Makes Christians Different?
come in all shapes and sizes. They pursue practically the same
diversity of occupations and interests as everyone else. They have
political and economic opinions. Most of them spend their working
lives balancing budgets, living in suburbia, paying off mortgages,
raising kids (or electing not to have them) and generally coping from
the cradle to the grave.
there is something different about most Christians, once you peel
away the first layer of the onion. They are not the same inside.
They think differently. Their lives are guided by principles that
don’t always seem to make sense. They handle problems
differently. Their conversations are not the same as those of their
non-Christian friends. Sometimes they are harassed because they are
different. At other times they are respected for their
steadfastness. People regard them as either weird and eccentric or
“normal”, depending on their own world views and
makes Christians different?
do Christians stand out in a post-modern world? Why do they think
differently? Why are their life priorities and activities often
different from those of their neighbours’?
want to unpack this question and see how, as Christians, we can link
with friends and neighbours and demonstrate that we are normal, but
different for very good reasons that can enrich their lives and
attract them to Christ.
meaning of life
have a different view about the meaning of life. The Bible teaches
that God has made us in his image, for relationship with him. So,
Christians do not subscribe to atheistic theories of evolution,
historical determinism, fate, racial intolerance, abortion, astrology
or nationalism. Christians believe God is involved in the world and
wants to guide our lives and bless us. The Bible teaches that when
Christ came he initiated a brand new “man” (1 Corinthians
15). When a person becomes a Christian they are “born again”
and start life over as a member of a new creation, in a sense a new
race. In this context, ethnic, social and economic distinctions
become irrelevant (Galatians 4: 28).
have a new DNA. The Bible says they have become partakers of God’s
nature (2 Peter 1:4). This does not imply they are “gods”
or “god-like”, as certain New Age groups teach, but that
the life of God has been implanted in them (like a computer chip) and
their spirits have been vivified (or made alive) with God’s
meaning of life is tied up with discovering why we are here and how
our lives can count for eternity. Beauty fades (Proverbs 31:30).
Popularity is unreliable; peoples’ opinions can be fickle.
National leaders disappoint the polity and are expelled from office
after years of trying hard to make a difference. Celebrities fall
out of favour and are no longer subject of Hollywood’s
introspective indulgence. The world is materialistic. The Christian
is therefore urged to lay up treasures in heaven, where inflation,
theft and corruption do not affect their investments (Matthew
commanded us to pursue eternal priorities, to “seek first the
Kingdom of God and His righteousness”, that is to be in right
relationship with Him and live accordingly (Matthew 6:33). To the
Christian, the concept of “win-win” is linked to a
lifestyle choice that has eternal rewards. All too often I hear the
expression, “He (or she) is a loser”. No one is a loser
who has trusted in Christ. Such a person can experience and express
confidence without having to be “pumped up” by
circumstances or other peoples’ opinions.
have a different view about social values. The mores we espouse are
not social averages or the lowest common political denominators in
society. We believe God has shown us how to rise above the downward
pull of social gravity and, the power of the media and other social
engineers, has given us clear commands for living, through the Bible,
and established Christian leadership in the church to help us
understand how to implement these standards and practices with moral
character and capabilities. This often puts us at odds with everyone
else. However, the Christian believes his or her values are eternal,
and will therefore not automatically toe the line regarding the
issues of the moment.
Christians make decisions that involve value judgements, they do so
actively, not passively. They know what they are doing and are aware
that every decision involves a judgement about how it fits in with
God’s way. The Christian knows his or her beliefs are not
simply ideological. The Biblical man or woman does not espouse many
of the world’s values, because they are empty cant, hype,
exaggeration or feel-good philosophies. They know Christ was not
sucked in by the rhetoric, but went on and changed history. They,
too, want to be history-makers.
have a different view about man’s capacity to cope and do well.
