Why Christians Must Be Different
What is their relationship with the world?
Why can they not be like other people?
CHRISTIANS live in the world but are no part of it. In the first century the Roman world found this difficult to understand. Christians would not worship as it did, observe its holidays, participate in its politics, burn incense to its Caesar, fight in its armies or participate in its deeds of loose conduct. For this separateness from the world the people hated and persecuted them. It mattered not to the world of that time that the Christians were peaceable, law-abiding and of the highest morals.
Tertullian, a writer of the second century, contrasted the Christians with people of the world by saying: “We injure none; we grieve none. . . . We challenge you to produce your records, you who day by day preside over the trial of prisoners, who pass the sentence and clear the calendar. . . . What assassin on the list, what cutpurse, what temple-robber, or bribery agent, or bath-thief, is also described as a Christian? Or when Christians, charged as Christians, are brought into court, who among them is of the same sort as all those criminals? It is with your kind that the jail is always steaming; with the sighs of your kind the mines always resounding; with your kind the wild beasts are fed; from your kind the givers of public shows always maintain their herds of the condemned. Not a Christian on that list, unless it be simply as a Christian.”
REASONS FOR DIFFERENCE
How could Christians be obedient to God if they had permitted themselves to become part of the Roman world, engaging in its idolatrous celebrations, its licentious feasts, its bloody games and its selfish pursuits? People who became Christians had to change their way of thinking and living. They had to put on a new personality. Paul pointed this out when he told Christians in Ephesus: “You should put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct.” (Eph. 4:22) That former course of conduct was acceptable with the world but it was not acceptable with God.
When writing to the Christians in Galatia, Paul mentioned some of the works of the flesh that made up their former course of conduct while part of the world. He said: “The works of the flesh are manifest, and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism, hatreds, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, contentions, divisions, sects, envies, drunken bouts, revelries, and things like these.” Since these things are contrary to the righteous principles of God’s Word, the person who became a Christian had to leave them behind when he put on a new personality that was acceptable to God. Paul continues and says: “As to these things I am forewarning you, the same way as I did forewarn you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Gal. 5:19-21) Peter gave somewhat similar counsel.
To persons who turned their back on the world to follow the Christian way of life, Peter said: “The time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries.” This change made them so very different that persons in the Roman world who knew them before they became Christians were puzzled. Peter goes on to mention this. “Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.” (1 Pet. 4:3, 4) Their conduct set them apart from the world of that time. They followed the example set for them by Jesus Christ.
The Leader of Christianity did not lose self-control over fleshly desires as did the people of the world. He did not engage in the hatreds, prejudices and acts of violence of that time. He did not participate in politics, making himself indirectly responsible for the wicked deeds of the Roman government. He was refreshingly different from the corrupt world. This separateness was what he expected of his followers. On one occasion he said: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:16.
CHRISTIANS AND THE WORLD TODAY
The passing of more than 1900 years has not altered the world as regards its bad thinking, its unrighteous conduct and its violent actions. The apostle Paul foretold this when he said: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:1-4) How can Christians today be like this and still expect the approval of God? He has not changed his standards from what they were in the first century. He still requires Christians to be like Christ and not like the world.
Although there are many nations today that profess to be Christian, the thinking and conduct of the people in those nations are generally little different from that of the people in the Roman world. A similar low level of morals is evident from the daily reports of newspapers. Acts of crime are rampant. In the United States, for example, the police reported that in 1960 there were 1,861,300 murders, forcible rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, automobile thefts and larcenies. This amounts to a willful homicide every fifty-eight minutes and a burglary every thirty-nine seconds. Throughout the world crime, dishonesty and political corruption are commonplace. As Tertullian told the people of the Roman world, so true Christians can tell worldly people today: “It is with your kind that the jail is always steaming.”
Any person striving to be a Christian today must be different from the world. How can he live as it does and still claim to be following the example of Christ? How can he conform with the world’s unrighteous works of the flesh and still live by good Christian principles?
What the apostle Paul said about the world of his day applies equally as well today. Addressing Christians, he said: “This, therefore, I say and bear witness to in the Lord, that you no longer go on walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds. Having come to be past all moral sense, they gave themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort with greediness. But you did not learn the Christ to be so.” (Eph. 4:17, 19, 20) That means Christians must be different, not in dress, but in their way of life.
The bad fruitage of the world reflects the influence of the one who is its invisible ruler. That ruler is not the righteous Prince of Peace who set an example for Christians by being separate from the world. Neither is he the heavenly Father whose righteous laws guide Christian conduct. Paul states that this ruler blinds people to Christian truths. “The god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” (2 Cor. 4:4) The apostle John identified him by saying: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) The world’s wicked fruits mirror the traits of its wicked, invisible ruler, the chief enemy of Jehovah God. How can a Christian seek to be acceptable to the world and its ruler and still expect to be acceptable to God?
FOLLOWING SEPARATE ROADS
The road of Christianity and the road of the world are separate roads heading in different directions. A Christian cannot walk both roads at the same time. He cannot have love for God and also love for a system that violates God’s laws, ignores his counsel, opposes his purposes and persecutes his servants. If he loves the world, it is impossible for him to have love for God. John pointed this out when he said: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15) Having love for the Father automatically makes the Christian different from the world because he seeks to obey the laws of God. By staying on this road he can avoid the fate of the world.
John indicates the destiny of the world by saying: “The world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” (1 John 2:17) Since the world and its wrong desires are passing away, we must conclude that those who walk that road will pass away with it. Jesus indicated this when he said: “Broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it.” (Matt. 7:13) It is God’s purpose to destroy the worldly system of things and its wicked invisible ruler.
The road to life is the road of loyal devotion and obedience to Jehovah God. It is the way of love for God and love for neighbor. It is the way of Scriptural principles and good Christian conduct. The person who loves justice and what is right will follow this road although it makes him different from the world. He will realize that the approval of the righteous Ruler of the universe is of far greater benefit to him and much more to be desired than the approval of an unrighteous and hateful world. His desire will be to conform with true Christianity rather than with the world.