“Upstream Living in a Downstream World”

When it comes to how Christians relate to their culture, there are several options which have been articulated by theologians, most notably 5 specific approaches articulated by Reinhold Niehbuhr in his classic work, Christ & Culture

Christ in culture

Christ above culture

Christ against culture

Christ outside of culture

Christ transforming culture

I suspect that most of us, regardless of your political persuasion or feelings about the future, would say that our culture has gone through GI-NORMOUS changes these past many years.  It is tempting, in view of the present realities, to determine that Christianity has failed in the American experience.  However, that quick assessment seems to me to be terribly off the mark.  I think Os Guinness was right when he said,

“The problem with Christians in America is not that Christians aren’t where they should be; the problem is that they’re not what they should be right where they are.”

The church in America is, or should be, in a time of deep questioning.   Many believers who speak to me are wondering about how they should live out their faith in this world of ours.  I want to take a bit of time to develop a line of questions about what we should do as Christ followers in a culture gone astray.  What is the mission of the church and what is the responsibility of those who follow Jesus? Should we simply pray, preach, be pious and let God sort it out at the end?  Should we preach, pray, politic, and pressure our world to become a Christian nation? Or, is there something else we should be doing?

       Like much else that we have heard, this is not a new issue to those familiar with what the Bible teaches. For you to really engage the study though, you’ll need to dig further on your own; to that end, I’ll provide some additional resources for your personal study.   I pray that we will become like these men:

“men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (I Chronicles 12:32). 

Today, we need men and women like those of Issachar who existed in ancient Israel.  We need to understand our times and know what to do.  Let’s start with 4 basic assumptions for directing Christian behavior.

Basic Assumptions for Directing Christian Behavior

1.  God is Holy

“Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.”(Leviticus 20:7-8)


2. God invites us to know Him

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”(John 17:3)


3. God’s people are transformed by knowing Him

Knowing Christ is not simply a “slice” of your time or your life.  When we enter into a relationship with God, it literally transforms the way we live out our existence.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)


4.  We are accountable to God for our behaviors

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

Because God is Holy, and we are in relationship with Him, we are accountable to Him for how we behave in this world.  We are not left as orphans however; we are given His Spirit within us to make us like Christ.  To the extent that we allow God to work in us through His Spirit, we are able to become more and more like Christ.

How then should we live in the world as followers of Christ?  How should we engage a culture gone contrary to Christianity?  LOOK AT ONE OF THE MOST INTIMATE MOMENTS IN ALL OF THE BIBLE…Jesus was in the garden, just hours before his ultimate betrayal by Judas, one of His followers.  In those moments, knowing what was to come, He spent some private and powerful moments in prayer.  That prayer has come to be known as the High Priestly Prayer because in it He interceeded for you and for me.  Here is a portion of what He said:

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:13-19)

Let me pick out Jesus’ main declarations within this prayer:

This world is not our home

Jesus did not pray for our removal from the world

He prayed for our protection from evil

God’s truth is our protection against evil

So, what is the problem?  The problem is that we live in a world system that acts aggressively our protection from evil.  Let me articulate 3 REALITIES REGARDING our protection as God’s children in this world:

1)  The world system wants our heart, our head, and our homes

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world”(1 John 2:15-16)

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

World =earth(Acts 17:24), people(John 3:16), 1 John 2:15-17(system)

World-cosmos(space, material universe), aeon(time, ages)

2)  Overcoming the world is a battle only won by followers of Christ

“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:3-5)

3)  Christians must be strategic in the way we live our lives in the world

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”(Colossians 4:5-6)

 “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

What Now..4 FIRST STEPS…

  1. Understand where you stand with God…BOLDNESS
  2. Discern your protection from evil on the basis of God’s Word…DISCERNMENT
  3. Pray for wisdom in your speech and actions towards unbelievers….WISDOM…
  4. Live in such a way as to glorify God with your life…LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE!

Suggested Resources (Partial List Only, Not all Christian Authors)

Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians:  The Good News About the End of Christian America

William Bennett, The De-Valuing of America

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Robert H. Bork Slouching Towards Gomorrah

Stephen Carter, The Culture of Disbelief

Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live?

Chuck Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict

Colonel Doner, The Samaritan Strategy

Scot McKnight, The Kingdom Conspiracy

Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?

Published by drjohnjackson

President of Jessup University (www.jessup.edu), speaker and author of books on leadership and transformation

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