ARChristian LifestylePeople tend to blend into their immediate environment. But our calling as God's chosen must separate us from this world.The Israelites, as the chosen people of God, lived apart from other nations. God gave them their own laws to follow. We are the Israelites of the New Testament time and must realize our special status, which means not to conform to social trends and pressures. We are the light of the world; everyone must go to Christ through Christ.<
The Israelites were the chosen people of God. While they were still in Egypt, God showed them their special status. From the fourth plague onwards, they were untouched. When the rest of Egypt was plagued, the territory of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelled, was miraculously spared. After the Israelites were brought out of Egypt, God told them specifically that they were to be consecrated to Him: "…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people…"
(Ex 19:5; ref Deut 7:6; 14:2).
Such a message is not merely knowledge to the Israelites. Their lifestyle is an enactment of this special position given by God. Admittedly, the Old Testament Bible can be read as a series of the Israelites' defiance and disobedience followed by God's chastisement and mercy. Nevertheless, the unchangeable truth is that the Israelite nation lived apart from other nations. They had their own set of laws personally given by God to govern their daily affairs, standards of hygiene, offerings, and moral conduct. They are of their own, "a people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations"
We are the Israelites of the New Testament; we are of Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise
(Gal 3:27-29). There is a necessity to realize our special status as God's chosen people, a special treasure apart from and above all the other people on the face of the earth. We must come face to face with our special status. That we are a church not reckoned among the churches must not remain a dormant kind of knowledge often taken for granted. That we are a special treasure of God must be manifested in our lifestyle, in our dreams and plans, in every single aspect of our lives.
Today, more and more people in the world are talking about conformity and unification. With the advancement in transport technology, man has a mobility that transcends physical boundaries. The satellite technology developed in the later half of this century brought men closer to one another with multimedia communication systems such as videoconferencing and the Internet. Globalization is the talk of the day and the world is said to be evolving into a global village, where differences are being eliminated and people share more and more similarities.
In the religious realm, there are also attempts at unification. The idea that all religions should reconcile is gaining more popularity each day. Hence, we see the emergence of groups preaching the universality of their religion, proclaiming that their beliefs are a smooth and peaceable unification of the main religious beliefs in the world. These people preach of one same god to worship and the magnanimity to accept others' modes of worship. Within the Christian world, there is no scarcity of such "goodwill" either. Ecumenical efforts can be summarized in a slogan that present-day Christians like to echo: "In things not essential, let there be unity." So we see different denominations joining hands to have combined choir presentations and worldwide or nationwide prayer campaigns. To them, it is no big matter that they are different in the doctrinal underpinnings of their faith and that they are essentially still different. In the name of peace and unity, they deem doctrinal issues as things not essential.
While churches join in fellowship, we need not feel embarrassed that we are not among them. We do not partake of such ecumenical activities because we know that we cannot be yoked with unbelievers. By not doing what others are doing, we identify ourselves as people not of the world. The apostles were not ashamed to profess their beliefs which essentially were radical and not of the accepted norm in their society. The early believers of the apostolic days identified themselves as a distinct group of people. The term "Christians" was even coined to refer to them and this name came to be used on all future generations of believers
(Acts 11:26). We are in the light and the rest of the world is in darkness. Our every word and action is conspicuous. Hence, we have to consciously manifest the difference, reminding ourselves at the same time not to slip into darkness. If we have the determination to do God's will and obey His every teaching without compromise, He will surely help us.
We must not bow down to social pressure and conform. This applies in every aspect of our lives as members of the society we live in. We do not participate in certain festivals even if it means we are the only odd ones among our colleagues. We do not join certain activities though that may mean our schoolmates think we are antisocial or being mere killjoys. There is an oft-cited excuse that we must not be seen as "weirdoes". That should not be a problem if our general, everyday conduct says otherwise. It all comes down to one fundamental choice actually, whether we choose to please God or please men.
"To be different" smacks of prejudice and discrimination. That is obviously not what God has intended, for there is nothing good that we have done to merit, over others, this special salvation grace. Do we ask ourselves why we are chosen? Why, of the millions of families, am I born into a believing family? Why, of all his friends and acquaintances, did my friend pick me and preach to me? Why, of the billions, why me? We cannot find a rationalistic, well-analyzed answer. But we can seek to know the direction in which we have to go from this point on. When Abraham was called, God told him that in him, "all the families of the earth shall be blessed"
(Gen 12:3). We cannot have been chosen to sit on God's bountiful grace. We are called to a purpose. Our living should make a difference. God has set us as a light that we should be for salvation to the ends of the earth
(cf Acts 13:47).
