less likely to entertain compromises. But...in order for his influence to be the main influence we "entertain", we need to be sure we have given him the central part of our lives and are frequently spending time getting familiar with how he works, what his voice sounds like, and what he uses to get his truths through to us in a world with a whole lot of competing voices! Just sayin!