John’s effectiveness came through surrender and complete dependence on God. The same holds true for us. We must remain yielded to and empowered by God’s Spirit to accomplish all He desires.
You may be familiar with the phrase that encourages Christ-followers to “be in the world but not of it,” and yet, what does that mean? How can we actively pursue Jesus when our environment feels so contrary to nearly every ideal He espoused? While the answer to that question will vary based on our unique calling and mission field, Scripture does provide applicable insight as we seek to reach out to the broken and deceived people God so dearly loves, without compromising our morality. We can learn a lot, in fact, by evaluating the lives of the God-honoring men and women who have gone before us. Although the Bible provides numerous examples worth emulating, I find John the Baptist one of the most intriguing. He consistently lived counter to his culture from his startling appearance to odd eating habits. His nonconforming behavior drew curious, and sometimes furious, crowds of people and created a growing anticipation for the long-promised Messiah.
Let's look at 3 principles John the Baptist teaches us about counter-culture living:
1. Know your calling
John knew and remained focused on his assignment prior to preaching his first message, eating his first locus, or baptizing his first convert. God didn’t create John for diplomacy. If He had, I doubt John would’ve been so bold and blunt with Herod the tetrarch. Nor had God asked him to advocate against poverty or mediate between disgruntled merchants. If tasked with any of those goals, he probably would’ve traded his locust meals and camel hair attire for fancier food and clothing.
Notice what the angel who foretold John the Baptist's birth said about him in Luke 1:15-18:
"... for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
This passage verifies that God created John for a vital and unique purpose, one not held prior or since: to prepare the people to encounter the long-awaited Messiah, God in human form. In essence, John provided a bridge between what Clark H. Pinnock refers to as the time of promise and the time of fulfillment. John and his parents clearly understood the importance and historicity of his birth. This must have impacted how they raised him, where he spent his time, and everything he pursued.
To live with maximum eternal impact, we need to understand what God has and hasn’t called us to. Such clarity helps us prioritize our time. Say no when necessary, and pursue intentional and targeted growth. For example, once I realized God wanted me to serve Him through writing and speaking, I began devoting time towards learning and practicing the craft. My increased self-awareness also helped shift my perspective from viewing communication merely as something I enjoyed to an act of worshipful obedience. This in turn gave me the perseverance necessary to endure years of rejections and disappointments because I knew I wasn’t ultimately working towards a contract or royalty check but responding in obedience to my Lord.
2. Remain empowered
When it comes to living for Christ, many of us err in one of two ways: We focus on our weaknesses rather than God’s strength within us and, therefore, shrink back from the task. Or, due to pride, habit, or distraction, we attempt to carry God-sized loads alone. Both responses hinder our effectiveness, growth, and intimacy with Christ. To put it simply, we cannot do and be all that He desires if we are apart from Him. Jesus phrased it this way: "Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5, NIV).
We need the Holy Spirit’s power to execute God-sized tasks, as John did. Luke 1 says he would “be great in the sight of the Lord” (v. 15a, NIV), would initiate revival (v. 16), “turn hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (v. 16-17, NIV). John had significant impact, but not from inner grit and self-reliance. The Bible says he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth” (v. 17, NIV). John’s effectiveness came through surrender and complete dependence on God.
The same holds true for us. We must remain yielded to and empowered by God’s Spirit to accomplish all He desires.
3. Focus on your end game
If John had tried to build an earthly kingdom, to create heaven on earth, he would have failed. I have no doubt the evil he witnessed each day grieved him. His people experienced significant oppression and crippling taxation. The impoverished fought to survive, illness stole lives, and sin pervaded families and communities, leaving shattered hearts in its wake. I’m certain his soul cried out for divine intervention, for God to restore humanity to the “very good” creation He intended. For justice to rein. But his sacrificial obedience didn’t initiate such utopian results. Instead, it led to execution.
John and all the prophets before and after him labored for the day when God would break our chains for good. The day when God’s children would stand engulfed in God’s love, every wrong righted, wound healed, and heart set free.
As Scripture states, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NIV). However, that isn’t our story nor is defeat our destiny. Because “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (vs. 20; 22-26, NIV).
In other words, paradise is coming. Therefore, we await our redemption with anticipation, knowing our present actions play a vital role in God’s strategic redemptive plan. In a world that urges us to live for today and for ourselves, may we close our ears to all the noise and fix our gaze upon Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Because, although our feet are planted upon this earth, this world isn’t our home. We are meant for more and are called to reveal God’s life-giving grace through counter-cultural, eternally focused living.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Bojan
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.
As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.
LISTEN: Being Complete in Jesus (Understanding Matthew 5:21-48)
Hearing Jesus is a devotional journey through the gospels, where we explore the teachings of Jesus chapter by chapter. If you're seeking to live a life that reflects God's, this podcast is for you.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
WATCH: 10 Sins Christians Downplay (and Why They're So Destructive)
Stock Footage & Music Courtesy of Soundstripe.com Thumbnail by Getty Images