How do we make the teaching about God attractive to people who have never given it any thought – don’t even know there is anything to think about? How do we help them trust the unseen God, when there are so many things they can see that everyone else trusts?
We make the teaching about God attractive and motivate people to join his side both by who we are (or by who we are becoming, since who we are now is still so very incomplete) and by what we do. What we do is the outworking of who we are (or who we are becoming).
First, who we are (or who we are becoming). This only works if we are different from the people around us. God’s plan depends on it. It is the difference that attracts people to God.
A magnetic field depends on having a north and south pole. It is the opposite poles that attract. Likewise, our power of attraction depends on us being polar opposites to those around us. That doesn’t mean being weird or hostile but it does mean being different.
In Leviticus 19:2, God says to his people, “Be holy for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” More than one famous Bible scholar has pointed out this could be translated, “Be different for I, the LORD your God, am different.”
Because the LORD is different from other gods (both those in the ancient and the contemporary world), we who serve him will be different from people who bow to other gods, including money, political power, science, and education. (By the way, Christians should be involved in all those things. They are good things as long as they remain humanity’s servants. They are devilishly evil things when they become humanity’s gods, which is something we have seen played out before our eyes in recent months.)
But what makes us different? The fundamental difference is that we are God-oriented. If somehow God could be removed from our lives or we could be removed from our God (thankfully impossible), we would no longer be us. God is not just a part of our life, not even a big part; he is our life (Colossians 3:4). I’ve known people who have left the faith, moved from professing belief in God to professing disbelief in him, and the curious thing is that nothing really changed. I don’t see how that is possible – if they were really God’s people. Our lives, put bluntly, are about God.
Our values are also different. Most people’s chief values are: current comforts and pleasures (what St. John calls “the lust of the flesh”); future acquisitions of comfort and pleasure (“the lust of the eyes – gotta have that!”); and a position of status or prestige (“the pride of life”). I don’t say they enjoy those things – they don’t time; they’re too busy trying to acquire them – but they value them.
Our values are different. When we are granted pleasures and possessions and positions, we enjoy them; but we don’t need them and we won’t let them derail us from our pursuit of God, of love and of truth. That makes us different.
We don’t fear – or at least the person we are becoming is starting to overcome – the fears that control most people’s lives. They fear loss, humiliation, weakness, age, and death. It is ironic: in Western society, people lead the safest lives in the history of the world, yet they experience more anxiety than ever before. People have been taught to fear the next snowstorm, the next president, next market reversal, virus, disease, and internet outage. Unbelievable amounts of money are spent to protect people from their fears. But we fear God and, because we do, we are getting over our fear of everything else.
Another difference is our hope. In our day, distraction has usurped the place of hope, but that is not so in our lives. Even when we are nearing the end of life here, we continue to look forward. Our hopes transcend the next election, the end of COVID, our next vacation. The vacation may get cancelled; COVID may not get cancelled – it may continue; the election may usher the wrong party into power; but our hopes remain undiminished. Even immanent death cannot take hope from us.