You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 1 Peter 4:3-4 (NIV)
What impression does the Christian make on others who do not share his belief? Perhaps we all too often make no impression. The wish to conform is strong in most people, especially once they get over the rebelliousness of teens and possibly student years. Thereafter, particularly in a profession such as medicine, the majority wish to be like their peers. Any differences that may be coveted are of another order -- those of post, kudos or merit (especially if accompanied by the appropriate award!).
Peter depicts two periods in the lives of his readers. First, a past which carries the label `no longer'. There were things which once we enjoyed, but now they hold no attraction. What used to be taught as `separation' is readily held up to ridicule in a permissive culture, but in John Stott's words `there can be no following without a previous forsaking'. The life of the present is different: Peter is describing a life that has been simplified, that is calm and prayerful. We are called to `be clearminded and self-controlled' (1 Pet 4:7).
The Christian who is sensitive to God's will for every part of his or her life will know something of the inevitable tension of playing a proper part in the world without being part of it. Perhaps we need to recognise which is the greater danger in our individual case -- whether that of compromise or an ugly insularity. This can be, under God, a matter of nice judgment, especially when we recognise the all-pervading nature of the secularism and humanism of today's society. C S Lewis in Reflection on the Psalms writes:
`I am inclined to think a Christian would be wise to avoid, when he decently can, any meeting with people who are bullies, lascivious, cruel, spiteful and so forth. Not because we are "too good" for them. In a sense we are not good enough. We are not good enough to cope with all the temptation, nor clever enough to cope with all the problems, which an evening spent in such society produces. The temptation is to condone, to connive at, and by our words, looks and laughter, to "consent".'
Lord, as one who was a friend of publicans and sinners
but who never condoned sin, help me to live in the world
without being of it, to retain not only my true humanity
but also my Christian `difference', and to love those for whom
you died, while hating all that made that sacrifice necessary.
I thank you that you prayed not that I should be taken out of the
world but that I should be kept from its sins.
Keep me just for today, and grant that today
I may be `salt' and `light' wherever I may be.
Further reading: 1 Pet 2:9-12. Mt 5:13-16.