Today we’re wrapping up this series we’ve been calling RESET. Last week Samuel Nassiff talked about “Resetting our Words.” I want to say how truly remarkable it is, that we have two young people (in Samuel and Renee), actively sharing Jesus with people far from God. Let’s always be in the prayer to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more like them. If you missed Samuel’s message (or if you missed Dr. Paul Boatman’s message on the Church) please take a listen online! We are blessed to have such deeply devoted servants in our midst, building up the Kingdom of God.
This morning I want to continue unpacking this idea of Resetting our Relationship with the World. What, after all, should a Christian’s relationship to the world be? For a long time, Christianity has functioned as the dominant religion in the West. By the West, I mean all of Europe, and the Americas. Historically, the Christian influence was so strong here, that many have refer to America as a “Christian Nation.”
The obvious problem with calling America a “Christian Nation” is that very little done in Washington or Hollywood, on Wall Street or even on Mainstreet is “Christian.” In fact, the Name of God is blasphemed among the nations because of our national character. If America is indeed a “Christian Nation,” there are just as many Christians out there who want a divorce than want to salvage any marriage between Christianity and our two-party system.
There are people who come with various agendas to make America more Christian. To what extent can America operate, with integrity, as a Christian Nation? To what extent can any nation act, with integrity, as God’s instrument? To what extent can any one political party be God’s party? Should “Making America Christian (Again?)” be the focus of the Church and her leaders? How did Jesus think about these issues? The Apostles? The Early Church? Did they see themselves as nation builders or rebuilders?
This past week I was reading an editorial in the New York Times called, “What Comes After the Religious Right?” Author Nate Hochman describes some of the titanic political shifts occurring all around us. He points out how “the conservative political project is no longer specifically Christian.” You no longer have a culture war waged between “religion and secularism.” No, you have all these strange bedfellows uniting. You have Catholic traditionalists, Orthodox Jews, Middle-American small business owners, even skeptical liberal atheists pushing the pendulum right and creating a new kind of conservatism. The point is, these groups aren’t uniting out of some new religious orientation, Christian ideal, or Christian worldview. Hochman seems to suggest that in the end, the Christian may find himself as disenfranchised by this newly emerging “conservatism”, as disenfranchised by the Right as by the Left!
So, the issue remains, how ought we relate to our world as Christians? If there is indeed a “Christian” Nation, it’s mentioned in 1 Peter 2. Peter addresses the Church itself, the Kingdom of God, as a nation. 1 Peter 2:9-10, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but not you have received mercy.”
The Church is a globally dispersed nation, without geographical limitation or definition! Our identity is quite simply, we’re “In Christ.” 1 Peter 2:11-12 says, “Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against your soul. Conduct yourself honorably among the Gentiles (i.e. the Nations), so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.”
I love this verse in 1 Peter 2:15-16 where Peter advises, “For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a coverup for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” We should think of the Church as the holy nation of God, scattered across the nations. Before we are subject to anyone else, we are God’s slaves. But as God’s slaves, as God’s Holy Nation, we must prayerfully discern how best to live among the nations—wherever we find ourselves dispersed.
On Thursday I was in Chicago, with a group of pastors passionate about reaching the city of Chicago for Christ. I was sitting between a pastor from Iran and two pastors from India. All of them had grown up in non-Christian nations, in radically different parts of the world. But we spoke together, ate together, dreamed together, planned together as fellow citizens. . . We prayed about how we might shine the light of the gospel more brightly in the very dark corners in which we lived. The Church is God’s Holy Nation.
Now let’s go a bit further. How should we (as the Church, as the Kingdom of God, as God’s Holy Nation, as aliens and exiles) conduct ourselves within our Host Nation? There is certainly a wealth of advice in books like 1-2 Peter. But I want us to consider what Paul says in Ephesians 6:10-12:
“Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.”
