The believer is in a hard place. James, the Lord’s brother, emphatically declared, “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). Yet Paul declared that we cannot altogether separate from the world, “for then must ye needs go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). Still, John commanded, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 Jn. 2:15). The Christian knows he is created, and also redeemed, to bring glory to God with his whole heart and mind and strength. God created the world for this purpose, yet He will destroy it by fire and those who are an offense to His holiness with everlasting fire. What is a Christian to do?
When the Bible states that God loves the world, we understand this to apply to people, the one part of His creation made in His own image and likeness. It is certainly not wrong of us to love human beings in some degree to which God loves them. But human beings are moral creatures who, therefore, can do the most wicked and vile things in offense to their holy Creator, even making Him out to be blameworthy of all the world’s evils. And yet, this world, the life-time in this world, is but a moment compared to the eternity the redeemed will spend in heaven, or the eternity the unredeemed will spend in hell. And no doubt, for the redeemed as well as the unredeemed, most of our time is wasted on perishable things.
In 1923, soon after the first world war, with the fear of communism rising rapidly, conservative scholar J. Gresham Machen described the time wasted by Christians using the Christian gospel to fix the planet rather than to save the souls living on the planet.
“Christianity will combat Bolshevism; but if it is accepted in order to combat Bolshevism, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a unified nation, in a slow but satisfactory way; but if it is accepted in order to produce a unified nation, it is not Christianity: Christianity will produce a healthy community; but if it is accepted in order to produce a healthy community, it is not Christianity: Christianity will promote international peace; but if it is accepted in order to promote international peace, it is not Christianity. Our Lord said: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” But if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in order that all those other things may be added unto you, you will miss both those other things and the Kingdom of God as well.”1
Too often, it is true, we Christians spend too much time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Yet, at the same time, God made us to work with our hands and to bring glory to Him by our labor in this world. We have a foot in each world—the world we live in now, and the eternal world which is to come. The task is to keep our minds in the proper balance and to see things as God sees them.
Recently I sat down and listed challenges we face from the broadest perspectives to the narrowest. I then listed several things within each perspective that face the Christian. I went back and selected the first four of each that came to my mind. It was not hard to match each one with pertinent Scriptures.
The International Situation
First, this is a dangerous world. Every day we watch the growth of ISIS and the slaughtering in the name of their god. Just this morning the television news, while showing the pictures of Iran’s military destroying a mock U.S. warship, the crawler on the page read, “weapons to play a key role in the battle with the U.S.” The believer is susceptible to terrorism as anyone else, yet God long ago said, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Psa. 2:1, 4).
Second, we could be seeing an end-time scenario. No one knows for sure when the rapture will occur and the Biblical events will unfold, but the stage is more precisely set than ever before. There is an antipathy toward Christianity and Judaism, even in this country. Islam is spreading and insisting on Muslim law for all nations. So, “let your loins be girt about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord” (Lk. 12:35-36).
Third, Israel is in great danger. The nations to the north will be the first to invade Israel. Iran is being allowed to develop nuclear weapons with the intention of destroying Israel from the face of the earth. The battle of Gog and Magog always looms on the horizon. Never before have God’s words to Abraham been more appropriate, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Gen. 12:3).
Fourth, America is in retreat. This does not have to be, nor does it have to continue, but for now America’s leadership is timid and unable to exert moral leadership in the world. We are like the weakling on the playground who lets the bullies intimidate him, but tries to act suave when in a safe environment. One wonders how we can last another two years until a leadership change. No longer does America proclaim, “O Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psa. 90:1).
In a similar vein to Machen, Darryl Hart recently wrote, “Just as William Jennings Bryan had pointed to Germany after World War I as an example of what happened to societies that abandoned Christianity for secularism, so [Harold John] Ockenga was convinced that without the cardinal doctrines of Christianity a fate similar to Nazi Germany’s awaited the United States and the West.”2 Certainly, the world situation makes the Christian wonder what his role is in the time in which he lives.
The American Culture
First, colleges and other schools have become incubators for group think. Rather than creating individual thinking and creativity, they seem to be rehashing old, worn out deconstructive ideas. Christian kids are especially at risk and need our prayers. We are a long way from citing, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” but we can certainly say, “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).
Second, the entertainment and arts industries are perverted beyond recognition. Things that could be used for good are overrun by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). We are being told not to offend anyone’s gender because there are now over 50 recognized gender options for kids. You may claim one of two “sexes” but your “gender” could be any weird variety you “feel” you really are. If we live in the end time, “As in the days of Noah,” we should not expect different.
Third, basic manners are a thing of the past. If “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33), we must have awfully evil means of communicating. We are so politically correct that a young man could be sued for opening the door for a girl, or saying “yes ma’am” to an older woman. How dare we ask a man to remove his cap, even in church! No one will address indecency in public for fear of being accused of being perverted in his own thinking.
Fourth, the anti-Christian sentiment is overwhelming in our country, so much so that Christian chaplains are not even allowed to mention their religion while counseling. “In the mainline cultural establishment today—in the press, the universities, the art circles, and among other culture makers—Christianity hardly exists except as a reflection of bad old times or as a sentimental memento.”3
The Christian Church
First, we have endured the success syndrome. For all of my life I have heard and been pressured to make the church “successful.” This, of course, means to grow numerically, monetarily, and organizationally. The pastor must be a CEO, not, as Bunyan called his autobiography, chief of sinners. And, ironically, one of the best ways to become successful is to criticize the success syndrome.
