As I was growing up, people always told me that I was “so innocent.”
It usually wasn’t meant in a good way, but I could tell that the person who said it was not trying to be particularly insulting either. They were merely making an observation. And they weren’t wrong.
It went like this: I’d be in the midst of a conversation about anything, really…and someone would mention something like a drug, alcohol, or something having to do with sex. And I wouldn’t know what on Earth they were talking about.
Then everyone in the group would get quiet suddenly and look at me like I had teeth for eyes. Sometimes I’d even have people ask me, “You don’t know what (insert thing-that-I-definitely-should-not-know-what-it-is-because-I’m-like-12 here) is?!”
It hurt, honestly. I felt left out much of the time, as if I were weird or out of touch. At home and at Sunday school we learned that holiness and purity were important to God for the purpose of our sanctification. They are to be safeguarded, and the world would always try to convince us that indulging in bad behavior was the “cool” thing to do.
So this begs the question then…why did this observation leave me feeling so awful? That pit in my chest, the sinking feeling that there is something wrong with me…where did that come from? What truth does scripture have to offer about this?
If you’ve asked those same questions, I hope this post offers some insight for you!
I know many of you can relate to the experience I described. Over the years many of my fellow Christian friends and I have bonded over the fact that we were often seen as “strange” for our convictions. If you’ve heard before that being holy means to be set apart from the world, another question may come up. What is that experience supposed to be like? Is it realistic for us to expect to be accepted by the world if we are called to be set apart?
Further, my view/definition of “innocence” has changed a lot over the years. It’s often used once people notice that, as a Christian, you are…different. But scripture has a different view of what role innocence, purity, and holiness have in the Christian life.
I came across a verse recently that stuck out to me within this topic, so I thought I’d share. I hope to start a conversation about what life is like when you are called to be set apart in the name of God’s glory. This verse reminded me of these experiences that I have had all too often, and it reassured me that God’s call for us to be holy is worth the FOMO (fear of missing out) we may experience:
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” –Matthew 10:16 KJV
The NIV and ESV use the word “innocent” in place of harmless. That is a pretty powerful image for what our expectations are to be as believers in Christ in regards to how we’ll relate to the world. I believe what is being conveyed here is that as Christ’s disciples, we are going to be constantly surrounded by people who delight in what the Bible calls evil, and as Christians our behavior is inherently in opposition to that. Our expectations, therefore, should align with this imagery. We should not fear, because we have God on our side (Psalm 118:6). But it is not realistic for us to expect to be accepted by the world. After all, consider how they treated Jesus! Should we expect to be treated any different?
This idea is found again in Luke 10:3, when Jesus is talking to the 72 and is about to send them out to share the gospel. Jesus is sending these select out into towns before him and telling them how they should interact with the people they encounter there. Jesus commands them, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3).
I think it is interesting that this comes up more than once in scripture. Jesus is not hiding the fact that those who represent God’s Kingdom and his principles will be comparable to “lambs” or “sheep,” which are prey for wolves, which represent those they will encounter.
When I read this passage, I feel comforted by these words. It gives me a sense of satisfaction to know that although I may go out into the world and be seen as strange, boring, or old-fashioned for sticking to my convictions, I am honoring God.
I may feel left out of conversations at work, and I may not get to participate in some of the same activities as other people, but I am serving my God by obeying Him and keeping His commands. John 12:16 says:
“Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, My servant will be as well. If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”
So, when you start to feel discouraged or alone in your Christian beliefs, remember that our momentary discomfort is worth the eternal benefit that comes from honoring the Lord with our actions.
And also, remember that you are not alone! God created us for community. We need other Christians who have the love of God within them to help build us up. No man is an island, so don’t be a stranger! It does require vulnerability to be in community with others, and that can be hard. But I have personally found that the benefits far outweigh any of the negatives.
What has your experience been with being a Christian in a world that is increasingly hostile to our beliefs? Can you think of a time you were challenged to stand firm? How did you handle it? Let me know in the comments!