Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation

Holiness is not a call to isolation from Babylon, but rather the “mode” in which we are to engage it.

Babylon. That place, that world system which the Bible portrays as being at its very core in opposition to God. The Apostle Peter wrote a letter to some 1st century Christians who found themselves scattered throughout Babylon (a.k.a. the Roman Empire), and they were suffering in ways we 21st century “Babylonian Christians” are only now beginning to perhaps identify with. They were without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused. How were they to understand and react? And how are we to be Christians in “Babylon” today?

I’ve suggested that there are three basic ways in which people respond to such conditions as those mentioned above: assimilation, isolation, and rebellion. I believe Peter offers another way, a way for us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and our relationship with him. But before we get to that other way, we decided that we would explore our three other options. We’ve been through the first one (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), so let’s move on to the second- Isolation.

If as we previously discussed assimilation is not the answer for being a Christian in Babylon, then isolation is just the other side of the same wooden nickel. (You younger readers will have to google that reference.) But for those Christians dispersed on the Anatolian peninsula in 1st century AD, it did have  to be tempting to withdraw.  It would ease the suffering, provide a buffer-zone against assimilation, and besides, “Hey, the world hates us; they won’t miss us if we’re gone. And anyway, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, let’s just close our eyes, and hold on ‘til Jesus comes back.” Makes sense, right? Even sounds like some of our thinking today doesn’t it?  But that’s not what Peter encouraged them or us to do.
Peter took interaction with Babylon for granted, even necessary. But today, many Christians have withdrawn into their own little worlds. We hide in our churches, take our cars to “Christian mechanics,” use only “Christian plumbers,” and sequester our kids in “Christian schools.”  We have taken Peter’s admonition to be holy as an incentive to have nothing to do with those around us who are not followers of Jesus. But a closer look at what Peter had to say will reveal that holiness is not a call to isolation, but rather the mode in which we are to engage Babylon.

Really, it’s ironic. The definition of “holy” is being separate and/or apartness. Taken at face value, that in itself would seem to promote isolation. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. After all, was it not the Holy One himself who came and lived among us- who became as we are? So it is that Peter makes Jesus and our inclusion in him the center of our understanding regarding our lives in Babylon. The holiness to which God has invited us to partake of in Jesus is to be the defining characteristic in the lives of Christians in Babylon. This holiness is not one that isolates in some pharisaical fear of contamination, but rather one that engages the culture with a desire to be contagious. Holy lives, separated to God, demonstrating the excellence of the One who called them from the darkness of Babylon into his light. We are a people who have received mercy, and therefore in mercy, we offer Jesus to those who dwell in Babylon, in gentleness and respect.

We don’t fear the wounds which may be inflicted upon us by a godless culture, but like Jesus whose wounds were the means of our salvation; we offer our own lives as a sacrifice through which others may be reconciled to God. Instead of fear, we offer hope, because in our hearts, Jesus is Lord. We resist the lusts of the flesh and the enticements of Babylon in which we once participated not so much to be holy, but because we are holy in Jesus. And all of this is done out in plain sight, in full view of Babylon, so that they may see our lives and “glorify God on the day of visitation.”

Next, we’ll look at the “rebellion option.” Because hey, if assimilation and isolation aren’t the keys to being a Christian in Babylon, perhaps we should just rebel, and take over the whole shebang!

Abide in Jesus. Watch & Pray.

Praying To A Holy God

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, the first thing he told them was, “Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name…” I think many of us have lost sight of the fact that when we pray we are praying to a holy God. While it is most definitely true that God is our Father, that we have his very Spirit in us that enables us to cry out “Abba Father,” and that we are tenderly loved by God himself, we must remember that he is God and his name is holy.

While I understand the motivation of many when they tell others to just talk with God like you would anyone else, we must keep in mind that while we don’t have to pray to God using King James English, he is not just anyone else. He is altogether holy and separate from anything that we can even imagine. He’s not just another buddy that we call up and say, “Hey, yo God…” When we pray, we are addressing the almighty living God, creator of heaven and earth. He is holy and his name is to be reverenced.

Among Christians today, it seems that the casual manner in which they approach God is worn like some sort of badge of spirituality. We are told in the Bible that even the angels cover their faces before our holy God. Think of the times in the Bible when you read about people having a real up close encounter with the Lord; it scared the daylights out of them! John, the beloved Apostle who walked with Jesus, ate with him and leaned against his breast, says in the book of Revelation that when he turned around and saw the One speaking to him he fell down like a dead man. When Isaiah had his vision of God he said, “Woe is me!” It seems like today it has almost become unpopular to speak of God’s holiness. People immediately shout, “Legalist, Pharisee!” We want a God we can control, a snugly teddy bear, Santa Clause God that we can manipulate and who is subject to our every whim. Why have we become offended when we are reminded that we pray to a God that says, “I am the Lord God and there is no other!”

The understanding of God’s holiness should produce confidence when we pray. The God we pray to, the “Our Father” is the One before whom the hosts of heaven bow down and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty— the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come…You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.” This holy God before whom mountains tremble and the earth quakes is the One that loves you!

The fact that our Abba is holy means that he is separate and different from all else, there is nothing nor no one like him. I think we see this so clearly in the cross. This God who is holy, righteous, and beyond comparison revealed his heart in the offering of Jesus.  Someone has said, “What God’s holiness has demanded, his grace has provided in Jesus.” Can we not pray in humble reverence to such a God as this?

To be continued…