What is happening in the modern world today reflects the desperation to create a facade of peace and calm. Negotiations of peace, claims of being enlightened, preoccupations with outward exhibitions of friendliness and unity…all these are but false assurances in the face of chaos in the physical surroundings as well as the hearts of man. The world, in actuality, is sinking deeper and deeper into darkness. It is necessary that we, the true believers, are wary of this trend.
The Bible records, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."
(Rom 12:2). The world today is swept by a craze for material luxuries. In this country, young people speak of one common goal: to own the five Cs, namely, career, cash, credit card, condominium, and car. To the majority, such goals have taken precedence over all else in life. Similar goals are very likely shared by people in other parts of the world. But we have to be different; we should not do what others do. It is one thing to try to improve our lives. But it is another thing altogether if we hoard our God-given wealth or lavish it on ourselves by going on a never-ending spree to drive status-boosting cars or to be clad in brand name and the trendiest apparel from head to toe just to look "cool" or "chic." Those who do not know God and do not have God have only this vain life and its immediate physical conditions to look to. So, they become slaves of fashion, going after the newest models of cars, pop songs, or branded apparel. But we who have been blessed with affluence must ask ourselves what it is that God wants us to do with our wealth. While the people of the world seek riches to assuage their spiritual and emotional insecurity, or to pamper their fragile physical frames, we should ask ourselves what our minds are concerned with.
We have the light of life if we are true followers of Jesus (Jn 8:12). We are also the light of the world
(Mt 5:14). Those who do not want to be in darkness anymore will want to join us. Look around us today. Think of the end of the multitudes of people, churchgoers, temple devotees, cynics of religion, blind followers of religious sects…right before us is a great task to fulfill. Are our lights bright enough to guide them out of their darkness? Is our behavior and way of life indicative of our belonging to Christ?
Being a churchgoer is not enough to prove to the people of the world that they can come to Christ through us. It does not help very much either even if we proclaim loudly that we belong to Christ. We can put up compelling arguments over doctrinal issues, as we often do, but it does not mean that a person will surely come to believe. It is always more effective when we also preach by example. We cannot preach only a theoretical set of doctrinal truths. That irrefutably is the cornerstone of one's faith. But that has to be further coupled with love, sincerity, morality, and issues of daily living which really edify. Also, our love and concern must move beyond the superficiality of verbose protestations and flamboyant exhibitions which are so commonplace today.
Everywhere we go, whoever we are with, we must diffuse the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor
2:14). This is what we are called to be. We must be a blessing to all who come our way. It need not be in regions beyond, in the faraway lands. It does not have to be in the form of great heroic acts. All around us, in school, at the workplace, anywhere, there are people in darkness. They are with us everyday. All it takes is just this reminder that we should strive to do good, in any form, to everyone we come into contact with. For a start, we can offer a sincere smile, a little deed of kindness, a heartening word - they can be uplifting and go a long way. This world has been described as suffering from a famine of love. Surely God puts us where we are so that we can diffuse little droplets of love in our allocated corners, to do our little bit to alleviate this famine.
That may require some kind of effort, for with our hectic lifestyles, it is always so easy to slip into our own little worlds of personal problems and preoccupations. We can get so caught up with our own lives that we forget to take time to be sensitive to people around us. Sometimes, there are people who are not as nice as we wish them to be, and it just seems so difficult to be the exemplary Christians we strive to be. Still, we have to try and constantly look to God for help. At times, we may fail but we must consciously try again. We can be assured of His help as we are more than conquerors because of His salvation and will succeed in our endeavour to be vessels of righteousness.
Some years ago, a religious education teacher posed this question to the Intermediate Youth Class during a lesson, "Is Christ a part of your life and all that you do?" Many students raised their hands indicating "yes" while the rest pondered and searched their hearts. The anticlimax of that session came when the teacher said that Christ should not be a part of our lives but the whole of our lives. Our special status as God's chosen people means that Christ should be the pivot of our all. That is how we can distinguish ourselves in the world and shed forth light. If Christ is the center of all our activities, we will naturally be different from the rest of the world, for our Lord is not of the world. If Christ is the center of our lives, we will always seek His will lest we close the avenues for Him to work in our lives because of hasty decisions made. If we cherish our position as His special treasure, we will focus our sight on Him, face to face, and draw goodness from Him. It would then only be natural that we shine and spread His love, for we
are His very likeness!