The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Luke 4:9-12 NIV
We don’t have to prove anything.
Sometimes, we get caught up in wanting to look like a “super-Christian” to others. We fear that if we don’t portray the right persona (even if we’re being fake), someone will think less of us – or that they will think poorly of Jesus. We start to worry more about our external appearance than our relationship with God. In the extreme case, we risk being like religious leaders that Jesus criticized in Matthew 23:1-7, who followed lots of ceremony and show, but missed the point of God’s commandments.
We are indeed challenged to be like Jesus. He is certainly our role model, and we want to follow His example. However, we can get too caught up in an image of what we think He would do (or what others tell us He would do in our shoes), that we miss out on making good choices that God places right in front of us. We are afraid that not meeting others’ expectations of a Christian will hurt Jesus’ image (or, in some cases, our own), and we substitute “surface-level” appearances, instead of being a servant to others (see Matthew 20:26-28) and taking the opportunities that we are offered to do good (see Galatians 6:9-10). For instance, while it is important to spend time with other Christians, we can spend so much time with them that we don’t have an opportunity to share the love of God – in actions and in words – with others who don’t know Jesus.
(There is another, more insidious temptation that some Christians face: they believe that if they don’t live exactly like Jesus, that God will “get mad” at them, or – worse yet – they will no longer be in a saving relationship with Jesus. While it is absolutely expected that Christians will try to live according to God’s direction, whether or not we live the Christian life exactly “correctly” doesn’t impact our salvation. This gives us the freedom to live our lives following God’s direction, without fearing that a misstep will break that relationship.)
Jesus didn’t have to jump through Satan’s constructed “hoops” to prove who He was. God the Father didn’t need Jesus to show off the Father’s power. Satan – and anyone else who honestly looks for it – knows that God is sovereign. Now, God did attest to who Jesus was through signs and miracles, but not because He was on the defensive. (See Mark 8:11-12.) God kept His prophetic promises about Jesus, but not only did He not have to meet others’ expectations, sometimes He did just the opposite (because others’ expectations were wrong!).
In the same way, our obligation is not to live out the artificial image that defines a Christian in the minds of others. Our responsibility is to live for God, and to try and follow His leading. Sometimes, that will mean giving up some of our freedoms to help out a fellow Christian (see Romans 14). Sometimes, it will align with certain elements of our culture’s definition of social norms and justice (since God makes much of His nature visible to everyone; see Romans 1:20). However, other times, it will mean doing something totally opposite of what those around us expect from a Christian – especially if their expectations have been corrupted by false stereotypes, or by Christians who were still learning to live out God’s plan for their lives. (Note that I’m not suggesting that we be antagonistic, just to prove a point. If you’re tempted to abuse your freedom as a Christian, study Romans 14, noted above, as well as Romans 12:17-18.)
When you are tempted to follow rituals and ceremony, instead of living out the simple commands of Jesus (see Matthew 11:30), remember what He said when talking about worry:
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:33 NASB
I think that, if you remember the important things, and listen to God’s direction for your life, the rest will take care of itself. You might not look like what people expect from a Christian, but you should look more and more like Jesus each day.
For more reading, see also: