Christians are in society to serve and transform it⤒🔗
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Colossians 2:20-22
World in the New Testament sometimes means what it means in the Old Testament, namely, this earth, the good natural order that God created. Usually, however, it means mankind as a whole, now fallen into sin and moral disorder and become radically anti-God and evil. Occasionally the two senses seem to blend, so that statements about the world carry the complex nuance of perverse people incurring guilt and shame by their misuse of created things.
Christians are sent into the world by their Lord (John 17:18) to witness to it about God’s Christ and his kingdom (Matt. 24:14; cf. Rom. 10:18; Col. 1:6, 23) and to serve its needs. But they are to do so without falling victim to its materialism (Matt. 6:19-24, 32), its unconcern about God and the next life (Luke 12:13-21), and its prideful pursuit of pleasure, profit, and position to the exclusion of everything else (1 John 2:15-17). The world is at present Satan’s kingdom (John 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19; cf. Luke 4:5-7), and the outlook and mind-set of human societies reflect more of the pride seen in Satan than the humility seen in Christ.
Christians, like Christ, are to empathize with people’s anxieties and needs in order to serve them and communicate with them effectively. They are to do so, however, on a basis of motivational detachment from this world, through which they are momentarily passing as they travel home to God and in which their single-minded purpose must be to please God (Col. 1:9-12; 1 Pet. 2:11). Monastic withdrawal from this world is not sanctioned (John 17:15), but neither is worldliness (i.e., any internalizing of the earthbound self-absorption of the people of this world: Titus 2:12). Jesus encourages his disciples to match worldly persons’ ingenuity in using their resources to further their goals, but he specifies that their proper goals have to do not with earthly security but with heavenly glory (Luke 16:9).
God’s first requirement, then, of Christians in this world is that they be different from those around them, observing God’s moral absolutes, practicing love, avoiding shameful license, and not losing their dignity as God’s image-bearers through any form of irresponsible self-indulgence (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:17-24; Col. 3:5-11). A clean break with the world’s value-systems and life-styles is called for, as a basis for practicing Christlikeness in positive terms (Eph. 4:25-5:17).
The Christian’s appointed task is threefold. The church’s main mandate is evangelism (Matt. 28:19-20; Luke 24:46-48), and every Christian must seek by all means to further the conversion of unbelievers. The impact of one’s own changed life will be significant here (1 Pet. 2:12). Also, neighbor-love should constantly lead the Christian into deeds of mercy of all sorts. But in addition, Christians are called to fulfill the “cultural mandate” that God gave to mankind at Creation (Gen. 1:28-30; Ps. 8:6-8). Man was made to manage God’s world, and this stewardship is part of the human vocation in Christ. It calls for hard work, with God’s honor and the good of others as its goal. This is the real Protestant “work ethic.” It is essentially a religious discipline, the fulfillment of a divine “calling.”
Knowing that God in providential kindness and forbearance continues, in face of human sin, to preserve and enrich his erring world (Acts 14:16-17), Christians are to involve themselves in all forms of lawful human activity, and by doing that in terms of the Christian value system and vision of life they will become salt (a preservative that makes things taste better) and light (an illumination that shows the way to go) in the human community (Matt. 5:13-16). As Christians thus fulfill their vocation, Christianity becomes a transforming cultural force.
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