These verses make me think of that old adage—something about not bringing a knife to a gun fight. We are a knife and gun crazed culture. As God’s people, let’s not conduct spiritual warfare with a material, physical, worldly, earthly or political mentality.
Ephesians 6:13-17, “13 For this reason (because it is primarily spiritual warfare) take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. 14 Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, 15 and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. 16 In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God.”
So here we stand fighting! One of our greatest weapons is the Truth. When it comes to God’s kingdom, the end doesn’t justify the means. I’m for the truth not just “wherever it leads.” I’m for the truth because it accentuates God’s glory. The truth is impartial, it favors neither the left nor right, the top or bottom. There is no place for on our lips (or social media feeds) for slander, gossip, lies, caricatures, memes, or propaganda.
We should never jettison our character, our righteousness for a shortsighted advance. This especially includes Christ’s righteousness. Remaking Jesus into our image, making Jesus “just a slob like one of us,” helps no one. We need to let the salt of Christ’s righteousness sting, and the light of Christ’s righteousness blind our eyes even if momentarily that like Saul we might truly see.
Neither should we jettison the gospel of peace. Now more than ever people need to know that forgiveness and salvation is found in Christ; freedom and sanctification of our sin is effected walking in presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit; that the church as Christ’s body, embodies the perfect love we long to feel in this life; that the church as Christ’s Kingdom, as God’s Holy Nation, embodies the highest ideals to which any nation can aspire; People need to know that in the gospel is found true Hope. Not just victory over sin in Jesus, victory over fleshly carnality by God’s Spirit, victory over selfishness-lovelessness-isolation-alienation-violence one against another . . . but also victory over death itself. Victory of resurrection hope where death once reigned. The gospel must be proclaimed to every creature under the earth, every nation, every culture!
We shouldn’t ever stop trusting Jesus—abiding in his words. Taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ guards our salvation. We shouldn’t let a single word slip from our ear canal into our brains without taking it captive and subjecting it to the truth of Christ. A church that has learned to wield its sword, the Word of God, is powerful to conquer any threat of evil. The only vulnerable Christian is a swordless Christian. A Christian who daily abides in Christ’s words cannot be defeated.
I must add that neither should we jettison, or denigrate in any way, the power of prayer. The Word and Prayer are the most spiritually lethal, but also spiritually transformative weapons of warfare ever devised. And Jesus placed them both the Word and Prayer in our hands! Whenever the church had back against wall, word and prayer!
Ephesians 6:18-20, “Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. 20 For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough to speak about it as I should.”
We, as the Church, are a holy nation, though dispersed amongst unholy nations. We are not waging political, physical, flesh-blood warfare but rather spiritual warfare with spiritual means of which Word and Prayer are most lethal.
How should we (as the Church, as the Kingdom of God, as God’s Holy Nation, as aliens and exiles, engaged in a cosmic and spiritual warfare) conduct ourselves? We have to stay united in Christ’s love. A house divided against itself, or its God, cannot stand.
Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for the church. John 17:20-26, “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. 21 May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. 22 I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.” 24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they will see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the world’s foundation. 25 Righteous Father, the world has not known you. However, I have known you, and they have known that you sent me. 26 I made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love you have loved me with may be in them and I may be in them.”
If ever there were indeed “a third weapon” to add to our spiritual arsenal—and I don’t think we’d really call it a weapon—it would be love. Those pastors I talked to in Chicago shared how they are confronted (on the streets, in their places of worship) by religious strong men. Islamic clerics. Nationalistic Hindus. On the streets of Chicago, these powerful men confront, physically threaten pastors to cease their gospel work. But the one thing their threats cannot work against is love. Love disarms the hate, the religious bigotry, the anger and violence. The self-sacrificial Love of Christ… embodied in God’s people (his holy nation, his holy people) transforms even worst enemies of Christ.
Let's continue together abiding in Christ’s Words… abiding in prayerful fellowship with Father, Son, Spirit… abiding in Christ’s love and love of one another. We’ve not been left defenseless or weak but equipped for victory.