“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
A man was living in a foreign country where his company was doing business. The culture in which he found himself was corrupt and violent. Almost nothing could be done in business or in daily life without submitting to some form of criminality. The man refused to conform. Before long he was receiving threats. Eventually, the pressures against him became so great he was forced to take refuge in his country’s embassy. From there he awaited the day when he could leave this criminal society and return home.
The scenario above, with some alteration, can also describe the place of the Christian in this world. We are sojourners, aliens in a foreign land. This image of the people of God is a central motif throughout the entire Bible. The ancient Israelites were set apart to be a people for God. Their very existence was a repudiation of pagan society in all its forms. The early Christians turned their backs on the worldly, sophisticated paganism of the Greco-Roman world, openly renouncing immorality and idolatry. The Romans called them atheists and “enemies of life”.
Some currently fashionable expressions of the Christian faith look with condescension and disdain at this tendency to separate from the world. The purveyors of this “social gospel” want the Church to be preoccupied with the world and all its’ aches and pains. They see this as a corrective to what they have perceived as the Church’s traditional focus on the next life.
There have been times when monastic seclusion, when retreat from life, was the Christian ideal. I suppose this tenedency can be criticized, especially if an appreciation for what is being repudiated is lacking. This seems to be the case today, for many. God does not make us Christian in order that we become social workers. To be in Christ is to be drawn into the realm of God, to be transformed so that our lives are tuned to what is “holy and acceptable and perfect”, as we await a new heaven and a new earth.
As a Christian, I do hear Jesus call to service, His call to express my faith in love for my neighbor, to live now in the light of the promised land. At the same time it is for that promised land that our lives are being prepared. I want to serve Him now. But more than this, do I eagerly await – with no apology – my final journey home.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”