Servants of God,
“If we say we have fellowship with him
while we walk in darkness,
we lie and do not practice the truth.”
1 John 1:6
A nation’s culture is its beliefs lived out. We have “In God We Trust” on our currency, but we don’t live like we trust in God. It probably means we know we should. Trusting God is more than a slogan. We also say (sing would be more accurate) that God has “shed his grace” on us, but Americans act like we get ahead by being well-educated, self-reliant, and working hard. Our nation is riddled with wounds from sinful beliefs and actions. American Christians, who know the gospel is the only hope for fallen humanity, live in a target-rich environment, but we must be willing to live consistently and to meaningfully engage the world around us.
It is not difficult to see the signs of a degenerate society. Gambling indicates a belief in luck and chance, not God’s grace and providence. Abortion indicates a brutal disregard for innocent human life, not a belief that humans are precious because they are created in the image of God. The list could go on, but I suspect you get my drift. American Christians, having lived the good life for decades, must wake up to the fact that the national blessings and institutions we have taken for granted are crumbling as the result of moral failure. We are a cut flower society, and the flower is wilting fast.
My father used to tell a story about how his Billy goat, affectionately known as “Bill,” would misbehave. He would eat almost anything and once ruined the cloth top of a car by jumping up on it only to shred it with his sharp hooves. My folks had a small place near my mother’s family. Grandpa Everidge had a few cows and a bull he called “Vic” which was short for Victor! It seems Bill slipped his bonds and traveled over to Grandpa’s pasture and had some fun harassing the cows. It irritated my grandfather tremendously because Vic was obviously upset and troubled by Bill’s trespassing, but instead of routing the much smaller goat, he snorted, bellowed, blew snot and spun around in circles. As you might imagine, Bill caused a bit of family upset.
I wonder if Vic might not be something of a metaphor for American Christians who often appear to be in a dither over the degeneracy of the culture, but fail to do what we can where we are? It does little good to wring our spiritual tails and blow snot while bellowing. The American church must wake up and (in the power of the Holy Spirit) do what we can. We can make a difference by truly living out our beliefs. We can take holiness seriously. We can speak gospel truth and trust God to save souls and change men and women. We must do this whether or not we live long enough to see significant change.
We must be realistic about how changes happen in societies. The gospel truth, like a mustard seed, is transformative over time. Christian are called walk in “the light” (1 John 1). This is more than a call to keep our noses clean while we wade through the cultural sewer. We are not to be pale imitations of the unbelieving world. We are called to be counter cultural in word and deed. We are most “for” our culture when we live and speak “against” its degeneracy and godless hedonism. Like God, we love the world most by truth telling and sacrifice. Christians must not expect to be congratulated for telling the emperor he has no clothes.
Vast numbers of Americans claim to be Christians, but they rarely commit much time, energy and resources to the cause Christ is most committed to—His Body. Christ is building his church. Church is not just a place you go. It is a people you belong to. Christ gives gifts and power to Christians so they can “…proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2).
Multitudes of folks are apologists for what we might call “Jesus on my own terms” Christianity. They claim to have made “a decision for Christ.” They forcefully argue that they do not have to “go to church” and they argue that talk about obedience and holiness is “legalism”. They peck around in the Bible, and often have a favorite verse or two. They proudly cling to what they call “freedom” in Christ. They are all about “grace”, and their priorities look just like those of the unsaved multitudes. They think it is beneath them to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). Do you really believe this kind of “Christian” is going to be much salt and light in the decaying and darkening of American culture?
I am convinced that there are also vast numbers of American Christians who are regenerate souls who, like “righteous Lot”, have their souls vexed daily over the Sodom they see around them (2 Peter 2). They will bemoan the rotten culture, but they show little zeal for holiness. They want to play it safe—while remaining in Sodom. They hope to stay under the cultural radar. They hunker in their spiritual bunker, but like Lot, their witness is badly compromised. If you are a saved person but no one is calling you names or accusing you of being “judgmental” and “bigoted” and “narrow”, you might be living like Lot.
We must always get the log out of our eye before we criticize (Matthew 7). So, I want to be careful. At the same time, I believe it is past time for Christians to take an inventory of our impact on the American culture. Is there enough evidence to convict us of being radically committed to the living God and his holy and life-giving standard for life? Do we speak the gospel of Jesus clearly? Are we engaging in conversations and actions that exalt God? Do our lives indicate radical obedience to Jesus? How are we involved in taking the light of truth into dark places? Is the salt of our lives genuinely salty or do we just go along to get along? It is not enough to simply complain or to shake our heads in disgust. We must openly oppose evil and foster righteousness at every opportunity, and we must pray for more and better opportunities.
First century Christians did not live to see the Roman empire permeated with gospel truth, but they lived as if it was their duty to proclaim the kingdom of Jesus with its hope of forgiveness and transforming power. The Great Commission is still in force. Jesus still holds all authority in heaven and on earth. The command is still to make disciples of all nations and the promise of Jesus’ presence is still in force. Let us spend less time wringing our spiritual tails and more time engaging in the mustard seed conspiracy. It is the work of ordinary Christians and it will, in the end, bring every knee to bow and every tongue to confess what we know to be true: Jesus Christ is Lord!