Sermon: The Mark of Distinctiveness - Joshua 5, 1 Peter 1

Ought not God-followers, then, to be different? Ought not we be distinct, separate, not the same, out of the ordinary, unusual?

Scriptures: Joshua 5, 1 Peter 1

Introduction

In C.E. Montague's novel, Rough Justice, a memorable scene describes a little boy named Bron going to church for the first time with his governess. He watches with interest every part of the service and then the preacher climbs into the high pulpit and Bron hears him tell some terrible news. It is about a brave and kind man who was nailed to a cross, terribly hurt, a long time ago, and who still feels a dreadful pain even now, because there was something not done that he wants them all to do.

Little Bron thinks that the preacher is telling the story because a lot of people are there and they will do something about it. Bron is sitting impatiently on the edge of the pew. He can hardly wait to see what the first move will be in righting this injustice. But he sits quietly and decides that after the service someone will do something about it. Little Bron begins to weep, but nobody else seems at all upset. The service is over, the people walk away as if they had not heard such terrible news, as if nothing remarkable had happened.

As Bron leaves the church, he is trembling. His governess looks at him and says, "Bron, don't take it to heart - someone will think you are different."

  • Different - to be alive and sensitive in one's spirit.
  • Different - to show emotion.
  • Different - to listen to what is going on in God's house, really to hear, to respond.
  • Different - to represent Jesus Christ to the world.

What does different mean? The dictionary says "distinct, separate, not the same, out of the ordinary, unusual." Ought not God-followers, then, to be different? Ought not we be distinct, separate, not the same, out of the ordinary, unusual?

I. A metaphor for holiness

God has always desired that his people be set apart. That there be a distinguishing mark upon them. That they be different. When the Hebrews crossed the Jordan to occupy the Promised Land. God mark them through an act called circumcision. God said to Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelite men again" (Josh. 5:2). Circumcision was an outward sign of inward obedience. It was a physical act wrought with spiritual meaning. It was a very important means of marking their identity as the people of God. It revealed the covenant relationship that God had with his people. Joshua set aside a whole day to perform mass circumcision. And God was pleased.

God adopted this ancient rite to show that his people were consecrated and dedicated to him. It was his way of marking his people, to show that they were holy.

Throughout scripture circumcision is a metaphor for holiness. Moses complained that he had (literally) "uncircumcised lips" (Ex. 6:12), by which he meant his speech was not fit to participate in God's program. Jeremiah spoke of uncircumcised ears, that is, ears unfit to hear God's word. When Israel entered the Promised Land, they were to regard its fruit as uncircumcised for three years, but "In the fourth year all its fruit must be consecrated as a praise offering to the LORD" (Lev. 19:24). Jeremiah issued the call to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts" (Jer. 4:4). A circumcised heart referred to the human intellectual-emotional-spiritual forum, where decisions were made, as able to participate in God's covenant. It was a call to radical spiritual surgery where the spirit was broken, the heart was open, and the will was submissive to God. It provided the true identity of God's people. It was a way that they would represent God to the world.

II. The call to holiness

In like manner, God calls his people to holiness today. A holy person is not an odd person, but a distinct person. A holy person has a quality about their life that is separate. Their present lifestyle is not only different from past lifestyles, but is different from the lifestyles of the unbelievers around them. They are real, genuine, authentic. They represent the likeness of Jesus Christ to a watching world.

The apostle Peter wrote, "You also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:15-16). Eugene Petersen's paraphrase states, "Let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God's life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness" (1 Peter 1:15-16 The Message). We have been commanded to live a holy life - energetic and blazing with holiness. Someone once said, "We may choose a married life or a single life, but it is not left to us to choose whether or not we live a holy life." Holiness, to be different, is not an option. It is mandatory. It is what marks us as God's followers

III. Why we don't want to heed the call

"Wait just a minute," someone might say, "This holiness thing is just a little bit too much for me." The problem is that we don't want to be different. Why?

A. We value conformity

We don't want to stand out of the crowd. We wear the same style of clothes, we talk similarly, we conform to the in things. Like Bron's governess, what we fear most in life is being different. We have become an assembly line society. We are terrified of being set apart.

B. We visualize a caricature of holiness

And, furthermore, we don't like the idea of holiness because, we think, it communicates an attitude and displays actions that have become known as "holier-than-thou." We disdain a spirituality and behavior that puts one on a pedestal as being better than the rest. Jesus despised this type of mentality and morality in the Pharisees and we agree with him.

C. We misunderstand what it means to be holy

And to add additional weight to our reasons for not living a life of holiness is because it conjures up images of being a monk or priest. We think that holy people live in far away monasteries, separate themselves from any kind of fun and frivolity, and trade in their luxury cars, comfortable homes, and well-paying jobs for a peace corps stint in a third world county. Consequently, we say, "No, thank you" to holiness.

IV. Wearing the badge of distinctiveness

Holiness, being different, is none of that. Yet it is more than that. What does it mean to be different?

