Today there is a widening gap between the Christian worldview and the surrounding culture. This tends to make a lot of Christians nervous. We don’t like that things are no longer the way they used to be. But even in our “post-Christian” culture Jesus still has a way for his followers to not only influence the culture, but to redeem it, and bring people to faith who live in it.
What is Jesus’ plan?
Robert Lewis in his book, The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge-Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community,
details this plan well. He writes:
The New Testament church shared many cultural similarity with our own. It too lived in a world filled with skeptics. For a number of reasons, the lifeless gods and goddesses of Greeks and Romans became less and less a prevailing force in the lives of the ancients. As economic prosperity flourished, the souls of every day men and women increasingly descended into a meaningless poverty.
Enter the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the living proof of God. Enter Christians who embraced the Word and, like their Lord, lived it out in word and deed–proof positive to a once proud and now decaying culture that there was, in fact, a better, nobler life. Proclamation was more a matter of essence–in life and death–than it was an enunciation of words. Believers stood firm, often with great sacrifice, in good works anchored by the exhortations that now flow from the pages of the New Testament:
Let Everyone See Your Good Deeds
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
Love Your Enemies, Do Good to Them
Do unto other what you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High , because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:31-35)
It Is More Blessed to Give
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Overcome Evil with Good
On the contrary: “If you enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head”. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:20-21)
Do Good to All People
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people. (Galatians 6:9-10)
Created to Do Good Works
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
Do Not Grow Weary of Doing Good
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
Be Rich in Good Deed
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
The method should be clear. They way Jesus and his followers engaged their cultural was by doing good–lots of good.
What was the result of the early church’s relentless focus on doing good for all those around them?
Robert Lewis tells us:
With lives intertwined with proclamation and incarnation, those first believers effectively penetrated the empty hedonism of the ancient world. And no matter how reactive the pagan world–first with skepticism, then with isolation, and finally with the sword of brutal persecution–these bridges of proof, anchored in good works, convinced more and more to walk over into eternal life. It is estimated the early church grew at an astounding 40 percent growth rate per decade.
Quoting historian Michale Green, Robert Lewis then points out:
The link between holy living and effective evangelism could hardly be made more effectively. In particular, Christians stood out for their chastity, their hatred of cruelty, their civil obedience, good citizenship…Such lives made a great impact.
Robert Lewis wants readers to understand that we are not the first Christians to live in a culture that does not share our beliefs. This may be a change that at times is hard to accept. But we have no need to worry. Followers of Jesus can still impact the culture and even call people out of it. The way this will happen in our “post-Christian” world is the same way it happen in the “pre-Christian” world–by DOING GOOD to all those we encounter, and serving the the cities we live in.
This has, and is, and always will always be, Jesus’ response to the culture.
Excerpts from The Church of Irresistible Influence: Bridge-Building Stories to Help Reach Your Community