Staying True to Your Beliefs While Living in the World
Posted by February 6, 2018on
You live a different life than those around you, and that’s not always easy. How can you stay true to your beliefs when you are being pressured to compromise?
When I was a teen, my friends and I spent a lot of time wishing there was a city where only Church people lived. We’d all realized, just like you probably do now, that living in the world can be exhausting.
Every year, we had to explain to a brand-new set of teachers that we were leaving for eight days—eight whole days—right at the beginning of the school year, and then ask if they could load us up with soul-crushing amounts of homework to do while we were gone.
Then Christmas would roll around, and we’d have to excuse ourselves from the seasonal activities and parties, which usually resulted in a conversation we’d had with classmates so many times that it may as well have been scripted:
Classmates: You don’t celebrate Christmas?
Classmates: What, are you Jewish?
Classmates: Then what are you?
Us: I’m Christian.
Classmates: But you don’t celebrate Christmas?
Classmates: Then how do you get presents? Hanukkah?
Us: No. Because I’m not Jewish.
Classmates: Are you sure?
I wish I could tell you it never got old, but it did. And we realized that we were going to go through this cycle over and over again until we either graduated or died. (We were naïve: We didn’t realize that, once we were out in the Real World™ working Real Jobs™, we’d still be having some variation of those same conversations until Christ returns to establish the Kingdom.)
That’s why we wanted our Church-exclusive city so badly. If we could just surround ourselves with people who believed and lived exactly like we do, we wouldn’t have to explain why we celebrate those “weird Jewish holidays” ever again. We wouldn’t have to explain why we don’t eat pork or why we can’t go to the game on Friday night. We’d be with people who understood us, and finally, finally, we wouldn’t be the odd ones out.
That’s not how God designed it to work, though.
We’re meant to stand out
A little while back, I wrote about the frustrations of not fitting in and the reason it’s important to stand out. I don’t want to rehash all those points, but I think the central message is worth repeating:
God wants you to stand out. He wants people to see how different you are. There are people out there who hate God, who think the Bible is a joke that doesn’t belong in the modern world. Then there are others who believe in God but don’t even try to follow Him. The apostle Paul tells us that the more we obey God, the more we’ll be “blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Lights are impossible to miss in the darkness, and God wants you to be a light in a dark world.
Why? Lots of reasons. Some people are going to see your example and want to understand what makes you so different. They’re going to see your integrity and kindness, and start asking questions and (maybe even) dig deeper. It could be that God uses your example to draw others to Him.
Of course, it could just be that others see your strange, antiquated religion as something to mock and insult whenever they get the chance. But that’s part of God’s plan too. The apostle Peter says to keep “your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
In other words: Even though they don’t understand now—even though they might think you’re foolish and deluded for believing in God—one day, they’ll see with their own eyes that the truth is true. And on that day, they may think back to your example—how different you were, how you stuck to your principles—and that example is going to help them as they develop their own relationship with God.
Finding the balance
None of that works if we only ever spend time with Church people. The Church city my friends and I liked to dream about would have clashed with God’s plan for us—to be in the world, interacting with others and doing our best to put God’s way of life into practice.
But Christ also told God that His disciples “are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:14-15). That’s a tricky balance—finding a way to live in the world without becoming part of the world.
Because, let’s face it, the pressure’s there. There are a lot of songs out there we probably shouldn’t be singing along to. There are a lot of jokes out there we probably shouldn’t be laughing at, movies we shouldn’t be watching and words we shouldn’t be saying. But when those are the things everyone around is doing, it’s not always easy to say no.
So what’s the secret? Our job is to hold fast to our beliefs and stay true to God when we’re surrounded by pressure to compromise—so how do we do this? How can we be in the world and not of it?
Remember the enemy
Christ prayed that God would keep us from “the evil one,” and that’s a big clue. You have an enemy who wants to see you cave under all the pressure to become part of the world—to stop standing out, to stop being an example of what it means to follow God. That enemy is Satan, “your adversary the devil” who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Your adversary. Satan hates the light of God, and he hates the people who embrace it and live in it. So when you feel the pressure to compromise and be like everyone else, remember that the pressure isn’t just coming from people. It’s coming from the adversary. He’s the one who wants to see you hide your light and stop trying, because he wants to make the world as dark and as blind to God as possible.
When we know who we’re really fighting against, it’s easier to fight back. The people out there who don’t know God aren’t your enemies—not even the ones who hate God and who hate you for following Him. Your true enemy is behind the curtains, pulling the strings, doing everything he can to get you to give up.
Peter writes, “Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world” (1 Peter 5:9). James adds, “Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
When that pressure comes, remember where it’s coming from and why it’s coming. Remember what Satan is trying to take away from you, and push back.
A city worth waiting for
These battles aren’t going to be easy, but we’re fighting them for a reason. God called us, in part, to be examples to those who don’t know Him. That example might mean nothing to them until the very distant future, but it will make a difference one day.
There’s another reason, though.
The city my friends and I were wishing for—a place where everyone believed what we believed and lived like we lived—wasn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. It turns out that God promises a city just like that to His people—we just don’t get to live in it quite yet. Right now, we have to do our best to live in the world without being of the world, pushing back against the pressure to compromise and doing our best to live the life God called us to live. But one day …
One day, God promises a time when “no more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:34). No more having to defend why we do the things we do. No more incredulous classmates and coworkers. No more being the odd one out. The whole world will know God in a way it never has before.
One of the apostles was given a vision of the city God has in store for us. He wrote, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:2-4).
The pressures and the frustrations we’re having to deal with as we live in this world—one day, those will be “the former things.” They’re going to be ancient history. It doesn’t make them easy to deal with right now, but it does make them worth pushing through.
Because on the other side is a city where you belong.
Want to learn more about that city? Check out “Longing for Home: The Life of a Sojourner.”