As much as some people may insist that they are different from society in general, most are conformists to whatever group they seek to fit into. The hippies of the ’60s protested the society of their parents for their conformity to the prevailing materialistic world but invariably conformed to the standards of their peers in dress, speech, symbols, sexual mores and drug preferences. Teenagers in their pursuit of individuality end up adopting the same fads and fashions with most other teens. Even many Christian groups in their efforts to maintain a distinction from the surrounding society enforce conformity in dress, doctrine and manners.
In many things it makes little difference that we conform our surrounding culture, but in many things it does make a great difference. God’s people are supposed to be different. God expects us to be separate from the world. That doesn’t mean that we go off into a monastery or a convent or a commune of only “Christians,” but that we maintain a distinctive identity in the world as God’s own people.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
The trouble with most Christians is that they don’t really want to be different. They are not daring enough to be different. They don’t want to be different from non-Christians. They are afraid to admit that they are different. They are afraid that others will make fun of them or that they won’t fit in with their non-Christian friends. They don’t like to be ignored.
On this subject, noted Anglican Evangelical cleric and respected writer, the late John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) wrote…
Instead of always being one of the chief bastions of the social status quo, the Church is to develop a Christian counter-culture with its own distinctive goals, values, standards, and lifestyle – a realistic alternative to the contemporary technocracy which is marked by bondage, materialism, self-centeredness, and greed. Christ’s call to obedience is a call to be different, not conformist. Such a Church – joyful, obedient, loving, and free – will do more than please God: it will attract the world. It is when the Church evidently is the Church, and is living a supernatural life of love by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the world will believe. (John Stott Ministries).
There are numerous ways in which the Christian is to be different. For instance, Christians worship a different God from the peoples of the world. There are the supposed gods of the heathen religions – gods whose origins are wholly from the imaginations of the minds of men. Their gods are mythical in nature with no rational basis for their being nor why men should worship them.
There are also misconceptions of the God of the Bible which turn him into something other than what he really is and which causes people’s worship of him to be in vain. The people of the world who are not worshipers of the true God worship something. It may be the god of money or the things money can buy. It may be the god of pleasure or it may be family. Whatever people give their devotion to, spend their time and money on is their god.
The God whom Christians worship is the God who created the heavens and the earth. He is the God who spoke to the patriarchs of old and who spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament era. He is the God who speaks to man today through his Son, Jesus who is the Christ – the one chosen by God to bear the sins of the world when he died on the cross. He is the God who calls all men to come to him, to serve him and to enjoy fellowship with him now and forever. He is the God who provides for and sustains us and the God who will judge us in the last day.
The worship of Christians is to be different from that of those who worship other gods. Jesus said in his conversation with the Samaritan woman that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24). A spiritual being is not worshiped with material things. He does not live in earthly temples or church buildings but in the temples of human hearts prepared and set apart to his service.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25).
What is the spiritual worship God expects of his worshipers? Here is how Paul described it in Romans 12:1-2…
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV).
To give one’s body as a living sacrifice means that we devote our entire being to the service and glory of God. In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy God forbade the children of Israel to worship him in the way the heathen worshiped their gods. Theirs was a very vile and immoral kind of religion in which the people defiled their bodies in sexual orgies and even burned their children as sacrifices to their gods. In contrast to that kind of worship God demands that his worshipers be pure in heart and in life because of their complete devotion to him.
Collective worship – that which is done when Christians come together – is to be differently. When we come to the New Testament and read about how Christians came together one thing is evident. The assemblies of these first Christians was not about the individual – it was about “one another.” Their assemblies were not designed to make everyone feel good about themselves – they were about building up the entire group. They assembled together as a body to remember the Lord as he had commanded as a perpetual proclamation of his death until he comes again (1 Corinthians 11:26). They assembled to teach, edify, admonish, encourage one another and to be reminded of their oneness in Christ (Ephesians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 14:12, 19; 10:16-17).
Finally, Christians are characterized by different behavior. Their speech, dress, and general conduct is different. They maintain a moral level that is so far above and different from their neighbors that they are often thought of as being strange or odd. Consequently they do not “fit in” and are often excluded from the accepted social circles in their communities. Peter wrote to Christians who were living in a very wicked world, admonishing them with these words…
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
Christians do not maintain these distinctions just to be different, but to be pure. God is holy – set apart from all sin and impurity. Those who wish to have a relationship with him are careful to be what he is – holy, set apart from the world and all that characterizes it.
Christians are often thought of by the people of the world as having a “holier than thou” attitude or an attitude of superiority. For the true Christian, that is not true. It is a desire for God’s approval and praise and not for the praise and acceptance by the world that marks the Christians as different and causes him to be different from the world.
True Christians hope that by living the truth they will be able to show to the world the desirability of a life of faith and purity – a life that God approves and blesses. But if those of the world do not accept us as we strive to conform to God’s will for our lives, so be it. We must be true to him rather than to man!