Chameleons are fascinating creatures. There are approximately 160 different species of chameleon. Some species are able to change their skin colors. This is what they are best known for. Their range of colors include pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise and purple. The primary purpose of being able to change their color is social signaling. They tend to show darker colors when they are angry. Males show lighter, multi-colored patterns when courting females. They also use their ability to adjust their color as a form of camouflage. Some species can actually adjust their colors to match the vision of a specific predator so that it is harder for them to be seen.
Not all chameleons belong to the reptile family. There are many species of human chameleons as well. In fact, I have found myself falling into this category from time to time. In an effort to fit in, I will unconsciously adapt my outward behavior to the situation around me. I may begin to speak in a different way or pick up certain mannerisms in order to fit in. Whenever I become aware that I am doing this, I become slightly embarrassed. I feel like I am not being totally honest.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to fit in with others. The danger is that we can forget who we really are, or worse, compromise who we are. In our efforts to conform to others, we can lose our sense of identity.
Being a chameleon is a way for us to hide our true feelings. We can portray an air of confidence when we are really unsure and anxious. We can put on the false front of having everything together when inside we are falling apart. We can mask our anger so that we don’t have to confront an uncomfortable situation.
We can use our ability to adapt to manipulate others. We can put on a false air of concern, which encourages others to become vulnerable. Then we can use their vulnerability to our advantage. We can tell people what they want to hear so they will respond positively to us. Intentionally adapting our outward behavior to manipulate others undercuts our own ability to develop trust.
Most often we use our ability to adapt as a means of hiding. When I was in jr. high and high school I perfected the ability to blend into the surroundings so that I would not stick out. Those who did stick out became targets for the kids that felt they had something to prove. In the workplace we can adjust our actions and attitudes to fit into the culture and hide from unwanted scrutiny. It is so easy to follow the lead of the crowd, even when in our heart we know the crowd is leading us in the wrong direction. There are many “predators” out there. No one wants to be an easy target for them.
In Romans 12:2, Paul warns us about becoming spiritual chameleons. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We become spiritual chameleons when we make our faith a Sunday activity rather than a life-style. Many people are very serious about their faith on Sunday morning, but put it on the shelf for the rest of the week. The principle of separation of Church and State has transformed into the separation of my private life and my public life.
We also become spiritual chameleons when we adapt our beliefs and values to those being espoused by the most dominant person at the time. I have had the experience of being with a group of pastors who hold a certain theological position very strongly. The temptation is to just keep my mouth shut rather than cause trouble. By not saying anything I can blend in without really buying in.
Satan has done a masterful job of manipulating society to move it away from God. Things that would have been unheard of even 50 years ago are commonly accepted today. Values and morals are seen as flexible according to the circumstances. The idea of any absolute standard of truth or right and wrong is ridiculed as narrow minded and unacceptable.
Paul tells us that we need to fight hard against being spiritual chameleons; against just blending in. He was a realist. He understood the pressures that people are under to conform. He knew that many people had given into the pressure from time to time. He challenged them and us to make a fresh start; to stand our ground. This is not done by adopting some new outward persona. Conforming to some external expression of religion is still conformity. Instead Paul challenges us to open our minds to God’s transforming power. We do not have to live our lives in fear because Christ as overcome the world. We don’t have to worry about our self-worth or about being accepted because Christ has already accepted us unconditionally. We don’t have to worry about “being found out” because Christ has already forgiven us of all our sins.
There are many occasions in life when it is entirely appropriate for us to fit in. It is appropriate to wear a suit and tie to a wedding and cutoffs and a t-shirt to a 4th of July cookout. It is appropriate to use the language of computers and business in the office and the language of faith in a small group Bible study. What we must guard against is portraying an image that is not honest about our true identity. Paul challenges us to be fully who God made us to be. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Romans 12:3 (NIV)
Chameleons may make great pets. It is fascinating watching them when they change their colors to adapt to their surroundings. But living life as a spiritual chameleon is not such a great idea.