Picture the US as a pluralistic playground on which people holding very different value systems live, work and play together. Without a common value system, who decides what is “fair” and what is “foul?”
In my last post I suggested that entertainment and politics are two powerful and pervasive voices in our cultural conversations. There is one more very important influence that I’d like to consider: religion.
It seems logical that religion would contribute to discussions of a culture’s ethical and moral standards, but it’s not quite that simple. When many different religions are represented in a society, which religion’s values should prevail? Biblical Christian morality, Muslim Sharia law and the secular ethics of an atheist are just three examples of sincerely held but very different definitions of “fair” and “foul.”
Roughly 70% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. How should Christians represent themselves in the cultural conversation?
I started writing this post fully expecting to apply biblical truth to the attitudes and tactics with which Christians should engage in cultural conversation, and to some degree I did. But in the end, I came back to the short (yet impossibly profound) answer to just about every question a Christian ponders: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I believe that Christians best influence their communities as they humbly follow their Savior. That is what Jesus modeled for us.
Jesus single-mindedly obeyed his Father. He did not hold or aspire to a position of religious or political power. He did not hire a publicist or promote himself in any way. He depended only on the power of God.
Yet, he very purposefully contributed to and challenged the value systems of his day. The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famous teaching that spoke of a radical new value system for the world, is a good example of Jesus’ moral and ethical teachings.
Applying Jesus’s life and teachings to our current cultural discussion, I make three suggestions:
- Like Jesus, we are to depend on the power of God, not on personality or political power. Many Christians occupy positions of political power or cultural influence, and I trust God places his people exactly where he wants them for his purposes, but earthly power structures are not the means by which God advances his Kingdom. Jesus did not use them.
- We are not to be playground bullies. Jesus never demanded to be followed. Instead, he invited people into a saving relationship with the Son of God. He spoke truth wisely, gently, yet fearlessly, until he surrendered to the bullies who plotted to silence him. Note any hint of bullying in cultural conversations. If you see it in yourself, check it. It is not from Christ. If you see it in others, take note.
- Jesus said we are “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” As Christians, our words and our lives have the potential to influence others. As “salt of the earth,” our words will occasionally spice up a conversation. Paul advised us to speak words of grace, “seasoned with salt.” As lights in the world our lives will expose and stir up that which is hidden in darkness. Speak truth graciously. Live in the Light of Christ.
This will not always be well received. Jesus made it clear that if people hated him, they will also hate his followers. And, by the way, he taught us to love our enemies.
Jesus set an impossibly high bar for our behavior and a completely counter cultural model of an influential life. It is extremely difficult to live like this. We simply can’t do it.
That is why Jesus did it for us on the cross. On the cross Jesus surrendered to the full force of the personalities and powers of the world that were opposed to the Love and Grace of God. Jesus was more than a teacher and a model to follow. He is our Savior, and through the cosmic transaction that took place through his death and resurrection, he offers us the power through the Holy Spirit to live a truly transformed and transformative life.
For some final perspective, consider this quote by Watchman Nee from his classic book, Sit, Walk, Stand:
“As Christians our standard of living can never be ‘right or wrong,’ but the Cross. The principle of the Cross is our principle of conduct. Praise God that he makes his sun to shine on the evil and the good. With him it is a question of his grace and not of right or wrong….My life is to be governed by the principle of this Cross and the perfection of the Father.”
What do you think? What would our culture be like if Christians really lived like Jesus did through the power of the Gospel?
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” Romans 1:16
So wishing I could sit down to coffee with both of you brilliant and beautiful minds right now! Judy, as always – clear truth presented with present struggles to ponder – thank you! Caddo, thank you too for your added insight and honesty. One day, we shall have all of eternity to pow wow on such wonders with the Answer Himself! Bless you both with a wonderful week as salt and light, seasoned with necessary time delays! 🙂
It might have to be a big cup of coffee, for I think we could pow wow for quite a while! What a treat that would be! Thanks Shannon.
As always, Judy, you make excellent and interesting points–I especially like the note about bullying, since there is so much of it occurring BY Believers TOWARD Other Believers, which drives me crazy. I’ve observed that, sometimes, they’re more “polite” (loving/grace-filled) toward non-believers, and that stumps me and makes me crazier. Here’s what I’m wondering about, and I’m not sure there’s an easy answer–that is also easy to put into practice: It seems to me that Jesus did have an advantage that we don’t have–He KNEW things, far more than we do. So, I don’t see Him being in situations, and having to ponder and “figure out” what to say or do. While it’s true we have the Holy Spirit (the easy answer that I hear most often)–and if we’ve sought it, a “real and personal” relationship with God through Jesus (which I have)–we remain quite imperfect in the flesh, and we see “through a glass, darkly”. Though we diligently spend time in the Word and in prayer, seeking God–we’re “lucky” to get things “right” even part of the time. Or am I bumbling about in a camp by myself, here? The best way I can explain my own experience when trying to be salt and light, is that there’s like a “time delay” between my spontaneous “natural human” response to a person/situation–and my best effort at a “grace” or “cross-inspired” response. If this delay is too long, I’ve likely lost the Power to be a Christ-influence. Again, I don’t see Jesus having this difficulty. So, I’m frustrated, often feel defeated–am I making all of this too hard?? God bless you this week–love, sis Caddo
I know exactly what you mean, Caddo. My knee-jerk reaction is to defend my position, to be right, to assert myself, but that is my sinful nature reacting instead of God’s grace acting. I like your “time delay” idea. Maybe if we teach ourselves to simply NOT react, we can learn to more thoughtfully and graciously act. As for Jesus having an advantage (yes, it helps to be God!), he often did not use it. I am amazed by how often he did not defend himself or “win” an argument. Of course he could have out maneuvered anyone in any debate on any subject, but he rarely did. And, as I think about it, it makes sense, because people don’t generally change because someone bested them in an argument. We change because someone loves us, accepts us, bears with us, in spite of all of our faulty reasoning and behaviors. I do not remember this nearly as often as I’d like to. (See above confession of my tendency to want to be right.) As I’ve thought about these blog posts, I’ve really had my eyes opened to how easy and distracting it is for Christians to grant the authority of the world’s mentalities and methods by arguing on a worldly playground. Yes, we live in the world, but “…we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Cor. 10:3-4) We play on an earthly playground but we must live according to heavenly rules. Thanks for your comment, Caddo. I love to discuss this stuff! May your Sunday be blessed! (Not “lessoned”:) Judy
Okay, so you’re thinking my “time delay” is not a weakness or disadvantage, as how I’d been viewing it? I always feel like I’m rocketed back to school days–being called on by the teacher, and struggling to recall the correct answer. Among other issues, we live in a “fast” world–it seems that the “other party” is expecting a quick answer!! But I really appreciate your reminder that I have divine power/weapons–that I should not be anxious, thinking that I’m acting/speaking in my own, so limited, strength. This is Very Helpful–thanks, Judy!!
The perfect quick response is rare for me. I usually occurs to me a day or two later – maybe a little too long of a time delay:)
Yep, that would be me too, Judy! Oh, grace–more grace!!