If you’ve gone to church long enough, you have undoubtedly heard someone say that we (Christians) are set apart. What does that actually mean? If you go by the context most often expressed in sermons and statements in church, you’d probably come away with the understanding that the speakers believe Christians are special. In their eyes, Jesus chose us and we agreed to follow him, so that raises us above the rest of the world. Though you might not hear it explicitly stated, it would not be unusual to hear that statement and come away from the encounter thinking that the speaker is saying that Christians are better people.
Certainly, nonbelievers pick up on the sentiment and perceive it that way in many cases given that a common criticism of believers by nonbelievers is that “They think they’re better than everybody else.” Such an accusation is definitely not true for all Christians, but it’s probably not unusual for believers to feel a sense of pride in the idea that God chose us. To some extent, that’s understandable. Who wouldn’t be proud to be chosen by God?
The question is, should we feel that way? As with all things, we have to look to the Bible for the answer. Are we really set apart? The answer is “Yes,” but not necessarily for the reasons some think.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9
Clearly, Peter is telling us that those who follow Jesus are special, but it’s not because of who we are. We’re special because of what we’re meant to do. Paul expresses a similar sentiment.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10
Both men make it clear that we are set apart so that we can serve and represent God. He didn’t elevate us so that we could lord over others. God has positioned us in a way that will allow himself to be glorified through us. Non-believers should see us and come to understand what it means to follow God. They should know what he’s done for us and what he requires of us in return. We should be an inspiration to others, prompting them to seek God for themselves and examples of what it looks like to walk that path. We should be Jesus’ earthly ambassadors.
Sure, all of that sounds good. It is honorable to be Jesus’ representative on earth, but fulfilling that role is something that we should take seriously and with the understanding that our position isn’t about us or how special we are. It’s about God, and taking on this role has consequences.
For one, not all the people that we try to reach will see us favorably. In fact, many of them will look at us with contempt. Jesus knew that to be true. That’s why he prepared his disciples for it. The same type of reaction might await many of us.
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 15:19
We can’t do much about what other people think and feel. We can control how we behave though, and it is important to acknowledge and be mindful of that. As believers, our actions and words matter. If we want to reach other people and convince them that God’s way is the right way, then we have to represent something different than what’s seen in the world. If we don’t do that, what reason would anyone have to want to be like us and follow God?
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16
Holiness is not something that’s particularly common in our society, so it’s something we have to bring, and that means holding ourselves to a higher standard – God’s standard.
So, we should be careful not to become prideful because we believe that God has given us a place of distinction. Instead, we should be constantly working to make sure that we are worthy of the position that he’s given us. We shouldn’t speak of being set apart with a lofty spirit. Instead, we should accept God’s charge with humility. If He has set us apart, it’s so that we can better serve Him. Let us never forget that.
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