Today, America is not changing from Christian to secular, but from secular to pagan.
So what are we as Christians supposed to do? How can we live in such a way that we transform the world instead of simply conforming to it?
First, we can’t forget our history. The early church didn’t have individual liberty in the first through third centuries, and the Romans certainly weren’t bastions of family values. Yet faithful believers flipped the entire Roman world right-side up in 300 years – and they didn’t even have Facebook, Instagram, mega buildings, book deals or cell phones!
So how did they do it? Well, it wasn’t what they did but who they were that brought the world to Jesus and ultimately birthed an era of freedom that we enjoy today.
Christians in the early church were called followers of the “Way.” It was the way they lived and went about their daily lives that marked them as distinct and separate from all others. It wasn’t conferences or concerts but a community of believers living in a way that literally blew peoples’ minds and created an appetite in them for the Savior.
But the Roman Empire tried to stomp them out of existence. Christians refused to worship the emperor because they bowed to another King, whose name was Jesus. Nero, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius and other rulers used force against the faithful, but nothing they did could stop the advancement of the church.
The same is true today. Before He returns, Jesus will build His church, the devil will make war on the church, and yet the gates of hell will not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18).
So over the next few weeks we wanted to discuss three specific ways early Christians’ lived to equip us to live faithfully in today’s changing nation. Because no amount of persecution could stomp out “the Way” then, and nothing can stomp it out now.
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Three ways the early church lived that marked the word forever were:
- Separation from the world
- Unconditional love for others, especially each other
- Childlike obedience to God and His Word
Today, we’ll hit No. 1.
Christians in the first century fully embraced Paul’s teaching from Ezekiel’s prophecy when he said, “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you'” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17).
Though believers lived in a pagan culture they were not of the culture. They refused to participate in unrighteousness of any kind, including emperor worship, sexual perversion, child sacrifice, etc. They remained distinctly separate from the world.
In our latest book, “Living Among Lions,” we describe this separation for believers as being like chocolate chips in the cookie dough of culture – we mix in, but we do not blend in. We keep our distinct form, even when the heat turns up.
When making chocolate chip cookie dough, you start with butter, flour, sugar, salt, vanilla, etc., and blend them all together. If you stopped and took a spoonful of the batch, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish what ingredient was what, because it all just tastes like cookie dough. But when you mix in the chocolate chips and take a bite, you know exactly when you’ve bit into one of those morsels of goodness!
You see, chocolate chips mix in, but they don’t blend in. They never lose their distinct form. You always know when you’ve bit into a chocolate chip — even after they come out of the oven.
Christians in the early church lived like this. They refused to let the world on the inside of them, and, as a result, others were attracted to them. They transformed the world – they did not conform to it (Romans 12:2).
Today, it’s vital for Christians’ to fully serve Jesus and be separate from the world again. There has to be a marked difference between faithful transformers and fruitless conformers. Trying to attract the world by being like the world is the opposite of our heritage as believers.
If we’re going to be transformers today, we need to mix in to the batch of culture but never blend in. Our early church brothers and sisters did their part. Now it’s time for us to do ours.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
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