Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Difference

Last week a friend shared with me why she wasn’t interested in becoming a Christian. One of the reasons she gave was that most of the Christians she knows don’t seem to live any differently (apart from going to church) or have anything that attractive about their lives that would make her want to “be like them.” Its not the first time that I’ve heard that argument, and it is a very sobering thought to me.

How should our lives, as Christians, look different from the rest of the world? How can our lives, with Christ living through us, draw others to him? Why is it that the Christian religion sometimes seems to actually do just the opposite, and turn people away from Christ?

Ghandi recognized the difference in Christ and the Christian religion, and tried to live a Christ-like life, but didn’t want anything to do with the religion that went with it. He said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Throughout history, Christianity has been associated with intolerance, religious wars, conquests through colonization, and hurtful divisions within the Church.

But Jesus washed the feet of His disciples and told them to follow His example. “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35) How are we, as Christians in this generation, doing in following Jesus’ example?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians that they were not enslaved to the Law, but that their faith in Christ had set them free (Galatians 5:1) He went on to write:

“For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if instead of showing love among yourselves, you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite to what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. If we are living now by the Holy Spirit, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:13-25)

Paul wrote in another letter, to the Corinthians, about the new life we experience through believing in Jesus, and the task we’ve been entrusted with: to reconcile people to Him, just as we have been reconciled.

“Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us (urges us on). Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now!

What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given to us to tell others. We are Christ’s ambassadors and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, ‘Be reconciled to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)

Earlier in the same letter, Paul wrote: “But thanks be to God, who made us his captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and those who are perishing. To those who perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?”(2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

We have a life-giving message that will offend, because it speaks of sin and the need for repentance. So we can expect the world to hate us for this message, just as it hated Jesus (John 7:7, ). But we can also expect that those who are truly seeking will hear the message and rejoice. This message will find a place in their hearts (John ) and will transform their lives, just as we are being transformed.

As Shaliah of the Lord, let us be faithful both in proclaiming and in living out the message of the gospel. And let us tremble at the thought of our turning people away from Christ because of our living according to our sinful natures, and therefore being messengers who offer nothing that those who are truly seeking would be drawn to. Let our lives show a difference of the transforming work of Christ, as we live according to the Spirit. And may He use us for His glory to make a difference in the world!

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