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