A Godly Church in a Hostile Culture

By Wendyl Leslie

I think what we're seeing in today's political climate is the results of liberalism which has its godless tentacles firmly wrapped around those whose role it is to establish the laws and rules of our country. As such, God and the things of God, have been systemically removed from the hallways of our government, our courtrooms, our schools; slowly eroding our personal freedoms and now encroaching upon the church itself. It's all reminiscence of what was so prevalent during the early biblical times when "...everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

How should Christians respond? We can find the answers through the Scriptures, through prayer, by not underestimating the power of Satan, and through the church.

First, we can know God's will by getting back to the Scriptures by "rightly discerning the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). This includes our becoming more pro-active in defending the faith, "to always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you..." (1 Peter 3:15). And in doing so, to "be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love" (1 Corinthians 16:13-14; Ephesians 6:10-17).

Aside from knowing God's will through the Scriptures, we have the power of prayer. In his Ephesian letter, the Apostle Paul spoke of "putting on the armor of God" in our defense of the truth of the Scriptures (Ephesians 6:10-17). Then he added one more thing: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18).

This verse, although not naming another "weapon" in the believers' armor, continues the thought of the previous passages. As we take the sword of the Spirit, God's Word, we must also pray in the Spirit on all occasions. Praying in the Spirit means that the Spirit helps us when we pray (Romans 8:26). The Spirit prays on our behalf (Romans 8:27). The Spirit makes God accessible (Ephesians 2:18). The Spirit gives us confidence when we pray (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6). He inspires and guides us when we pray. He helps us communicate with God and also brings God's response to us. It's through prayer coupled with the knowledge of God's word that enables us to know His will for us in these desperate times.

Correspondingly, we must never underestimate the immense power of Satan. He is the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31; John 14:30). He is a "murderer" and "the father of lies" (John 8:44). There's no question "that the whole world is under his control" (1 John 5:19). We can only look at actions and decisions of our nation's leaders to readily see the works of his evil hand. Satan will strike in different ways at different people and at different times, especially the godless, the gullible, and the naive.

The Bible makes it clear that "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). The gospel message at the time of the first century church sounded foolish to many outside of Christ, just as it is scoffed at by many today. This should not come as a surprise. Non-Christians cannot fully understand God; thus they cannot grasp the concept that God's Spirit lives in believers. Just as a tone-deaf person cannot fully appreciate fine music, the person who rejects God cannot understand God's beautiful message. With the lines of communication broken, a person is not able to hear what God is saying to him or her.

In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul highlighted these truths about these nonbelievers: (1) They can't understand these truths; (2) the spiritual truths all sound foolish to them; and (3) they do not have the Spirit. It as the great evangelist Charles Finney once said "The unspiritual are out of court as religious critics; they are deaf men judging music."

Unbelievers simply cannot comprehend Christ's work on the cross, see the beauty and compassion of God's divine plan, or desire to know God at all. These truths are "spiritually discerned." To "discern" means to examine and scrutinize. All of these mysteries remain as mere foolishness to them because the ability to comprehend, love, and glory in these realities comes directly from the Holy Spirit.

Satan will attack us when we least expect it. He will rarely let up if he thinks he can win the battle, so believers must keep on praying, no matter how long it takes. No believer is exempt from being Satan's target — Satan demands battle against his enemies, we believers in Christ. No Christian can stand alone in this battle.

Currently, the Supreme Court is considering establishing laws whereby if passed, the church and para-church organizations could lose tax-exempt status. Even face fines and closures if they discriminate against hiring homosexuals or teach against their practices or their rights to marriage. Yet, as Paul has commanded, we're to honor the "king" and obey the laws as established by it. What are we to do?

Without question, as Christians, we know the laws of God always supersede that of our earthly government (Acts 5:29). Our article titled "Do Christians Have to Obey the Laws of the Land?" clearly points out:
...as long as the law of the land does not contradict the law of God, we are bound to obey the law of the land. As soon as the law of the land contradicts God's command, we are to disobey the law of the land and obey God's law. However, even in that instance, we are to accept the government's authority over us. This is demonstrated by the fact that Peter and John did not protest being flogged but instead rejoiced that they suffered for obeying God (Acts 5:40-42).
God has always made His will known to us from the time of Moses and the Ten Commandments, through His prophets and godly kings, and from the teachings of the apostles and Jesus Himself. God promised us: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws" (Ezekiel 36:26-27). As such, God has placed within us His Spirit, which enables our spirit to know and to do His will.

