One day in high school, as a friend and I were being driven home by his mom, he and I started talking about what a rebel Jesus was. Adolescent poseurs that we were, this was the highest compliment we could pay, and was certainly meant as such. It was our juvenile effort at praise. What we had in mind, of course, was that Jesus defied the authorities and conventions of the time. This fit in very comfortably with our worldview, so we respected it.
My friend’s mom, though, then opined that Jesus was more of a conformist than a rebel, emphasizing that Jesus repeatedly explained that He was doing everything He did to be in strict obedience to the will of the Father. We quickly countered that, while she had a point, we felt that He was more of a rebel than a conformist, mostly because we didn’t want to be wrong.
We were each right, of course, in a way. The biggest thing that my teenage friend and I had to realize was that neither conformity nor rebellion are automatically goods in themselves. Whichever is appropriate regarding a situation depends on the nature of that situation. As much as our society so uncritically lauds rejection of anything mainstream (so much so that this attitude has itself long since become the mainstream), I think we’d all admit that when it comes to some things–for example, brushing our teeth–it’s actually not so desirable to be a rebel. No, sir; when it comes to oral hygiene, I say let’s all get on board the bandwagon and drink the kool aid (metaphorically, as it were, since, you know, dental health and sugary drinks don’t really go together…*ahem*).
Followers of Christ often speak of having to live in the world but not of the world, of giving unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s. Since so much of life comes down to acting on a case by case basis, we can only truly rely on solid principles that we understand and covenant to adhere to ahead of time, at all times.
In this, as in all things, Jesus is our perfect exemplar. When faced with instances of others being unjustly persecuted, ignored, taunted, abused, or taken advantage of, we must act in direct contradiction to the prevailing opinions. Regardless the norms or polls involved, we must heed the life of our Master as the pole star to guide us in thriving within unholy environments, showing mercy and tolerance, but refusing to condone or participate in wickedness, interacting with the world as the Spirit dictates.
And as our elder brother has shown, the ultimate principle to organize our lives is that, in all things, all places, all times, we must strive to bring ourselves into agreement with the will of our Father in Heaven. Then, and only then, will our choices to submit to some things and rebel against others be in proper balance.