All of us who have committed our lives to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ know that we are called to be distinct from the world. Maybe we looked the same as the world when we first encountered the saving love of God, but God doesn’t love us ‘just the way we are’ without also loving who he sees us becoming through Christ. Think about the Sermon on the Mount: the Beatitudes; our calling to be salt and light; increased prohibitions against things like anger and lust; and the call to love our enemies, and give to those in need. Every New Testament author writes of how inward transformation leads to outward transformation, and that the world will always find this peculiar. Perhaps the most well-known text is Romans 12:2 where Paul writes by the mercies of God, please do not any longer be conformed to the world, but be transformed. Do not be guided by the world: its principles, its entertainment, its values. You can almost hear him pleading with the church: be different.
Scripture makes clear that the Christian life is one of growing in grace towards Christlikeness, while simultaneously putting to death the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. In short there is both sanctification and mortification in the Discipled Life. But, do we even realise that we’re also being discipled by the world around us? Don’t we feel some degree of need to be on top of what the world is watching, reading, and talking about? We fill our minds with the latest Netflix series, the latest celebrity scandal, or perhaps we’re the ones ‘confiding’ with our friends over the latest character flaw our spouse, boss, or family member demonstrated rather than building them up and spurring one another on in love (Hebrews 10:24).
In Philippians 4:8, Paul exhorts Christians that whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy, these are the things we should be watching, reading, and talking about. Think about these things. Hang out with these things. Watch these things. Discuss these things. We must be set apart from the world; but conquering our desires for these impure, untrue, or un-praiseworthy things can only be driven out by what Thomas Chalmers (b.1780) called “The Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection.” Matt Chandler said recently, “it’s the holiness of heaven that drives out the filthiness of the world.” It is the beauty of Christ that compels us to say “no” to what is broken and sinful in the world. Paul says “if it’s pure, dwell there”. I want to fill my life with joy-bringing, Jesus-exalting beauty.
Please don’t hear me wrong. I have a TV. I have a Netflix account. They’re not the devil. And yet, I am deeply concerned with how many Christians feel the need to be equipped to engage in conversation about whatever the world is currently being entertained by. I’m not trying to place myself above anyone else; Scripture seems clear that being entertained by what God finds deplorable is probably not the best use of your—or my—time. If I find myself entertained by horrific violence, sexual perversion, or evil spirituality, what does that say about the direction in which I’m being transformed? And I have yet to see anyone come to faith in Christ because the preacher was able to put a Game of Thrones reference into his sermon.
What’s the answer? I love the one-two move that Paul provides in the small verse of Romans 13:14 that you could easily skim past:
1. Put on Christ, and
2. make no provision for the flesh.
There it is. Make Christ the grid through which you run every decision, and as for the desires of the flesh? No opportunity. No chances. No provision. Don’t play with sin. Daniel shares this with King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:27 where he instructs, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practising righteousness”. Daniel knew the expulsive power of a greater affection—that only by being immersed in the all-satisfying person and life of the Triune God would the attraction to the things of the world grow dim.
There’s something broken in our minds because we seem to think that somehow we’re in control of sin. We’ve got it, and we’ll only allow it to roam so far before we rein it back in. So we’re fine. Jen Wilkin tells a story about a man in New York City who kept a lion in his apartment. He raised it from a cub—so everything will be fine, right?—and one day it turned on him, tore up his arm, and he showed up at the ER desperately trying to come up with a convincing alibi. You might think that you can keep sin at home; take it for walks, keep it on a leash, feed it just enough to keep it compliant. But one day, it’s going to turn on you and kill you. Don’t play with sin. Make no provision for the flesh.
I’m so grateful for what Jesus prays in John 17, and also for what he doesn’t pray. In verses 15 and 16 Jesus prays, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” Do you see what he’s asking? We’re not to be removed, neither are we to be immersed. We’re meant to be in but not of. We are citizens of heaven; living as an imperfect foretaste of the perfect purity and total joy that is the life to come.
The point is not that Christians are a people of prohibitions. Rather, we recognise that God came near to us out of pure grace and having saved us has now outlined how we are to live as his peculiar people. When Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he is describing the natural inclination of a heart that comprehends the fullness of its salvation. Out of this love, let’s live as those who know that God will one day judge our every action according to his standard of what is true, honourable, just, and pure. Rather than continue to commit treason against the God who loved us and saved us by shedding his blood for us, let’s be people who are peculiar. Peculiar in what we watch, peculiar in what we read, peculiar in what we say.