RESPONSIBILITIES OF TRUE CHRISTIANS IN THIS WICKED WORLD
By Rt. Revd. Dr J Barry Shucksmith, Royal Navy (retired) – March, 2004
There is a familiar saying, “some Christians are so worldly-minded as to be of no earthly use and others are so earthly-minded as to be of no heavenly use”. What, then, is the teaching of Holy Scripture about the world; and how, then, are Christians to view their place in it?
What is the biblical view of God’s created world?
The Old Testament account of creation is found in Genesis 1:1 through to Genesis 2:4 and Genesis 2:4-7. There are numerous other related passages, such as Job 38:1-41; Psalm 104:1-35; Proverbs 8:22-31 and Isaiah 45:18. All these, and many other passages, maintain the distinction between God and His creation. They also set forth the absolute dependence of the created order upon God. In the New Testament the term most frequently used for ‘world’ is cosmos. This word is used in three distinct ways:
Third, cosmos indicates the ethical order in which human responsibility and human sinfulness stand in relationship to Almighty God. This is the area of our present concern – and it has to be stated immediately that the world, including man, is fallen.
What is the biblical view of the fallen world?
The power of evil is both great and universal. In Scripture the moral evil that is in the world stands out clearly as sin, that is, as transgression of the law of God. Sin originated in the angelic world. Jesus speaks of the devil, a fallen angel, as a murderer from the beginning of man’s history (Genesis 3:1; 1 John 3:8). Adam fell into sin (Romans 5:12) and, consequently, Adam’s sin is inherited by all mankind.
The results of Adam’s fall are all around us. Human nature is totally depraved and contagion has spread everywhere (Genesis 6:5; Psalm 14:3; Romans 7:18). Immediately, with Adam’s fall, has come loss of communion with God, moral pollution, (revealing itself in a sense of conscious disobedience) – together with spiritual and physical death (Romans 1:18-32). In short, man’s condition is hopeless. “…as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned;” (Romans 5:12). Man desperately needs a Saviour and for this our Lord Jesus Christ came. (Luke 19:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:15). The world in which man lives is not excluded, for it “groans and travails in pain” awaiting the final salvation of the Lord (Romans 8:21-22).
What is a true Christian?
According to the Word of God, a true Christian is a person who has been regenerated or born-again. The Apostle John calls it, “being born of God”, sometimes, “being born-again” and often, “being born of the Spirit” (John 1:13; John 3:3-6). The Apostle Peter, in the Acts, calls it “repenting and being converted” (Acts 3:19) and Paul calls it, “being alive from the dead” and “becoming a new creature” (Romans 6:13, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Bishop J C Ryle says, a true Christian does not commit sin as a habit, believes Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, is a holy person, has a special love for all true disciples of Christ, does not make the world’s opinion his rule of right and wrong, and is very careful to keep his own soul (1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 5:4; 1 John 5:18).
What is the responsibility of a true Christian in this world?
First, the Christian is called to witness to others about the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the call to witness lay at the heart of Jesus’ final instructions to the Apostles (Acts 1:8) and at Pentecost they set about their task (Acts 2). After the martyrdom of Stephen, the church engaged in a worldwide mission to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The word used for witness is “martyria” which means making a defence. It certainly involves making a verbal declaration (Matthew 28:19; John 20:21; Acts 10:42). It also means not only taking part in society, but also working for changes in the society where we live. The Christian is to be both salt (Matthew 5:13) and light (Matthew 5:14-15).
There is a fundamental difference, both between Christians and non-Christians and between the church and the world. The Christian is to be like salt which bites, cleanses, and preserves. The Christian is to be like the light, by derivation from Christ, which penetrates the darkness.
As John Stott wrote “You must be what you are. You are salt, and so you must retain your saltness and not lose your Christian tang. You are light, and so you must let your light shine and not conceal it in any way, whether by sin or by compromise, by laziness or by fear”.
He continues…” Christian salt takes effect by deeds as well as words; …too often evangelical Christians have interpreted their social responsibility in terms of helping the casualties of a sick society, and have done nothing to change the structures which cause the casualties. Just as doctors are concerned not only with the treatment of patients, but also with preventive medicine and public health, so we should concern ourselves with what might be called preventive social medicine and higher standards of moral hygiene”.
Evangelicals in the past and now?
What has happened to us? We call ourselves evangelicals but are we really? We have become so worldly and yet we seem so wrapped up in ourselves. The world passes us by and seems little impressed by our Christianity. What is wrong with us?
There is a danger for contemporary Christians to become too involved in the world and, therefore, to have no cutting edge to their work and witness. Or the reverse, that of being so with-drawn and separate as to be totally irrelevant. We need to learn again, what the early Christians so beautifully exemplified, involvement without contamination, ‘in the world and yet not of it’.
Previous generations of Christians have mastered this balance well and, under Almighty God, effected great change in their society. They engaged in the salvation of souls, “for time and eternity”. They not only witnessed the miracle of transforming grace in human hearts but saw the sovereign grace of God in all the affairs of life.
Today, every commandment of the Lord has been removed from the statute books of our Land. Everything Christian within this kingdom is under attack. Our Nation is on the brink of total spiritual and moral collapse.
Time for concerted action!
It is time to take the initiative and engage with this fallen world. It will not do, simply to gather together within our churches while the world passes by, unchallenged, unsaved and under Satan’s hidden grip. It is time for active engagement, even a ‘pre-emptive strike’ in the war against evil. Every Christian is needed and every Christian has a vital contribution to make. It need not be like it is.
