A lot of modern Christian parenting consists of making sure when your kids arrive at the age where they are making choices, that they avoid the pitfalls which have brought down many a young life. Usually mentioned are promiscuous sex and the varieties of drugs and alcohol. Many of these messages come across as “Don’t do this;” “Don’t do that;” Don’t ever let me catch you doing…;” and “I never want to hear that you…” (I think the wording of the last two needs some refining; it could suggest a workaround is possible if one doesn’t get found out.)
Better, I believe to say to your kids, “We follow Christ. We’re different from the world.” The NLT rendering of Romans 12:2a (and The Living Bible before it) has always stuck with me:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
For a certain period of my formative faith years, I kept running across the phrase, ‘Maintenance of a Separate Identity.’ You don’t hear it much these days, and when I ran it through a search engine it took more than 30 results before I found one in a Biblical context out of the 70-odd results located. (Most of the results were in reference to ethnicity and nation.)
John White, in his book Flirting With the World, relates his experience growing up as a boy in the 1950s. He tells us that his church knew what worldliness was back then: lipstick, make-up, short skirts, bobbed hair, wedding rings and jewelry, movies, and church kitchens. Then he makes this statement: “Church leaders who fought the liberalizing trends of education, affluence, mobility, and urbanization may have pitched the battle in the wrong places, but you can’t fault their instincts. They knew that something vital was at stake: the maintenance of a distinct identity.[source]
If you’ve ever read Leviticus and wondered, ‘Why, oh why all these obscure rules and regulations?’ the answer may be found in God’s desire to see His people maintain a distinct identity; to be distinct from their surrounding neighbors. Why not wear garments woven with two types of fabric? I think there’s a lot more going on there than what appears on the surface, but it’s part of that unique characteristic God wanted his people to have. Why wear tassels on their garments? I believe it’s again, identity; perhaps a precursor to the days when soldiers in The Salvation Army would don a uniform to be highly identifiable in a larger culture. The old KJV at 1 Peter 2:9 calls us “a peculiar people;” the NIV translates that as “God’s special possession.”
The idea of distinction is seen in the context of God’s revelation to Moses, and in turn his declaration to Pharoah as to what was planned for the final plague that will bring about their release from captivity:
Ex. 11:6-7 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.
On the surface, this is saying that the morning after, it will be clear that while the firstborn of all of Egypt’s families will have perished, the firstborn of all of Israel’s families will have survived. It demonstrates a difference that has always been despite the years of assimilation that have come before Moses’ mission to liberate those people.
So we tell our kids, “The world does their thing and we do ours. We are citizens of a different world. We intersect with the world constantly, but we’re following a different, though parallel script.” Or something like that; your kids may need that in simplified language.
In Matthew 13:30 we read how it is possible for there to be a people of God existing in the greater world but how God knows who is who:
Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At harvest time I will tell the workers, “First gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”‘” (NCV)