For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
Christians see the world differently than everyone else.
Or, at least, we’re supposed to.
Think of any random subject or occurrence and there’s a better than good chance that Christians, as a group, feel differently about it than those outside the church.
Money? It comes from God first so it actually doesn’t really belong to us.
Parenting? The community of faith makes a covenant to raise the baptized to the same degree that parents do.
Sex? Physical intimacy is one of God’s good gifts, but it’s only really intelligible within the covenant made manifest in marriage.
I could go on.
And because Christians see and live in the world differently than others, it will forever make us strange.
The problem comes when we’re so consumed with appearing like everyone else that it’s no longer possible to differentiate between those inside and those outside the church.
Decades ago, when most of the people now leading the church were baptized into it, it was done so under the shadow of what we call Christendom.
Christendom was (notice the tense) a time in which Christians thought they knew how to identify what it meant to be Christian. Mostly, those differences were defined by the church saying what one could, or couldn’t do. But those differences were no different from what the county or the community thought was best anyway.
It was a time when it was assumed that people just went to church on Sunday mornings, that to be a good person was synonymous with being Christians, and that so long as you said the right prayers, and gave the right amount of money to church, and made sure you did more good things than bad that everything would work out in the end.
That time, Christendom, is long gone and it ain’t coming back.
Karl Barth puts it this way: “Nothing has ever happened to change the fact that Christians — even in the middle of their supposedly and perhaps even very consciously Christian environment — will always be strange and threatened creatures. No matter how much they may know themselves to be in solidarity with the world and behave as such, the way of Christians can never be the way of the world — least of all the way of a presumably Christianized world.”
And Barth is right – to be Christian, is to be different. Christians are those who worship a God who became one of us, a God who rather than beating the world into moralistic submission, suffered and died on a cross, a God who believes in us even when we don’t, or can’t, believe in God.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, right before making the great theological turn in chapter 12, he lets linger a rather confounding word: God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
It’s as if he’s saying, “Look, to be Christian implies a willingness to see the strangest news of all: God knit us in such a way that we might be disobedient knowing full and well that he would offer us mercy in the end.”
The implications of this one sentence are tremendous. For, it means that Christians, as a group, see one another and the world differently. Rather than seeing the whole of humanity in a binary (outsiders or insiders, good or bad) we actually see the whole of humanity as disobedient. That, given are freedom of will, we often choose to do things we know we shouldn’t and we avoid doing things we know we should.
The real kicker comes with the latter half of the sentence: And God is merciful to all! Even in all our sin, even with all our mistakes, even with the selfishness and self-righteousness, God in Christ still marches to the top of Golgotha for us anyway!
That’s strange – it also happens to be the Gospel.