Christians face an increasingly hostile culture. Several recent events in the world of politics drove this reality home to me. And it’s a hard reality. As I grappled with the disappointments, I had to once again ask the question, why? Why do we do what we do? Why do Christians not just shut up, keep their heads down and get on with life?
Here are my thoughts. May they be an encouragement to you.
It’s easy for Christians to get discouraged. In a world — in a country — where we too often feel like we experience far more defeats than victories, it’s so easy to get disillusioned, to disconnect, to get cynical.
But as Christians, this is not who we are.
We are children of God, children of light. We are a city set on a hill, whose light cannot be extinguished. Jesus called us the salt of the earth and the light of the world — we are to be effective.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that, though.
When the world seems to be going to pieces — when we see the Enemy “winning” — it’s so easy to let doubt creep in… why do we bother? Just let it be how it will be. If God is good and if He is really in control, why doesn’t it all just stop? Why don’t our prayers seem to be doing anything? Why is it that every headline seems to be a victory for the Enemy?
Wouldn’t it be easier just to sit back — just let it all happen? Maybe it’s all inevitable anyway? Why bother?
I’m often tempted to adopt this mentality. But something just doesn’t sit right about it.
Getting Our Priorities Right
As Christians, we are called to engage; we are called to speak out and stand up for righteousness.
Does it really matter if we see tangible victories?
Should our level of success measured in temporal terms really affect how we engage with the world?
Maybe the number of victories we achieve here and now isn’t the point…
Don’t get me wrong: we should be heartbroken by what is happening in our world. Our hearts should be grieved by the things that grieve God’s heart.
But we shouldn’t give up.
Something that has encouraged me about the ministry of Martyn Iles in the public square has been his insistence on unrelentingly speaking out for righteousness while simultaneously understanding and affirming that politics is not our salvation.
Our salvation is in Christ. Unlike every secular ideology, Christianity does not stand or fall with political success and legislative victory.
So why do we engage in public life?
In my mind, it’s simple. There are three clear reasons.
1. Glorify God in All We Do
Firstly, it’s because Christians are called to glorify God in all that we do.
(While some might argue that political activism and public engagement are sinful — and hence, not capable of being done for the glory of God — I see no scriptural basis for such a claim provided they are pursued with integrity and for God’s glory — as all things should be.)
This alone should be reason enough to give us the strength to press on.
2. Preach the Gospel to All Nations
Secondly, the Church needs to engage in the public space to fulfil its most pressing commission: to make disciples of all nations. We can’t keep the Good News to ourselves; God has committed to us the “ministry of reconciliation”.
“Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NKJV)
Do we really believe this? If we do, we cannot possibly think that it is okay to keep it to ourselves.
We need to engage publicly with the truth of the Gospel wherever we are: at our work, on social media, in the halls of parliament, at school meetings. Wherever we are. We are ambassadors. There are no exceptions.
3. Speak Out Against Injustice
But, finally, we engage the world because we want to see less sin in it — less evil in our nation. We want to see God’s goodness made manifest in the world. To do so, the Church needs to engage publicly.
Granted, politics is not always the only way to do that. Christians can often engage publicly through any number of public media. However, there are many issues (like abortion, euthanasia, school curricula, etc.) where no other medium can appropriately address a moral issue.
When a society collectively decides to enshrine evil in its laws, the Church should speak out publicly and engage politically.
But here’s the crucial part.
We need to have our priorities right when it comes to opposing sin. We need to take into account our own walk with God.
We need to see the goodness of God — His will done — in our own lives first, before we can confidently share it with others.
As Isaac Parkinson pointed out in his excellent article, the reason we so often neglect preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom is that “we are still so unfamiliar with the Kingdom itself”. This is a huge problem for Christians today.
Peter outlines this tension in his first epistle:
- Submission and sanctification: “… in your hearts set Christ apart [as holy—acknowledging Him, giving Him first place in your lives] as Lord.” — this is our private responsibility to be sanctified (having our character made like Christ’s).
- Apologetics and evangelism: “Always be ready to give a [logical] defence to anyone who asks you to account for the hope and confident assurance [elicited by faith] that is within you, yet [do it] with gentleness and respect.” — this is our public witness: reasonable, joyful, confident, respectful and gentle.
