“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pt 2.9).
The way of Jesus is not simply a supernatural life. It is in many respects an anti-natural life. It is indeed the cruciform life: a life shaped by the cross. Death of the natural self and inherent sin to live in the Spirit by faith in unseen realities (2 Cor 4.18).
In his sermon par excellence (Mt 5-7) Jesus turned on its head what it means to be his disciple. We neither intuit nor choose this sort of life. Jesus himself must call us to it. Jesus must choose this life for us because we’d never choose it for ourselves.
We present a distorted gospel when we call unbelievers to a life that sounds reasonable to them. The gospel Jesus preached was one that made no sense unless you were taught by God to understand it. “Good” news to us is whatever commends our piety and celebrates our ability. Any news that humiliates us is hardly “good.” Yet, that is precisely the function of the gospel. It exposes our depravity and emphasizes our inability. The only reason we would possibly receive such news as “good” is if God has given us new faculties to receive it as such.
Jesus’ gospel offends what we assume to be a virtuous life in God. It offends our pride and self-reliance. It demands far more than we’re willing to give. It gives far different rewards than we want. Therefore, reasons Jesus, no one would ever think following him on the cruciform road “unless it has been granted him from the Father” (Jn 6.65).
When we call people to Christ we are not calling them to a life that makes sense to the natural mind. We call them to life that requires a faith only God can and must give.
In Matthew 6 Jesus warned against a Pharisaical faith that loved appearances far more than substance. Pharisaical Christianity hijacks God’s name to draw the world’s attention to ourselves. It’s celebrity religion. Pharisees give to the poor on the last peal of a trumpet (v2). Pharisees pray “so that they may be seen by men” (v5). Did you catch that? Pharisees pray in order to be seen, not necessarily heard. Pharisees fast “so that they will be noticed by men” (v16). Pharisaical Christianity is a pseudo-Christianity that loves to appeal to the world’s natural senses. And Jesus promised that whatever praise they receive from men will be all the praise they get for eternity.
True Christianity however is anti-natural. We’re to give the poor without so much as a whisper (v2). We’re to pray behind closed doors (v6). We’re to fast without looking the least bit hungry (v16). Basically, we’re to practice our Christianity in a way that the world isn’t immediately or superficially impressed. “The righteous will live by faith” so that God sees what the world does not. And what is hidden now about the glory of Christ’s people will be fully disclosed in the last day.
If we want to impress the world now then God will hide us for eternity. But if we want to honor God now he will exalt us for eternity.
The same holds true for the church. The Christian doesn’t necessarily portray an envious life to the natural man. Neither does the church display an impressive community the world should envy. Peter called the church a “peculiar” (so KJV) people (1 Pt 2.9). Not merely another people but an other people. The Other People. The early church enjoyed such power and demonstrated an otherworldliness that those looking on dared not to associate with them (Acts 5.13). There is no reason for a person to follow the Christ-life unless God calls them. Likewise, there is no reason to be attracted to the church unless God has called them. After all, who would naturally want to join an exiled, sojourning, wandering, strange, alien people who consider persecution a blessing?
Do we appear all that peculiar to the world? Are our fancy complexes, with their entertainment facilities and eye-catching innovations, the modern expression of what Jesus warned us about in Matthew 6. I wonder if our programs, operated in the name of God, do more to impress the world than to present an otherworldly community. Is the modern American church about appealing to the natural inclinations of the worldly soul, baptizing them in the name of “relevant” ministry? Do our modern approaches to ministry make the gospel more appealing to the world or more peculiar? If the Christian life we present as churches is naturally appealing to the worldly mind then we “have our reward in full” (Mt 6.2, 5, 16).
Have we, in the name of “mission,” communicated to the world that the church can have just as much fun, enjoy just as much entertainment, have as much cool gadgetry as it does? Or, should we communicate that to join Christ is to join a weird community that doesn’t feel all that at home in this world? We’re an exiled community that longs for the “city with foundations.” And to join this community is to leave the kingdom of the world for the kingdom of Christ. He is preparing a place for us to call home (Jn 14.3). Does the world gravitate toward churches that have a lot of money, skyward steeples, tasty coffee and manicured soccer fields? Or will they know the church exists solely because Jesus is a Living Savior who has established a global kingdom despite every expectation of what kingdom-building looks like?
Where is the church of such Christian devotion and power that the world might say, “If that’s what Christianity is then we cannot associate”? Where is preaching that leaves the natural man saying, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (Jn 6.60). Should we not structure our churches as simple and “undersold” so that anyone who comes to Christ has done so clearly because God has called them?
I’m not suggesting the church is a community in hiding. But she is a peculiar one. Let’s make sure we’re not appealing to the world’s natural sense of what is impressive. Let’s offend the natural sense by calling the world to an Unseen, Living Christ and his community of misfits who would only be attractive to those who see through the eyes of Christ. Let’s be sure the gospel we present is such that to be received it must be God who did it and not our street-corner theatrics.