There is an old saying, not from the Bible, that says, “When in Rome … do as the Romans do.” At its best, it is an encouragement to embrace the wonderful cultural differences we might encounter when we find ourselves in a new environment. At its worst, it causes us to sacrifice who we are on the altar of fitting in.

When we get a new job or go to a new school, it is only a matter of time before we end up using the same turns of phrase and having the same attitudes as the people around us. We might join a new group of friends, and without even noticing, we start to dress like them, buy what they buy, think like they think, and do what they do. That could be great if what they do is great. It could also be not so great.

This is why God is warning the Israelites before they move into the Promised Land to remember that God has called them to a holy life, set apart from the way the rest of the world does life. “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, be very careful not to imitate the detestable customs of the nations living there.” (Deuteronomy 18:9 NLT)

Taking on the good and bad attributes of people around you happens naturally over time, but living a life that is holy requires a level of intentionality and careful attention. A holy life is more than being different than everyone else and ending up alone because of it. Living a holy life means doing what God made you to do and shining that light to the world rather than doing whatever people around you are doing and gradually blending into the darkness. God called Israel to be holy so they would discover his purpose for them – to be his instrument for bringing justice, demonstrating his loving character and blessing all nations (see Genesis 15).

There is another old saying, this one from the Bible. In fact, it was written to the Romans who, being Roman, were most certainly doing as a Roman would do! It says “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. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 NLT)

Questions for reflection:

  1. What are some ways you live differently than the culture around you? What are some ways you blend in with the culture?
  2. If you are following God’s way for living, can anyone else see it? Why or why not? Is there a way to let your light shine?