In the Garden of Eden, it was not only Adam and Eve’s rebellion at work, they were deceived by the devil who appeared in the form of a serpent.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
He was the one who tempted them to disobey God, and because they obeyed his voice instead of God’s they came under his authority. When you are born again, you come out from under Satan’s authority, and are completely under the power of God:
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13)
You are no longer subject to Satan. You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God. This is both an event and a process. Even though we are citizens of God’s Kingdom, we must walk out of Satan’s Kingdom and fully into God’s.
Before you were born again, you were separated from God. Being reunited with God changes your relationship to the world:
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
The world around us is caught up in the pursuit of material security, success, and pleasure. For the worldly person, this is the “meaning of life.” This is what animates their decision making process. However, it is all a big chase after the wind, because “you can’t take it with you.” At the end of life, you will lose all of your possessions. You will be separated from all your friends, and your pleasures will not matter. Honestly, if there is no life after death, it makes perfect sense to live for today, but the Christian is looking forward to an eternity with God. Even an extraordinarily long life of 100 years is short when you consider eternity, which goes on forever and never ends. We have to live our lives in view of eternity, and the things that matter for eternity. For this reason, we have fundamentally nothing in common with the world.
And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:17)
These things do not mean that you need to go live in monastery. It means that you need to separate from the pleasures, pursuits, and alliances of the world. Many Christians are confused, frustrated, and tempted because they have not understood this basic point. You need to view your life and the lives of others in the light of eternal destiny.
Telling Others About Your New Identity
Because you have been brought out of the world, and into God’s Kingdom, the fundamental dynamics of every relationship in your life change when you are born again. Being a Christian is not a secret, it is a public, and sometimes difficult, fact.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Go and tell your friends and family about the change that has happened in your life. When you do this, there will be a change. Some will reject you right out. Do not be ashamed.
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
Jesus has done something awesome for you. What he asks in return, is that you tell others about Him. This is because he loves them too. You now have the keys to their eternal destiny. Being their “friend” but keeping the truth about Jesus from them is not being friend at all. You are denying them the only hope of salvation. Even if they reject it, you have shown them true love. While this can be very painful, it is part of following Christ.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
You can be consoled by the fact that even though you are being rejected by friends and sometimes family that Jesus sees your pain and holds out a great reward for it. This is, in fact, the exact difficulty that He faced on earth.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19)
You are walking in the footsteps of Jesus when you are rejected or persecuted on account of your faith. Many try to be Christians but avoid this rejection. It does not work. It’s pretending to be something you are not. Eventually you will either become compromised and go back to the world, or you will be exhausted by the act of pretending to be of the world. If you truly belong to God, according to the Scripture, the world will hate you.
Relationships with the World
Not all of your friends or family will reject you when you tell them the truth. Some will use every effort to try to convert you back. The devil himself will use every effort. Do not be surprised if your old girlfriend or boyfriend calls you up right when you get saved and wants to go out again, or if the person you’ve been chasing for a year suddenly shows interest. Be prepared to take a stand for God. You will keep being tempted until both you, all of your friends, and the devil himself know that you are not turning back from your life with Christ.
Some may watch you, even for years, to see if what has happened to you is real or just some religious thing. If you have rejected your former life and its pursuits, and are being open about your walk with God, and they still want to be friends, continue to hold out the words of eternal life to them, until God brings them into the Kingdom.
What is important is that you view them with an eternal perspective. God loves them and wants them repent just like you did, but they are lost and in fellowship with the world, which is set against God. Therefore, until they do, it is dangerous to be “yoked” together with them.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)
When you are yoked together, one of two things can happen – they will pull you back into the world, or the enemy will use their privileged position of access to your life to hinder your destiny. This includes business partnerships, romantic relationships, and intimate friendships. It is hard to believe our friends could be used this way, but it is reflective of a basic Spiritual reality – once you are a child of God, you are no longer of this world.
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. (John 15:19)
When you were in the world, you were loved through these relationships, but now that you have changed your citizenship to the Kingdom of God, the Bible indicates that these same relationships can be used against us. This does not mean that we never befriend someone in the world, it just changes the dynamic – it is one of outreach rather than fellowship.
Relationships and Culture
Christianity is often thought of as a “Western” or a “White” religion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew, and so were all of his followers. Much of the Bible actually takes place in Africa, some in modern Iraq, and some in modern Iran. Christianity is a God story, and it is multicultural.
We are all born into a culture of some kind. None of us can help being deeply influenced by the values and priorities of the culture we are born into. When we accept Christ, those values must also be examined by the light of Scripture. Culture can be a strong preserver of Godly ideas. These are things for which we can be thankful and celebrate.