A. It means that we think differently

To be different begins with the proper preparation of our minds. In other words, we are to take the initiative in preparing our minds for the life of holiness.

Behavioral scientists have discovered that human behavior is determined to a great extent by the subconscious mind. The computer vocabulary graphically describes the potential of human behavior, "Garbage in; garbage out." In the same way, to be different begins with our minds. Our minds must be holy if our behavior is to be holy.

"For as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Prov. 23:7), says the writer of Proverbs. The apostle Paul warns us not to let the world squeeze us into its mold, "Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).

B. It means that we live differently

"Don't forget, he's also a responsible Father, and won't let you get by with sloppy living. Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God" (1 Peter 1:17 The Message). A natural outgrowth of our right thinking is right living. When we begin to think differently, we begin to live differently. We live a life that people notice for its distinctiveness - a life that represents Jesus Christ.

Henry Thoreau - a rugged New England individualist of the nineteenth century - once went to jail rather than pay his poll tax to a state that supported slavery. During this period he wrote his essay "Civil Disobedience" - now famous the world over.

Thoreau's good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, hurried to visit him in jail, and peering through the bars exclaimed: "Why, Henry, what are you doing in there?"

The uncowed Thoreau replied, "Nay, Ralph, the question is, what are you doing out there?"

Who is the different one - Little Bron or his governess? Thoreau in jail or the rest of us outside?

Thoreau was not a churchman because he thought the churches of his day too convention-bound - and perhaps he was right. Yet in his book Walden he speaks often of God. He explains that he went to Walden Pond to live the simple life because he wanted to get just those answers that you and I seek: "I went to the woods because I wished . . . to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discovered that I had not lived . . ."

At another time this amazing man commented: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

A holy person has the courage to live differently because they are marching to the drumbeat of a Different Drummer and they are not afraid to be out of step.

Holiness is not merely a matter of theology or simply words in a hymnal. Holiness is lived out in our daily lives. Blaise Pascal wrote, "The serene, silent beauty of a holy life is the most powerful influence in the world, next to the might of the Spirit of God."

C. It means that we love differently

Once we begin to think differently, we live differently, then we love differently. Love sets us apart. Love is the display of holiness. Love is the litmus test for Christians. It is not just any kind of love. It is a

  • sincere love. It is genuine, authentic. Like God's love for us. Our motive is not to get, but to give.
  • deep love. It is intense, fervent. It means to love with all of our strength. Christian love is not a feeling; it is a matter of the will.
  • pure love. It is spotless, clean. Men speak romantically about loving from the heart, but God speaks realistically about loving from a pure heart.

This is the same kind of love Jesus talked about when he said; "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Love one another - sincerely, deeply, and purely - and people will know that you are different. They will know that you are followers of Christ.

In the first century a pagan went to report on the early church movement. He visited a compound where Christians were living together. He intended to write something bad, instead he wrote, "Behold, how they love one another."

D. It means that we talk differently

When we start thinking differently, it leads to living differently, which leads to loving differently, this leads to talking differently. The words we use reveal most obviously if we are different or not. We live in a world that uses words to put people down and tear people up. God followers use their words to build people up.

One man said he and his wife had words but he never got a chance to use his. Words have the power to edify, to give life, but too often we use words to mortify and bring death. Have you ever stolen someone's joy with words or killed someone's self-esteem with words?

Conclusion

Today the world has a desperate need for people who are different. There is a mark about their lives that sets them apart. Living such a way, like circumcision, will not be easy, in fact, at times it will be painful. But it will make a difference.

Let me tell you about Maggie. Inauthentic Christians had poisoned Maggie's perspective on faith. The church she had grown up in had been confusing. People said one thing but did another. They appeared very spiritual in public but were abusive in private. What they said and what they did never fit.

When she finally returned to church she needed gentleness. She needed to be able to ask questions. She needed respect. But most of all, she needed to see people whose actions matched their words. She was not looking for perfect, she was looking for real. She needed to hear real people talk about real life, and she needed to know if God is - or can be - a part of real life.

She wrote a poem about her heartfelt sentiments of a spiritual seeker toward those of us who are Christians. Imagine that his precious person is speaking directly to you.

What Maggie needed were people who displayed a holiness that was real and genuine. People who were different, not for different sake, but to represent Jesus to them. People who would pay the price of living distinctively.

Sometime later, Maggie gave her life to Jesus. When asked why she crossed the line of faith she replied, "You see, I just met a whole bunch of people who were like Jesus to me. That's all it took."

We need people who will be Jesus at the office, in Congress, in society, in the classroom, at home. We need people who will be different. People who live a vibrant faith even though the rest of society thinks they are different.

One does not get that kind of faith except through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the one that issues the drumbeat of the Different Drummer. He is the one that calls us to stand out of the crowd, to be distinct, separate, unusual. He calls us to be different.

Rick Ezell is the pastor of First Baptist Greer, South Carolina. Rick has earned a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology in preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rick is a consultant, conference leader, communicator, and coach.