We began this series with the question: "Why don't we trust in God enough to conform our lifestyle to His perfect counsel?" At first glance, this may sound like a harsh and impertinent question, but as we've discussed, sooner or later our behaviors will "out" our true beliefs. The simple reason for this is that we all live according to the ethics that we trust in the most. As a glass-half-full person, I would prefer to believe that the reason the vast majority of our brothers and sisters in Christ are professing to believe in God and His revealed Word, but are living according to their own wisdom is not because they don't truly believe, but because we, as Bible teachers, have not done a thorough job of instructing them in how to do it. Two critical components in being more effective instructors are:
- Demonstrating how to conform our Little Picture of Life to God's Big Picture.
- Changing the paradigm of how we view the church and our role in it from "Library Science" to "Life Science."
We conclude this series with the third critical component, which is to re-suppose what we pre-suppose by interpreting the Bible in terms of our present days, instead of according to the last days. As mentioned in Part Two, each of us is a Bible teacher on some level, whether we are teaching ourselves, our family, leading a small group, or teaching a congregation. In either case, it would be most helpful in developing our lesson plan if we incorporated the following three concepts.
LEARNERS FIRST-Teach the whole counsel of God on a topic by presenting at least two word pictures of how each of the truths in the lesson can be included in the learners' lifestyle.
CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT-Point out how the learners can and should engage their culture with Biblical ethics.
CAUSE-AND-EFFECT UNIVERSE-Emphasize that since the culture belongs exclusively to Christ, and therefore to us as His "heirs and joint-heirs," the important thing is not how non-Christians are living, but how we are living. The Old Testament and the chronicles of history reveal how God raises up non-Christians to positions of cultural influence to awaken us to repentance, and then He either brings them down once we repent, or brings our culture down if we continue to live by our rules instead of by His rules.
Instructional Points of Emphasis
- Write out the objectives for each class. What do you want to happen? What should your students learn about? What should everyone experience? What are the key takeaways that lead to life change?1 Instead of listing rules of a particular behavior, paint a vivid mental picture of how to do it.
- Mention how what you are discussing relates to a particular part of the church's Mission Statement, and how non-Christians will do everything they can to prevent us from carrying out our mission.
- Ask your learners to ask themselves: "Am I getting what I want in life, because I have specific goals, or am I getting fuzzy results because I have fuzzy goals?" In this regard, assist your learners to see what they can be rather than what they are.
- Caution that in setting goals, "Good is the enemy of great," so set goals that are challenging, but not completely out of reach.
- Build confidence in your learners by making certain that they understand how to incorporate the Biblical ethics from previous lessons (and have been provided opportunities to practice them) before introducing them to additional ones.
As Christians we say that we trust in and rely upon God's promises. But most of our non-Christian neighbors don't get to hear our words. They only get to see our lifestyle. And since Jesus tells us that it is "from the heart" that our behaviors emerge, if our lifestyle doesn't match up to what we profess to believe, we've got a problem.
Regardless of how imposing our situations and circumstances may appear, we must remember two critically important facts: (1) We don't know God's eternally perfect timetable for using our obedience to complete His victory over Satan. (2) We do know that while "the highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth He has given to man."2 Indeed, Jehovah promises that if we ask Him, He will "give us the nations for our inheritance, and the ends of the earth are for our possession."3 In addition, Paul assures us that we are "ambassadors for Christ"4 and that we are "more than conquerors"5 and "ministers of the new covenant"6 to carry out the Great Commission.7 What more could we possibly want in order to present a daily lifestyle that is humble, yet positive and confident!
We need to Re-suppose what we Pre-suppose by interpreting the Bible in terms of our Present Days, instead of according to the Last Days.
