Today, in 21st-century evangelicalism, there is a dichotomy when it comes to the topic of culture. “Everyone agrees we need to bring lost and dying people into the Church, into God’s life bringing presence among His people, but we disagree on what this looks like. On one hand, you have those who think we should seperate ourselves completely from the world: not having non-Christian friends, not buying from non-Christian stores, etc. On the other hand, you have those who think we need to ‘redeem culture’ by being in it, surrounding ourselves with the world in order to be a light to it. I’ve been in church settings which supported both extremes, and I’ve seen the biblical pros and cons of both. In the first case, there’s the danger of becoming afraid of the world and ostracizing people who may want to become devoted Christ followers. In the second case, you can become desensitized to evil in the culture and wind up becoming just as worldly as the world without even knowing it. So, I guess the question is, how do you balance the two, being in the world and not of it (John 17:14–16)?
Let’s turn to Jesus and see what we can learn from His example. In Matthew 9:36, when He saw the masses, the crowds, the ‘shepherd-less sheep’, He had compassion on them. He does not count Himself one of them, but He does not withhold love from them. I imagine the scene as being ugly and chaotic—Jesus is surrounded by desperate, shouting people carrying their sick loved ones to Him. In the middle of it all, He turns His head up with a smile toward His visibly disturbed disciples and shouts, “the harvest is plentiful!” (v. 37). I don’t imagine He was solemn as He healed their sickness, I imagine He was overjoyed, because He saw from the only clear and true perspective—that the Kingdom of God was breaking into the sick world with power to heal.
He tells His disciples to pray for more people to go out into the world to tell everyone the good news—but let’s not forget what that good news is. It’s the good news of the Kingdom (v. 35) which is not of the world. You can’t find it in culture, humanity is dead without it, you have to step out of the lifestyle of the world and into the lifestyle of Christ to find it. We are not called to reject any non-Christian that comes near us, but we are also not meant to condone sin.
Look again at the way Jesus lived. Out of the world, God chose to put Jesus in Israel, out of Israel, He chose a mass of people to follow Him, out of the masses He chose twelve, and out of the twelve, three were His closest companions. We are to be with and amongst our fellow humans, working alongside them, going to the same markets, and coffee shops, etc. all the while knowing we are a part of another Kingdom, another order of life, and out of the love that comes from that life, we love them by inviting them out of the dead world and into the living Kingdom of God.
God does not see the outsider and hates him/her. From the beginning of time, it has always been His intention to have people live with Him. Ezekiel 18:23 tells us even how God longs for the wicked, those who actively work against God’s plans, to turn and follow Him. He looks at those who are opposed to Him, and desires to bring even them into His eternal family. If this is God’s heart, who are we to refuse to reach out and love those around us, who don’t stand a chance without someone to love them into the life of Christ.
Take a minute and think of a non-Christian friend of yours. Pray and reflect upon how you can love them toward Christ. If you find that you don’t really know any non-believers, ask how you can change that. Participate in a non-church related sporting group or reading club, and get involved. Be exposed to non-Christians without fear and without shame in your faith. It’s okay to be the weird ‘religious’ one in the group, odds are you are the only reflection of Christ they have in their lives! Let them see the love of Christ in you, through the way you love them.