The Forming of Peculiar People

Think of a cultural environment very familiar to you that is not your home—your church, workplace, health club, volunteer organization, or social group. Now consider these questions:

  • What are the values of that culture?
  • What are the priorities?
  • What do you like and not like about it?
  • In what ways has that culture formed you?

For example, our family has been members of the same health club for 20 years. The priorities of the club include respect for others, community-building, nutritional wellness, physical fitness, commitment, perseverance, personal responsibility, and a supportive, positive environment. I love the nurturing atmosphere of this place, but I don’t always love its over-emphasis on body image and preening. When I go to the club for one of the fitness classes I’ve been going to for years, these values and priorities are forming influences on me.

All cultural environments will form us, if we submit to their values. And so, when we’re immersed in a culture we deeply identify with, we give it the power to shape our hearts…

As followers of Jesus who have dedicated our lives to serving Him, we live in one kingdom—the material/cultural/social kingdom the Bible calls “this world”—but we represent another kingdom, one we can’t see, feel, taste, touch, or hear. It’s a spiritual kingdom defined by the culture of the Trinity, understood through the example of Jesus. And we are called, as followers of Jesus, to live out the values and priorities of that unseen kingdom while we live our everyday lives in the seen kingdom—which, by the way, is generally at war with those values.

So how do we live straddling these two kingdoms? We can take the “Weird Route,” where we try to adopt the values of the Kingdom of God as if we didn’t live in the kingdom of this world. That produces weird people who have little influence in the world—they are not salt and light, as Jesus called us to be. That’s because they’ve bubbled their lives away from the world, and therefore have little influence on it. Or we can take the “Façade Route,” where we say we are people of the Kingdom of God, but we’re actually much more invested in the kingdom of the world. This route produces posers and culturally religious people, not followers of Jesus.

In the King James version of 1 Peter 2:9, Peter calls the followers of Jesus an uncomfortable name—peculiar. We think of this as odd or strange or… weird. But the original Greek doesn’t mean that—one commentator observes: “Peter is not saying that Christians are odd or unusual people, even though the world often looks at us that way. [It means] that Christians or believers are people who belong to God, they are His own possession. Another way of saying it is that believers are ‘God’s own special people.’”

Here’s how Peter’s words are translated in a succeeding version of the Bible, in this case, the New Living Translation (my favorite): “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” Peculiar, then, means that we are “chosen” in the same way adoptive parents choose a son or daughter. Except for one miraculous difference—when we are adopted into God’s family as brothers and sisters of Jesus, He changes us fundamentally. We now have the DNA of the Trinity as adoptees—that’s what it means to be “born again.” In our chosen-ness, we’re called to straddle the culture of our “home country,” called the Kingdom of God, and our temporary physical country, “the world.”

So, how do we pull that off? And how do we invite others into the “straddled life”?

We are called and equipped by Jesus to live in the tension between two kingdoms. Jesus describes this “straddled life” to His disciples in His “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17—it’s a way of living that honors both the seen and unseen kingdoms that are our homes… And it’s a way of living that we can intentionally invite others into—we call it, simply, following Jesus… And if we slow down to pay attention to how Jesus frames this way of living in His prayer (John 17:6-26), we discover the life of a peculiar people means…

  • We belong, in the deepest sense of that word, in the family of God. One of the young people in the weekly gathering I lead (our motto is “Pursuing the heart of Jesus, not His recipes”) says this is like belonging to a mafia family—I know, a metaphor only a college student would embrace. But maybe he’s on to something. No matter where we are, or what environment we’re in, we live under the authority, strength, and influence of our “family” ties. We are free to move into the world in freedom because our superseding identity is so fundamental to us.
  • We live as people who need the protection Jesus offered His disciples, and now offers us. The reason Jesus promises to protect us and maintain our family unity with the Trinity is that we’re called to offer our salt-and-light influence out there in the world, not secluded away from the threatening and forming influences of the world. We would not need protection if our calling was to live in a Christian bubble.
  • We maintain our set-apartness from the world by abiding and remaining in the Truth, who’s name is Jesus. As we ingest the truth—“eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” (John 6:53)—we become one, or unified, with it. When our foundational identity is determined by the truth of Jesus, we can live in the world set-apart. We live un-belonging in the world, because our hearts belong to another kingdom. And, in turn, we can expect life to be difficult because of this, because the culture of the world is a relational system that will punish those who do not adhere to its values and priorities.
  • We are created to enjoy vertical intimacy with God, resulting in horizontal intimacy with our brothers and sisters in the family of God. Jesus calls this “perfect unity”—when we are abiding and remaining in His heart through the habits of our life we have an increased capacity for intimacy in our relationships with others.

As “peculiar people,” we carry the presence of God with us into every environment—as Jesus closes His prayer: “Your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them” (John 17:26).

Just for You!
My new book Editing Jesus is now out. If you’d like an extended teaser of the book, just to check it out, the publisher has put together a pdf of the first three chapters that is exclusively available to the Vibrant Faith community. So, here you go… Just click on this link and you can download a pdf of this long excerpt from the book. And check out (below) a curriculum resource you can use with both adults and teenagers in your church this fall—Following Jesus will lay the foundation for courageous trust in their lives. It’s an experiential, highly interactive, co-discovery way to invite people into deeper intimacy with Jesus.

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including his new release Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church, The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.



A Deeper Way to Lead Others Into Faith Maturity… Guide your people into depth relationally and experientially… A new curriculum by Rick Lawrence for both youth & adult ministries. Learn More Here




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