We believe sin is real, that the problems that exist in the world
are the result of man’s rebellion against God and that only
Christ can change our hearts and enable us to put things right. The
Holy Spirit has come from God, through Jesus, to fill us and
supernaturally empower our lives (John 14:16-23). We do not need
positive thinking, psychotherapy, group dynamics, or mind-over-matter
principles to get above our problems. (Anyone can do that for a
while, with the right training, but it is always tenuous.) We do not
belief in escapism, denial, euthanasia or suicide as viable
solutions. We become enthusiastic about life because we are
“en-theos” (in God). We believe our children can –and
should - grow up in the presence of God. He is the one who sustains
us for the whole of life. He is the one who has declared that his
truth will set us free (John 8:32).
know that the “rat race” can make us feel and act like
rats, that comfort zones can make us boring and mediocre, that the
daily drill can be a relentless and tiresome grind. Christians see
the hand of God in global and personal events that people without
hope or divine perspective regard as calamitous.
have a hope that no other faith system can provide. Bombarded with
negative images every day, they know their lives are established on
principles and a relationship with God that are rock solid. They
know they do not have to follow others, to imitate or articulate
their cynicism, or to win their approval to have self-worth. The
Christian’s hope is predicated on Good News (this is what the
word “Gospel” literally means). Everyone needs Good
News. No other religion sings as much. (Christians probably sing
more than almost anyone else in Western societies.) No other faith
system consciously radiates joy as much as Christianity.
have a different view about relationships. Instead of being in
relationships with others for “what’s in it for me”
(usually abbreviated WIIFM), the Christian believes his or her
primary relationship is with God and that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Christians who implement God’s word are given strength to live
in marriage, family, work and community in terms of higher
relationship principles than the world prescribes. Christians
believe they are children of God, adopted sons and daughters and that
other Christians are their extended spiritual family. Christians
draw on divine strength for power to forgive, to reach out to
unlovely and unloving people and work with more highly tuned
inter-personal skills. Non-Christians cannot explain this
adequately, because they cannot identify the active ingredient.
a choice to be different
fact that Christians are “different” can be dangerous.
In some countries governments do not know what to do with people in
the community whose first allegiance is not to the nation state.
They are arrested, tortured, pressured to change, to buckle under,
and to subscribe to the policies of parties and image makers.
Christians find it impossible to do this if party or state are
contrary to Biblical teaching. Peter told the religious leaders in
Jerusalem, “We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Maybe it serves them right if they suffer, but the choice is theirs
(1 Peter 4:12-16).
know they cannot serve two masters. They can be good patriots and
loyal citizens, obey the law, pay taxes and work for social
stability, but they cannot sell themselves to a lower bidder, because
their Master is Christ. Christians will always stand out, in many
cases to the displeasure of those in authority. “If they hated
me, they will also hate you” (Matthew 10:22). Jesus said, “If
any man loves me, let him follow me, so that where I am, there will
my servant be also” (John 12:26). But Christians do not sink
into the “victim” morass; they know there are more
important issues at stake. They are reminded of Jesus’
concluding words, “If any man honours me, him also will my
is also a theological explanation. If Christians act differently
this is because they are undergoing a process the Bible calls
“sanctification”. This seemingly arcane word simply
means “separated”. When we follow Christ, we are
separated. We no longer belong to ourselves. We belong to God.
Incidentally, the word “saint” comes from the same root;
in the New Testament ordinary Christians were known as “saints”
(cf Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1). What a liberating truth!
to be different – a paradox
non-Christian world stresses uniformity. Christians stress
conformity to Christ (Romans 12:2). The world says, “Be like
us”. The Bible says, “Do not let the world squeeze you
into its mould”. “Repentance” (metanoia)
literally means a “change of mind”. People who repent on
the inside are transformed on the outside. Those who try to change
the outside alone cannot stop the storms of life from dissolving the
mask. The Bible says Christ renews our minds.
are not superior or elite, operating within a narrow clique, for they
know only the grace of God is “sufficient” for them (2
Corinthians 12:9) and that when they are weak in themselves they can
be strong in Him (1 Corinthians 12:10). Instead of taking pride in
their achievements, they humbly acknowledge that it is the grace of
God that has transformed them and made them what they are. Grace
is God’s gift; it is given, not earned. Someone has said that
grace is an abbreviation of “God’s Riches at Christ’s
non-Christian world says, “Live it up; you have only one life”.
