Gospel-centered service and gospel-centered multiplication are two traits found in the life of a disciple, but how do we see them in the Christian’s daily experience? The action of cultural renewal is an expression of these two traits, but exactly what this means can be easily confused.
Ken Myers defines culture as “what human beings make of the world,” and this can be understood in both senses—how we attribute meaning to things we create, and then how the things created shape us.
The extent that culture shapes us, both inherited and present, can be an overwhelming reality. The influence one has upon the culture appears minuscule in comparison. As the world turns increasingly toward secularism, the Christian can face discouragement in their desire to see culture give glory to God by acknowledging and delighting in His presence, beauty and plan of redemption for the world.
The temptation to resign the culture to “hell in a hand basket” is often one of two extremes—the first being an attitude of resigned acceptance and the second a triumphant determination to regain specific issues or attitudes in order to bring glory to God. It can be seen as a hope to take back what has gone downhill; a reclamation of a brighter yesteryear.
While trying to regain lost ground in the culture, we separate ourselves from it, identifying parts in need of saving (or condemning) while consuming those of less offensive, entertaining and common use. A disconnect occurs between that which are seen as matters of faith, and that which belongs to the world. Dual mindsets develop; rivals “shaped by opposing loves and working toward different ends” (Justin Taylor).
In this, work is less a place to act as a child of God and becomes a place to look for self-fulfillment through success. Home is a place of diversion instead of connection and intentionality, and we reserve matters of faith for culturally appointed times like Home Group or Sunday services.
The Christian lives under a tension of duality, looking to participate in and benefit from secular culture while simultaneously being called to live according to God’s ways. The common inclination is to keep the two separate. We filter God’s design toward work, play, money and sex through cultural values and desires instead of His Word determining our values and desires.
The believer’s call is to realize that God is at work in culture through common grace, using all things to carry forth His purposes. This changes the triumphant desire to redeem and restore culture through our own efforts to a gospel-centered response to grace. It sends the Christian into the culture to live, as Timothy Keller puts it, “with Christian distinctiveness,” intentionally walking out the implications of the gospel in each arena or role in life.
A call to excellence alone would fall short—many people are excellent at what they do but are driven by motives other than the glory of God. Some Christians pursue success in God’s Name and for His glory but trample the tenets of the gospel in their pursuit instead of displaying thoughtful and articulate application of the gospel to their work. The Christian strives to contribute excellence to the culture through a life marked by Christian distinctiveness. This changes the way we interact with our waiter, our co-workers, our boss and our spouse. It changes the motives of our heart from self-centered indulging or protecting actions to God-focused response and praise.
Walking out the implications of the gospel in your daily life takes thoughtful consideration of how the gospel applies to your work, talents, neighborhood and home. Believing lawyers, teachers, artists, nurses and parents exhibit Christian distinctiveness differently due to the inherent nature of their vocation. This is more than conducting yourself in a thoughtful and articulate way, but not less.
Thoughtfulness of action and speech are the fruits of a heart changed by the grace of God in Christ. This heart sees no divide between a secular and sacred world but sees God’s creation that He is working to redeem. This empowers the imagination of a believer to see God’s design for their work and to strive toward its intended beauty in society. When this is the lens of the heart’s vision, we see opportunities to align our lives to God’s ways at every turn. Our behavior shines like the light it is in the dark world around it.
Perhaps it’s time to start conversations with those in your Home Group, vocation and family about how the gospel speaks to what you collectively do, and how you can not only contribute excellence to the culture, but how you can do so with a gospel-centered distinctiveness that glorifies God.