This week's "thought" comes from one of my favorite author/preachers - Tim Keller. It is taken from his book entitled, "Gospel in Life - Grace Changes Everything."
As the title suggests, this book deals with how to live out the Gospel in every part of life. It shows how to apply God's redemptive grace to every sphere of our existence, since many Christians have adopted the unbiblical idea or assumption that the Gospel is simply to "save one's soul," guide us in relation to church, or simply encourage us in our "private life, or spiritual life." Keller challenges this idea and rightly points out that the Gospel is meant to do much more than that, as I will let him explain. Enjoy!
"British theologian Lesslie Newbigin observes: The Gospel does not become public truth for a society by being propagated as a theory, or as a worldview, and certainly not as a religion. It can become public truth only insofar as it is embodied in a society (the Church) which is both abiding in Christ and engaged in the life of the world." Likewise, Abraham Kuyper once wrote: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not say: "Mine!"
Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs to be held in order to save my individual soul. It is also an interpretation of -- and a distinct way of understanding -- everything in the world. Both ancient Greek and modern thought, however, tend to separate faith and beliefs from the rest of life in what is known as "dualism." Dualism seals off personal beliefs and faith from the way we actually live and work in the world.
Moreover, it leads to a widespread assumption that the only way to truly serve God is through direct ministry -- teaching (the Bible), evangelizing, discipling. The church and its activities are seen as good and untainted, while the secular world is seen as bad and polluting. This feeling is understandable. Many workplaces are so filled with excessive competition, superficiality, politics, greed and cruelty that it is tempting to leave a secular job and just minister within the context of the Christian community. Even if we don't do that, we may simply opt to spend our life in more traditional, less difficult environments. This has effectively removed Christians from places of cultural influence.
The Bible does not support a "sacred" versus "secular" distinction. We cannot separate our faith from our work and life in the public sphere. Every part of our lives -- work, family, civic involvement, recreation -- is to be done for God's glory (Isaiah 43:7 / I Corinth. 6:19-20 / I Corinth. 10:31). The Bible tells us that Jesus has to be Lord of every area of our life, not just our private lives. The gospel shapes and affects the motives, manner, and methods with which we carry out every task in life. Living like this is not easy, but it offers a profound way to have an impact on the world around us.
N. T. Wright in his book "The Challenge of Jesus" urges us to be at the leading edge of our culture. He writes: The gospel of Jesus points us, and indeed urges us, to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology... a worldview that will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and post-modernity, leading the way into the post-modern world with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and wisdom. I believe we face the question, "If not now, then when?" And if we are grasped by this vision, we may also hear the question, "If not us, then who?" And if the gospel of Jesus is not the key to this task, then what is?"
I understand the desire to withdraw from the world and cloister ourselves away in a safe Christian bubble. It is so appealing to the person pursuing godliness. I have entertained it seriously on quite a few occasions -- until I pray and God says, "no." The fight is hard, and seems to get harder all the time! Yet to give into the lure to escape from the world is counter to what Jesus says in John 17:15 and 18: "My prayer is not that you (Father) take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one... As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world."
It is true that the world can make us feel dirty. That's why we tend to want to run to a monastery in some beautiful country location and lock the door behind us! But we are endued with divine authority to be ambassadors or soldiers sent out into the battlefields for Jesus. And soldiers don't run from the battle, they train for it, and then learn in it, to be better equipped to defeat the enemies' (Satan's) schemes.
Jesus never advocated a self-protective escapism. Love drove Him to go where the most need was -- and that was usually where the worst of sinners were. He went to the places where He could do the most good. He did NOT cloister Himself away from sinners, and the staining effects associating with them could have, but went into it knowing that His holy love would be a power and agent for change in those places -- places where most other religious people refused to go.
It's by no means an easy calling, but Christians are called (as the saying goes) to: "Be in the world, but not of the world." We are called to be salt and light in a dark and tasteless world. We are called to be risk-takers for Jesus, because refusing to take those risks leaves the lost at an ever greater risk of never hearing the gospel brought to them personally by someone who cares enough to go where they are at. Not unprepared or naive, but in faith, wisdom, and with needed prayer and preparation, remembering this one needed caution: Jesus always sent people out in two's, or groups, not as lone-wolf individuals, so as to minimize the potential casualties.
In the Service of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff