For 76 years, Pluto was a planet. Then one day back in 2006, it wasn’t. On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded Pluto to the status of a dwarf planet based on their newly refined definition of a planet.1 The demotion of Pluto to the status of a dwarf planet was influenced by the fact that Pluto acts differently than the other eight planets.
In particular, Pluto’s orbit is different. It is elliptical rather than circular and inclined rather than flat. As a result of this unusual orbit, Pluto occasionally comes closer to the Sun than Neptune. No other planet in our solar system has such an orbit.
Additionally, Pluto’s mass is quite small. In fact, it is not even the ninth largest object in our solar system, which you would expect if it were our ninth planet. Jupiter’s four Galilean moons (i.e. Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa), Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, Triton, one of Neptune’s moons, and our moon are all larger in diameter than Pluto. Thus, Pluto is quite small in comparison to the other planets.
While the aforementioned differences are noteworthy, it is this third and final difference that ultimately led to Pluto’s demotion. Unlike the other eight planets, Pluto has failed to “clear the neighborhood” around its orbit. “Clearing the neighborhood” refers to gravitational dominance. In other words, a celestial object that has cleared its neighborhood has no other objects of comparable size in its orbital field except those under its gravitational influence. In the 1990s and early 2000s, several celestial bodies of comparable size to and in the vicinity of Pluto were discovered, including the dwarf planet Eris which possesses less volume but more mass than Pluto. The discovery of these celestial objects indicated that Pluto was not gravitationally dominant in an area of our solar system now known as the Kuiper Belt. As a result, Pluto lost its designation as a planet because it did not conform to planetary standards.
Pluto’s planetary demotion was based on its nonconformity and serves as a reminder to Christians of our divine expectation to be different. It is in Romans 12:2 where Paul instructs us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.” To conform to something means “to act in accord with the prevailing standards, attitudes, [and/or] practices” of that thing.2 Thus, when Paul said to “not be conformed to the world,” he was instructing Christians to not comply with, adapt to, or harmonize with the world’s standards, attitudes, and/or practices.
Why does God not want us to conform to the world? God does not want us to conform to the world because conformity is an indicator of affection. You have likely heard the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It means we imitate that which we hold in esteem. So, if we imitate the world, then we are harboring some degree of affection for the world. Yet, Scripture clearly teaches that our affection should solely be given to God. In James 4:4, we are told that “friendship with the world is enmity with God” and that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Then, in 1 John 2:15, we are instructed to “not love the world or the things in the world” because “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” God is jealous in the sense that He refuses to share our affection with anyone or anything else. That is why the greatest command is to “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind and with ALL your strength” (Mark 12:30, emphasis added).
So, the expectation of nonconformity is ultimately an expectation of attitudinal and behavioral distinction, and such distinction should be evident to the world. In the very first verse of his first letter, Peter referred to his audience as “pilgrims,” “exiles,” “aliens,” or “strangers,” depending on the translation you read. He used such language in order to indicate that as Christians we are foreigners on this earth, and, as a result, should appear strange to the world. This expectation is especially evident in 1 Peter 4:1-4 where he instructs Christians to “no longer…live the rest of [our] time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” In order to live for the will of God, Paul indicates that Christians must abstain from “doing the will of the Gentiles,” and, as a result of such abstention, he said that the world will “think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation.” In other words, Peter is saying that the world will find it strange that Christians do not gather with them, participate with them, or act like them. Thus, he is indicating that our distinctively different attitudes and conduct should be visible, not hidden. Why? Because the world’s observation of our different conduct may eventually cause them to “glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).
Regardless of how you feel about Pluto’s planetary status, one thing is certain, Pluto is different. Just as Pluto refuses to conform to planetary standards, we as Christians must refuse to conform to the world’s standards. Just as Pluto appears strange in comparison to the rest of the planets in our solar system, we as Christians should appear strange to this world. Thus, we are expected to be different, to be strange, to refuse to conform…just like Pluto.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Astronomical_Union. Accessed September 18, 2018
2 http://www.dictionary.com/browse/conform?s=t. Accessed September 18, 2018