It's [NOT] my party, I can [NOT] do what I want.
We are our own.
We can do what we like, say what we like and be who we like... can't we?
The emphasis on individuality in our culture has infected the minds of everyone, myself included. While that may sound unnecessarily ominous, the impact is quite larger than many believe it to be. We are one of the relatively small number of cultures that puts such large stock in being your own person, being self-sufficient, riding solo etc. Many other cultures place greater emphasis, instead, on family, working teams, groups and larger functioning units of society. The understanding behind this way of life, that I'm afraid is being lost in our culture, is that our lives, though we may have persuaded ourselves otherwise, have a huge impact on other people.
You are an unknowing representative of the people who you associate with. You are a child which means you carry your family name. You are a parent which means your kids will likely emulate your actions. You are an employee which means you represent your company's brand. You are a member of the body of Christ which means people are watching you closely to see if you'll mess up. Your public image - how you live - is directly transferable to the groups or individuals with which you are associated.
If you met someone named John Swartzenager, how would you picture them? Completely ripped out of their minds? If the worst customer experience you had was with some guy named Phil who works at EnergyMax, you probably wouldn't have a favorable opinion of EnergyMax even if the rest of their employees are stellar!
You represent more than just you. Individualism, in this sense, is impossible.
Don't get me wrong - we're each unique in our personalities, interests, opinions etc. Individualism is an integral part of being human. In that sense, you do you. Be yourself, create your own personal brand, enjoy the personality God crafted you with. Where this individualism begins to cause problems is when it infiltrates our attitudes. Everyone (we're talking about Christians here), no matter how unique they are, is called to live a life that is Christ-like. Upon our salvation we were transformed:
This transformation process gives us a new heart, sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading. Here's where many people get hung up; they confuse our willing and eager obedience to the Holy Spirit with demanded and forced rules that we get punished for if we screw up. This misconception is key to what we'll discuss later, but it greatly undermines the grace that is so central to Christianity. As a new creation in Christ Jesus, we have a new desire which is constantly at war with the desires of the flesh. It is a constant struggle, then, for us to live in such a way that exemplifies Christ even though this is the very thing that we yearn to do. Nevertheless, the call and the expectations are clear.
While we read these verses and nod our heads, subtly in the back of our minds, this individualist mindset - this survival instinct - is chomping at the bits, whispering in complete contradiction to Scripture that we are our own. Every time we listen to this survival instinct, we begin making excuses for our choices and our actions rooted in, "it's my party, I can do what I want."
Mistakes? It's none of your business.
Foolishness? It's my life, not yours.
Poor decisions? I'm not hurting anyone except myself - why do you care?
These are such common responses, but here's the kicker that no one seems to realize:
It's not your party!
Our lives as Christians are a living, breathing testament to the redemptive and transforming work of the Gospel. The minute we forget that is the minute the "it's my party" excuse begins to hold water. We are not our own - we belong to a loving, perfect, gracious creator who we claim has radically altered our life. If this is the case, then there should logically follow, a radical change. We should find ourselves being sanctified daily through prayer, Scripture and obedience to the Spirit's guidance. I wish I could say this were true. I wish I could say that the transformation of our hearts instantly took over as the dominate desire allowing us to ignore the fleshly lusts. I wish I didn't have to worry about what I said, what I looked at and how I responded. If it were that simple, I and other Christians would live perfect lives that easily portrayed the transforming work of Christ. But it's not so we can't.
Instead, we're stuck fighting the desires of our sinful nature on the daily. And it's so darn hard. If you're reading this and you're not a Christian, we get it - we look like total screw ups and don't represent Christ as we should all the time. But don't let that deter you, we're not the best example - Christ is. Anyway, back to the bigger question:
If we are constantly failing, driven by our "it's our party" worldview, how can we hope to be a visual example of Christ's redemptive work?
I don't know about you guys, but...
I battle so many sins that would probably disgust you. Every day, I'm trying to seek God first and overcome those sins through my consuming quest to know Him and lift His name up. But often, I find myself trying to overcome my sins by myself with the intention of being more "Christian." Bad idea, Jacob. Here's a quote from a friend of mine just the other day:
Instead of getting flustered by our continual failings and worrying about how that must look to the world, focus on how you can bring glory to God. If your focus is to look better in front of others - to play the part of a Christian better - you will inevitably fail. However, if your focus is to be a living testament of the transforming and redemptive work of Christ, He will succeed in you.