Do you fit in? I mean, in a crowd, do you blend in and go with the flow, or do you stand out? I was watching a show on TV the other day, where teams compete in an engineering challenge, and one of the team members had brightly-colored hair. She did not fit in by appearance (although she seemed to be a valued member of the team – looking different doesn’t always mean that we don’t fit in). On the other hand, I’ve walked down streets – especially in the winter – where people kind of looked the same: dressed for the cold, heads down, just passing by.
Other times, fitting in is not about appearance, but is rather about demeanor and attitude. The loud guy in a room is disruptive and draws attention (to my wife’s chagrin), rather than fitting in. In a group conversation, the person with differing views stands out, too. As I recall, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air found a way to look different from the other students, while still technically complying with his new school’s dress code. However, his personality was clearly meant to stand out more than his clothes.
There are times, like walking down the street, when I don’t mind fitting in. However, if we find ourselves in the middle of a group of friends, fellow students, or colleagues that are doing the wrong thing, fitting in isn’t such a good idea. It implies complicity, and often results in us doing the wrong thing, too.
Consider the teachers about whom Paul was speaking in this passage from the letter to the Galatian church:
Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Galatians 6:12-14 NIV
Consider the point of view of those who were trying to get Christians to be circumcised in the early church. That is, try to put yourself in the sandals of those who taught that one must become a member of the Jewish people before becoming a Christian. From one point of view, I think that we can empathize with them. Gentile Christians who didn’t get circumcised – as well as Jewish believers who welcomed them into the church – would be looked down on by Jewish people who had not followed Jesus. Persecution and condemnation were likely. So, why not just have these Gentiles undergo a little procedure, even if this wasn’t required for salvation through Jesus? Why not just “fit in”?
The problem is that taking the path of least resistance (just to fit in), sometimes results in doing the wrong thing. In the early Galatian church, circumcision wasn’t just a procedure; to some recipients it meant allegiance to the Law of Moses. This Law was good (Jesus said so, in Matthew 5:17-19), but Jesus fulfilled it. Animal sacrifices and certain practices were no longer required for becoming part of God’s family. Gentiles could be “grafted in” through God’s grace, without going through the Law first.
On the other hand, there are times when fitting in – to a point – can help us serve and bless other people. Jesus lived in the same world as those that He served (even when He was criticized for it – see Mark 2:13-17), and Paul tried to become like various groups of people so he could relate to them (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, for instance). In both cases, fitting in was done for the good – and salvation – of other people, thanks to those who “fit in” for a reason.
What’s the difference? In the first case, I think that the “Judaizers” (those who wanted Gentiles to be circumcised so that they – the Judaizers – wouldn’t get picked on) wanted to fit in for their own good. They were afraid for their reputation and feared persecution more than letting others live in freedom.
In the second case, Jesus and Paul wanted to fit in for others’ benefit. They were willing to humble themselves to reach out and serve people, even when that meant being attacked. Fitting in – socially, not morally – with those who needed their help was more important than fitting in with those who were teaching the people an incomplete or incorrect message of how to get right with God.
As a result, it’s OK to fit in, but only when we are also aligned with the will of God. When we are “fitting in” with Him (as best as we can), some might disagree with us, but we can rest in knowing that we are living in a way that is pleasing to God. To test this, may we think about who we try to fit in with, and why we try to fit in with them.
It takes work to fit in. Are we making good use of our limited time to fit in where it will count?
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.