- Christian character in public: “… see to it that your conscience is entirely clear, so that every time you are slandered or falsely accused, those who attack or disparage your good behaviour in Christ will be shamed [by their own words].” — this is an example of our public witness being strengthened and supported by our personal character.
Christians should begin this process of eradicating sin in our own lives, rather than in the world around us. How? We do this by continually committing our lives to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work. This will then affirm our public testimony and stand, guarding us against hypocrisy, adverse witness and self-righteousness.
Being diligent in this way will not eliminate suffering from our lives. According to Scripture, we are to expect suffering: on that basis, it is better than we suffer persecution from the world unjustly for our good witness, than being condemned by the world justly for our own hypocrisy.
So how do we rediscover the effectiveness of the church?
The Church needs to look within itself. Winning new converts alone will not turn the Church around. If those new converts are not discipled and taught, they will remain forever immature, stuck on baby food.
Immature believers produce immature believers. The cycle becomes vicious.
As the great Christian thinker A.W. Tozer wrote:
“Remember, missionaries, that you can never produce anything better than you are yourself.”
And we should not expect to.
Thank God that it is not we alone who are building the Body. We are co-workers with God, who undertakes faithfully to sanctify all who are diligent in submitting to Him, regardless of the vessel by which they were drawn to Him.
Still, it is gravely irresponsible for us to treat flippantly our own Christian character and the state of the wider Church to which we are bringing people.
Do we really understand the Great Commission? I think if we had a truly holistic view of the Matthew 28 Commission, we would save ourselves, as a Church, a great deal of trouble. Let’s break it down:
1. Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
This is the foundation upon which the Church stands. We need to reclaim this authority in our interactions with the world around us. For too long, the Church in Australia (as a whole) has been sapped of authority. We are too worried about what the world will think of us if we act counter-culturally — if we take a stand.
2. Christians need to ‘Go’ into all the nations (or into all the world as Acts 1:8 tells us).
Wherever we have been providentially called to or placed by God, there is our mission ground. Get moving! Be diligent with the sphere of authority in which God has placed you. Don’t be distracted by others’ callings and don’t distract others by demanding and expecting that they follow your calling. God will sort out the details. He will assign the territory.
3. We are commanded to make disciples of all nations.
We’re not to be making mere converts; we are making Christ-followers — disciples and apprentices of Christ. The preaching of the Gospel is not just a numbers game. Be faithful in discipling people into Christ (not the church “club”). Give them the tools to develop their own relationship with Him.
4. The Church is expected to baptise new believers in the name of the Triune God.
This is about a public declaration of faith. All believers need to be willing to publicly declare to the world around us that we follow Christ. If we’re not, will we really stand when genuine persecution and revilement and hardship come? Time will tell.
5. We are to teach believers to observe everything that Christ has commanded us to.
This is a tough one. Obedience is not popular and neither is teaching. Nevertheless, the Church must learn to rightly divide the word of God, lest we be tossed to and fro and carried by every wind of doctrine that the world throws at us. Love God with your mind as well as with your heart and soul.
To the exceptional advice contained within the Great Commission, I want to add two final exhortations:
Firstly, we should not neglect meeting together, especially as the end may be drawing near. Don’t stop going to church gatherings! We should be encouraging one another corporately in these times.
Finally, study your Bible for yourself devotionally and spend time talking with God. It can be hard, I know. Sometimes — often — we don’t feel like it. We are all distracted. We are all busy.
But we need to make the time. As the late Dallas Willard said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
We need to be saturated by the Word of God: reading it, studying it, memorising it and meditating on it. And we need to be in constant contact with the One who has it all well in hand.
As the great C.S. Lewis wrote:
“Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary — not necessarily the most important one–from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.”
Now, let’s get back to the business of the Church…
“For though we walk in the flesh [as mortal men], we are not carrying on our [spiritual] warfare according to the flesh and using the weapons of man. The weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood]. Our weapons are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ, being ready to punish every act of disobedience, when your own obedience [as a church] is complete.”
Bible passages quoted or cited in this article:
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko.
Thank the Source