Is anyone surprised about the way you live? Peter puts that question to the first century believers to whom he is writing. He has just described pagan conduct as “living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry” (4:3) and then speaks of their surprise that Christians didn’t “join them in their reckless, wild living” (4:4). Not only that, they heaped abuse on the believers for their sterile lifestyle. If Peter were with us today he might well ask if anyone has expressed surprise about the way we live?
I remember someone asking a similar question: “If you were in a dictatorial country and on trial for being a Christian, could they find enough evidence to convict you?” It struck me that I was sufficiently like my secular friends that I could probably get by. And that’s the problem. We weren’t called to be like the nonbeliever but to be transformed into the image of Christ. We are sojourners. We have the accent of heaven. The soldiers around the fire on the night Jesus was being examined by the high priest knew that Peter was a Galilean because he had the accent.
Some have solved the problem by dressing differently. The burka identifies the Muslim, the bonnet the Mennonite. Others have done it with a sort of religious rigidity; the kind of person to whom you want to say, “If you’re happy, let your face know it.” Certainly there is as better way. God doesn’t make people look different he makes them different. And that difference is the result of seeing all of life from a heavenly point of view. It is an inward transformation that permanently alters who we are and how we act. How then do people view us? Well, in Peter‘s case they were saying something like, “And what kind of a religious wall flower are you? Come on, the pub’s still open and the bawdy house never closes.”
So, from one standpoint it doesn’t look too good to follow Christ. It makes us different. Gives others the chance to feel superior. So? That’s their problem. We have the joy of joining the apostle Paul in his deep desire to know Christ and to participate in his sufferings (Phil 3:10, cf. Rom 8:17). No one knows exactly how that will work out on a personal basis but we are to embrace the future with enthusiasm because we are on the right side of history. Be different, I dare you.