It is easy as Christians to become dismayed by cultural changes that seem to be rejecting God and infringing on our religious freedoms.
But in the past several weeks I have found encouragement and hope from a statement by present-day Jerusalem pastor Wayne Hilsden.
He said, “The early Christians did not say ‘Look what the world has come to.’ Rather they exclaimed ‘Look what has come to the world!’”
Yes I am troubled by moral decay in our society, and worry that the foundations of Godly values necessary for a healthy society are being eroded, but when I remind myself that Jesus has come into our world to save and transform it, I can live in this present life with hope.
It concerns me when I hear messages that only lament about the ways God is being ignored by our culture. In fact I have noticed a dangerous trend among some Christians that when they overly emphasize moral decay it is as if they have forgotten about the hope we have in Jesus to transform culture.
I have heard Christians become so upset that we are abandoning Biblical values, or losing our religious freedoms, or that America is no longer a so-called Christian nation, that they forget to talk about Jesus.
First century Palestine was not a particularly God-honoring or “Christian” culture. Roman rulers were oppressive and not respecting of religious freedoms or human rights. The economic system kept people enslaved or poor, and favored the rich. Sexual immorality was everywhere and even celebrated as a form of worship. Racial, ethnic and class divisions left the society fractured and placed people groups in opposition to one another.
Yet in this setting in which the early Christians were full of joy and consumed with excitement about Jesus. Based on what we know about the depravity of Roman culture at that time it’s amazing that the New Testament scriptures give relatively very little attention to these social ills. Paul and John and James and the other apostles did not lament “Look what the world has come to”.
Rather they exclaimed, “Look what has come to the world!”
In the opening paragraph of John’s first epistle he repeats himself several times trying to describe the excitement of having encountered the living Jesus; we have heard him, we have seen him, we looked at him, we touched him. And it was this real, personal encounter with Jesus that made his joy complete.
It is true, we do face more threats to our religious freedom, and our Christian values are being dismissed by society, and core building blocks of society such as the sanctity of life and the importance of stable families that have mothers and fathers is being replaced by incomplete ideas of love and family.
But our disappointment that society is turning away from Godly values should never overshadow or replace our message about hope in Jesus.
We should not be attacking the world; we should be offering it the hope of Jesus.
Jesus is the one who gives people freedom from addictions and destructive habits; not our judgments. Jesus is the one who can restore relationships and make families stronger; not our verbal condemnation. Jesus is the one who gives us peace in the midst of suffering and oppression; not our efforts to fight back.
Let us be known as a people who are filled with hope and joy, not because we think that through political power or persuasive argument we can make the world any better, but because Jesus has come to the world and we are excited to introduce people to him so that they will experience divine freedom, rather than human persuasion.
Look what has come to the world!
This commentary by Carl Nelson was originally published in the Minnesota Christian Examiner, July 2013 edition, and is re-posted here with permission.