The Christian Manifesto is based on being “crucified with
Christ” (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 2:20), being “dead”
to the world so that we can live for Christ (Romans 6:1-7). That
makes every Christian different, but for the right reasons.
are not rebels or mavericks; they are surrendered to Christ and the
direction of the Holy Spirit. They have different priorities. Those
priorities occasionally conflict with everybody else’s
expectations, but they can also be powerful magnets attracting others
to the Christ who lives within. Speaking about the Holy Spirit,
Jesus said, “He will be with you and in you”. The
Christian’s Constitution is to be a loyal citizen in this life
(Romans 13:1-7), but live and hope as citizens of heaven (Philippians
3:20). If necessary, Biblical Christians are prepared to go to jail
and even to die, rather than give up eternal life that is theirs in
Christ. They go about recalling the observation of Jesus, “Unless
a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies it abides alone, a
single seed. But if it dies it brings forth much fruit” (John
thing that makes us different is what transforms us. It is a new way
of thinking, with new goals, desires, drives, appetites, ambitions
and key measures of satisfaction. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher and
mentor (John 14:25-26; 16:13-15). Other Christians are the community
of supporters who provide mutual encouragement. We are different
from the rest of the world for the same reasons Jesus was different.
At times we feel inadequate, but we have what many people are looking
for, and they recognise it when they see it (“You’ve got
something.”)– even if our witness has been less than
ideal. God is greater than our limits (see 2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
and document fraud are growing exponentially throughout the world. I
have been professionally trained to spot fake passports, currency
notes and other legal documents. I can also detect impostors. The
techniques are not rocket science. In every day life, most people
can spot fakes. If Christians are really different, as I have been
asserting they are, they will pass the test of genuineness every
time. I am wearied of the hackneyed and ill-informed generic claim
that “the church is full of hypocrites”. That is a lazy
social comment, devoid of empirical meaning and often trotted out to
justify non-involvement on the part of non-Christians. (If they
started attending, the immediate effect would be that there were even
more hypocrites.) Sure, there are many people in church buildings
who do not live up to what they believe (or claim to believe). The
fastest track to irrelevance is to pretend we are perfect.
there is an underlying distinction between people who have been “born
again” through faith in Christ and the rest of humanity.
Christians are aware that they need to grow up, to put off the old
way of living and mature as followers of Jesus (1 Corinthians 13:11).
If we fail in this area, let’s be honest enough to admit it
and allow the Holy Spirit to continue to change us. Churches are
full of religious people, and irreligious ones too, from the
leadership to the lowliest pew warmer. That does not detract from
the genuine article.
get back to the original question, “What makes Christians
different?” God does. Every testimony of change, of a new
life, of shackles of old lifestyles struck off miraculously, is
evidence of the power of God.
caterpillar sat on a juicy green leaf munching its way through the
vegetation. As a beautiful butterfly flew overhead he grub turned to
its companion and remarked, “You’ll never get me up in
one of those things”. When I was a boy I used to keep silk
worms. Given plenty of mulberry leaves the grubs inexorably grew
larger and larger; all they ever seemed to do was devour food. Where
was the silk? Where was my return for hours of protecting them from
the local birds and from starving to death? One day they would stop
eating and start building cocoons around their fat bodies. Then they
would close the hatch and disappear. “Good-bye caterpillars”.
The cocoons would be surrounded by fine silk, which I would patently
wind onto an ice-cream stick for later use. In due time, the ends of
the cocoons would open up and moths with moist white wings would
emerge, to lay eggs and eventually die. The caterpillars were
nowhere in sight. They had been “metamorphosized” into
moths, so that life could go on.
we allow God to carry out his work in our lives we undergo a process
of metamorphosis, of radical change. We no longer think, act or
speak the same way. “The old has gone, the new has come”
(2 Corinthians 5:17). A supernatural transformation has occurred.
That is why Christians are different. And that is why every person I
know needs a personal encounter with Jesus, because he can change
their lives too.