As followers of Jesus are we meant to make the culture or are we meant to counter the culture? Is the goal to get more people to go to church or is it to be a church that stands as a thing set apart in the world? While there has been much outstanding thought on the various ways that the church is to be toward the world, and while there is not a singular correct answer, there is a way that we can navigate our lives in this world in which we live. If we believe our task is to make the culture we will find ourselves pulling upon the culture in a way that we think is Christian. We will use all that is at our disposal – politically, socially, financially to get the world to conform to what we think is right. If we think we are meant to be counter to the culture then we will commit ourselves to a perspective that stands in distinction to what is addressed culturally, politically, and ethically. In other words, there will be an aroma about us that is distinctive yet attractive to our world.
Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My Kingdom is not from here.” – Jn.18:36. ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ Jesus is saying we, as His followers, are to give an expression or a spirit that is not the same spirit of this world. That spirit would be not angry but peaceful, not forceful but meek, not ‘anti’ this world but self-suffering and longsuffering toward it while living in the midst of it.
In his book ‘For the Life of the World’ Alexander Schmemann said ‘Jesus is not going to make a new thing; He is going to make all things new.’ He is not going to destroy all that is in this world. He is going to transform this world into the full purpose for which God created it. We, ourselves, are going to be fully human; fully living in the thing for which God created us. The title of this book tells us we are to give our lives for the life of the world. There is a cross-centered, redemptive posture toward our world. This view challenges us to avoid being hateful toward this world which is lost, is blind, is dead to God, is hostile to God, for Jesus came into this world to save it. In John 3 Jesus tells us the world is already lost. He did not come to condemn it. He came to save it.
As we navigate the current affairs of our society we can ask ourselves, am I becoming angrier or am I becoming more compassionate? Am I becoming more segregated from it or am I entering into it bringing a different spirit, a different tone – a humility rather than a hostility? Am I in a very tangible and self-aware way laying my life down and losing something – something that looks like a loss, looks like a compromise, looks like a giving-in but is, in the Spirit, a death for the sake of the other? Nothing in Jesus’ suffering and death looked redemptive. It looked like He lost, and the other guys won. It looked like sin won and righteousness lost. It looked like the devil got his way and God did not get His way. But we know otherwise.
If we sincerely desire to have a voice in our world we as Christians do not need to fear that we might lose. We do not need to fear that we are giving things up. Our confidence can be in God who calls things that are not as though they are and gives life to the dead. Ours is a confidence God is the One bringing salvation to His world – it is still His world. And just as Christ laid down his life for the life of the world so too can we lay down our lives for the life of this world. We are counter-culture not because we are against it. We are counter-culture because we act within it by laying down our lives for the sake of others.