“They” say English is a difficult language to master – maybe more difficult than any other modern language – in part because it has so many similar, even identical words that have numerous and varied uses. Only an English-speaker, for instance, could make sense of phrases like “the farm produced produce”, or “after dessert, the soldier deserted his post in the desert”, or “the clothes were too close to the closet door to close it”. Today, I want to focus on two words that look very much alike, but have very different meanings in the life of a follower of Chris: adapt and adopt.
I have no plans to argue for or against any theories related to evolution, nor do I intend to touch with a ten-foot-or-longer pole the question of whether X or Y group of people should be able to adopt children. No, instead I want to talk about those sticky situations we all face, when competing demands lead us to either adapt our behavior or adopt a particular way of doing things.
The gospel of John recounts Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, during which he explains to them what it’s going to mean to carry on his mission after he’s gone. He talks a lot about “the world”, saying that the world hated him and will hate them (meaning his followers; John 15:18); that he came into the word but will soon be leaving it (16:28); that he has “overcome the world” (16:33); and that he and his followers are “not of the world” (17:14).
If you’ve followed Christ for long, you probably know instinctively what Jesus was talking about: the feeling of being set apart from non-believers, knowing something they don’t know, secure in the knowledge that there’s more to life than what you see. If you’re not a Christian, you probably still get it: you’ve recognized that there’s something… different… about people who’ve humbly committed their lives to Christ.
There’s a downside, too, to living out your life on the very world of which you’re not a part. We Christians feel that tension when we’re offered a drink, tempted to cheat on our taxes, or get cut off in traffic. And it’s in those moments when we have a choice: we can adapt to the world or we can adopt God’s word.
Both adaptation and adoption imply change. Once we adapt to the world’s standards, we may find it easier to navigate the world, but it also moves us farther from God’s will. It gets easier to fit in at school if we adapt to the world’s standard that says it’s okay to have sex before we’re married, but we’re irrevocably changed and will have to face the consequences. The same goes when we lie and cheat at work to get ahead. Our career may benefit, but you’ll have made enemies of friends, built a castle on sand, and taken a step down a slippery slope.
When we adopt God’s word as a template for our behavior, we also change. We’re sanctified, set apart and deemed a child of the creator of the universe. And while we may have to endure the taunts and jeers of worldly non-believers who don’t get why we deny ourselves the pleasures of the world, we earn crowns that will never tarnish, mansions that will not fall, and an unsullied paradise to call our eternal home.
Adapt to the world, or adopt God’s word. The choice may seem as subtle to the mind as the words are similar to the ear, but the outcome of your decision will lead you in dramatically different directions.