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June 26, 2015

The Joy of Living in a Hostile Culture


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But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

To the ends of the earth.

To fulfill this calling of Jesus – to take the gospel to the ends of the earth – has always meant that we, as Christians, are going to find ourselves living, serving, and witnessing in cultures that are hostile to our Savior, to his gospel message, and thus, to us.

There’s a temptation to panic when we get to these moments. But we need not panic, of course, because Jesus is still King of Kings, Lord of Lords.  But not only that, there’s also quite a bit of joy when we are called to proclaim the gospel in a hostile culture.

So on this day when the Supreme Court has handed down a decision opposed to the very design of God for humans – right from Genesis – it would do us good to remember the joy that can be ours when we live in a culture that’s hostile to Christ and his teachings.

A stand with God’s people throughout history

First, there is the joy of getting to stand with God’s people throughout history. Think of Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, Paul in the Roman Empire. The list goes on. When you stop to think about it, many of our biblical heroes were not called to cultures where Christian teachings ruled the day. They were called to incredibly hostile cultures. And why did God want them there? To do his work.

These were faithful believers to whom God entrusted important ministry by setting them in difficult places.   He wanted them in these trying situations to do his work.

So, as we enter a new era in America, we get the joy of standing with God’s people throughout history, doing what he has so often called his people to do: to bring his message to hostile cultures and places.

A fresh opportunity for evangelism

And with that, I really believe we have the joy of a fresh opportunity for evangelism – especially if you’ve lived in the “Bible Belt.”

What I’ve observed in my years of pastoral ministry is that it is often far easier to share the gospel with an atheist than someone who is a Christian-in-name-only. The atheist knows that they’re either following Christ or they’re not, while the Christian-in-name-only can often “give the right answers” without having a genuine faith in Jesus Christ.

But in a hostile culture, there will be fewer and fewer Christians-in-name-only. People will see all the more clearly that you either stand with Christ or against Christ.

Especially in the “Bible Belt,” this is going to help our evangelistic efforts, as fewer and fewer people will give us the right answers apart from genuine faith. And not only that, we will surely have more opportunities to talk about Christ, as we will stand out all the more and people will ask us increasingly why we aren’t going with the cultural flow.

A movement of love, truth, and compassion

In our culture today, Christians are frequently accused – fairly at times, quite unfairly at others – of being lacking in love and of using the cultural sway we’ve had for years without compassion.

Now that we’re “losers” in the cultural debate, we have a chance at a new reputation. What will we be like when our chips are down?

I’m thinking here of Roe v. Wade. Out of that “loss,” many, many Christians around the country made their love for the unborn very practical by starting pregnancy care centers and by stirring compassionate care for mothers with unwanted pregnancies and the children they carried. Roe v. Wade sparked a movement of love and compassion in harmony with truth, since we could no longer rely on the law of the land when it came to abortion.  (Of course, not every Christian responded like this, but that should not keep us from celebrating the many, many who did.)

I expect that the Spirit of God will move among us to do much the same in this most recent “loss.”  We will not back down from the truth of the Bible’s teaching on marriage.  But, we will find new, compassionate ways to interact with the LGBT community in truth and love, now that we cannot rely on the law of the land to promote our views.

What a joy it would be in twenty years to see that Christians have responded to our challenges today with the same kind of love, truth and compassion that has marked the response of so many, many Christians to Roe v. Wade!

An assurance of our fellowship with Christ

Christ is so clear throughout John 15. A servant is not greater than the master. If people reacted with such hostility to him, we should expect the same.

Living in a hostile culture, then, gives us the joy of knowing we are Christ’s servants. We are walking with Christ. We are sharing in his sufferings.

Suffering has always been a mark of the faithful because Jesus himself was the suffering servant. Our sufferings in a hostile culture, then, can actually strengthen our faith and strengthen our assurance, for, in suffering, we show that we are following our Master.

A freedom to lean on Christ alone

Finally, there’s a joy that comes when we lean on Christ alone.

When we feel like we’re “winning” culturally, it’s often tempting to trust in legislation to change our world, in our own skills and talents for the church to be built up, and in our own abilities to persuade others about Christ’s teachings.

But in a hostile culture, we are forced to rely on the work of the Spirit – we are forced to lean on Christ alone – because now we have no human power to lean on!

Read some missionary biographies. Consistently, there is a testimony of joy when God’s people come to learn that, truly, “All I have is Christ.”

A hostile culture, you see, often takes away the things that we are tempted to make into idols. And with idols removed, we will more fully lean on Jesus and, thus, discover sweeter and sweeter fellowship with him.

So yes, I mourn today over our culture’s further rebellion from Christ and his truth. And yes, we, as Christians in America, will feel more and more like we’re living in “the ends of the earth.” But I also look forward to the joy we will discover as we, nonetheless, fulfill Jesus’ words: “You will be my witnesses.”

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Tom Olson

Tom Olson is the campus pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Barrington, Ill. He and his wife Kari have three children—Kettie, Tovie, and Tommy.
Tom Olson is the campus pastor at The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Barrington, Ill. He and his wife Kari have three children—Kettie, Tovie, and Tommy.