If who you’re with determines who you are, then you’re more of a chameleon than a sheep. It might be time to consider a major life tweak.
The Night of the Party
Many years ago, our southern Ohio church decided to honor a college student by throwing a commencement party for her. We outfitted our modest meeting room with decorations, snacks, and gifts, and encouraged her to invite her friends. She was reluctant. We couldn’t figure out why.
That night a handful of them showed up. During the dinner, a few of us toasted the new graduate, and gave some words of appreciation, although she was noticeably uncomfortable. And her friends seemed utterly mystified. Finally, one of them spoke up and said, “You guys keep mentioning Mandy’s faith. We don’t know her as a Christian. In fact, we don’t know her as Mandy at all. We call her Gigi.” As they shared their own appreciation of “Gigi” (carefully edited for a Christian audience), I was stunned.
It seemed this otherwise positive, committed Christian owned a completely separate identity and lifestyle. It had been cultivated out of our sight, while her church girl passport was kept out of her friends’ sight.
Everyone that evening was confused.
Consistent living both with Christian or non-Christian friends, is part of what it means to “Get on the Field.” Up in the stands you can do whatever you want. Since you came to watch and not play, you can eat anything that suits you. You don’t have to work out. You don’t have to worry about misrepresenting the team.
But as a Christian, it matters to God and to everybody else how you live.
The Apostle Peter spoke to this point when he instructed us to beware of old lifestyle patterns.
1 Pet. 4:3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
The apostle lists things “Gentiles want to do,” which predictably include the baser activities of human conduct. As a pre-Christian, you logged some hours in those things yourself. Regardless of whether it was a little or a lot, Peter says the time you spent there was sufficient, that is, enough. Don’t continue in it.
But our conscientious non-involvement seems odd to the people of the world. They interpret it as a slight against them when we choose not to plunge into the flood of dark amusements. It is, after all, their pool party. So when friendly invitations to join them don’t work, insults begin. God’s eventual judgment will fall upon these detractors, but in the meantime believers must bear the brunt of hostile opinion. It is the cost of sitting out the group swim.
The Nightmare in the Basement
Even for homes not in hurricane zones, severe storms and bad drainage lead to basement floods. Occasionally they’re bizarre enough to make news, like the basement that filled up with several feet of rainwater, raw sewage, and drowned rats. The owner said he knew it was a bad situation when he could see whole pieces of fecal matter floating around. Apparently the emotional impact gets worse when you see these sights halfway up your stairwell.
Now obviously, we’d think anyone who donned a swimsuit and jumped in would be crazy. Yet fallen humanity frolics in such a flood every day. Not only so, but they think anyone who refuses to join them is a freak. This polarization will always exist between Christian and non-Christian. Who are we? We’re the folks who don’t join in.
Yet some of us end up doing it. In a weird Stockholm-syndrome sort of way, we become receptive to the views and values of the world that hates our Savior. We begin agreeing that Christians are small-minded phobics, haters, and judgmental. In order to make the world happy, we allow ourselves to be pressured into surrendering Scriptural ground. Even if we’re not swimming in the flood, we’re drinking the water. Distinctions are lost. Though we must ultimately be known for what we are for, Christian authenticity is also evaluated by the things we don’t do, don’t approve, don’t celebrate.
Your determination to live consistently for Christ is important not only for your own sanctity, but for the rest of the world, too.
Paul writes to Titus, saying, “that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (3:8).
Our good works are profitable for people in general, including those who criticize and dislike us. Why? Because works of kindness not only directly benefit people, but draw attention to the Lord who died for us and rose.
None of that blessing will happen if we continue dog paddling in filth, proclaiming our belief in Christ while disagreeing with His word, and living as though He has not (or cannot) save us from our sinful ways.
We Happy Few
All of us have felt the withering sense of temptation in the face of sinful trends and peer pressure. It becomes unbearable when we’re alone. Paul was well aware of this feeling and coached his young understudy, Timothy, saying,
2 Tim. 2:22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.
These “passions” not only include sexual immorality, but hot-headedness, quarreling, and rudeness (23-25), along with impure recreation of all kinds. Timothy was not instructed to outlast, or overpower these things. Nor was he encouraged to negotiate a truce with them, and compromise. He was told to “flee” them, distance himself from them, and place practical hurdles between him and them.
Nor was he to be satisfied with mere abstinence. The Christian life is more than avoidance of evil. Timothy was told to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace.” A life of fleeing without entering only makes a man empty. We exit so we can enter.
Ultimately the target of our pursuit is the Lord Jesus Himself, otherwise, we are all nothing more than people seeking disembodied virtues of various kinds. Perhaps you’ve heard virtue is its own reward, yet disconnected from the Author, even the most praiseworthy characteristics become dubious. Our devotion lies in the boundless store of Christ.
Furthermore, this pursuit is accomplished “with all those” who call on Him. Too many Christians have attempted a repentance that quickly relapsed. In fact, every evil work we commit happens when no other serious Christian is around.
A Human Chain
Recently, we heard about a swimmer caught in a vicious riptide. Anyone who has ever been seized in the undertow will tell you no matter how hard you try, you can’t free yourself. And so in short order, the man was dragged a hundred yards out to sea. But a number of people on the beach linked arms, creating a rescue chain, and reached the person, saving him. What he couldn’t manage to do on his own, he was able to do with the help of others.
We need people in our lives who can encourage our faith, speak truth to us, and if necessary, disagree with us. Who are these people for you? I’m afraid that as the church has been minimized, so has serious spiritual companionship.
While we kinda’ join churches, kinda’ get involved in Christian community, kinda’ share our struggles with others, many of us have gotten sucked into predicaments we otherwise wouldn’t have wandered into. And having gotten there, no chain exists to retrieve us.
Maybe you think you’re too smart to blunder into such things anyway. Unfortunately, we all think so. But even if that were the case, and you’re smarter than the devil, remember that Paul prescribed togetherness not just for the sake of escape, but pursuit.
There is nothing quite like the morale of positive Christians sharing their victories, setting examples, inspiring one another forward. It might look like a little league team, but rest assured, Christ always honors hearts that seek Him. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” He says, “There am I among them” (Matt. 18:20).
And as for our worldly friends, we couldn’t do them a bigger favor than living this unmistakable life. They might disagree. They might mock. But when they’re ready to climb out of that worldly flood, at least they know whose hands to grab.