Culture can also be a strong preserver of ungodly ideas, however. Such ideas can be difficult for us to identify and overcome because they are built into our identity. We are easily deceived partly because cultural sources of friends, family, and media are around us reinforcing the message making it seem true. This is why it is so important that we test our values first against Scripture. That which is out of line with Scripture must be left behind and reformed, even if it causes a rift with those in our culture. The apostles were all disfellowshipped and persecuted by their Jewish brothers and sisters. The Greeks and Romans who converted were murdered before cheering crowds of their own culture. Our first identification must no longer be with our culture or heritage, but it must be with the body of Christ. Jesus Himself had to face this dilemma in a very personal way:
They said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:32-35)
Family roots are where we learn and derive our cultural identity yet, Jesus declares that he will identify himself with, and fellowship with “whoever does the will of God.” After Jesus is raised from the dead we see that the church he is building is a new culture forged from many different backgrounds:
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven… Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians–we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:5,9-11)
People from every possible background were coming under a single banner. This is how we want to build our church as well. Not bound up in any one cultural expression, but a beautiful mix of expression. The basis of unity, however is that, like those in the book of Acts, identified first with the people of God, not our natural heritage. This does not invalidate our heritage. On the contrary, each of us through our background brings something special to the body of Christ, especially when we have the courage to move outside of our cultural comfort zones. The beauty of people from all walks of life and backgrounds worshipping their creator on equal footing is a unique of the Body of Christ.
For many, this is one of the hardest kinds of separation. Giving God priority over every aspect of your cultural identity and values may cause some to see you as a traitor. In some Islamic cultures it could get you killed. Among immigrants, sometimes simply by not attending the ethnic church you may be considered no longer even a member of that ethnic group! Stand firm, this is a trick of the devil to slow you down. Even if they accuse you of losing your cultural identity, you can know in your heart that you are not losing it, but redeeming it in Christ. As we saw in Acts, Jesus wants and loves a group of worshippers from every kind of background.
Pleasures of This World
Many people mistakenly believe that God is against pleasure. In fact it was God who created pleasure. The problem is that because of our fallen nature, many of the things that we naturally desire are not good for us and those around us. Since they are destructive, the devil tries everything possible to lure, tempt and supercharge our interest in them.
Sexual activity outside of marriage is one of the biggest temptations. It does not matter if it is cheating on your spouse, or if you have never been married. It doesn’t matter if it is between someone of the same sex or the opposite sex. God has uniquely designed man and woman for one another and for sex to be part of a lifelong bonding relationship. When we violate this design, all kinds of unintended negative consequences result.
Alcohol and substance abuse is another area of temptation. Because the Bible does not devote much attention to these areas, people often rationalize it. It is destructive to your physical body, your emotional health, and it is costly!
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)
There are many other ways that people are lured away by the world. Many of them are not innately wrong, but if done in large proportion they have a tendency to lead you away from the things of God and toward the things of the world. This includes things like computer games, television, hobbies, and news reading. We find ourselves with no passion for God because we are full of the interests, and distractions of the world. If something like this keeps you from God or consumes a lot of your time, challenge yourself by laying it down for a season, and seeking God instead. You may find like I did that you are much happier without it altogether.
We should neither be making long lists of “dos” and “don’ts” that are not in the Bible, nor making excuses for compromise. The soul that is in love with God desires to be as close to Him as possible, and seeks the habits that will promote that.
The Ideas of The World
While most people recognize that turning to God will have an impact on relationships and personal purity, coming into the Kingdom of God also addresses the ideologies that we align ourselves with.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
For some people this is a minor area of concern, and for others it is a major struggle. Although God has given us effective rational minds, our separation from God attracts us to philosophies and traditions which appear true, but are really elaborate deceptions, which the enemy is using to accomplish his purpose of keeping people away from God. We need to have the intellectual courage to think differently than those around us, starting our reasoning with what God tells us in the Scripture. Instead of being taken captive by the world’s way of thinking, we are
“taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
Being a Christian means acknowledging God as the supreme creator. The entire basis of the world’s thinking relies on evolution, which involves chance, mutation and death over incredibly long periods of time. God did not create through chance, mutation, or death. He created spontaneously and out of nothing. The modern scientific academy does not accept this, not because of the evidence, but because if one wants to reject God, they need a system to believe in which removes His influence. In fact, in many areas, there is a stunning lack of evidence for evolution. If evolution is removed people come face to face with a creator, and that means having to face His claims on their life and behavior.
Another area where the God’s values come in direct conflict with the world is the infinitely high value He places on life. Not only did He create us, He sent His son to die to save us. The devaluation and ultimate destruction of life is one of the main agendas of the enemy. He came “only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). This devaluation of life is seen in many areas. Slavery and human trafficking is one of the most horrible. Killing a baby before it is born, known as “abortion,” is another. Some are more subtle. Killing or “euthanizing” the elderly, or using the stem cells from aborted babies, or working people to death in sweat shops are other ways that the devil devalues human life. Being a Christian means placing the same value for life that God himself places on it from start to finish. Sometimes this leads to hard moral choices, but those choices must begin by placing the same esteem for human life that God does.
There are many other deceptive philosophies which can ensnare us, but the key is that we submit them to the Word of God. The Bible speaks directly to the roots of every philosophical or political system ever created. Being submitted to God means submitting our ideologies too and weighing them against what God teaches us in the Scripture. If you have had any academic training, it is likely that they areas where you have been taken captive are areas where you have done the most study. Submit your ideas to God and ask Him to show you the right principles on which to build your thoughts. It may take time for your understanding to change on issues like this, but what is important is that you are committed in principle to having your ideas built on God’s principles, rather than the world’s.