Even though many Christians apparently don't believe it, Satan knows that Jesus defeated him in the wilderness.8 He also knows that he must "flee whenever we resist him."9 Lastly, Satan knows that sooner or later the collective obedience of Christians throughout the world will complete Christ's victory over him.10 Satan well remembers the advice of the Pharisee Gamaliel to the Council at Jerusalem regarding the apostles' preaching: "If it be of God, you cannot destroy it, lest you be found even fighters against God."11 This leaves him with only one effective weapon to use against us, deception. Satan imagines that if he can get us to spend our time and resources by living according to false presuppositions about Scripture, he can delay his inevitable defeat. But the truth is that he can't impose his will on our triune God's eternally perfect plan for His creation. We can rest assured that our Creator's plan is now, has always been, will always be perfectly on schedule.
We also have the Old Testament and the chronicles of history to prove that civilizations who live according to God's will experience "good times," while civilizations which live according to man's will experience "bad times," and in some cases destruction. Arguably one of Satan's most effective tactics is to distract us from the distinction that differentiates Christianity from all other religions, which is objective truths, instead of subjective feelings. For example, by tempting us to obsess over when Jesus is going to return, which is something that Jesus admits that even He does not know (!),12 Satan successfully takes our concentration off the objective ethics we are commanded to obey.13 We can protect ourselves from Satan's planting of false presuppositions in us by periodically asking ourselves, "Am I living according to God's inerrant and objective black (and red) words on the pages of my Bible, or am I living according to my subjective imaginings (the white spaces between the lines) of those words?" As long as we can answer, "objective truths," our lives will be based upon God's Word, but if our answer is "subjective imaginings," our lives will be based upon man's word.
Finding the Winning Attitude
|Satan’s in Control … There’s Nothing We Can Do.||Christ is in Control … There’s Everything We Can Do!|
|We will never win the culture!||God promises that His church will become the most influential institution in the world (Isa. 2:2–3), and “the nations will be our inheritance, the ends of the earth our possession” (Ps. 2:8). Why do you believe that “our labor will be in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58)?|
|Why try to improve culture, aren’t we living in the “last days”?||Jesus said, “No one knows the day or hour” (Matt. 24:36). Are you basing your faith on God’s revelation or man’s speculation?|
|We don’t have the expertise!||The Holy Spirit has given us a new spiritual heart, complete with God’s law written on it (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:9–10). This means we are the only people on earth who know who we are, what we’re supposed to do, and how to do it!|
|We don’t control any of the influential cultural institutions!||We have allowed non-Christians to take control because we have disobeyed God’s commands. Once we obey Him, we will take back control (1 John 4:4). “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” (Gen. 18:14)|
|What difference would it make to conform our civil laws to God’s laws?||You believe that God’s Word is true (Ps. 119:160; John 17:17), so why do you want civil laws based on man’s lies?|
|The church shouldn’t get involved in politics.||Do you really want to disobey Commandments 5–10? Do you really want to say that societies can only be changed by outward revolution, instead of inward regeneration (1 John 3:3; Col. 1:13)? Do you really want to say that Jesus is culturally irrelevant (Matt. 16:3)?|
|Doesn’t the Bible teach that Jesus’ Kingdom is “not of this world”?||Satan rules only over those who refuse to repent. The earth belongs to Jesus, and He has given it to us to make “the kingdoms of this world, the kingdoms of our Lord” (Ps. 24:1; Rev. 11:15).|
How to Make the Best Use of Your Time in God's Cause-and-Effect Creation
If a non-Christian were to ask, "Who are you?" meaning what makes you and your lifestyle different from me and my lifestyle, what would you say? Since he knows that you believe in a creator God and in heaven and hell, and that you attend church regularly, he is probably looking for an answer that doesn't include those facts. Since the lifestyles of many Christians in twenty-first-century America are practically indistinguishable from those of our non-Christian neighbors, this is very probably a sincere question. Indeed, it may be a nice way of saying, "Why do you worship a God who is culturally irrelevant?" After all, who could blame a non-Christian for being puzzled at our desire to attend weekly worship services, small group studies, and take the time to carefully teach our children about a God whose importance apparently only applies to the time after we leave this earth?
