Following God Rather Than The World
As I grow up, some of the parts of my faith that seemed so simple and clear at first have turned out to be more complex than I initially realized.
If you, like me, grew up in a Christian church environment, you probably remember some of the messages and stories that were directed towards children. One that I particularly remember was based on Matthew 5:13, which my very young brain at the time paraphrased as meaning that as “the salt of the earth,” Christians were meant to stand out from the crowd and make the world better. Of course, to a child this seems like such an easy task, but it turns out that standing out from society as a Christian does not happen without intention.
This message about living a life that is set apart from the world appears multiple times throughout the Bible. In Romans 12:2, Paul writes to encourage early Christians in Rome,
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Those who follow God are not meant to live in the same way as the rest of the world. As Christians, we sometimes fall into thinking that we’ve mastered God’s calling to live a different kind of life. After all, we do some things differently. Chances are that we probably try to follow the “rules” in the Bible, we go to church or another place of worship, and we generally attempt to be good people.
All of those are true for me, but when I actually reflect on how I live, there are only a few real signs that indicate to others that I am a Christian, and of those signs, I don’t imagine that many of them draw others to Christ. I would like to make the excuse that because I live in the region of the US that’s frequently referred to as the “Bible Belt” that Christianity is part of the mainstream culture, so it’s fine that I fit in so well with the culture around me. In order to be accepted into the community in a lot of small towns in areas I have lived it is almost necessary to be polite, friendly, and attend a church on at least a semi-regular basis. But, when I stop to think about it, there is so much more to being a Christian.
Somewhere between my childhood and my adulthood, my life became much more normal and conforming to the world around me than I expected. As much as I enjoy my job – I wake up early, teach children all day, make sure everything is in place for the next day, take home papers to grade, and then go to bed early so I can do the exact same thing again – none of this is particularly groundbreaking.
There are some obviously grand gestures that people can take that demonstrate how they are following Christ. Some people become ministers or missionaries, and while I am incredibly glad that people do this, neither of those are in my skill set. Like most people, I spend a lot of time trying to manage my job, my relationships, and my health. In too many seasons of my life, my faith becomes just another part to manage. I am not giving it the space to transform my life because I am too busy keeping up with what everyone else around me is doing.
If you find yourself facing this same obstacle, where you are beginning to realize that you are only giving parts of your life to God while too much of your life is simply conforming to the culture around you, then I’d like to be able to tell you that there are a few easy steps that will get everything straightened out. Unfortunately, I don’t know what those exact steps would be and even if I did, I doubt that they would be easy.
Each person has unique gifts and talents given to them by God, so there is no way that the same steps would be right for everybody. All I can do is offer some suggestions to help you along the way as you learn to follow God rather than the world.
Figure out your motivations for wanting to stand out as a Christian
Matthew 6:1 records Jesus warning others, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” If your motivation is based on wanting others to notice how holy you are, then you are missing the point.
Study the Bible
If you want to know how Christians should act, then you have to go to the source. The amount of information provided and the way the different books are written can almost be overwhelming, so I’d suggest starting with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Pay attention to the words that Jesus says because if we are going to follow Christ, we have to know him. Take your time reading and studying. You could spend days just focusing on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6:17-26. Anyone who comes even close to following what Jesus speaks about there would stand out in any culture.
Spend time praying
God is the one who created you, and He knows what it looks like for each of us individually to be set apart from the world around us. Even if you are blessed with many amazing Christian friends who are living out their paths, you may not be intended to do exactly what they are doing. Listen to God, and, maybe even more importantly, be open to what He says.
Most of us aren’t going to wake up one day and begin living a dramatically different life. For most of us, it will be a process of seeking guidance that continues throughout our entire lives. As you begin to examine the way that you are living your life, remember that you are loved by God. His love is what drives us to live a life that is based around Him rather than around the world.
Are you living the set apart life that God has called you to?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth is an educator at heart. So far this has taken the form of a camp counselor, a museum assistant, and currently a middle school teacher. She loves to watch people grow and learn. You can read more of her writing at her blog Chronicles of a Southern Belle.