Second, there is a marked de-emphasis on doctrine and identification. To become too confident in what you believe means that you are arrogant, if not racist. To put the description of what you believe over the door of your church is, well, offensive. Tozer said, “In many churches Christianity has been watered down until the solution is so weak that if it were poison it would not hurt anyone, and if it were medicine it would not cure anyone.”4
Third, casualness, brevity, and entertainment have become the main reasons for assembling. Heaven forbid we might ask someone something that would cost time or effort. We have given up Wednesday and Sunday evening services for convenience’ sake, and we would do the same for Sunday morning if we could figure out a way. We have forgotten that the greatest need in church is to “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (Jas. 4:10).
Fourth, there is a lack of ownership of the local assembly. The house of God is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). This is God’s ordained oracle for the preaching and teaching of His Word. This is the safe haven for believers from a world that is no friend of grace. This is where we have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
The Christian Family
First, we suffer from a lack of structure and discipline. Much of this is due to the fast-paced age in which we live. Our days and evenings are crowded with activity. Surely, we cannot be Amish and live in a past, slower century as much as we might like. But we don’t have to adopt the uncouth and slovenly demeanor of our day. Our language, dress, work habits, and self-discipline can still be more Christian than pagan. We can still honor father and mother that our days may be long upon the earth.
Second, we may have religion in the home, but often the high places are not torn down. The television, the internet, the iTunes, the Netflix, the social media, can become idolatrous with our time, affection, and beliefs. None are evil in themselves, but any can become a “high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Third, there is a lack of devotion time in our homes. We are all guilty of robbing God of the time He asks of us. Somehow we find time and create time for almost any desire we have, but we just cannot bring ourselves to give God, “Who giveth to all men liberally,” a few minutes out of the day. “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” As someone has said, we better “come apart” before we come apart.
Fourth, there is a profane level of cursing, profanity, and other indecent acting on the part of those who name the name of Christ. It is shocking the kind of language and rancor that appears in many Christian homes. How far this is from Paul’s admonition to “let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31-32).
The Individual Christian
First, there is the question of personal conversion. What passes as Christianity today is not all Christianity. We may be “co-belligerents” (to use Francis Schaeffer’s term) with some things that are called Christian by the world, for sake of conservative politics or anti-terrorism, but we may not be brothers. Though salvation is not a magic formula to be repeated with one’s fingers crossed, neither is it merely an education process, or a membership class, or a philosophical affinity. The scripture has harsh words for those who name the name of Christ but do not “work out” their salvation with fear and trembling. John says, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:4). Paul says, “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Tit. 1:16). C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we do not believe it, let us be honest and relegate the Christian faith to museums. If we do, let us give up the pretense that it makes no difference.”5
Second, our personal walk with God is more and more challenging in an anti-Christian culture. I’ve referred to some of this already. Surely we are like the frog in the slowly boiling pot. We think we are spiritually minded, and we are, compared to an atheistic world. But we are also like the juice that is settled too long on its lees, sour and contaminated. We ought to be light in the darkness, salt in an unsavory world, medicine in a sick and dying world, “for this is the will of God, even your sanctification” (1 Thes. 4:3).
Third, the pull of cultural mores is strong upon our generation. I can’t believe, for example, that the divorce rate is the same for Christians as for non-Christians (not everything that calls itself a Christian is one), but I am convinced that it is far too close to the world’s rate. Are there really believers who sleep around in church youth groups and among adults as well? Do we really smoke, drink, cuss, and chew like the rest of the world? Our language is crude and rude and ought to embarrass us but it doesn’t. Surely the Spirit that dwells within us yearns with envy. Someone said that though the Holy Spirit never leaves the believer, He often locks Himself in His room because He doesn’t like the rest of the house. These things ought not to be.
Fourth, the individual Christian today lives with an unfounded fear of ostracism by the world. Peer pressure seems to be one of the most powerful motivations for the believer today. For some reason we feel like we must never be considered nadir by the culture around us. The apostles, on the other hand, were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). Peter later wrote, “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you; on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified” (1 Pet. 4:14). We are pilgrims and strangers here. We are only passing through. Bunyan pictured Pilgrim passing through Vanity when it was having a fair. The residents asked him to leave for three reasons. His language and his clothing were too different than theirs, and he would not participate in the activities of the fair. We should care so little on our journey to the Celestial City.
And so . . .
It seems I have been critical and harsh, but no more to others than to myself. A little reflection and it will be admitted that it is a hard day for a Christian in the world. The apostle Paul says we can be more than conquerors through Him that loved us. Where sin has abounded, grace will much more abound. “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil” (Ecc. 12:13-14).
- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977) 152.
- D.G. Hart, That Old-Time Religion in Modern America (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002) 116.
- Gene Veith & Christopher Stamper, Christians In A .Com World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000) 101.
- A.W. Tozer, Worship and Entertainment (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1997) ix.
- C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Macmillan, 1980) 116.