A sloth chooses to live in remote seclusion within the tropical rainforests of South America. Everything about a sloth is slow and deliberate. It is such a loner that it seldom interacts even with fellow sloths. Not perhaps quite as dead to the world as when you see a dog sound asleep on its back but, by any definition, a sloth is about as withdrawn as they come. When you consider the way some Christian groups have chosen to withdraw from society throughout history, you might think there are some parallels. Some monastic orders have withdrawn completely and other individual ascetics lived as hermits in caves - whether this was an attempt to please God or to keep themselves from temptation is unclear. Other monasteries make a point of interacting with society and might be said to be ‘in the world but not of the world’. Then there are Amish communities seeking to be self-sustainable; they are hard-working people but choose to live very differently to the rest of society as they eschew modern transport and technology. So many different approaches - that of the chameleon who blends in, the sloth who withdraws or the rhino who charges … what’s your understanding of how Jesus calls you to live?
- ‘Enemy-occupied territory - that is what the world is’ - C S Lewis
- ‘Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation’ - Saint Augustine
- ‘Half the vices which the world condemns most loudly have seeds of good in them and require moderate use rather than total abstinence’ - Samuel Butler
- ‘The money, the pleasures, the daily business of the world are so many traps to catch souls’ - J C Ryle
Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from sensual pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. Perhaps surprisingly, this way of life has been adopted by various religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Ascetics typically adopt a frugal lifestyle, renouncing material possessions whilst fasting and being absorbed in various religious practices. Some of them went to extreme lengths to ‘subdue the flesh’ as they stood on pillars, lived in caves, flagellated their own bodies and wore hair shirts. The life of a hermit seems to be one of escapism which is at the opposite end of the spectrum to hedonism. Any of these choices represents a desire for fulfilment, either through rejecting ‘the world’ or embracing it.
- ‘“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you”’ - John 15:18-19
- ‘Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ - Romans 6:8-11
- ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ - Romans 12:2
- ‘“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”’ - John 16:33
For the follower of Christ Jesus, there is something of an uneasy relationship with the world. It is the place where we live, work and retire providing us with many pleasant aspects and yet it holds many pitfalls. John records how the Devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness with the pleasures and powers of the world which would have led to instant gratification but our eternal loss. Paul tells us to ‘put off’ the ‘old self’ and ‘to put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4:24). How does this work and how can Christians ever get through?
- ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ - Galatians 6:14
- ‘Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules’ - Colossians 2:20
- ‘… everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God’ - 1 John 5:4-5
- ‘Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever’ - 1 John 2:15-17
We are not called to be invisible chameleons, withdrawn sloths or charging rhinos. The Lord Jesus has sent us into the world to bring his light, love, influence and message of hope wherever we are - we bring his ‘sweet aroma’ often by just being among people and sometimes with words.
- ‘”I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world”’- John 17:14-18
- ‘But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing’ - 2 Corinthians 2:14-15
Remember that the world has no claim on you and so you can be ‘dead’ to it whilst simultaneously bringing life to it. So take heart and live courageously as one sent into the world but not as one whose destiny is of the world.
TAGS - transformation, empowerment, boldness, victory, glory, triumph