by Calven Celliers
I was recently introduced to the amazing work and talent of Liu Bolin, a Chinese performance artist known for using chameleon-like methods to immerse himself in environments, earning him the nickname “The Invisible Man”. To do this, he covers his entire body in paint which perfectly matches his chosen backdrop, painting himself into real-life scenes.
As I ‘paged’ through the online images of Liu’s fascinating work, I started pondering the call on us as Christians to be in this world but not of this world. As Christians, we sometimes try to walk the fine line between blending in with the world around us and standing out as citizens of God’s Kingdom. Becoming worldly may make us ineffective witnesses for Christ, while preaching from a holier-than-thou standpoint can isolate us from the very people God has called us to impact.
In the Gospel of Luke 19 we read about the life changing, destiny altering encounter that a certain tax collector, by the name of Zacchaeus, had with Jesus as He passed through Jericho.
“1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”” (Luke 19: 1 – 8NIV)
The conviction of Zacchaeus’ heart was not the result of any lecture or religious finger wagging from Christ. As a result of Jesus’ tender compassion Zacchaeus was open to the working of God’s Spirit in his heart and as a result volunteered to “give [the people] back four times as much” as he had wrongly taken from them. Jesus celebrated this change of heart. What we learn from Christ’s example is that although there is a time to confront sinful behaviour, we must be gentle and gracious with people who may, or may not, see their need for God.
Although Jesus regularly engaged with sinful people, after all He reminds us in the Gospel of Mark that “17It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17NIV), it’s important to note that He never participated in their sin. He visited Zacchaeus’ home, but He didn’t go into business with him or accept shady money from the “notorious sinner”. When (not if) we befriend unbelievers, we should consider how we might lift them up, allowing the power of God’s abiding Spirit within us to influence them for the good, rather than changing our convictions to match theirs.
If we follow Jesus’ lead when it comes to relating to the people and the culture around us, we’ll find the right balance between being in the world but not of it.