Yes this a long post. I know that full well — but I needed to write this, for my own peace of mind. To get all the thoughts swirling around my head down in logical lines of black characters so I can muddle through them. There has been one verse I have been contemplating, running over and over again through my mind. 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light…”
When I was younger, I was constantly exhorted by many around me to “be in the world and not of it.” I’m sure I can’t have been the only one to be told this….but what exactly does this look like? To be in the world — which we most definitely are — and yet not to be of it — which many, if not all, of us struggle with.
When I read this verse, I realized what not being of the world looked liked. It looks…..different from the world. Yes, I know that might sound redundant — and simple. And kind of a clueless confession on my part — but something that seemed so complicated became so simple when I realized this.
This is actually one thing that saddens me, and can cause spiritual despondency — seeing others who are so seemingly strong in their faith, their convictions, their Saviour, who just sort of fall away, slowly compromising until they are a shell of who I once knew. I have struggled with this. I have cried tears over this. So maybe I am a bit sensitive, but it makes me feel a deep, heavy burden when I see people — friends, family, acquaintances — drifting off into the world.
I struggled with this when people my own age grew up. And now that I am older, I am seeing people younger than me struggle with this same, all-encompassing question. Struggle only to fall; fall only to rise up — prayerfully — more than conquerors.
I myself struggled with this when I was younger — about 12 – 14. To my mind, especially now that I am older, these years are the most formative for girls. Speaking for myself, I wanted to be seen as responsible, wanted to be seen as a young lady and not a child, wanted to “grow up” and prove that I was capable. Added to that, I have always struggled with stubbornness, and I am the oldest which means I have a very….shall we say, in charge, attitude. I am quieter with others, and tend to think that I am never “enough” — good enough, funny enough, old enough, smart enough…..the list goes on. Which all goes to say that I struggled with respecting my parents, I struggled to get along with my siblings, and I struggled with my identity.
Maybe it was because I struggled so much when I was younger that I feel so strongly about what I see all around me — other young people who are struggling to “find themselves”, to use a popular colloquialism, not realizing how futile their efforts are.
See, we will never “find ourselves” in the ways we want to, until we lose ourselves in Christ. Our own identity is filled with sin, something we would never want others to know about us. Our identity must become anchored on Christ alone. We must die to ourselves — our own desires to “fit in”, the ways we want to spend our time, the friends we have, the things we long for…..everything must be brought under God’s will.
The Lord calls us to be a peculiar people……and it is this part of the verse I have been pondering. What does it mean to be a peculiar people? What does it look like? Albert Barnes wrote in his commentary on this: “They are a people which he has secured as a possession, or as his own; a people, therefore, which belong to him, and to no other. In this sense they are special as being His; and, being such, it may be inferred that they should be special in the sense of being unlike others (unique) in their manner of life.”
John Gill wrote: “God’s elect are a peculiar people, to whom he bears a peculiar love; they are chosen by him to be a special people above all others, and have peculiar blessings bestowed on them, and peculiar care is taken of them; they are the Lord’s, his treasure, his jewels, his portion and inheritance, and therefore he will preserve and save them; they are a people for acquisition, purchase, and possession, as the words may be rendered; whom God has obtained, procured, and purchased for himself, with the precious blood of his Son; hence the Syriac version renders them ‘a redeemed company.'”
John Calvin wrote in his commentary: “He further calls them a peculiar people, or, a people for acquisition, that they might be to him a peculiar possession or inheritance; for I take the words simply in this sense, that the Lord hath called us, that he might possess us as his own, and devoted to him.”
Ponder the words of those theologians for a moment. We, as the elect of God, are His people, His peculiar people. Those that He saved and set apart from the world. We have been purchased by the blood of His Son, and He reserves the right to our very life.
I can vividly remember when I first understood what it meant to be in the world but not of it, to be a peculiar people. I was reading a book (I think it was the Botkin girls book, So Much More, but it may have been some other book) and I was about 12 at the time. There was a story related that made me cringe. In my own words, it was a true story about a high school student who was a Christian, and intent on making Christ known to those around her. She strove to dress like everyone else, so they wouldn’t think Christians weird. She strove to talk like everyone else, have the same interests, listen to the same music, all in the name of making Christ known. There was this one girl that she was always asking to come to church with her, and the girl was never polite in her refusal. This went on month after month, until one Sunday when this Christian saw the girl in her church…..with some other Christian girl, who she didn’t know much about, because she looked like one of those “weird Christian churchgoers” that she had avoided looking like. When the service was over, the Christian asked why the the girl had come with that other strange girl.
The reply that was given caused me to check up and take inventory of my life. It was so simple, so straightforward and so convicting. The girl replied, “Why should I listen to someone who claims to be a Christian when you look and act just like I do? I already have enough problems; I don’t need anymore. That other girl, she had something I didn’t have. She was different, and I knew there was something to her religion.”
That story caused me to realize that, in trying to fit in, I was very similar to the world. I still remember what I was wearing — friends of a friend had given us a bag of old clothing, and I was wearing my favourite outfit: a tighter, form fitting striped blue and white aeropastle t-shirt, and a pair of jeans that were tighter than I normally wore — which was why I liked them so much. The way I was dressed was better than most — but “better than most” doesn’t mean glorifying Christ. If you had put me in a room with twenty other 12 year olds, you would never have been able to tell that I was claimed to be a follower of Christ. My heart attitude wasn’t right — I was more concerned with looking like everyone else than following my Saviour.
I relate that for one reason: I think the biggest inhibitor causing us to refuse to die to ourselves and find our identity in Christ is the fear that we will be different. We will look peculiar to those around us, and we won’t fit in. We will be seen and labeled as “strange”, “weird”, “awkward”……and the list goes on.
I’m not saying we won’t be looked at as if we are off our rocker — but I am saying that the only way to find yourself is to die to yourself. To worry about the Lord’s affirmation instead of bothering about the worlds. And as we focus on Christ — on His will, on His plan, on His glory — we cease to care what the world thinks of us as Christians.
Instead of chasing after the latest fashion trends, let’s run after Christ with a whole heart. Instead of striving to fit in with everybody else, let’s give everybody else something to ponder about as they come into contact with us.
Let’s not give into the pressure to flirt with every guy that comes into our vision, or vie for most popular with every girl we pass.
Let’s not dress in skimpy clothing because “everybody else” does and we want the same attention “everyone else” is getting — let’s let our clothing speak of who our allegiance is towards. Let it proclaim loudly that we belong to Christ, and not to some random guy who passes us by.
Let’s not allow social media to get in the way of spending time with our Saviour, or distract us from the more important things of life.
Let’s remember to pour into actual physical relationships, instead of letting tweets, texts, Facebook, or anything else replace the value of an actual conversation. Let’s purpose to spend time with those we are around, without letting our phones, i-pods, kindles, or whatever else has a tendency to ring-a-ding-ding for our attention to get in the way.
In short, let’s let Christ define us, and not our clothing, our friendships, our makeup, our cell phones, our social media pages, our family, our books, our music….or anything else. Let’s be willing to seem a bit peculiar to the world, for the glory of being Christ’s peculiar treasure on this earth.