THE CHRISTIAN IN THE WORLD
by Bob Wheeler
In our blog post three weeks ago (“What God Thinks of the Modern Church” – March 18, 2017) we saw that the church’s aim should not be the preservation of America’s civil religion. But what should its aim be? How is the Christian supposed to relate to the surrounding world?
In Titus 2:11-14 the apostle Paul gives us a brief summary of what the Christian life is supposed to look like. It is a different kind of lifestyle based on a distinctively Christian worldview.
It begins with a historical fact: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men . . .” (v. 11; NKJV). Here he is undoubtedly referring back to the first advent of Christ and His death on the cross that opened up to all mankind the possibility of salvation. This was the great turning point in history.
But what effect does this have on us? Paul goes on to say that salvation is “teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age . . .” (v. 12). Here it will be seen that there is both a negative and a positive side to the Christian life. On the negative side we are to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts.” The word “ungodliness” might better be translated “impiety” – it is the lack of devotion to or reverence for God. A good modern term would be “secularism,” the absence of God in our thinking. “Worldly lusts” are the self-centered desires that drive most human behavior – the lust for pleasure, wealth, fame or power. We sometimes dress it up as “enlightened self-interest” or “the profit motive.” It is consumerism. These are the things which typically drive human behavior outside of Christ, and the Christian must “deny” these things – he must turn his back on all of this, leaving it all behind. He has been called to a higher life.
On the positive side we are to “live soberly, righteously, and godly.” To live soberly means to exercise sound judgment in all of the decisions that we make. It means that we do not go through life pursuing pleasure with reckless abandon, but we carefully weigh the consequences of the actions we take. We look to promote the glory of God and the wellbeing of our fellow man.
But we are also to live “righteously,” which means to live in accordance with God’s law. God is our Creator, our Lawgiver and Judge. We can find happiness and fulfillment in life only when we live in accordance with His will and purposes.
And then we are live “godly,” or “piously,” as the word might better be translated. We are to give God his proper place in our lives, to have a genuine and heartfelt devotion towards Him, and to acknowledge Him in all our ways.
All of this we are to do “in the present age,” the time in which we are now living. The Bible often contrasts “the present age” with “the age which is to come”; and “the present age” is marked by sin and evil. Nevertheless the Christian is expected to live a godly life now, in the present age.
But why should we do this? Why should we run the risk of social ostracism and financial failure by refusing to conform? The answer is because we are “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 13). The Christian looks forward to the future, and what he sees is “the glorious appearing” of Christ, His visible return at the end of the age when He comes to establish a new order of things here on earth. The Christian is conscious that what we experience now will not last forever. Christ will return and things will be entirely different. The Christian lives for tomorrow and not for today.
It should be kept in mind that God’s whole purpose in our salvation is to free us, not just from the guilt of sin, but also from its power. Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (v. 14). The word “redeem” means to pay a ransom and thereby secure the release of a slave or prisoner. We were once under the power and guilt of sin. Christ paid the penalty for that sin by dying on the cross and thereby secured our salvation. And He did this at enormous cost to Himself: He “gave Himself” for us.
But why did He do this? What was His aim and purpose? It was not just to forgive us, although that was certainly a part of it, but also to sanctify us: “. . .that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” It was sin that got us into trouble; Christ freed us from that condition. Now we are “His own special people,” a people of His own possession; we now belong to Him. And as such we are to be “zealous for good works” – we are not to conform half-heartedly to an external set of rules; we are to desire earnestly to do good for others.
The Christian, then, is called to a life of non-conformity to the surrounding world. He does not have the luxury of living the life of a nice, comfortable, middle-class existence. He is conscious of answering to a higher Power; and that will eventually bring him into conflict with the values of the surrounding world. This will require personal sacrifice on his part – the possible loss of job, family, reputation It may even invite on occasion legal prosecution. But faithful to God he must remain. The sacrifice is temporary; the gain is eternal. May God grant us all the grace to live for Him!