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A few weeks ago I spoke at a women’s retreat. I shared my testimony, the story of how God called me to “come away” from the world; to give up my pursuit of popularity, male approval, material comforts and pop culture attractions in exchange for a life built completely around Jesus Christ. I talked about reforming my “free time” activities – exchanging my habits of constant socializing and pleasure-seeking for long, uninterrupted time in the presence of my King.
I talked about how my life radically changed; how I left the perverse worldliness of my public high school (and home-schooled instead) in order to seek Him with an undivided heart; how I walked away from the dating scene in order to live truly set-apart for my future husband; how I lost most of my shallow, self-focused friends, but learned how to build lasting relationships with my family members and godly older women in my church community. I talked about the unmatched joy and fulfillment that flooded my life when I finally chose to “come away” with my King, leaving behind the empty pleasures of the world and building my life around intimacy with Him.
After my first session was over, a church leader confronted me. “I think what you shared was too extreme,” she told me. “We teach our women that in order to become the fragrance of Christ they cannot be ‘fortressed in’ from the world. They must be part of the world in order to reach it.” She asked me to soften my message about “coming away from the world.” Needless to say, I didn’t. After all, the title of my conference was “Set-Apart Femininity,” not “Be Like the World Femininity.”
But the conversation got me thinking about how many modern Christians have bought the lie that “we must be part of the world in order to reach it” and that living set-apart for our King will make us seem legalistic and unapproachable; that somehow the more like the world we can become, the more influence we will have upon them.
Is this God’s prescription? Does He applaud when we participate in worldliness so that we can make ourselves more appealing to unbelievers?
His Word is clear: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you" (2 Cor. 6:17).
This doesn’t mean that we hibernate away in a cave or barricade from the world in a nunnery somewhere. In fact, God commands us to go into all the world and make disciples in His name; to seek and save the lost just as Jesus did. But how? By engaging in the same behavior and lifestyle as everyone else so that we can be accepted by secular society? No. Rather, the Bible says that we should expect to look strange to the world because of our set-apartness:
...he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you (1 Peter 4:2-4 NIV).
God says that our lives will give off an appealing fragrance to those who are ready to receive Christ – but to those enslaved to sin, our separation from the world will cause great offense everywhere we go: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life…” (2 Cor. 2:15-16 NIV).
Being set-apart is not a hamper to our Christian witness. Being set-apart is our Christian witness. When I married Eric, I took on his name. I became Mrs. Eric Ludy. I took on Eric’s name to solidify my marriage covenant with him. It wasn’t just accepting the title “Mrs. Eric Ludy” – it was a total change of focus and lifestyle. What would be the point of taking on the name Ludy if I didn’t change my life after the wedding? What if, after the vows were spoken, I went back to my own house, slept alone in my own bed, and went about my daily life as if I were still single? Bearing Eric’s name meant building my life around my new name. To truly bear the name of my husband – not just in title, but in my daily reality – I had to leave my own life behind and join my groom in a new life. I had to become one with him.
To become a true Christian, one who bears the name of Jesus, our beloved Bridegroom, we must leave behind our own life, and come away with Him. We must put aside all of our own selfish desires and pursuits. He must become the sole focus and worship of our lives. As it says in Psalm 45:10-11, “Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father's house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him.”
We must leave behind our old lives. Like Henry Blackaby said in Experiencing God, “You cannot stay where you are and go with God.”
I once read a speech given by a Jewish father at his son’s bar-mitzvah. He exhorted his son not to apologize for being Jewish, but to unapologetically embrace the holy calling upon his life:
To be holy is to be different. That which is holy is set apart. What is a Jew? It is the courage to be different. While the rest of the world strives to be loved, the Jew strives to be holy. While the rest of the world strives to impress their fellow man, the Jew strives to impress none but God alone (Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Never Fear Being Hated, www.worldnetdaily.com ).
A set-apart young woman has the courage to be different. As Leonard Ravenhill wrote, “He (or she) who fears God fears no man.” While other young women strive to be noticed and accepted by the world, the set-apart young woman cares for no opinion but God’s. Most of us spend an incredible amount of time and effort trying to explain away the holy calling upon our lives, rather than unapologetically embracing it and allowing God to accomplish this profound miracle in and through us.
To join the ranks of set-apart women throughout history, it is critical that we lay down our craving for the world’s approval. When we become the holy temple of the living God, we will not be understood or accepted by the sinful, carnal world around us. In fact, if we are applauded and approved by secular society, in all likelihood we are not truly allowing the Spirit of God to fully own and operate us.
Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).
The scorn we receive might not come only from unbelievers. If we embrace the sacred decorum of set-apart femininity, it is probable that many of our fellow Christians will look at us with a sketchy eye. That’s because many modern Christians, like the woman who confronted me the other day, are far more concerned about impressing the world than being consumed with Christ alone. The popularity of seeker-sensitive mega-churches – where Bibles are left at home in exchange for fancy Starbucks drinks and kids play Xbox during Sunday school – is just one example of how the modern Church has watered down the Christ-life to nothing more than joining a social club. And when we choose a different path, it makes them uncomfortable.
Two college-aged young women who attended one of my conferences returned home to eagerly share with their Bible study group about how God was challenging them to live a life radically abandoned to Jesus Christ. Instead of being excited and supportive, the other members of the group asked them never to come back – even though it was a group the two girls had started in the first place. Sadly, such stories are not uncommon.
Don’t be discouraged or derailed by the scorn of the world or the disregard of mediocre Christians. Rather, if you find yourself the target of criticism for Christ’s sake, rejoice in the realization that you are on the right track. Remember that “...all who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Every set-apart woman who has made a dent in world history walked this path.
Esther Ahn Kim was labeled an inconsiderate, selfish troublemaker by her Christian co-workers when she refused to obey governmental orders to bow to the “sun god” at a Japanese shrine. Gladys Aylward was called a foolish, irresponsible risk-taker when she chose to obey God’s call to take His Word to China, and no missionary society would support her. Sabina Wurmbrand was treated as the scum of society – by Christians and unbelievers alike – when she took a stand against the communist agenda to protect the name of Christ. Amy Carmichael was so disliked by her fellow Christian missionaries that they made a concerted effort to run her out of India. And when Vibia Perpetua decided to give her life for Christ and let her child be raised by another, her family heaped guilt and condemnation upon her.
Don’t expect a round of human applause when you choose the set-apart life. But remember that in its place you will gain something far better – a standing ovation from Jesus Christ. I love the story of Stephen heroically giving his life for the sake of the Gospel. Just before he died, he saw heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the Father (see Acts 7:56). Stephen’s willing sacrifice brought such delight to the heart of Christ that the King of all kings actually stood to welcome him into eternity. I don’t know about you, but that’s all the applause I could ever want or need.*
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