I’ve been listening to an audiobook of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing. He talks about the importance of status as the reason why people do things and the difficulty of getting them to change if it means going against what gives them status. According to Seth, people acquire status by affiliation or domination, i.e., “I’m part of this group,” or “This is mine!” He tells a story about young men in a tribe who acquire status by killing lions as their rite of passage. This has led to a significant decrease in the number of lions in their area. And he says that trying to change them by trying to convince them that killing lions is wrong or bad won’t work. What works is getting them to change their perception of acquiring status. For example: Be a lion-saver, not a lion-killer!
I think there’s an insight here that relates to Christianity. Part of the motivation involved in the change in a person’s conduct when he becomes a Christian has to do with the way he perceives his status: he is now affiliated with Christ and he identifies with his fellow Christians. They read their Bibles, so does he. They pray and sing hymns, so does he. They go to church, so does he.
This isn’t peer pressure or herd mentality; this is biblical teaching, or if you like, biblical psychology. You see yourself in a new way, you then act in a new way, and it helps that you’re part of a group that sees and acts in this new way. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self…” “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (See Colossians chapter 3).
New identity, new self, new affiliation, new practices. New status!
‘But we all’ – everyone of us as Christians – ‘we all with open face (the veil has gone), beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.’ That is the Christian. He spends his time in looking at Christ, in gazing upon Him. He is so enraptured by the sight of Him that he has forgotten himself. If you were to feel more interest in Christ you would be less interested in yourself.
— D.M. Lloyd Jones, Spiritual Depression, pp. 88-89
The newness of our life therefore is this, that we walk in purity before God, eschew all corruption and uncleanness, and separate ourselves from all the defilements of the world, in order that we may offer ourselves in sacrifice to God; at the same time we must walk in integrity and uprightness with our neighbours. The performance of these two things is all that is requisite to the perfection of the Christian life.
– John Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, p. 437
There never was a man or woman truly converted, from one end of the world to the other, who did not love the revealed will of God. Just as a child born into the world desires naturally the milk provided for its nourishment, so does a soul ‘born again’ desire the sincere milk of the Word. This is a common mark of all the children of God.
J. C. Ryle, Practical Religion, p. 121
And though Christians may not always recognize their true place in the cosmos, they are less likely to embrace the delusion that they have transcended conventional existence altogether and are, therefore, free from “petty” obligations and common morality. In other words, Christians aren’t better than other people, but their worldview encourages them to recognize that fact.
Robert Inchausti, Subversive Orthodoxy
Here’s how N. T. Wright, in his book Simply Christian, deals with the “It’s true for you, but not for me” dismissal of the Christian faith:
Saying “It’s true for you” sounds fine and tolerant. But it only works because it’s twisting the word “true” to mean, not “a true revelation of the way things are in the real world,” but “something that is genuinely happening inside you.” In fact, saying “It’s true for you” in this sense is more or less equivalent to saying “It’s not true for you,” because the “it” in question – the spiritual sense or awareness or experience – is conveying, very powerfully, a message (that there is a loving God) which the challenger is reducing to something else (that you have strong feelings which you misinterpret in that sense).