What does it mean to be set apart?
It's all over Christian culture; the ideal of being "set apart for God." But what does it all mean? There were a group of people, a sect, who were all about being set apart. They were called the "essenes." Their philosophy was to be set apart from everything, start their own perfect little society and wait for the Kingdom of God to come. Does that sound familiar to you? When I first read that description in my Church History book, The story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez, it reminded me of the culture the church has tried to create. We've decided that being set apart was related primarily with association and geography. We cannot be caught dead in the same place as the partiers and the druggies. We cannot be seen with prostitutes or atheists unless we're trying to convert them, lest we be tempted and tainted by the world. We've tried so hard to create a static environment, a safe haven from the world that we've detached ourselves. We've taught our children to stay away from bad people and that "bad company corrupts" (a semi-new sales slogan used by C28, the "Christian store"). We've learned to fear the world and hide from it, surrounding ourselves with Christian friends who won't lead us into temptation. We've created a safe haven in which we can hide from the world until Jesus comes back but that's not what the Church was ever supposed to be.
Jesus had something to say the essenes in his day. He said "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?...You are the light of the world" (Mat 5.13-14). Salt in this time was a lot different than the way we think about it. It wasn't the stuff you put on your French fries. In that time firewood was scarce. What they would do is send the girls out to collect cow droppings and they'd burn that instead of wood. It didn't burn well on its own so they'd use salt. The salt would act as a combustible and cause the poop the burn (yes I said poop). He was calling His people to be the same thing and have the same influence. The salt has to be put on and mixed in with the dung for it to do anything. He was calling them to be influencers... to change the world not hide from it. Light has a similar nature. Without the contrast of darkness light is meaningless. Light is only light when it's in the darkness... it can't be light outside of or without the darkness.
We've entered in the new creation. Ours is the task of mending the world, healing broken relationships, and restoring the image of God in all people. We're not waiting for anything. We're not at a bus stop. What we've been waiting for has already come. We've been given the identity of God's people and now we must embrace that identity and live it out. If you believe that waiting for the second coming of Christ is the primary concern of a Christian then you missed the point of the first coming. We've become so concerned about falling away, so concerned about sinking that we've completely lost sight of our call to be salt and light. Why do we fear? Why do we believe that we cannot have victory? We fear, not because we doubt God but because we doubt ourselves... we've lost sight of who God sees in us.
Today, in chapel, Dan Sneed gave us an interesting perspective on Numbers 13. Moses, following the command of God, sends spies into the land of Canaan, the land which God had promised them, in order to see what was there; to see if they could take it or if it was too difficult. The spies came back saying "...the people who live there are powerful and the cities are fortified and very large... We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them." We read this and it's usually taught that they lost faith in God. But how could these people, the same people who say the red sea parted, lose faith in God. They really lost faith in themselves. They believed that they were too small... the seemed like grasshoppers.
Throughout the whole bible people are saying that they're nothing and God is telling them otherwise. Take Moses for example. When God called Moses, Moses told God "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" Moses tried to convince God that he couldn't do it but God didn't buy it. God knew Moses better than he did. God knew that Moses was created to bring his people out of Egypt. Moses saw himself as so small but God knew otherwise.
You may believe that you are small; you may be trying to convince God that you are small. But God knows otherwise. He knows that you were created for greatness.
You may believe that being set apart means hiding and disassociating. You may think that if you try to change the world you'll only fail because you are too weak and too easily influenced. But God knows otherwise. As He said to Moses in his day He says to us today, "I will be with you."
Being set apart has nothing to do with associating and yet everything to do with association. It is not disassociating out of fear but it is engaging and associating with the culture because light is not light without darkness. Being set apart is being salt and light... it is influencing rather that being influenced. The path is hard and troublesome. It is not safe or comfortable. It may be lonely but God will be with you. The God that created you (and did a good job doing so) will be with you. Though you may seem like a grasshopper in your own eyes and in the eyes of you enemies, in God's eyes you are created for greatness. Be salt and light and know that God is with you.