It is difficult to follow Jesus in a world which values standards contrary to his teaching. As Christians we are committed to following Jesus, and this inevitably leads to living countercultural lives. We seek to be generous with our giving rather than hoarding the blessings God has given. We seek to love our enemies and not just our friends and family. We seek to sacrifice and serve those in need rather than demanding that our needs be met. We seek to honor marriage and not even look at another person with lust in our hearts. To follow Jesus demands that we live radically different lives than the people around us.
We are constantly bombarded with the message to compromise on these standards for living that Jesus taught. The world wants us to conform to its image, but God wants to transform us into the image of Jesus. This reality puts us at odds with the world. This makes living for Jesus difficult. Following Jesus can be difficult, but can also make life vastly less complicated.
For an example I have a friend who has been concerned about the possibility that he fathered a child by another woman before he got married. This reality has added worry and stress to his life.
On the other hand I have no such concern. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I only have one son. The reason for this is because I have remained faithful to the standard God has given to us. Living according to the standards of God will not remove life's difficulties and tragedies, but it will keep us free from the heavy baggage many other people are forced to carry because of they chose to violate God's standards.
As we commit ourselves to keeping God's standards in every area of our lives we begin to realize that His way is the best way to live. We will also realize that compromise, even in the smallest area, will make it easier for us to rationalize compromise in other areas. The more we are faithful to the teachings of Jesus the more it becomes a habit for us. The more we compromise the easier it is to compromise the next time temptation comes our way.
I like what Rebecca St. James wrote in her little book Wait for Me; “But you know what? It's compromise in those little areas that lead to majorly bad decisions later. It is strength and courage shown in the 'small' tests of life that make the 'big' decisions easy” (p. 28).
These standards for living Jesus gave to us provide us with the clear direction we need for life when temptation comes our way. If we never commit to living a certain standard then we will always be pushed along by the current of our changing desires. This always leads to terrible consequences, not only for us but also for those around us, and it makes life more complicated. Being committed to the standard Jesus has handed down to us gives us a clear direction on how we are to live.
Let me give you an example. Before I met my wife Jenny I had only two long-term girlfriends. One of those girlfriends I had during my time in college. Her name was Eve and we dated for 6 months during my fourth year at Nebraska Christian College. Most of that time she had an apartment off campus (I lived in the dorm for my entire five years at NCC).
I remember one night I was over at her apartment (in retrospect this was such a bad decision) and she began crying. I asked her what the matter was, but she wouldn't tell me. Since it was getting close to curfew for the dorms (11:00 PM) I gave her a kiss good night and left.
A few weeks later she told me about her past. Before coming to Nebraska Christian College she had gone to another college. While there she kept a dorm room, so her parents would believe that is where she lived, but in actuality she lived in an apartment with her boyfriend. She said that the reason that she was crying that night is because she wanted to do those things with me that she had done with her former boyfriend, but she knew we couldn't.
If I had never committed myself to God's standard of sexual intimacy to be reserved for marriage what would have happened? There is a possibility that we would have given into our desires. From the experience related to me by friends who did compromise in this area it has led to problems in their marriage (even in the instances when the person they compromised with was their future wife). When we compromise God's standard we always end up making our lives more complicated by adding negative emotional baggage to our lives.
It was the fact that I committed myself to following God in this area and had shared that standard with Eve that kept us from making a grave mistake. Without that standard both our lives would have become more complicated than they needed to be.
The reason I think Christians often find themselves in sinful situations, situations that destroy their ministries and families, is because they do not take the proper precautions of committing to God's standards for their lives. Rather than setting our standards high we keep them as low as possible so we can have the thrill of dancing around the flames of temptation. The problem is that sooner or later if we play with fire we will be burned.
To live according to the standards of Jesus for our lives seem unrealistic, but in the long run those types of standards make life easier for us. If we do not commit to living according to Jesus' standards I will guarantee that we will be swept away by the values of our culture. We will not live radically different lives than those living around us, and we will end up carrying unnecessary baggage.
Christians are called to live differently than the rest of the world. If we are unwillingly to be different in our entertainment, in our fashion, in the words we use, and in the way we treat others then how will people know we are different? The Apostle Peter wrote:
Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when He comes to judge the world (1 Peter 2:12; NLT).
Being careful in the way we live requires us to live according to the principles that flow from the standards Jesus has given us for life. If we will not commit to living according to those standards then our lives will not be a magnent for drawing others to Jesus. The best way to affect the lives of others is to live to a higher standard than they live. To be a Follower of Christ demands that we live differently from the world.