We can surely draw inspiration from a previous generation:-
The Evangelicals brought to bear on the life of England an intense belief in God and in the saving power of the Christian gospel; also an intense belief in the necessity of personal conversion, and an intense moral earnestness. Their own lives were strictly ordered. Every hour, every shilling belonged to God. They prayed, they worked, they gave alms; they performed their deeds of charity with scrupulous devotion, living all their lives “in the great Taskmaster’s eye.”
Wilberforce and many of them, gave three hours in the day to prayer. Thornton spent six-sevenths of his income in charity before he married, and afterwards a third. Both of them read and studied the Bible uncritically, as was inevitable, but with unwearying zeal. They observed Sunday with strictness, and their hymns gave a new popularity and a new brightness to the service of the Church. They assembled their households for family prayers, they published religious literature which received a wide circulation, and they brought about a great improvement in the language and habits of many whose deeper selves they could not touch.
Marriage, which had been cheapened in the previous century, was restored to something like its proper credit…They were abused, laughed at, and kept under… they were even the victims of popular persecution but…they preached the gospel of conversion, and the word of the Lord had free course and was glorified… Mr George Russell, who was born in 1855 and brought up in an Evangelical home, speaking on a rather later date, said “I recall an abiding sense of religious responsibility, a self-sacrificing energy in works of mercy, and evangelistic zeal, an aloofness from the world, and a level of saintliness in daily life – such as I do not expect to be realised again on the earth.” (p.29-30 The Evangelicals, Church and People 1789-1889 S C Carpenter 1933 SPCK).
Of course, the world, as we know it, will not continue for ever. This is why we need to store up treasures in Heaven rather than on Earth. Our life in the new creation will last for eternity but Peter says, “the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men”. He continues, “seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation (living) and godliness” (2 Peter 3:7-12). Jesus, too, was explicit…”do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
All the gifts of God’s World are legitimate and “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4). But even good and legitimate material gifts can become a stumbling block and Satan uses them to his own advantage. Did he not try to trap Jesus in this way by his temptations in the wilderness? How are we using the providential gifts of the Lord in these days? What is the measure of time allotted to the legitimate things in relation to His calling for service and witness? Are they aids or hindrances?
No doubt, this is why our Lord Jesus warned us to be ready and watchful. Matthew 24:42-44 are searching and challenging words indeed. Our Lord Jesus Christ is speaking about the future and predicting His return to this World, a second time.
“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore, be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh”.
The important word here is “Watch”, which occurs three times for emphasis. Christ’s second coming will be swift and sudden. There will be no opportunity for afterthought or last-minute repentance. Bargaining will not be a possibility. Under God’s sovereignty, present choice will determine eternal destiny. But it is surely a word too for the Lord’s people? Jesus’ purpose in telling us about His return is not to stimulate predictions and calculations about the date, but to warn us to be ready. Are you prepared? Are you laying up treasures in heaven?
We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but what about our works? “Good works are pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit (6). Indeed, Charles Haddon Spurgeon is reputed to have said, “the fact that Jesus Christ is to come again is not a reason for star-gazing, but for working in the power of the Holy Ghost” (7).
Again, we are challenged to compare ourselves with previous generations of protestant and evangelical people. There was a time when interest in prophecy stirred up good works and active service, not only in the Church, but in the wider community. Anthony Ashley Cooper, better known as a Christian Statesman and England’s seventh Earl of Shaftesbury is a fine example of this. Lord Shaftesbury lived in daily expectancy of the Lord’s sudden return and showed it by energetic political and social action. He was a great campaigner and social reformer. He was responsible for getting better treatment for the mentally-ill. He negotiated the terms of employment of workers in the factories, mills, and collieries. Perhaps, he is best known for his work to alleviate the use of boys as chimney sweepers. As a member of the House of Commons between 1830-1850, he continually pressed for social action.
At the same time, Lord Shaftesbury threw in his weight against the illegal Tractarianisation (return of the CofE to Roman teaching and practice) of the Church of England. He was a moderate Calvinist, a strong protestant and, uncharacteristically, a premillennialist, but he lived and acted out his faith (8). It may not be right for the Church, which has to guard the Faith and the Gospel, to be engaged in these things, for fear of neglecting the essentials of salvation. But individual Christians must be interested and involved in the World. Almighty God is, with all of His Being.
I close, with these thoughts. There is a great danger today of developing Christian pietism separate from Christian practice. Being saved from the world, the flesh, and the devil, does not mean being disengaged from any, or all three of them. As long as the Lord leaves us in this World, and until Jesus comes, we are to be actively involved in making the world a better place. Our God is the God of the Universe and He is at work in all parts of it. So must we be, in the limited part of the World where He has providentially placed us. Hebrews, chapter 11, reminds us of the faithful and outstanding believers, who have preceded us…”desiring a better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). This is gloriously true and there is to be a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
But the faith of the saints and martyrs of old did not negate their action here and now. They chose to suffer affliction with the people of God (v25), esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt (v26), forsook the pagan land of Egypt (v27), attempted the impossible (v29), in the Lord’s strength destroyed pagan cities (v30), rescued prostitutes (v31), through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of aliens (v33-34). Some were even prepared to go to prison for what they believed (v36) as some of us may have to! But Almighty God greatly blessed their work and witness for Him. The present generation awaits such a body of believers today, who will do the same – turn faith, yes! even weak faith, into mighty works, fit for human history and Divine glory.
(6) Article 12, Church of England 39 Articles of Religion – located back pages of Book of Common Prayer
(7) p277 GATHERED GOLD John Blanchard 1987 Evangelical Press Welwyn
(8) p 222 SKETCHES FROM CHURCH HISTORY S M Houghton 1995 Banner of Truth Trust Edinburgh