One thing that always amazes me is when you totally surrender more and more of your life to God, things of the world you once counted dear seem insignificant and time-wasting. For example, when it gets down deep into your heart that life is short and souls lie in the balance, mindless TV comedy shows that you used to spend hours watching and quoting to your friends seem pointless. The lines that made light of sin come off different to you, memories of wasted years and now completely against what you stand for. You wonder what you saw in those things and that is perfectly OK. It’s the way things have always been meant to be.
In Romans 12:2, we are instructed not to be “conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” The word renewing can be translated from the Greek according to Strong’s as a “complete change for the better.” So how does one completely change? I believe Hebrews 11 shows us a blueprint.
This chapter is often referred to as the “faith chapter” for its many stories about how God’s people down through the years lived by faith and received the blessing of God. I particularly like the account of Abraham in Hebrews 11:8-16:
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
I’d like to focus on the part about being “strangers and pilgrims.” I think we too often do not think this way at all. We go to work, spend time with friends, raise a family, and eventually die. We, throughout our lives, act as though these things are all there is to life. We strive for comfort. We, like Lot in Genesis, pitch our tent toward Sodom. Lot was not a bad guy; he just was entranced by the hustle and bustle of the city. Perhaps he just wanted company; the life of a nomad didn’t appeal to him. Regardless of reasoning, we read in 2 Peter 2:6-8 how it ends up:
6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;
7 And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:
8 (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)
Here we see someone God calls righteous living in the middle of moral depravity. Note the Word does not mentions his doing their unlawful deeds. It is the seeing and hearing. He placed himself in grave danger simply by association. He forgot that he was to be different, to think different, and to seek to do the will of God by putting Him first and doing the things that please Him.
So what is the practical application of all this? Do we hide away completely from the world? Yes and no. We do not run away from our culture; instead we create God’s culture on Earth. Let me explain. In the earthly ministry of Christ, we see Him surrounded by some of the most messed-up, morally wrong people of His day. Did he go hang out with them in their filth? No; He was with them but only when they were serious about wanting a change. “Let me explore what they believe and then maybe I’ll have an opportunity to share the Gospel” was not part of the plan. Instead, it was “Here is God, He offers hope; if you want to come, come. If not, the invitation stands but I will be moving on to the next village.”
And so we must do. We create a culture that attracts the world not by compromising our faith and distracting ourselves into becoming “culturally relevant.’ We declare God’s love and power best when we are different, strangers and pilgrims who call those around us into a life-changing journey that leads to a heavenly city where true joy never dies.