The first characteristic of the radical disciple which I bring before you I will call ‘non-conformity’. Let me explain why.
The church has a double responsibility in relation to the world around us. On the one hand we are to live, serve and witness in the world. On the other hand we are to avoid becoming contaminated by the world. So we are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world.
Escapism and conformism are thus both forbidden to us. This is one of the major themes of the whole Bible, namely that God is calling out a people for himself and is summoning us to be different from everybody else. ‘Be holy,’ he says repeatedly to his people, ‘because I am holy’ (e.g. Leviticus 11:45; 1 Peter 1:15–16).
This foundational theme recurs in all four of the main sections of Scripture: the law, the prophets, the teaching of Jesus, and the teaching of the apostles. Let me give you an example from each. First, the law. God said to his people through Moses:
You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 18:3–4).
Similarly, God’s criticism of his people through the prophet Ezekiel is that ‘you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you’ (Ezekiel 11:12).
It is the same in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of the hypocrites and the pagans, and added: ‘Do not be like them’ (Matthew 6:8). Finally the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2).
Here then is God’s call to a radical discipleship, to a radical non-conformity to the surrounding culture. It is a call to develop a Christian counterculture, a call to engagement without compromise.
John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2010), 19–21.
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