The cultural norm in America has shifted dramatically in the last few years. In fact, almost every day, another story pops up in the news revealing an ever-widening gap between the world’s values and God’s standards. Our culture glorifies and increasingly normalizes attitudes, values, and behavior that blatantly contradict biblical standards for godliness. But should Christians engage in this cultural clash? And if so, how?
A Christian’s Purpose in the World
Sometimes Christians get so distracted by cultural skirmishes we lose sight of our prime directive. A quick reminder of God’s purpose for Christians in the world will help us better determine how we should respond to our culture’s changing values:
- We are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).
- We are God’s priests, declaring His praises to the nations (1 Peter 2:9).
- We are Christ’s ambassadors, imploring the world to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
In Acts 20:24, the apostle Paul beautifully described this God-given task in the world as “testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” A Christian’s God-given purpose in the world is to introduce non-Christians to Jesus and His salvation. God has reserved judgment of the world for Himself (1 Corinthians 5:12-13), but we Christians often attempt to take His job. We expect non-Christians to share our standards, values, and viewpoints. When they don’t, we sometimes try to force them to accept and live by our Christian standards and worldview.
But forcing Christian morality on our culture focuses on the symptoms of the problem and not the cause – the need for Christ. It’s like a doctor prescribing aspirin for a brain tumor. We cannot change the world and its ways from the outside in. Non-Christians will naturally act like non-Christians. Without the indwelling Spirit, God’s standards seem foolish to them (1 Corinthians 2:14). A true change of values and behavior must begin with a heart change.
The Danger of Fighting Like the World
Christians often use the world’s tactics in an attempt to fight a spiritual battle. We flood our status updates and tweets with shock and indignation over the latest symptom of a spiritually dead culture. We demand a secular business conform to God’s standards with a boycott. The usual result? The culture labels us intolerant hypocrites and closes its ears to the message that can change their eternity.
Even if our efforts are deemed “successful” by the world’s standards, we must ask how a one-time temporary victory in a cultural skirmish impacts the greater spiritual battle. How do our efforts impact the name of Christ? Jesus invites the world to come to Him but we often throw stumbling blocks on their path. Rather than expressing Christ’s unconditional love for the sinner, our words and actions sometimes imply they must be “good enough” before they can come to Jesus.
Ed Stetzer describes this danger in a recent article at ChristianityToday.com:
“Our desire must not be to prove ourselves right or to force our way on the world around us. Instead, our goal is to show Christ to be true and worthy. Just as wrong as running away from our culture is driving people away from the church. Countering culture doesn’t mean attacking it. Countering culture means engaging culture with conviction and compassion. We stand firmly on the truth of God, empowered by the Spirit, to extend the love of Christ to the world. Our desire isn’t to conquer but to redeem. It matters what we do, how we do it, and why we do it… A wrong response to culture is more than unhealthy or unhelpful. Engaging our culture is literally a matter of life or death.”
Christians Can Share Jesus and Counter a Godless Culture
Making the Gospel message our first priority doesn’t mean Christians simply go with the cultural flow. Armed with the proper goals, attitudes, and purpose, we can extend the grace of Jesus to the lost and stand firm on godly values and principles. Whether we’re considering a boycott, picket line, or social media statement, these guidelines can help us evaluate our cultural engagement:
- Keep the cause of the Gospel primary – Will our actions and words help or harm the spread of the Gospel? If I refuse to purchase Starbucks coffee or shop at Target will it help me engage my neighbor about spiritual things or hinder my opportunity to share Jesus?
- Model a godly lifestyle – When Christians refuse to conform to the world, the world notices. A Christ-like life points people to Jesus and causes them to glorify God (1 Peter 2:11-12). We don’t want the tone of our cultural engagement to negate our lifestyle witness. Will the way we choose to engage the culture foster respect or derision?
- Engage in gracious conversation – Public words of condemnation only hurt. Dogmatic diatribes close down lines of communication. But honest, grace-filled conversations within the context of relationship can spark interest in Jesus (Colossians 4:5-6). Always be prepared to lovingly, respectfully, and biblically speak to specific topics when asked (1 Peter 3:15).
- Do not support ungodly behavior –Sometimes Christians condone sinful behavior in a misguided attempt to be tolerant or relevant. For instance, after the Supreme Court’s decision last June to uphold same-sex marriage nationwide, many Christians added a rainbow to their social media profile photos.
- Do promote social change in positive, non-confrontational ways – Christians can vote, donate time and money, engage in politics, and support community efforts in ways that don’t invite confrontation and incite anger. Respectfully choosing to shop at a different store because of personal faith convictions elicits a different response from our culture than public words of condemnation. Supporting a crisis pregnancy center builds more relationships than an angry protest at an abortion clinic.
As we seek to share the Good News with the lost, let us be marked by our good deeds, not our opposition to the world. Let us be seen as for Christ, not as against the world.
This article first appeared at Crosswalk.com on May 18, 2016.