For many people, relating and living in our culture is a tough subject to deal with. Some have come to the conclusion that they must live in complete separation from culture. Take for example, the Amish. They have for many, many years admirably fought to live simple lives without iPods, without television, without electricity, without normal appliances, and without modern culture.
Instead, they remain in a past culture, or really, in a culture of their own. It can only be debated how much they affect the world around them, but when all is said and done, we do question how well their mission has been fulfilled.
As Christians today, who do live in modern culture we are wearing modern clothes, using modern tools, hearing modern songs, and going to modern malls. How do we maintain holiness amidst this vile, polluted world we live in? How do we not get caught up in this world, and begin to look like the world we live in? It’s not an easy issue, especially when we are surrounded by this world and it’s mass advertising, screaming at us to be conformed to it’s likeness.
Thankfully, God’s Word is not at all silent on this issue. In fact, the whole story of Israel clearly shows us an example of a people who were affected by the culture around them. We can just think of all the many times God’s people were warned not to intermarry with the foreign people—and they, of course, intermarried and turned to idolatry and pagan worship. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10, talks about warnings from Israel’s history. These warnings are for us, the church, who are living in times that are very similar to those the church of Corinth lived in.
I wish simply that I could just print the entire chapter here for you to read, but I won’t. Still, I highly encourage you to examine that chapter more deeply than we will in this article in order that you understand better how we are to live in a pagan society as God’s people.
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.”
The Israelites were hearing the Word of God—they were not ignorant of God, of what he wanted, how they were supposed to live. It sounds as if they were all well fed with spiritual things. Yet something was not right.
“Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”
The reason was simple—they set their hearts on evil things, things of this world. Their central focus in life was not God, but were idols, lust, themselves, and their pleasure.
“Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.”
This section of Scripture clearly helps us understand that it’s not that hard to answer this question of how to live holy in an unholy world. We must be following God’s Word, reading God’s word, applying God’s word, studying God’s word. When God is the center of our lives, we can better understand how He desires us to live in our culture today. When we get to know someone better, we know their likes and dislikes much better. It is the same with God. And that is what is wrong with Christianity today. Many “christians” are not setting their hearts on God, but on things much lower than God.
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fail!”
I wish to interrupt here to quickly note that Paul clearly tells us that we must not think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but must remain humbly assessing ourselves in light of the gospel—in light of the cross we need God’s grace each day. We must be careful that we do not fall—especially when we begin to call the Israelites stupid for turning their hearts away from God when we do the same thing every single day.
“No tempation has seized you except that which is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyong what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
This promise is one of the sweetest of all promises God has given to us. As we go about in this world, we will have the world shoved down our throat, and we will be tempted to become like this world, but God is faithful—He will sustain as we travail this broken road called earth on our way to the celestial city.
“Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”
I could for hours relate to you the amount of truth that is packed into this short statement. I truly believe that this is what it all boils down to as we look around at the world—at things as practical as clothing, Facebook, music, relationships—that when those things become greater than God they become idols. When our pleasure is greater than God’s pleasure in our lives, we have serious issues. I pray our generation will turn from its idols of lust, pleasure, clothing, music, iPods, Facebook, girlfriends, boyfriends, text messaging, cars, sports, and money. I pray they will begin to make God the center of their lives. I pray that the gospel changes their lives and that the cross becomes the center of everything they do.
What to read?
Knowing God by J.I. Packer
The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges
The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney
Read 1 Corinthians 10
(Originally Published 10/01/07)