Can we as believers in God - as individuals and as churches - influence our culture to be moral and responsible?
The world in which we live is imperfect. In foreign countries there are serious crimes, murders, and government controls. In America there are crimes and murders, but there is also an environment of immorality and a falling economy. What should we be doing to make a difference in our society? I will propose that there are basically two things that make a difference:
1. Self-sacrifice before God
This leads us to
2. Evangelism and discipleship
The real issue in each of these is that God calls us to sacrifice ourselves to Him - in response to His grace toward us (see Romans 12:1). God's grace toward us was to pay a debt for our sin so that we could be reconciled to Him. But our reconciliation is not for personal happiness, and it is not strictly for salvation. He gives us salvation, but it is so that we become His people and display Him before the world. (It is also because He is a loving God, but He does have a calling a purpose for us.)
Here are how the things on this list can make a difference to society.
Contributing the most to a bad social environment is unstable homes. Dishonesty and immorality are major sources of social badness, but unstable homes are a major cause of these wrong pursuits.
God's calling is for husbands and wives to have "marital oneness" and to raise children. When children grow up in stable homes with mothers and fathers genuinely committed to God and to each other, then the children do much better. When children do well and go out into society as adults they contribute to a stable society.
Contributing to our bad society is a combination of cultural views that go the opposite direction of God's calling. As our society has turned away from God it has led to a cultural submission to the flesh. The media in movies and TV shows, plus magazines and videos and other sources are all accepting of whatever our flesh wants - free sex, unwed child-birth, single moms and fatherless homes, cohabitation or divorce, homosexuality, and abortion. The basic perspective of our current culture is that life is about personal success and fleshly happiness - not "self-sacrifice" to marriage and parenting and godly-righteousness before God.
One of the places where statistics are showing us the problem is children of fatherless homes. Fatherless children are much worse than children of stable mom-and-dad homes. These children have a much higher degree of things like crime, drug addiction, sex abuse, lack of education, poverty due to lack of work, and even depression and suicide. The unstable home environments also contribute to a bad economy. About 71% of fatherless children have poverty, and about 73% of economically stable people are from stable double-parent homes.
One thing needed is for us to influence our society to move away from submission to the culture and to the flesh - that is, to move away from things like free-sex, single parenting or cohabitation, and to avoid divorce. If we go in the direction of God's calling for a stable home we will have a better environment.
In order to give ourselves to a stable marriage and family we need to first give ourselves to God. It is when we obey God that we begin to realize that life is not about submitting to our flesh for happiness and personal desires or personal success. Life is about personal sacrifice to self in response to God's grace (Romans 12:1).
In the Old Testament God designated the people of Israel to display Him before the world. There was an environment from Adam and Eve through Noah's descendents in which mankind had gone the wrong direction. God moved Abraham over to Palestine and promised him to bear children. He called Abraham to display God to his descendents by surrender to God, and so to get his descendants to display God before the world.
The Israelites had some success in pursuing God's calling, but they also had significant failure and lacked display of God. So God sent His Messiah into the world to pay the debt of mankind's sin. This was a gracious outreach for world members of all races to surrender to God. A surrender to God leads to a display of God inside the heart - and behaviors toward God, toward neighbors, and within the family and the church. When we surrender ourselves to God and rely on Him versus self, then we begin to display God to a watching world.
Unities make a difference
The Bible describes the church as "the body of Christ" - a sense in which the church is called to represent Christ on the earth while Christ is at God's hand. When the secular society sees churches and families walking before God and sacrificing self, then they see God. This can lead them to consider belief in God.
Fellow church-members and marriage spouses often have conflicts over issues, but this is not God's calling. His calling is unity in relationships - in marriage, in the family, and in the church. This is because unity displays God. Obeying God by self-control over the flesh when it comes to conflicts is a display of God ruling us versus a ruling of our flesh and personal focuses. Instead of arguing or rebelling against anyone, we act with patience, kindness and forbearance.
