As a millennial, I find culture to be threatening to many Christians. We have inherited a generation that primarily concerns itself with lustful temptations, cursory fame, and fleeting fortune. Meanwhile, those who follow Jesus know that none of these concerns were God's intentions for humans to take part in. With God's standard of holiness at hand, the question then becomes, "How can a Christian live in this kind of culture?"
cul·ture noun \ˈkəl-chər\
: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
In the book of Psalms, the Psalmist responded to this kind of question simplistically by writing, "How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word" (Psalm 119:9). He understood the weightiness of God's Word. Ultimately, Scripture must purify and nourish our hearts in order to help us in our pursuit of holiness. With holiness at stake, many Christians become skittish at the idea of engaging sinners who are not concerned with holiness.
First of all, if your palms get sweaty at the thought of going into dark places to dine with people who are concerned with sinful acts, be encouraged by the apostle Paul's words to his disciple, Timothy:
"For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." (2 Timothy 1:7-9)
God foresaw sin entering the world; so, he created man with the innate spirit of power, love, and discipline. Our Father God cared so deeply for us that, though he knew we would suffer, he gave us the gift of having a purpose worth suffering for. Though he bound Satan to his own evil, he freed us from our own sinfulness.
Because of God's grace, we are called to love others, in spite of ourselves. For we are all sinners, as the apostle Paul wrote, yet there is more mercy in the love of Jesus than there is sin in the hearts of men.
Christians must engage culture because Jesus first engaged us.
As I have been studying the New Testament this summer, my eyes have been revealed to the mercy of Christ in simple, but significant communal aspects. For example, in Mark 2, shortly after Jesus called Matthew (a tax collector) to be his disciple, Jesus dines with many sinners and tax collectors. The religious leaders of the day, known as the Pharisees, questioned Jesus' motives but Jesus responded with mercy, revealing his intentions to save sinners by saying:
And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)
Jesus coming for all sinners means that anyone who believes may spend eternity with God. However, the statement prior to why he came is vitally important. If you see yourself as well off, what need of a physician do you have? Jesus is for those who see their sinfulness and therefore desire exactly what Jesus has to offer them-that is salvation.
This is where the line is drawn between Christians embracing culture and engaging culture.
Christians must engage culture, not because we are called to embrace sinfulness, but because we are called to embrace sinners.
The only way that we can embrace sinners without embracing sinfulness is to see the weightiness of our sin and the greater authority of God's love in the same picture. Still, the sole possible approach to possessing this type of vision is to ask God for it. For we are incapable creatures rendered helpless and broken without the power and intervention of God.
It's time for Christians to stop judging sinners who are unsatisfied due to the weeds of sin overtaking the garden of life that God has blessed each of us with. Far too many people who go to bars so that they can chase guys and gals around while hitting the bottle, are left unsatisfied and wanting more. So, they go back. Meanwhile, there are Christians, myself included, who have mocked, ridiculed, and ignored these types of people mercilessly.
The irony of it all is that the Christians who keep their noses out of the bars and away from these types of people stand in their religious arrogance believing that they are saving themselves from sin by abstaining from dark places. However, that is not the message of the Gospel, and it is far from the calling Jesus gave to those who follow him.
When Jesus gave the "Great Commission", he did not tell his followers to proclaim the Gospel only in the churches, but to all ends of the earth. When the apostle Peter wrote his first letter and shared that God ordained those who follow Jesus to be "a royal priesthood," he shared that we can declare praises for we have been brought out of darkness and into his wonderful light. Why then must we think that those who are stuck in dark places are less worthy of God's grace than we are?
Christians must engage culture because we are no better than those who choose not to.
The amazing thing about amazing grace is that it is all about God and, yet, all for us. Grace can only be grace when it is given, not earned.
When we discuss stories like the one listed above from Mark 2 and read about how Jesus dined with sinners and tax collectors, we must see the representation. I dined with Jesus at that table, and so did you. Not in physical presence, but in a spiritual one. Jesus looked at each of us sinners and he loved us, not because of our actions, but because of God's heart for sinners and his hate for sin.
The greatest way for Christians, who in their pursuit of holiness encounter fellow sinners who are stuck in their sin, to effectively engage culture is through humility. The apostle Paul had words for this in his letter to the Philippians, where he wrote:
"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3)
With this in mind, I challenge you to consider areas where you mock, ridicule, or ignore people around you that are struggling in certain areas of sin. Above all else, seek God wholeheartedly, that he may equip you with the armor to go into areas of darkness and be a presence of light, for we are called to be image-bearers of God's holy light.
My prayer for Christians today is to engage culture out of an outpouring of love from the heart because they have seen the grandeur of God and desire for others to experience the mercy of God so that they can spend eternity with him. Allow the spirit of power, love, and discipline that God gave you to lead you into the masses, only to walk into caves darker than you could ever imagine and reflect the luminous light of the Lord.