The culture we live in is not a godly one. None of us can say we live in a “Christian nation.” While we may share some values with the dominant culture(s), living the way Jesus did involves a very different lifestyle than the ones that are most socially acceptable.
That leaves Christians with a choice. We can either lie-low and try to fit in as much as we can, or we can embrace the fact that a commitment to living like Christ involves living counter-culturally. The later is hard. But if we want to become part of God’s family, we have to become like Him instead of staying like the world.
We need a transformative relationship with Jesus
It’s not something we like to think about, but the scriptures indicate that not everyone who thinks they’re following Jesus will actually end up in His kingdom. One of these passages is found in Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It’s a serious, scary warning that we do well to pay attention to.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. (Matt. 7:21-24, WEB)
We learn several important things from this passage. Firstly, it’s possible to think you’re following Jesus and still not be in a relationship with Him. Whether or not He knows you is more important than the showy things you do in His name.
Secondly, He tells us how to become people He knows. We must do His Father’s will, hear His teachings, and act on them. Those actions will give us a strong foundation so that when life pounds on us we won’t fall (Matt. 7:25-27). It’s also going to drastically change how our lives look.
We’re supposed to shine, not hide
Earlier in this same sermon, Jesus goes through a list of godly character traits we call the Beatitudes. He then tells us that people who are following Him will stand-out.
You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do you light a lamp, and put it under a measuring basket, but on a stand; and it shines to all who are in the house. Even so, let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16, WEB)
We need to let ourselves shine because we’re following the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46). And we need to do that even if it means being in conflict with others. Not everyone will react to our light by glorifying God. In fact, Jesus warned that the world will hate us because they hate Him (John 15:18-21). That’s something we need to take into consideration when we count the cost of following Jesus (Matt. 10:34-38; Luke 14:28-33). We need to be prepared to not give up when we experience opposition from the people and society around us.
Seeking first or seeking also?
Our faith must become our first priority. Jesus said, “seek first God’s kingdom, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33, WEB). He didn’t say seek it when you have extra time, or for 10 minutes between work and Netflix, or once a week at church. He said to seek “first” — proton (G4412), which means “first in time or place” as well as “first in rank, influence, honor” (Thayer’s Dictionary).
This sort of seeking is an ongoing thing. The force of the Greek phrase means it could be translated “seek and keep on seeking.” That’s a fact Paul understood. In Philippians 3, he says he didn’t assume that he’d already taken hold of God’s kingdom even though he was an apostle. He kept on seeking.
Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. (Phil 3:13-15, WEB)
Standing out with godly character
When we’re walking this way it’s going to change how we live. There will be a noticeable difference between us and the people around us who don’t share our faith. And that difference will become more pronounced as we continue putting on the mind and character of God.
In his second epistle, Peter talks about us becoming “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2PEt. 1:4, WEB). When we become like God, we escape from being like the world and develop a different character.
Yes, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence; and in moral excellence, knowledge; and in knowledge, self-control; and in self-control patience; and in patience godliness; and in godliness brotherly affection; and in brotherly affection, love. (2 Pet. 1:5-7, WEB)
Those are the character traits we must diligently develop. And the more we do that, the more we’ll stand out in the world as being different.
Why are you so hopeful?
Living unapologetically visible Christian lives is never easy. It’s human to want to fit in with the social groups around us and conform to culture. But God wants us to adopt His people as our most important social group and the kingdom of heaven as our homeland. And that means we’ll start looking like foreigners to the world around us.
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts; and always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason concerning the hope that is in you, with humility and fear: having a good conscience (1 Pet. 3:15-16, WEB)
Our lives should be so different that people notice and ask us why. Seeking God’s kingdom first transforms us. We start to look more like Jesus and less like “normal” people. I find it interesting that Peter says they’ll ask us a reason for the hope inside us. Even though some people might phrase it more along the lines of, “Why are you such a weirdo?” what they’re noticing in us is a transformation fueled by hope. We have hope in Jesus that anchors our souls and makes it possible for us to live counter-culturally becasue we’re following Him.