If someone were to describe your behavior as “peculiar”, you would most likely not take it as a compliment. Peculiar’s origin as a word stems from particular, singling out an item or idea from the rest, but over time the definition, and more importantly, the connotation has shifted. To be peculiar is not simply to be different, but to be strange, funny, odd, specifically to a way we act or think seemingly with rational or reasonable explanation behind the behavior. Peculiar could be someone who wears different styles, colors, and heights of socks simultaneously (me), or someone who doesn’t like the food on their plate to touch (my wife), or someone who would turn down all the wealth of this world to serve the will of God (Jesus, Matt 4).
There is truly something odd about the Christian life. We are constantly denying our instinct in order to fulfill our call. Many times Jesus uses radical, hyperbolic language to teach the most important disciplines of the strange Christian life. These words are meant to shock, encourage whispers, and dramatically shift the way we act and think. Those who want complacent faith? To have miracles without the mindset? To have salvation without giving up their reputation or station? They walked and will continue to walk away. They don’t want to be perceived as peculiar, and more accurately, don’t want to be forever changed – a holy-first mindset.
In keeping with today’s theme, here is a shortlist of six of the most odd and convicting teachings of Jesus. If you’re not different or weird because you do these things, then you are doing them wrong. As you devote time to reading this list, use this as an opportunity for a gut check – are you only a listless spectator watching and critiquing without any action or any sacrifice or are you actively working on becoming a sold-out slave to the Savior’s summoning?
1. You must be baptized for forgiveness and to receive the Spirit – Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 – Jesus has an eye-opening conversation with Nicodemus about the way God uses this symbolic gesture that had become a part of Jewish religious culture. John the Baptist, like others before him, uses immersion in water as a means of symbolically cleansing us from our sins, but Jesus sets the example (Matt 3) that this also symbolizes a changing of our mindset. The death and burial of our old self, and the rebirth of someone who is ready to receive the Spirit, the dwelling of God’s power in us. There are theological nuances that we will leave to the scholars to debate, but this symbolic act is clearly exampled and talked about by Jesus, and practiced and talked about some more by his disciples. This is the beginning. If you haven’t been baptized, but you see the compelling case for Christ in your life, now is the time. This symbol marks the launching point, not the precipice to our walk in Him.
2. You must be willing to live and die for Christ – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matt 16:24,25 – Obviously the apostles saw something happen that dramatically shifted the trajectory of their lives forever. After the resurrection of Jesus, they were accused of moving His body to perpetuate the story that He had risen. But would every single one of these men be ready and willing to travel so far and literally give up their lives for Christ? While a single man might die to protect a lie, I find it very hard to believe a whole group of men would do so. All of them, save John who was exiled, were put to death, each one receiving their punishment, not simply for their beliefs, but for their pursuit of evangelism and sharing the good news. They each daily sacrificed their life, and even used their death, as testimony of the life-altering Gospel message.
3. You must live out communion – “For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will live because of me“ – John 6:56 – Here we have another physical gesture that is symbolic of Christian life. While it is not too difficult to eat a piece of bread or crackers, or knock back a cup of wine or grape juice, the conviction of these symbols is terrifying – we must always remember that we are striving to be one with Christ. Anything we put in our body, use our body for (i.e. sex, 1 Cor 6:18), or anything that happens between our two ears, has to be reconciled by or repented to Christ for Him to remain in us. This means the act of communion, whether done formally or figurative as a daily discipline, should be convicting and purging us from the things that tear us away from Christ.
4. You must find joy in persecution and dejection – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Matthew 5:11 – Our natural instinct when we are attacked is to strike back. If you hit me, I will return the blow. If you hurl insults at me, I will use my wit and tongue to put you in your place. Even when we gratify ourselves with revenge, there is no joy in it. In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles receive a verbal and physical lashings. What is their response? Jubilation. They found great joy in suffering for Christ because it meant they were becoming more like Him, and they were living out the Great Commission. We should be ready and willing to be challenged, made fun of, and even receive physical abuse because we have taken a stand for Christ. When we take a stand and our joy grows, but so does our testimony and resolve (James 1:2,3), compelling others to seek out the reason for our peculiar perseverance.
5. You must be willing to count anything as loss – “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8 – The example Jesus uses is a challenge to control our carnal nature using figurative language. If someone had the resolve to literally cut off the hand or foot, they definitely have a resolve to control other behaviors in the life. But are we willing to literally cut out other things? Are you willing to give up comfort? Opportunities? Sports? Friends? Family members? Would you be willing to be thought of as dumb, ignorant, a fool, and even pitied? Would you be willing to part with all of your money, all of your possessions, and all of your time? It is better to lose your identity in this world or to have no home, than to be thrown alongside your pride and identity in the fire. It is better to throw away a coveted scholarship than for you to be thrown alongside your degree to be thrown in the fire. It is better to find new friends and family, or even have no friends and family, than to be thrown alongside them in the fire. Now each of these things are placed in the proper perspective; pride, a degree, friends, family can all be great God-filled things, just like hands and feet, but if they are moving you away from Christ, they are not beneficial. We have to remove them.
6. You can’t stop loving others. Ever. – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:39 – It would be so much easier if Jesus never said this. The most radical, the most challenging, the hardest-lived statement is in these five words. Loving God is truly easy – He deserves honor and praise, He loved us first, and He has established things in past, present, and future for us that are greater than we can ever imagine. I would even dare say I am loving God more than myself on my greatest days of faith (which is not nearly enough). But loving my neighbor. C’mon. What have they done to deserve my love? My neighbor could bash my faith on social media. My neighbor could be making such poor choices with their money. My neighbor could be abusing their family. My neighbor could be lying to me, stealing from me, and badmouthing me all over town. My neighbor could physically spit in my face, beat me to the point of death, and hang me on a cross. And that’s when we realize, we are Christ’s neighbor. He have power to change our lives forever by living out the love of God. He was so purposeful in His love in God that He saved us all from eternal separation. By doing this, He has given us the power to peculiarly love people we don’t know, but even more so, people we know well. We have the same opportunity as Christ. We can do everything possible to love our neighbor into conviction and submission that comes from seeing, hearing, and feeling the Gospel message coming from God through us. Yes, this is the most peculiar of all, but as strange, odd and weird as it is, it’s the most beautiful, the most attractive, and the most fulfilling thing we could ever do on behalf of our Father in heaven who so much loves His peculiar people.