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Living for Jesus in an Un-Christian World: A Study of the Epistle of Jude (Introduction)

11 Dec

Friends: This is a study I wrote and preached a few years ago. Comments welcome!

Although we could multiply such negative descriptors of our world, we must first acknowledge that there is much good in this universe that God has made, and we are invited (and commanded) to enjoy His physical blessings with thanksgiving (I Tim. 6). However, we find ourselves in a progressively unchristian or post-christian or even anti-Christian environment. The Supreme Court decision on June 26, 2015, legitimating same-sex marriages, also forbids all states from banning such unions. But isn’t homosexual behavior an “abomination” to the Lord?

The 1973 Roe v. Wade SCOTUS decision, one which has cost the lives of an estimated fifty-five million children made in the image of God, continues to rock the Christian world — and we have been unable to do anything to have that ruling overturned. As the third most populous country in the world with 321 million people, the United States, one might argue, has systematically executed almost 1/6 of its citizens.

What are the believer’s options in living for Jesus in such an un-Christian world? There appear to be only four possible choices that a Christian can make:

CONFORMITY: The believer in Jesus can choose to not rock the boat, to become exactly like the world around him, holding the same ethical values as his culture, and live a relatively conflict-free life in comfort. The world will then see no discernible differences between believers and unbelievers, but will also have no reason to persecute those who claim to be Jesus-followers. They will be seen as people who have nothing better to do on Sundays than attend half-empty churches, sing ancient songs to each other, and occasionally enjoy a pot-luck meal together. The Christian can choose to conform.
ESCAPE: This is the believer who doesn’t rock the boat, but sails it into the sunset, leaving this broken world in its wake. This Christian “dwells in heavenly places with Jesus,” although his body has pretty much remained behind on planet earth. He or she essentially exits this world, bails out of his or her earthly citizenship, clumps himself with other heavenly-minded holy ones, and, for all practical purposes, lets the rest of the world go to hell in a hand basket. Among the more committed of this viewpoint are those who have already purchased their ascension robes, stopped making their mortgage payments, ripped their children out of their schools, and are waiting on some high hill for the rapture (the snatching up of the saints when Jesus returns).

DOMINION: This believer weaponizes his boat (literally or figuratively) and begins a new chapter of the Crusades. The last thing this believer wants to do is turn over the world to unbelievers! This Jesus-follower intends to take over earth for Christ, perhaps not militarily, but certainly governmentally and morally. He wishes to bring back the laws of Deuteronomy (stoning rebellious teenagers is one of the more attractive ones) and impose them on his culture. He longs to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) and is defended philosophically by such groups as theonomists and dominion theologians.

INFLUENCE: This Jesus-follower uses his boat to rescue those who are drowning (and who want to be rescued). None of the previous options have biblical warrant. With respect to option #1, we are not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the Word of God (Rom. 12:1-2). Jesus Himself cleared ruled out an escapist mentality when He prayed in John 17:

11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. . . . 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. (Jn. 17)

Jesus made it clear that this world is not His kingdom, otherwise His followers would fight (Jn. 18:36). The believer is not to engage himself in a conspiracy to take over this world for Jesus. This world is not our home, but we must do more than simply pass through it.

In terms of influence, Jesus gives His followers two images that clearly delineate their role in this world. In Matthew 5 He says, 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Salty Saints
Believers in Jesus are to serve as salt in their culture. Salt in the ancient world was not used primarily to season food, but to preserve it. In a pre-refrigeration time, meat could easily spoil.

Salt was such an important symbol in the early church that when someone was baptized, a pinch of salt was placed on the new believer’s tongue. Purified in Christ, we are called to be a purifying agent in the world.

Someone has said, “If there’s rottenness in the world, the blame should be placed where it belongs; not on the world that’s rotting, but on the church which isn’t salting it enough to stop it from going bad.” Theologian Donald Bloesch makes the critical point that “We are not called to be the honey of the world but the salt of the earth. Salt stings on an open wound, but it also saves one from gangrene.” (Theological Notebook)

It is interesting that Jesus never said that He was the salt of the earth. He did say of His followers: 13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Mt. 5:13). How sad that the church appears to be metaphorically trampled underfoot, even when it hasn’t knowingly functioned as salt in its culture.

Illuminating Disciples
The second image Jesus uses of the believer is that of light. Jesus said of Himself in John 8- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (v. 12). One chapter later Jesus says, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (Jn. 9:5).

The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus is no longer “in the world.” His disciples are now “the light of the world.” How illuminating are we?

Light illumines the darkness. Someone has said, “If there’s darkness, the blame should be attached where it belongs; not to the world that is dark but to the church which is failing to provide the light.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, who was very ill as a child, recorded a childhood incident in his diary. He was seated by a window at nightfall, watching a lamplighter light the street lights below. His nurse came into the room and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m watching a man make holes in the darkness.”

Jesus clearly said, 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt. 5)

The Christian’s job is not to meet in musty church basements eating tired casseroles, and having no impact on this dark world. We should not be hidden! Light is meant to be elevated so that its one purpose — illumination — can be maximized. We live in a culture whose citizens desperately need to be given light.

Here in Matthew 5 the believer is challenged to “let your light shine before others.” Why? For what purpose? So that “they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Not only are we lousy at good-deed-doing, but we shy away from the “before others” part. The purpose of our good deeds is to glorify our Father in heaven. But first we need to attract the attention of others to us! They need to “see” our good deeds.

Part of light’s responsibility is to expose the deeds of darkness (Eph. 5:11). Paul admonishes the believers to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Rom. 13:12).

So, the believer in Jesus has no justification to conform to the world, to escape the world, or to exercise dominion over the world. But he has every reason to be salt and light, to preserve the good and to expose the bad, in our world. How’s it going, Christian?

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2021 in CHRISTIAN LIVING

 

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