As we scan the headlines, sadness and frustration come easier and easier.
Syria’s civil war has become a severe humanitarian crisis.
Babies in the womb are murdered with little regard for the welfare of women and their never-born children.
Planned Parenthood rolls in revenue of more than billion dollars each year.
Racism, injustice, and systemic prejudice divide, oppress, and fracture minority and low-income communities.
In Chicago alone, we have suffered more than three hundred homicides this year, but only 63 cases have been solved. (One has a 66 percent chance of getting away with murder in the Windy City.)
Gender confusion has devolved to new levels at breakneck speed.
More than 140 million children have been orphaned in the world.
Young girls, between the ages of twelve and fourteen are trafficked into sex slavery. The global human trafficking industry is estimated to be a $31 billion industry annually.
The world’s problems are great. And yet, as followers of Christ, embedded in a local community, with some sphere of influence, we can engage our decaying society, however dark it may seem, with hopeful confidence. Jesus himself prays for us to be protected from evil and sanctified by his truth (John 17:15–17). Which gives us great confidence to navigate the complexity of our world.
Here are eight principles to guide us in engaging the culture around us without being sad, angry, frustrated, or fearful.
1. Articulate the gospel clearly and consistently.
As Christians engage our world, we must continually articulate the truth of the gospel and the biblical worldview that the gospel breeds.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the sole sufficient change-agent for the world. We can never neglect the actual, verbal articulation of the gospel (Romans 10:14–16), because it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), for everyone who believes in Jesus (Romans 10:11). We need to be bold in declaring God’s truth, like the apostles, regardless of the consequences (Acts 4:19–20). We will be emboldened when we remember that sin and death have been defeated, Satan is destined for destruction, and no power or kingdom can withstand the advance of the church of God.
2. Put on gentleness and compassion.
Christians can embody the tenderness, compassion, and confidence of Christ while speaking the hard truths of Scripture with boldness and clarity.
Jesus calls his disciples to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16). Christians should be compassionate and tender toward all people, especially unbelievers, because all are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and, without Christ, are sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Yet, Christians must be bold and clear regarding biblical truth, never calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20). Every conversation is an opportunity to plant seeds of the gospel — with clarity, compassion, confidence, and gentleness — in the lives of those around us, trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to bring lasting conviction and change.
3. Remember and engage the real enemy.
The real battle is not against a particular group, agenda, political party, cult, or radical religious system, but against Satan and the spiritual forces of darkness.
Paul teaches that Christians “do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We were all once enemies of Christ. What would it look like if we engaged the lost, not as our enemies, but as prisoners of sin and Satan?
We cannot forget that the horrible plight of the lost is that they are under the wrath of God and cannot escape it apart from Christ. We must pray as we read the headlines, and as we engage our coworkers and neighbors. A battle rages on for the lives of those still under Satan’s blinding influence.
4. Rightly apply the Scriptures in everything.
Christians must be able to understand how the Bible speaks about the various cultural issues, as well as how faithful Christians are called to emulate God in our individual roles, relationships, and activities.
We Christians must saturate our lives with the Bible, and not only to understand what specific verses say about an issue. We must also understand the whole sweep of Scripture, the nuanced arguments of Scripture, and the right application of biblical truth. Followers of Christ must know their Bibles more, not less, as we face challenges to our faith.
Even in the temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4, Satan quotes Psalm 91 to get Jesus to test the Father. Yet Jesus rebuts Satan by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16. Likewise, we must continually learn, apply, explain, and teach the simple and more complex truths of the Bible, and give a coherent articulation of the gospel from those texts to those we engage.
5. Know your mission, and be willing to pay for it.
Followers of Christ are called to be salt and light for the good of the world around us, even if at great personal cost.
As my pastor has said before, Matthew 5:13–16 calls Christians to be “global moral preservatives and global moral illuminators” — salt and light.