Could we blame them for thinking, "If your God is powerful enough to ‘save' you, why isn't He powerful enough to positively affect
Hopefully, your answer would point out that a Christian life should be distinctively different from a non-Christian life since God's revealed Word provides specific ethics by which we are to live, work, raise our children, worship God, and self-govern ourselves. In addition, I would hope that your answer would include that while it is logical for non-Christians to live according to their self-centered agenda, and seek to bring honor to themselves, so it is logical for Christians to live an others-centered agenda by seeking to bring honor to God in all we do.14
"How do you know how to live an ‘others-centered life'?" could well be the next question you are asked. Your answer to this could center on the Be-attitudes in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount,15 or Paul's counsel on which behaviors to "put on," and which to "put off."16 In all, your answer could emphasize that since God's Word is true and man's word is false, the only way to achieve results that are successful is to make certain that we conform our lives to Biblical ethics. In this way, the non-Christian could understand that professing to be a Christian means much more than attending church and being involved in various church projects. Being a Christian means more than adding a few "good behaviors" to one's lifestyle and deleting a few "bad behaviors." Instead of attempting to live with one foot in Christ's Kingdom and one foot in man's, a Christian lifestyle should reflect that a person loves and serves his Lord, Savior and King, Jesus Christ, with his "whole heart, soul and mind."17
Either we spend our time on earth being slaves to God, or slaves to Satan.18 As Christians, we have a common denominator of believing that God's Word is true and contains no contradictions.19 Therefore, we agree that our lives should conform to God's others-centered agenda, and not our self-centered agenda.20 We also agree that we should "put off" the behaviors of our previous non-Christian life, and "put on" the behaviors described throughout Scripture.21 One only has to observe the lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians to conclude that our professed beliefs are desperately out of sync with our behaviors. Instead of obeying God by presenting holy lifestyles that are distinctively different from the unholy lifestyles of non-Christians, it is practically impossible to tell the difference between us and them.
- We send our children to be indoctrinated to the religious views of the God-hating public schools. Yet we profess to believe in the first commandment that we should have no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3).
- We run our businesses just like non-Christians. Yet we profess that God's Word is "sufficient" for all phases of our life (2 Cor. 3:5).
- We neglect to carefully instruct each other in how to discern between a Christian legislative candidate and a candidate who is merely moralistic, because we imagine that the church has no business in politics. Yet we profess to believe that civil rulers are (should be!) "God's ministers to us for good" (Rom. 13:4).
- We apparently are unconcerned that our civil laws are more and more based upon man's wisdom than God's wisdom. Yet we profess that it is "In God We Trust" (Prov. 30:5).
From these examples it is obvious that the teaching techniques of the typical American church are in desperate need of repair. The uncomfortable truth is that other than the civil government, no organization has a longer record of consistent failure and mediocrity than American churches and their members. Shamefully, far too many pastors, with their weekly presentations of a man-honoring, seeker-friendly, watered-down, and cheapened gospel have led the transformation of American culture from greatness to mediocrity. This is not to say there aren't conscientious Bible-believing churches that do their best to teach specific doctrines. They are serious about:
- When and how to baptize.
- When and how to observe the Lord's Supper.
- How Jesus will return.
- Whether to worship God according to His instructions, not according to their imaginations of how He prefers to be worshipped.
Each of these items is significant and is very important for us to form our attitude toward them according to Scripture, but notice that none of the items focus on how to live out one's faith. As James cautions, we must "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves."22
God's Word is a completely sufficient guide, indeed a perfect guide, for our daily walk. A friend of mine likes to say "A faith that doesn't change your life doesn't save your soul." His point is that when we repent and ask Jesus to come into our heart, we should not think that all the Christian life requires is to replace a few immoral behaviors with a few moral ones. Even though a person may not think that living according to his (man's) wisdom is keeping a foot in Satan's kingdom, that nevertheless is exactly what he is doing.
Isn't This the Way We're Supposed to be Living?
When you compare your lifestyle to that of your non-Christian neighbors, how different is it? If you were discussing a particular issue in your community, would someone say, "I knew Buddy would present an alternative solution, because he is a Christian, and he is always attempting to connect Biblical ethics to his everyday decisions," or would no one know that you are a Christian because your daily life so closely resembles that of the non-Christians who are taking part in the discussion?
