There is an old Chinese proverb which reads, “If you wish to know about water, do not ask a fish.” The only thing a fish knows is water. For the fish to gain a comparison to the water in which he exists, well, it rarely ends well for the fish.
In many ways, our culture is to us as the water is to the fish. Culture is the medium in which we move and exist in a country, a family or a locale. Because our culture is always with us, it becomes extremely hard to identify what culture sometimes “is” and what it “is not.” If you travel outside the U.S., this grants you a perspective that very few Americans have; if you do not travel, most likely “blissful ignorance” will reign.
Recently, there has been much discussion to change the name of the of the Southern Baptist Convention. The reason? There are those who believe we should change the name of the Convention believe that because the word “Southern” is associated in our culture with the institution of slavery, and because the SBC owes much of its beginning to men who either owned slaves or supported the institution of slavery, we must change our name.
Culture is not automatically equivalent to what the Bible identifies as “worldliness.” Worldliness is all that is opposed to God and the coming of His kingdom. Now culture can certainly qualify as worldliness, but it does not have to be. We speak English in church and read Bibles and sing music that also uses the English language. We are, culturally, an American church, yet we seek to measure ourselves against God’s Word and not our culture.
Now back to the name change for the Convention: Why? Will anything change? The supporters claim it will change how we are perceived. Will our convention be redefined? No, not really. Same churches, same pastors and members, same beliefs but no changes in doctrine or theology. Then why change?
There exist within our churches people who have bought into the perception, ideology and thinking of the cancel culture which is now rampant in our culture. To change our name because the Convention is no longer geographically defined as being predominantly “Southern,” well, that has some legitimate, logical reasoning and purpose. But to change it based on what others may think—and these “others” are already hateful toward all things Christian—is a silly compromise to cultural pressure and its unbiblical societal demands.
In Matthew 11:16-19, Jesus said regarding John the Baptizer, “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
There are those in our culture will never be satisfied even if we acquiesce to their demands. We can attempt to satisfy their calls for cultural compliance, for no matter what we do, we will never satisfy their demands. We will never reach a point where they will cease to insist that our behavior and beliefs should change. If we seek to comply with their demands, or attempt to avoid their retribution, we will find ourselves the victim of their ever-changing rules and definitions which are continually mutable. To do so will only result in our disobedience.
Those who desire that Christians comply will never be pleased. I’ve read the end of the Bible; there will be more and more persecution of the Church coming and believers cannot escape the consequences of prophecy. Again, believers do not seek consolation and comfort in our circumstances, but in our sovereign Lord.
Our worship is to be lived to only One, to the worship of only One. Jesus Christ stated, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Our deeds, the way we live our faith “out loud” amid our culture, will either justify our use of faith before God or convict us before our culture.
Believers do not live in water; we live in faith. We hope in a future we cannot see and is not yet here. Our proof, the proof we offer our culture and this world, is in our deeds.
One of those phrases which are said far too often and almost flippantly, are believers, Christians, are “to be in the world but not of the world.” Usually it is a teacher or someone who is attempting to make a point through the use of this phrase, but no real, concrete explanation is ever given which would give meaning to the aphorism.
The listener is somewhat perplexed and unsure how to alter their behavior, so they can then avoid being “of the world.” I’m sure, in many instances, the frustration builds, and no attempt is made to alter their life. Thoughts of finding some kind of camouflage may even immediately be considered to avoid being detected . . . .by anyone!
While this saying usually sounds so much wiser than the wisdom actually imparted, the Apostle Paul, in the letter to the Romans, wrote to them saying, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”(Romans 12:2 ESV).
The saying, “being in but not of the world,” is not in the Bible, but the principle is. The Apostle Paul, after spending eleven chapters informing the church in Rome of God’s plan, of how God chose people to be His in spite of the fact every single person had rejected Him and had chosen to worship the inferiority of creation rather than Him; He made a decision to choose some of us anyway.
Paul then demonstrated how on our own, no one would be able to come to Him through His Son. He then gave the example of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah—and how God will stillsave a remnant who will accept His Messiah Jesus. Then Paul concludes by telling the Roman Christians they should, as an act of worship, “present [their] bodies as a living sacrifice” which is their natural, spiritual worship response as a saved, redeemed people.
Okay, so far so good. Yet just as the saying of “we’re in the world but not of the world” sounds really cool in concept, how exactly does this occur? Paul doesn’t hesitate, but quickly adds the way, the mechanics which will allow this to occur: through “the renewal of our minds.”
When computers first started to become the ubiquitous necessity they are now, there was an aphorism that was immediately recognizable and understood: “Garbage in, garbage out!” If you enter bad data, you will never—and have no hope of ever—get good data from the computer.
Paul understood this was true of people as well. We are created beings and the One who created us knows how we are made and what is needed for us to function well. While Paul is writing to Christians, this principle is true of all of humanity. If you eat junk food, if you consume violent or risqué media, do not be shocked when the cigarettes you smoke make you wheeze, the donuts keep you from seeing your toes and the media you allow in your mind affects your ability to think clearly and function normally.
One other note: the Greek word translated as conformed gives us the ability to understand this conformity with the world that literally “fashions us together with” the world so we cannot be separated from it. This is the same idea in camouflage. Regardless of who you are, you have made the choice to “blend in” so well, you cannot and will not be distinguishable from your surroundings.
So, let’s return to our confusing little homily: “in the world yet not of the world.” As believers in Jesus Christ, as those who Paul says have been “recreated” by the Spirit, we are literally “no longer of this world.” Just as a diver must wear an air tank, a mask and flippers to propel him through the water and to keep him alive, believers must breath faith, consume God’s Word, and we must depend on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christians are to be different. “Different” does not mean weird! Different means we exist through our faith, we are sustained by God’s Word and we find our energy, our power through the Holy Spirit. As we use our faith, consume God’s Word and live by the Spirit’s power, we will find our conformity will be to Jesus Christ. Paul even said this clearly that every believer is “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
We are “in” not “of.” The only way we can exist “in” is for us to “look like” Jesus Christ—literally, for people to “see Jesus,” when they see us.
Now that’s some great camouflage!