Learn Not the Way of the Nations

Some believers I know are fascinated by other world religions. Others are fascinated by the occult or by creepy, scary stories of mysterious, spiritual happenings. Some still cling a bit to superstitions like horoscopes or folk tales. And I think we know, if we think biblically, that these are bad ideas.

But I wonder if these are the only bad ideas that we are willing to learn too much about from time-to-time.

Jeremiah 10:2-3a

2 Thus says the Lord:
“Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
3 for the customs of the peoples are vanity.

Learn not the way of the nations. In this instance, Jeremiah is communicating God’s message against idolatry, astrology, and superstition. We are not supposed to be like that. Nor are we to fear what the nations fear. When people get creeped out by Friday the 13th coming up on the calendar, a full moon, or a black cat crossing the path, we should not join in. These are vanity.

But those things are not the only vanities of the nations. They are just the easy ones. There are other false beliefs, false gods, false customs and practices of the nations that Christians often find fascinating. For example, it is quite popular among some believers to find a great deal of personal satisfaction in understanding the ways of the world, in speaking the language of the lost, in really identifying with those who do not know Christ. Of course, there is a way to show love and kindness and understanding to the world around you that is beautiful, helpful, and evangelistic. But there is a folly in letting yourself become so familiar with the thoughts and practices of the world that you begin to treasure the world’s opinion of you as a smart, nuanced, non-judgmental person who is not like all those other Christians.

I certainly have known a few believers who have found a good deal of satisfaction in their worldly understanding. Perhaps these are folks who are really up on the latest Netflix series, the hottest new music, or the juiciest celebrity gossip. Perhaps these are just Christians who want to look smarter than the rest by using the terms, labels, and arguments of the culture in many settings. Perhaps these are Christians who take pride in the workings of political movements that most other believers oppose.

We want to be a relatable people. We do not want to be unable to communicate with genuine folks who live next door. But the word of God tells us that many of the fears, practices, and beliefs of the lost world are vanities that we should not consume. Our minds are to be filled with the word of God, the ways of God, the law of God, the holiness of God, and the glory of God. There is nothing good about knowing more about the arguments of a philosopher than the heart of Jesus. There is nothing good about knowing how to sing the songs of the world rather than the songs of the word. There is nothing good about gaining the approval of the culture, being seen as thoughtful and winsome, if you compromise the clean and clear gospel.

Yes, let’s know our neighbors. Let’s listen and understand. Let’s be kind. But let us not learn the ways of the world so as to be drawn into their vanities.