This presents a huge problem for our culture. Since we are not living according to God's rules, we are not receiving His blessings. Yet few, if any, pastors are instructing us in how to live out our faith. As a consequence, many of those sitting next to us in the pews have no motivation to change, because they haven't been taught that they need to, and consequently they don't see a need to!
We can't live by man's rules and expect to receive God's results.
The most urgent need for pastors, as well as for Bible teachers at all levels, is to create dissatisfaction in the current way that most of us are living. No Christian is living in an ungodly manner on purpose. Therefore, it is of the highest importance that when we are explaining one of God's revealed ethics, we must point out which of the Ten Commands relates to it and why we are bringing dishonor to God by not conforming our behavior and daily decisions to it. In addition, we must contrast God's reaction to disobedient behavior with His reaction to obedient behavior. Make it clear to your learners that whenever we are disobedient, God:
- Doesn't hear our prayers (Prov. 28:9).
- Doesn't honor our worship (Matt. 15:9).
- Doesn't bless our behavior (Deut. 28:15-68).
- Is not pleased that we are disrespecting Him (Rom. 1:28).
After all, He:
- Mercifully rescued us from the sinful condition in which we entered the world (1 Cor. 6:11).
- Sent the Holy Spirit into our heart to write God's law onto it (Ezek. 36:26).
- Motivates us to conform our behavior to Biblical ethics (Phil. 2:12-16).
Too Many of Us Are Living as Though We Have a Low View of God's Word
We began this series by stating that the world is clearly upside down, as non-Christians are living like Christians by attempting to improve our culture with their various ideas, and Christians are living like non-Christians, by hoping some sudden random act from Jesus will solve our problems. Hopefully by now we've built the case that God's prescription for turning America, or any country, right-side up does not revolve around what someone else does, but upon the collective obedience of Christians. It is a bottom-up prescription that includes you and me, not a top-down prescription that depends upon this or that political organization. May each of us welcome God's Word, "Not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in us who believe."23 And may we also remember that "our gospel did not come to us in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance."24
Life's "Playbook" contains several other essential elements, and perhaps these three primary fundamentals of how we can improve our lifestyle will lead to discussions about which additional elements we need to include in our daily testimony in order to take ground for Christ's Kingdom.
We are the straw that God uses to stir His pre-ordained drink for the earth. The plans and ungodly tactics of non-Christians serve merely as troublesome ice cubes that temporarily clog the glass, but as we obey God's will, He will melt them so that we receive His divinely perfect taste. Non-Christians cannot affect history; God raises them up to awaken us to repent and return to living according to what we profess to believe (e.g., to live like Christians, not non-Christians). History shows that when we repent the non-Christians are brought down,25 and when they refuse to repent He removes His light and allows them to be "trampled under foot by men."26 Only as we use God's Word as our guide to living will we be able to correct our current predicament of "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."27
1. Glenn Brooke, www.teachtochangelives.com
2. Psalm 115:16.
3. Psalm 2:8.
4. 2 Corinthians 5:20
5. Romans 8:37.
6. 2 Corinthians 3:6.
7. Matthew 28:18-20.
8. Matthew 4:1-11.
9. James 4:7.
10. Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20; Deuteronomy 28:13; Psalm 22:27-28; 72: 8, 11; Revelation 11:15.
11. Acts 5:39.
12. Matthew 24:36.
13. Galatians 5: Matthew 5-7, etc.
14. 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17.
15. Matthew 5.
16. Ephesians 4: Colossians 3.
17. Matthew 22:37.
18. Romans 6:1-7; 16-22.
19. Psalm 119:160; John 17:17.
20. Romans 12:1-2.
21. Ephesians 4; Colossians 3.
22. James 1:22.
23. 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
24. 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
25. Psalm 2.
26. Matthew 5:13.
27. 2 Timothy 3:7.
- Buddy Hanson