At times, cultural engagement by Christians can seem vain and hopeless. The ever-changing, never-listening culture into which Christians speak is overwhelming. This reality often results in two extreme actions by Christians: withdrawal from culture or capitulation to culture.
Neither of these actions represent the biblical example of the apostle Paul in Acts 17. We, like Paul, are expected to engage the various idols and ideologies of our culture with the steadfast truth of God the Father’s work in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit for the sake of his glory and the good of the world. But how do we faithfully engage in such work? I believe the answer lies in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth.
Specifically, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul provided a basis of hope for engaging a lost and dying people in a hostile culture with the truth of the gospel. He begins with a clear presentation of the gospel in verses 1-11, which reveal that the gospel is the good news about how sinners are saved from God’s holy judgment through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s life, death, burial, and resurrection. This good news was not only rooted in verifiable, historical facts, but it was transcendently good for all people who placed their trust in Jesus.
How we view the world
As Paul progressed throughout 1 Corinthians 15, he ties the message of the gospel to the ministry of the church in Corinth. Because of what Christ had accomplished through his life, death, burial, and resurrection, the church’s worldview and work should be different. As for the church’s worldview, Paul admonished the church to no longer think about life and death from an earthly perspective (vv. 35-41). Instead, the church should embrace a heavenly perspective about their life and death, recognizing that such a perspective will strengthen us to live in conformity to Christ and demonstrate a true hope.
Ultimately, we must come to realize that there is only one true way to defy death. There is only one true way to overcome the daily decay. We must be raised to life again in Christ Jesus. Thus, we are not hoping in cosmetics, cars, cryogenics, or any other things of this world to secure our permanence. True life, even in the midst of death, comes only through Christ.
How we work in the world
But the resurrection not only transforms the way that we view our world, it should also impact the way that we work in the world. Specifically, it should affect the way that we engage those who are shaped by the ideals of our postmodern, true God-ignoring culture. Writing in light of the resurrection, in verse 58, Paul concludes, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” To put it another way, “Because of what God the Father has accomplished through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, we continue to do the work of the Lord.”
When we are overwhelmed by feelings like purposelessness, weariness, fatigue, discouragement, futility, brokenness, illness, hopelessness, the truth of the resurrection brings the power and peace of the future into the present to renew and refresh us in the “work of the Lord.”
This work begins with believing the gospel ourselves and then moves to sharing the gospel with others, which necessarily includes an engagement with our culture. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and all who place their trust in him will be raised like him when he returns to put an end to all of the sin and brokenness that torments and haunts our world. It is here in the hope of our own resurrection through Christ that we find an exceedingly practical and immovable hope for our ministry in the world.
When we are overwhelmed by feelings like purposelessness, weariness, fatigue, discouragement, futility, brokenness, illness, hopelessness, the truth of the resurrection brings the power and peace of the future into the present to renew and refresh us in the “work of the Lord.” With every day that passes, death itself is one day closer to its own death! The resurrection of Christ serves to give us hope both now and in the future. It serves to point us to the victory that is in Jesus.
To this end, the resurrection reminds us that victory over all the sorrow in this world is coming. Because Christ has prevailed over the grave, we can trust that he will prevail in this world as well. When we engage our culture, we do not do so as those without hope. Instead, we do so as those with great confidence. There is no need for fear. Only faith.