Are we really that different from non-believers?
I don’t profess to be an expert at biology, but I have always had a passing interest in some of the amazing creatures of God’s creation. There are many animals that have some unusual means of protecting themselves from those animals that would seek to harm them. For example, the skunk is able to use that rather pungent odor as a deterrent to any of its would-be predators. An armadillo can roll itself up into a hard ball to either escape or make its predator wonder if whatever is inside that hard shell is worth the effort. Some animals are blessed with great speed or the ability of flight to avoid becoming lunch.
The chameleon has always been a fascinating creature to me. It does not possess any special powers that enable it to avoid those creatures that would want to turn them into an afternoon snack. It’s not fast or particularly strong. In fact, the one thing that this lizard has going for it is the ability to blend into its surroundings.
For example, if the chameleon is on a branch, then it is able to mimic the brownish shade of a branch. If it finds itself in the midst of leaves, then its skin is able to turn into a shade of green that makes it particularly difficult to discover. This animal possesses a cloaking device that enables it to appear virtually invisible to its would-be predators.
A study regarding the values of people of faith revealed that many Christians have ability similar to the chameleon. The research revealed that in matters of conduct and outward demonstrations of morality that there was no measurable difference between those who claimed to be followers of Christ and those who did not.
For example, the divorce rate for those who do not claim to be born again Christians is 33 percent while the divorce rate for born-again Christians was 32 percent (New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released, March 31, 2008, Barna Update).
Those of us who have worked with churches over the past several years have noticed the difference between those who claim to be followers of Christ and those who do not really starting to blur.
My point here is not to simply pore over statistics, or try to paint a picture of hopelessness and gloom for the church in the United States. Rather, it is my desire to help point us to the calling of the church to make disciples. It is a clear teaching of Scripture that those of us who claim the name of Jesus should be different than those who do not.
As Paul says in Romans, “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the member of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (6:12-13).
Our relationship with Christ should make a difference in the way that we live. Obviously, there is not a demand for sinless perfection in the Scriptures; however, there should be a consistent change in our character and lifestyle. Unfortunately, more often than not we have focused upon the behavior rather than the relationship with our Savior.
It’s not about our efforts in trying to act like better Christians. Rather, it is about our willingness to submit more and more of our lives to the Lordship of Jesus. This submission cannot be coerced; it must come from a willing and humble heart.
This change of heart is something that is only accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. More often than not we have tried to manufacture this type of change through programs or activities rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to truly lead us toward repentance.
Obviously, it is the Father’s desire that His children experience all that He has for them in the relationship that He has made possible through His Son. However, He is not going to force us to love Him. While He has placed that desire within us through the Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer, He will not seek to undermine our will.
Our willingness to exercise self-denial is how His Lordship begins to gain a foothold in our lives and truly transform us into the disciples that our Lord wants us to become. It’s the “John the Baptist” principle. “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).
As we begin to apply this principle to our lives we can truly begin to experience the joy of submission, and the power of self-denial. Then our lives are not about fitting in, but about demonstrating Christ to others. (Mike Cooper is Missouri Baptist Convention’s director of Sunday School / Discipleship.)