Faith, Culture & The Church
"In Him [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
(Ephesians 2:22, NIV)
Scripture is the only place to turn to answer this all-important question. Living a life modeled after Christ--the Truth come down to earth to reveal to us himself and ourselves--is hard to navigate in any culture, but particularly so in a culture in which Christianity and culture have been blended together. In such a culture, the lines are seemingly blurred between cultural norms and values and biblical truths and values. No doubt about it, we all wrestle to define our faith and live out our beliefs. Regardless of the surroundings or circumstances we are facing right now, we are all subject to the temptation to let cultural expectations influence our faith.
Yet in all temptation, there is a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). The degree to which we bend our beliefs and behaviors to the norms of the world largely depends on recognizing that which is a cultural value versus that which is a kingdom value. The ability to differentiate between the norms, thought-patterns, and end goals of the present and fading, versus the eternal and ever-lasting, is paramount in living an out-loud, counter-culture, kind of faith.
To live this way is, I believe, simpler than we think. By simple, I don't mean easy. By simple I don't mean without effort or discipline. By simple I mean, not complex or complicated. It is using our words [and our actions] to build others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).
Let the words we speak and write always be building others up, and also be intended to benefit those who are standing by listening or scrolling through reading.
What if EVERYTHING we spoke out loud or wrote on social media (because whether you realize it or not, social media "speaking" is the same as standing up in front of a crowd of people and stating whatever it is you have written) was first measured against the instructions of the Bible? We'd likely not be able to post things as quickly because we'd need to do some research into Scripture first. In the process of this kind of measuring, it is also likely that highly emotional responses simmer down because we'd be slower to speak. The Bible offers many instructions on words. Here are just a few: Our words are to be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2), obvious in gentleness (Philippians 4:5), wholesome (Ephesians 4:29), and pleasing to the Lord (Psalm 19:14).
What if we tested every conversation, every status update, social media comment, or blog post against these hallmarks of Biblical instruction? What if we chose to set aside comments or disengage in conversations that go against the call to righteousness that is found in the call to live as Christ and not by the world's norms or modes of operation?
It is possible that no one would notice. But God would see. He would see what you thought, what you chose to submit to him, and set aside for the sake of gentleness. He would see how you chose not to speak or write words that opposed the instructions given by the one who walked to the cross to sacrifice his life to give you and me grace and strength to deny ourselves. Because he did this for us, can we not also choose to sacrifice the desire to be right, to win battles of knowledge, or to defend our point of view? The cost, if we choose to do the opposite, is that rather than benefiting listeners' lives, we may unintentionally harm them. Or we may end up tearing others down, rather than building them up.
Is it not of more worth it to obey Christ and turn our words over to God's sovereignty and beat on his chest, rather than defending our position in front of those who are listening or reading?
It totally is worth it. It always has been. And it always will be. This a struggle the people of the Church have faced since AD 49, and we still face today! Perhaps the value is not obvious this side of heaven, or in our current culture, but based on Paul's words in his letter to the church of Corinth this is our calling as Christ-followers and following through on it is worth all it costs us:
"I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, 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. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:2-6, NIV).
You see, as Paul's words hint at, these words we speak and write begin with the thoughts we allow ourselves to entertain. The trails we let our mind wonder on. The ideas and arguments well let brew in our minds. What we think about matters just as much as what we speak or write. In fact, perhaps more because it is out of these thoughts that our words and actions flow. Philippians 4:8 instructs us on what we should allow to remain in our thoughts.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (NIV).
And when we find our thoughts conforming to the ways of the world or not aligning with gentleness, encouragement, benefiting listeners (or readers) or pleasing to God, we have the choice (and the strength and the power) to turn from them. To not let them be planted and watered. To cast them away to be turned over to God to redeem and restore.
"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect" (Romans 12:2, NLT).
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).
To live like Christ begins with our thoughts--recognizing them, measuring them against the instructions of the Bible (which requires habitual reading and studying of the Bible), and shutting down those that don't match up. Renewing is an action word. Thus, renewing one's mind requires discipline and actively submitting to examining the thoughts we engage in and allow to play on repeat in our minds.
Secondly, out of the thoughts we allow to grow, come the words we speak. And in this day and age, the words we write on social media and elsewhere. If it is challenging to assess your thought-life, consider assessing the words that come out of your mouth or off the tips of your fingers. Out of the overflow of what is brewing in our hearts and minds, we speak (Luke 6:45 and Proverbs 4:23). Sometimes injuries of body, soul and heart splinter our words and actions. Yet, when we hear negative or cutting words coming from our mouths we are to turn to God and ask for healing and peace that passes understanding. Believe the truth that he is sovereign over all the earth and people in it (Jeremiah 32:27). And then move, in grace and power, and a determination to actively renew our minds to what is lovely, true, nobel, pure and admirable.
Our culture in America starkly contrasts the instructions of the Bible in regards to the simple, yet challenging, way to live as Christ. American culture admires the following ways of using words and platforms: Say what you want, when you want, how you want. Defend your point of view. You have a right to an opinion on everything. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be right. You deserve to defend yourself. Use your words to get ahead. This one life is about you and about now.
But the Bible's instructions are different. The means to living as Christ don't align with these cultural values and norms. Yet, these norms and values bombard us every day--especially if our media intake is high. As ones who desire to follow Christ and who are called to let our light shine before all men, that they might see the truth and know he is the way to heaven (Matthew 5:16), our thoughts and words are not to be conforming to the patterns of the world. Even if no one notices we are choosing to renew our mind, to tame our tongue and finger-tips, we are still called. And in the midst of our struggle, God sees and Jesus intercedes on our behalf, lovingly and without condemnation (Romans 8:34).