Honesty and Integrity make a difference
We are obeying God by refusing to submit to our flesh in lying or stealing or an irresponsible lifestyle. When we obey like this we display God. We reveal to people that God is at work inside of us because they see us refusing to cheat, steal, lie, etc. Galatians 5:22-23 has a list of things that God's Holy Spirit produces in us. The last item is "self-control." But "self-control" does not mean that we are in charge of ourselves. Rather, it means that we are responding to God and moving away from the dishonesties that our flesh proposes to us. These forms of self-control, avoiding immorality or selfishness or dishonesty, are displays of God inside of us.
Ministry to the needs of people makes a difference
One of God's primary instructions is to earn money, but not use it strictly for self. Rather, it is a way to minister to the needs of others. There are good verses for this, and this is one of the most prominent instructions throughout the New Testament.
When we view economics as personal happiness, we have gone against God's instruction and calling, and we are displaying self and flesh and culture attitudes rather than displaying God. We do need to be responsible about our money rather than to go in debt, but enjoying wealth is not our calling. Using our financial stability to help others is a display of God.
When we use our money - and / or our time and energy - to minister to social needs and to needy people, then we are "sacrificing self" in response to God's grace, and we are displaying the presence of God's Holy Spirit inside of us. This response to God is a calling both to individual believers and to the church. It is what God called Israel to do - the place where they failed - displaying God to the world.
As these are in place we should explain the gospel message.
Evangelism is a form that is widely promoted by Christian churches, and in fact it is what God calls us to do. When Jesus called us to "make disciples of all the nations," this is a goal beyond leading people to Christ. It is a goal of getting them to follow God as believers as described above. But to get them to go that direction requires evangelism - getting people first to accept Christ as Lord and Savior, relying on His sacrificial payment for sin, not on religious works. The reason for putting this in a second place is that evangelism by itself does not work well "by itself," meaning preaching without genuine displays of God's righteousness.
Gospel explanations do lead some people to Christ. But if God is displayed through genuine righteousness, then evangelistic discussions are more likely to make a difference. What Jesus did on the earth was exactly this combination. He healed people, fed thousands, saved some from danger, and raised some from the dead. These things not only displayed God's power and Him as Messiah, they also displayed God's grace and they called people to recognize that God is both sovereign and good. So when Jesus died in sacrifice for sin, people were much more willing to hear and believe. If we can be "the body of Christ" as a church and display ourselves as children of God by personal sacrifice of self, we not only display God, we also reach out to the hearts of individuals by ministering to their needs.
Will we influence culture to be moral and responsible?
If we get people to convert to Christ and then lead them to discipleship (that is, "self-sacrifice before God" - Romans 12:1), then we will probably get the larger number of people to be moral and responsible. But if people do not surrender to Christ then there is still a likelihood of influencing our culture through our righteous display of God.
Our current culture is going the wrong direction. As stated above, one primary reason is that the culture is reaching out to the human flesh. And the media, public schools, publications, and the government are endorsing the fleshly desires. Unwed sex, unwed childbirth, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality are all going against God's design for stable families and children growing into mature, responsible adults. So the culture is producing immature, irresponsible adults, a dangerous environment, and a damaged economy. Nonetheless, when they see Christians displaying God - through a combination of honesty and integrity, unity in the marriage and in the church, and through gracious ministries to needy people - then those who do not trust Christ might still see the value of morality and responsibility in marriage and families. Christian submission before God manifests not only morality and a stable environment, it also contributes to the stability of homes and the maturity of children. That combination contributes to a stable environment and shows non-Christians that morality and honesty are worth pursuing rather than the culture or the flesh.
I said that "If we can influence our society to go in the direction of God's calling for a stable home we will have a better environment." Am I only saying that we need to have a better society? Or am I saying that we need to lead people to Christ? The society will be better if people give themselves before God. But if the Christians only get people to go the right direction, the society will be better than what the current culture is producing.
Tom Clark is a Family Life Ambassador with the Family Life Ministry.