But we must be aware of the fact that the Bible has also made it clear to us is that God sometimes uses evil and wicked people to accomplish His purpose. Sometimes evil people and their actions are permitted to spur His people on, to get their hearts right with Him; even to punish them for not following His commands.

For example, it was God's plan that evil people murder Jesus: "This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross" (Acts 2:23). This is a perfect example of God's sovereignty and people's responsibility — both in the same sentence. God's prearranged plan was His will to bring salvation to people through the death and resurrection of Christ. Though God's will is sovereign, He works through people and events of history. Even putting Jesus to death by evil people fulfilled God's plan. The "wicked men" (the Romans) had been involved, but they had been merely "helping."

Pharaoh is another illustration of how God uses evil people to carry out His will: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth'" (Romans 9:17). God had purposely placed that particular Pharaoh in that particular position at that particular time in history so His great power would be displayed (through the miracles witnessed in Egypt and by the incredible release of the Hebrew slaves), and so His name would be known over all the world. God put up with Pharaoh's fickleness and defiance for quite some time, but all for the same purposes. Pharaoh became mired in his own rebelliousness. In fact, part of God's judgment on Egypt was the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Eventually, those nations who heard what God had done for His people in Egypt greatly feared the Israelites and their God.

But the point I'm driving at is that though God wants us to obey our governing officials, He doesn't condone our disobedience if such laws circumvent His. I'm thinking you'll agree with me when I say that for far too long the church has been slack in preaching against the evils this nation. We have succumbed to the evils of abortion, homosexuality, drugs, false teachings in the church, tolerance of sexual immorality, and on and on. The church no longer stands as a beacon in the night "blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe" (Philippians 2:15).

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul explained the importance of the believers' actions — they needed to clean up their act in order to fulfill their mission of spreading the gospel. Paul's advice for their "housecleaning" is summed up in two words: blameless and pure. Anymore, it's difficult to distinguish the church from the world, as its philosophy has changed from "not being of the world" to that of "being like the world." It's like the well-renown Christian apologist and best-selling author Ravi Zacharias said about the decline of the church today: "What we [the church] wins with them, is what we win them to."

First, the church is to be "blameless." This means being beyond reproach, incurring no justifiable criticism. This does not mean sinless perfection; instead, the church is to be beyond the criticism of the unbelieving world.

Second, the church is to be "pure" (also translated "innocent"). The Greek word "akeraioi" — ἀκέραιος — was used to describe wine that had not been diluted or metal that had no weakening alloys. Jesus used the word when He told His disciples to be "innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16); Paul employed it when he told the Christians in Rome to be "wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil" (Romans 16:19). There should be nothing within the church that could weaken its strength or contaminate the truth. When a church is filled with disputes, arguments, bickering, and divisions, it cannot be blameless, for those outside the church are the first to spot such problems and to point critical fingers. Nor can such a church be pure, for such problems will undermine its strength. If the church can be blameless and pure, it will be able to fulfill its mission in the world and will conduct itself "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27).

It would only be then that the church would be recognized as the children of God "without fault in a crooked and depraved generation." Paul was quoting from words that Moses used to describe the nation of Israel when it went astray: "They have acted corruptly toward [God]; to their shame they are no longer his children, but a warped and crooked generation" (Deuteronomy 32:5). Moses was describing apostate Israel, but Paul applied the words to the culture surrounding the Philippian church. Without a doubt, the Philippian believers lived in a generation filled with dishonesty and perversion even as our own generation today. But there is great significance to the little word "in."

While believers are rescued out of the present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and are no longer of the world (John 17:16), they are not taken out of the world (John 17:15). They are "in" the world and have been given a commission to go "into" the world with the Good News (John 17:18). The church of Philippi needed to fulfill its mission in the world, and it could best do so by being blameless and pure children of God right in the middle of the depraved culture.

God's will for those of us who live in such a godless culture is for the body of believers to remain pure and blameless; so much so, that the contrast within their culture is so stark that it's as if they shine like stars. They bring the light of truth into the darkness of depravity, as stars light up the darkness of the night. Indeed, Jesus told those who believe in Him: "You are the light of the world...Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14, 16).

Published 6-1-15