No Turning Back

Reading: 1 Peter 1:14-15; Colossians 3:1-5

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God! Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth! For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God! When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry!

Reflection: How to live your faith every day? Is it easy or not? Reflect on your circumstances. What does it mean for you to live out what you profess at work, at school, among friends who are not Christians? Is it difficult even among Christians? This sounds like a paradox, but there are various kinds of Christians. Does the imperative of holiness apply only to certain areas of life such as the church, family, conferences, or camps?
The early Christian author  Tertullian (2nd century AD) addressed the question of everyday Christian living in a pagan environment in his book “On Idolatry,” which begins with the words:

“The principal crime of the human race, the highest guilt charged upon the world, the whole procuring cause of judgment, is idolatry. For, although each single fault retains its own proper feature, although it is destined to judgment under its own proper name also, yet it is marked off under the general account of idolatry. Set aside names, examine works, the idolater is likewise a murderer. You may ask, whom he has slain? If it contributes aught to the aggravation of the indictment, no stranger nor personal enemy, but his own self.”

According to Tertullian, returning to previous patterns of living would be like inflicting a deadly wound on oneself. Surely, Peter was aware of the weight of the challenges faced by every person who was part of both the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God. For every convert, whether from paganism or Judaism, these were significant questions. If you were part of the Roman Empire, the daily challenge involved avoiding situations that entailed religious rituals that were an integral part of life. This meant that Christians had to make difficult decisions regarding their occupations. For example, it was impossible for a person who had become a Christian to continue serving as agonothetes. They were the administrators of sacred games chosen from among the people in the state where the games were held. It was an honorable position in society since games held great importance in the Roman Empire. The Olympic Games in honor of Zeus (Olympiad) marked the beginning of the year. The Pythian Games in Delphi were held in honor of Apollo. The Nemean Games in Corinth were dedicated to Zeus and Hercules. The Isthmian Games, near the Isthmus of Corinth, were dedicated to Poseidon.

One example of walking the fine line between conformity and pleasing God is the Roman soldier. According to Tertullian, as mentioned in his work “On Idolatry” (Chapter 19), ordinary soldiers may not have been required to participate in the rituals of offering sacrifices to the Emperor. On the other hand, officers were obligated to do so. One witness to the persecution of the time, the epitaph of Bishop Marcus Julius Eugenius of Laodicea, states:

“I served in the military in the governor’s office in Pisidia and married the daughter of Senator Gaius Nestorianus, Flavia Julia Flaviana. I served my military duty with dignity when, in the meantime, the order arrived during the reign of Maximinus that Christians must offer sacrifices and not leave the army: I endured numerous tortures under the governor Diogenes and left the army while preserving the faith of the Christians. I stayed in the city of Laodicea for a short time and was appointed bishop by the will of the Almighty God. I administered the episcopate for 25 full years with great dignity.”

Tertullian, at the end of his book, writes:

“In the midst of these reefs and bays, in the midst of these shallows and straits of idolatry, faith sails with sails filled by the Spirit of God; safe if cautious, secure if watchful. But for those who have been thrown overboard, there is a depth from which there is no swimming to the surface; for those who have run aground, shipwreck is inevitable; for those who have been swallowed up, there is a whirlpool where there is no breathing – not even in a return to idolatry.”

Prayer: Dear God, grant us strength to be holy in every aspect of our lives, just as the One who called us is holy. Help us to live out our faith every day, facing the challenges before us. In the circumstances we find ourselves in, may our testimony be evident in the workplace, school, and among friends who are not Christians. May Your grace guide us in our interactions with fellow believers, helping us to avoid conformity and walk the fine line of pleasing You. We pray that you grant us the courage to make the right decisions, regardless of the difficulties we may face, and to be a light in dark times. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.

Posted in Daily devotionals.