When we don’t live differently from the world, not only are we saying that we don’t trust God to provide for our lives, but we also hide the light God has placed in our lives. It is through the process of being different and stand apart from the world that we become lights in the darkness. For this reason the apostle Paul wrote:
Don’t participate in the things these people do. For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true (Ephesians 5:7-9; NLT).
Since it is essential for the followers of Christ Jesus to be different there is a question we need to ask ourselves: How do we prevent ourselves from being influenced by this culture in which we live? I believe the writer of Hebrews has provided us with some answers to these questions:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward. Now he is seated in the place of highest honor beside God’s throne in heaven (Hebrews 12:1-2; NLT).
In these two verses we find four actions we must do if we are going to live differently from the world.
First we must remember the people of faith who have gone before us. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith...
Hebrews 11 is filled with the examples of faith. Men and women who trusted God through the ups and downs of life. The writer of Hebrews then tells us: be encouraged by these people. The examples of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, and Peter should give us encouragement as we attempt to live faithful lives in our culture. Remember there is a reason God preserved the examples of these men and women on the pages of Scripture so lets learn from them.
It is also important to remember that through the past two thousand years more and more people have been added to this huge crowd of witnesses. People like Martin Lurther, John Calvin, Alexander Campbell, Jim Elliot, C. S. Lewis, Lillian Trasher, Rachel Scott, and Si Steele (my grandfather). In other words we are still surrounded by witnesses, both living and dead, of the life of faith. We can gain encouragement and wisdom by turning to their examples faith.
The second action we need to do is remove the hindrances; let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress.
Change is difficult. One reason it is difficult is because it means admitting that our way is wrong. If we were already living faithful and righteous lives then change wouldn’t need to happen. A second reason why change is hard is because sin tends to be habit forming. Therefore, our bodies have developed the habit of not trusting God, and like any other habit it is hard to break.
Keeping those things in mind we still need to face the reality that there are areas in our lives that need to be changed. We all have junk in our our lives which will need to dealt with. Part of the problem is that each one of us have a different set of junk that needs to be dealt with, and therefore there are no easy answers in the process of life change. Yet whatever our sins and issues maybe they are all hindering us from become the people God created us to be. That is why it is so essential that we deal with them, even if that means going to a professional for help.
The universal weight that is hindering us is sin. Yes, the weight of sin will different for us, but each of us has sin in our lives. We need to attack it, struggle with it, confess it to God, and continually turn our hearts back to God (that is what repentance is). We cannot go with God and allow sin to remain in our live unchecked. If we are not struggling to rid our lives of sin then we are not living a life of faith.
The third action we must do is run the race; And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.
I like what Erwin McManus wrote in Seizing Your Divine Moment:
“God has created you to do something. It is not enough to stop the wrong and then be paralyzed when it comes to the right. God created you to do good. And doing this requires initiative. There is a subtle danger of hiding apathy behind piety. Getting rid of the sin in your life? Great. Now it’s time to do something” (p. 35).
God has created us to do good. That means we are to bring love and truth into the lives of other people. I like to say that we have been blessed so that we can be a blessing. Running the race that God has given to us is about doing the good works that God has planned for us when He created us (Ephesians 2:10). When we use the blessings (talents, resources, and relationships) God has given us to bring good into this world then we are running the race of faith.
The final action is to remember Jesus; We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.
First, we need to remember who Jesus is and what His life means for us. Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. His sinless life allowed Him to become the perfect sacrifice for our sins, His brutal death was the price that redeemed us from our sins, and His resurrection not only confirms the reality of our forgiven sins, but it also becomes the promise of new life for you and me.
Second, we need to follow the example of Jesus. The way Jesus lived, loved, and worshipped God are the examples for us in how we are to live our lives. Jesus’ life and teachings provide us with the best interpretation of the Law, God’s expectation for how His people are to live, and so it is only by following the example of Jesus that we can live up to that example.
We can only keep our eyes on Jesus and reflect on his life by learning about his life. I think one of the reasons we fall is because we have created an image of Jesus that appeals to us rather than discovering who Jesus really is. So if we are truly going to understand Jesus then we need to spend time in God’s Word, especially in the Gospels, so we can have a better understanding and appreciation of who Jesus is and what He did for us.
Followers of Jesus Christ need to be different from the rest of the world. This doesn’t mean that we seek ways to be strange and to stand out from the crowd, but it does mean that we are intentionally following Jesus rather than allowing ourselves to be pushed along by the trends and fades of this world. Let’s face it, the easy way to live is to participate in the activities of this world and to go along with our culture, so we must fight the hard fight to be different. This fight begins, not by making a list of resolutions or trying to summon up the strength to tackle the sinful habits and the dark passions of our hearts, but by falling on our knees and crying out to God for love, forgiveness, and His Holy Spirit. In other words, this is not about our strength, but it is about relying on God for His strength, and that is what will make us different from the rest of the world.