Evangelicals face a dilemma. The more they distance themselves from the values and lifestyles of this ‘present evil age’ (Galatians 1:4), the more marginalised they become and the less they are listened to.
How can we be faithful to the Lord and yet still win a lost world for Jesus Christ? How can we be in the world as effective servants of God without being of it?
We must be clear about one thing – assimilating contemporary culture in order to promote the kingdom of God is explicitly forbidden by the Lord (2 Corinthians 6:17). It is in practical terms a disastrous course to take (see Judges and 1 Corinthians) – because a church that is indistinguishable from the world is useless. It is salt without flavour and darkened light.
The Christian faces a paradox here. Evangelicals who want to make an impact on the world must distance themselves from the world. To draw sinners to Christ they must appear foolish rather than wise.
A foolish Book
Why is this? Because, in inscrutable wisdom, God has chosen to further his kingdom by spiritual not carnal weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). He ‘has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and … the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty’ (1 Corinthians 1:27). And chief among the ‘foolish’ things he uses is the Bible.
The Bible is God’s unique verbal self-revelation. It was penned as the Holy Spirit supernaturally inspired its human authors. God so supervised their activity that they wrote both their own words and (simultaneously) God’s words – without imparting any misleading information, false teaching or factual error (2 Timothy 3:15-16; 2 Peter 1:21).
The Scriptures bring the message of salvation to a world of hell-bound sinners – for such is all humanity since the Fall of Adam. That message centres upon God’s saving grace freely mediated to the guilty through the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This ‘foolish’ book the Bible can do astonishing things to ordinary people.
The sword of the Spirit
For example, picture a seventeen-year-old youth in Ohio, USA, with no church background or interest in Christianity. One day he happens to walk past an elderly man preaching on a street corner. He thinks, ‘Doesn’t this man have a church to preach in? And it isn’t even Sunday!’
But, although he despises the activity, he cannot rid his mind of words he caught from the preacher: ‘If you don’t know how to be saved, just call on God, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” and God will hear you’.
These words based on Luke 18:13 continue to bug him as he goes home. They awaken him to his spiritually lost condition and create within him a hunger for God.
Arriving home, he goes straight up to the attic to be alone. That afternoon in 1915 the Lord met with and radically changed A. W. Tozer (for that was his name). He became a new creature in Christ – and in later years one of America’s great evangelical ministers.
What else can perform such life-changing work but the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17)? With such resources we can demolish all the Jerichos that stand across our path (Joshua 6).
The answer to our dilemma is not to resort to the expedients of this world but to proclaim the message of the Bible, properly backed up by prayerful, Christ-like living. In the Spirit’s hand these are weapons that can transform individuals and societies. Nothing else will do so.