Being light will instinctively make some people recoil in anger because they love the darkness and hate the light (John 3:20). Nonetheless, disciples of Christ must remember their calling and mission: to make disciples, by the power of the Spirit, and through the proclamation of the gospel.
This is our mission whether we’re in the home or the workplace, in the gym or in the boardroom, in the classroom or in the community. Christians go, in the power of God, as salt and light, to labor for a good and just society.
6. Recall God’s reign over all things in all places.
God sits sovereignly over all creation, such that no aspect of our world today is outside of God’s influence through the labors and engagement of his people.
Abraham Kuyper famously said, “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” (488).
God is sovereign over all things everywhere, and so we need to engage and labor in all areas of our world. Galatians 6:10 reminds believers to do good to everyone, and especially fellow believers. In light of God’s sovereignty, Christians ought to condemn wickedness — whether racism, human trafficking, oppression of the poor, senseless violence, or the abuse of power — and labor for good in various industries (education, the financial sector, public office, publishing, technology, journalism, public policy, and manufacturing).
No aspect of this world is outside of God’s oversight, and none of it should be outside of the influence of Christians working for the common good.
7. Recognize the reality of depravity and the wonder of grace.
Continually be cognizant of the total depravity of mankind and God’s lavish common grace that has been poured out for the benefit and good of society.
The doctrine of total depravity — that from birth, all mankind is incapable of pleasing God or acting in accord with God — tempers our expectations in our efforts to redeem, copy, or consume culture. It is impossible for unregenerate people to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Yet God’s common grace is lavishly poured out on mankind (Matthew 5:43–48), so that our society benefits from much good — done by both Christians and non-Christians — that serve our society.
We have Christian and non-Christian engineers, scientists, medical doctors, politicians, financial planners, accountants, homemakers, firefighters, police officers, teachers, administrators, factory workers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, optometrists, dental hygienists, designers, salesmen, programmers, artists, musicians, judges, lawyers, and on and on, that do good, fruitful work to serve society.
This guards us from being surprised when unregenerate people behave sinfully, and reminds us to be wonderfully grateful when God’s common grace is poured out into our world through all kinds of people. These truths — depravity and grace — should drive us towards greater gospel faithfulness — as thankful and unsurprised — because saving grace through Jesus Christ is the only eternal hope for all people.
8. Shape your methods with the love and sacrifice in our message.
Our means of cultural engagement must match the type of message we want to communicate to the world.
As an institution founded by Jesus Christ, our weapons for warfare are not of the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3–4). We are called to love our neighbors and even our enemies (Matthew 5:44), to boldly proclaim the gospel (Ephesians 6:19–20), and to display the loving sacrifice of our Savior while communicating his gospel.
Our weapon of warfare is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17), which we wield with great power through prayer and sacrificial love, as we are led by the power of the Spirit. As the apostle Paul manifested the suffering of Christ in his own body for the Colossians to see (Colossians 1:24), we too may be called to manifest the loving sacrifice of Christ by suffering much for the sake of our glorious message.
One Allegiance, One Mission, One Victory
We have one allegiance: Jesus Christ. We have one kingdom: the kingdom of heaven. We have one mission: make disciples. Christian, love Christ. Use your influence to advance the gospel, serve your local community, and live out your calling with a Bible-shaped, Bible-soaked perspective on the world and everything in it.
Lean in to the uncomfortable situations and relationships around you in order to manifest and proclaim the gospel. Don’t be silent, but speak with winsome and confident conviction. We go as the light of Christ, in the power of Christ, to carry out the work of Christ. And as we go, we know the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God will never fail and will have no end.
For 350 years, the church on American soil has enjoyed relatively little affliction for her fidelity to the Scriptures. This nation, though, is an anomaly in church history. And those days seem to be passing, more quickly than many of us expected.
In this book, Think It Not Strange: Navigating Trials in the New America, a diverse team of contributors, representing five continents, links arms to help American Christians get ready for the insults, trials, opposition, and even persecution that may lie ahead.