In a world that’s decidedly anti-God, following God’s unfashionable ways can be wearisome, scary, trying, and intimidating. Some of this is owing to the fact that all of us desperately long for acceptance. We spend the better part of our lives trying to “get in,” to be approved, to be liked. We think life will become more exciting and meaningful—that we’ll be somebody—to the degree that we can get in with the right person or the right group. If we can achieve a certain level of worldly success, we’ll be accepted by those around us; people will conclude that we matter, that we’re important.
My boys love football. They have the skill for it, the heart for it, and the mind for it. But like their dad, at this point they don’t have the body for it. And sometimes that really gets to them. They’re afraid they won’t be big enough to play the game. One of them was really upset about this recently, and so we talked. I went up to his room, where he was crying, and said, “I know this may seem deeper than you want to go right now, but this is what’s really causing you to be upset: You’ve come to believe that you don’t matter—that you’ll never be accepted—if you don’t succeed in sports. And you think that your success in sports depends on your size. This means you’re depending on your physical development to give you significance. You think acceptance depends on your size.”
What I told him is also what I have to daily remind myself of and what I tell you now: your deep longing for acceptance can be satisfied only when you’re accepted by the One who made you for himself. If you embrace what Christ has done on the cross for sinners, you’re in! Your deep hunger for approval will be satisfied because you’ll be forever, unchangeably accepted by the only One who truly matters. You’ll no longer have to depend on your size, your stuff, or your smarts to get you in so that your life will matter. Once you understand that in Christ you’re accepted by God, you’re free and empowered to live unfashionably—because you won’t need the acceptance of the world around you. You won’t care if you’re “in” with them, because you’ll already be “in” with him.
We can also take great comfort in the fact that, because we’re united to Christ, all that is his (humanly speaking) is ours. He has made it possible for us to be the unfashionable people God designed us to be.
In his book Grow in Grace, Sinclair Ferguson reflects on the fact that Jesus is the captain of our salvation and the pioneer of our faith. He has beaten down a path for us to follow. Because Christ loved and lived God’s unfashionable ways, we can love and live God’s unfashionable ways too. Because Christ dug down deep and stood against the pressures of this world, we can dig down deep and stand against the pressures of this world too. He’s our great trailblazer, our divine bushwhacker. Ferguson provides this vivid illustration:
Picture an army captain hacking his way through a jungle during a battle with guerrilla forces. He leads his men from danger to safety by first facing the dangers, impediments, and tests himself. Similarly, Jesus is the Captain of our salvation. He has not only tasted all of our experiences of temptation but he has gone further. He experienced them in their full strength, when they unleashed all their powers against him. Where we would stumble and fall, he has pressed on. He overcame temptation, conquered death and drew its sting. Now he beckons us: “Follow me, the pathway of faith is trustworthy for all of you to use!”
Our unfashionable Leader has promised that, because he has already done it, we can now do it.
Christians throughout history have believed this in their most trying moments, when the temptation to give in and give up was strongest.
Robert Glover was a devout follower of Christ in England. In 1555 he was arrested for denying state-approved doctrine, tried for heresy, and sentenced to burn at the stake. Just days before his execution, Robert experienced a sense of God’s dreadful withdrawal, and he fell into despair, fearing that God had abandoned his soul. One of Robert’s friends, Austin, visited him in prison and encouraged him to stay patient and wait for God, saying that God would come back before the end.
The day before his death, Robert spent most of his time in prayer, but he still felt no presence or comfort from God. The next day, however, as his executioners led him to the stake, he suddenly felt God’s presence so profoundly that he started clapping his hands in joy and crying out, “Oh, Austin, he has come! He has come!”
When the pressure to give in and go along seems unbearable, we can bank on our Savior, who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us.
To us he has given—and will continue to give—grace and truth. And it’s grace enough, and truth enough, that we’ll become people who make a profound difference in this world . . . by being profoundly different from this world.