I cut my spiritual teeth in legalism but I knew there had to be a better way. I regularly demonstrated Paul’s Roman treatise that the law inflames the sin nature. My brazen combo of playing high school basketball on Wednesday prayer meeting nights and reading (gasp) the Living Bible nearly resulted in excommunication. I remember one seasoned saint self-righteously telling me that he only read God’s original Word. I asked him if he read the Hebrew or Greek texts. He looked at me like a Golden Retriever hearing a high pitched sound.
We believed that we really were to be a “peculiar’ people. And we nailed it. We were spectacularly peculiar. We were so peculiar that most folks steered a wide path around our judgmental brand of faith.
I thought of that verse from Titus that our pastor often referenced just in case our guilt meter was not peaking.
Who (Christ Jesus) gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2, King James Bible)
We were to be a peculiar people. And we were indeed zealous of our moralist definition of peculiar. Peculiar meant no smoking, no alcohol, no movies, no dancing, no gambling, no cards, no bingo (those Catholics!), no immodest clothing, no jewelry, no makeup, no swearing and no fun. Especially no fun. Seriously. No fun.
But a look at the passage in a slightly later translation shows a bit more context.
For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2, NLT)
Hmmmm. Verily, even the King James version doth acknowledge God’s grace. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” We are to be “peculiar” not by making a big deal of what we don’t do. We are to be peculiar by living in (not apart from) this evil world with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God. We are to be “peculiar” by recognizing what Christ has done to give us a new identity and power over sin. We are to be “peculiar” by gratefully surrendering to Christ and being committed to good works. That, my friends, is peculiar in a self-centered culture.
We have missed the mark so badly by isolating ourselves into Christian bunkers and only venturing out to buy provisions. We are called to trust God to live in this world with devotion to Him.
All of this came to mind, oddly, after my beloved Texas Rangers won the first playoff series from Tampa Bay. Star outfielder Josh Hamilton is a committed Christian. (You can watch his I Am Second story here) He appreciates God’s grace because Josh was rescued from the depths of hell and restored to health, to his family and to the game he loves. Josh Hamilton is an addict. His addiction nearly killed him. He knows that everyday he must trust God and others with his life or he could fall. That is true for all of us. Josh Hamilton just lives it every day.
He suffered one relapse during an off-season moment of weakness. He did what all followers of Christ should do. Take responsibility. Repent. Seek forgiveness and return to our source of strength. Those simple steps would short-circuit a lot of charges of hypocrisy and those steps would emphasize that our righteousness is not about our behavior. Our righteousness is because of Jesus and the gift of grace. Here is a snippet of Josh’s response to that moment.
“I’m embarrassed about it. For the Rangers, I’m embarrassed about it. For my wife, my kids,” Hamilton said then. “It’s one of those things that just reinforces about alcohol. Unfortunately, it happened. It just reinforces to me that if I’m out there getting ready for a season and taking my focus off the most important thing in my recovery, which is my relationship with Christ, it’s amazing how those things creep back in.”
Because of his history, Josh Hamilton had discretely excused himself from the division title winning post game champagne and beer celebration in Oakland. He could not take a chance to be tempted. He made no demands. He did not make himself a martyr because he could not partake. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. He just did what he had to do to “live in this world with wisdom”.
Fast forward to Tuesday night in Tampa Bay. When Hamilton peeked in the clubhouse he witnessed one of the most heartwarming moments in recent years. His teammates all had bottles of ginger ale and they deluged their teammate with a shower of respect, love and grace. Josh had lived the truths without self-righteous posturing and his teammates recognized that.
After the ginger ale celebration the regular champagne flowed as Josh retreated to the hallways outside. Josh Hamilton has given the rest of us a little primer on how we navigate our world by how he lives out his faith in the pressure cooker of performance.
Focus on the grace of God who brought us salvation and new identity in Christ. Turn (personally) from godless living and sinful pleasures without condemning others who have yet to understand or experience God’s grace. Live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God.
We are His people and from that we are to be totally committed to doing good deeds. I am proud of my Texas Rangers and their first round win. But I am also very proud of their post-game honoring of a teammate who demonstrated that you can be “peculiar” without being weird. People will notice that.