As Christians we are called to be “set apart.” Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The term set apart seems to have acquired an air of distinction that borders on haughtiness. Our goal in seeking to be set apart may not be haughtiness or to stand on higher ground so that we can look down on people, but that pitfall seems to subtly permeate our pursuit of "holiness." So what, then, does being set apart really look like.
My understanding of being set apart was always subconsciously focused on the things I did or did not do. It was almost like a race against the people around me. If I was ahead of the pack, I felt comfortable in my relationship with the Lord. If I started noticing things in my life that mirrored my more secular peers, I would run a little harder until I had gained a sufficient “lead” on them. I thought that’s what being set apart meant, not looking like the world, but I had it backward.
It’s Not About Looking Different Than The World
I suppose the best way to explain my point is to look at what happens in Acts 4. It says, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Notice it does not say, “They realized they were different from the world.” That seems to be so much of our mindset today. I hear so many people pray this phrase, “God, I pray when people look at me they would notice something is different about me.” That’s all well and good, but the point isn’t for people to notice that something is different about us, but it’s for them to know the one who made us different.
So if we look at that verse again, what does it say? It says, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized they had been with Jesus.” Our goal in being set apart should not be for people to look at us and say, “Wow, look how much farther ahead they are from their peers and how different they are from the world around them.” Our goal should be for people to look at us and say, “Look how much they look like Jesus!” Our ambition isn’t for people to see how much we don’t look like the world, but instead to see how much we do look like Jesus.
When our goal is to be farther along spiritually than our peers, it leads to self-righteousness and religious dogmatism. But when we are constantly trying to look more like Christ, we are constantly reminded of His greatness coupled with His grace, therefore, humility abounds.
In The World But Not Of The World
Jesus prays in John 17, “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:15-16). Jesus calls us to be in the world, but not of the world.
Don’t distance yourself from the secular crowd, but influence it. I once heard someone say, “When you don’t know who you are you get influenced, but when you know who you are in Christ, you’re the influencer.” When we know our purpose and our identity, we change the atmosphere and the culture. We are called to be salt and light. Both of those things change their surroundings. One brings flavor and the other brings clarity. We’re not just set apart from sin, but we are set apart for a purpose, which is to influence our spheres for Christ.
My closing point is this: God’s goal in setting us apart is not about taking us out of the world, but about Him taking the world out of us. By pursuing Christ, the things of the world lose their grip on us, but by trying not to look like the world we only lose sight of Christ. He wants to conform us into His image, not distance us from the world.
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