Although we are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:15,16) and perfect (Matthew 5:48), we are never called to be better than anyone else; merely better than we were before. We are said to be saints (Colossians 1:12), a title we should aspire to while recognizing we are yet sinners (1 John 1:8) saved by grace. (Ephesians 2:8,9) Which is where our distinctiveness is derived. As people who don’t always get it right but who know the difference by virtue of an association with Jesus Christ, we strive to do our best as defined by Him in His word. Distinctiveness defined as: not alike, separate, clearly marked, well-defined – unmistakable. Those achieving distinctiveness do so regardless of risk, circumstance or consequence, as in “…he who stands firm to the end…” Matthew 10:22
Two comments by Joel Belz, a contributor to World Magazine spoke to this issue. In referring to how the “art” of distortion is practiced by both political parties – especially at election time – he points out how smearing an opponent rarely clarifies the differences between them, but rather camouflages their true ideologies in an attempt to broaden their own appeal. (Distortion defined as: twisting out of shape, modifying so as to produce an unfaithful reproduction or misrepresentation.) He then goes on to correctly note the church’s tendency to do the same thing, albeit in reverse order. “We have shown more zeal for discovering points of common interest with our culture than for highlighting crucial points of difference.” Spending, “…whole life-times making the Kingdom of God culturally relevant,…”; over-looking the fact that the Kingdom won’t be relevant to disinterested, unrepentant, unsaved people.1
Let me quickly point out that I realize we are all alike in our need of a Savior (Is. 53:6) – we are all sinners (Romans 3:10 & 3:23), having fallen to a host of temptations common to people everywhere (1 Corinthians 10:13), needing help overcoming the difficulties of life. (John 16:33) But how we approach life and handle the difficulties of temptation should be demonstrably different as a result of our relationship with Christ. (See Matthew 5-6-7 & Romans 12:9-21) While never conveying a holier-than-thou attitude (Matthew 7:1,2), we must nevertheless be discerning; refraining from making excuses for bad behavior in ourselves or others. There is no harm in making our appeal to society in a culturally sensitive, inoffensive manner; yet the message must stay the same as it was presented by God and his agents throughout history. In fact, making people comfortable is not our responsibility nor should it be our goal; not wanting people to feel threatened by our presence but uncomfortable in their present state. As such, we must be able and willing to guide and persuade them to seek that which can create them anew; doing so graciously, honestly, in a compelling manner. (1 Peter 3:15)
The worldview of unbelievers and Christians can be nothing but different– at times even being diametrically opposed to each other. (1 John 2:15-17) We have no business disguising or softening those differences with the trappings of the world. (Romans 12:2) Jesus dealt with this subject in a number of ways on more than one occasion; declaring himself to be the light of the world (John 8:12), drawing attention to his words and lifestyle. In assigning us that same responsibility, he challenges us to never hide or dampen that light, instead encouraging us to find ways to project it onto others; enhancing their vision while exposing evil. (Matthew 5:14-16, John 1:1-5 & 1 John 1:5-7) In referring to us as the salt of the earth, he further calls on us to be the “spice of life”, adding a distinctive flavor to this pot of stew we call the world. (Matthew 5:13)
Paul assured us that, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 This echoed Christ’s characterization of his followers pronounced uniqueness, wherein he pointed out the uselessness of using new cloth to patch an old garment, the ruining of both being the result; likewise the waste of new wine being poured into old wineskins. (Mark 2:21,22) This separation of new from old will often cause disagreements and conflict, through which we can seek to find common ground. But at times we must unequivocally disagree – hopefully in an agreeable manner – standing firm in who we are called to be in Christ, whether that is understood and appreciated or not. In fact, Jesus warned that, “…men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22 Further explaining that, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own..., (But) you do not belong to the world… I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you… No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:18-20 The reason for these dire warnings? “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. (Or as Paul verified, “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12) But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
We must stand firm, we can be courageous; which will take strength of character and a thorough understanding of God and His word. That may make us appear radical, but is that really so bad? Radical at times defined as something or someone rooted in a fundamental source, being extremely thorough and true to that source, which can at times make them appear out of touch with their rootless surroundings. Thus Paul’s reminder that, “…God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 That balance of power, love and self-discipline sometimes hard to achieve but certainly doable. (See also 1 Corinthians 16:13,14) Manifesting these qualities in your life will make you distinctive in every way; to God’s glory and the benefit of everyone around you.
1Although these quotes are several years old, they are still relevant and applicable to the social, political and moral circumstances we find ourselves in today; sadly highlighting the lack of growth and change in our political maneuverings and church responses to our ever-changing but morally similar culture.
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