Back in 1999, Charles Colson wrote a book entitled, “How Now Shall We Live?” It’s a good question and one which many of us may find ourselves asking at this very moment as well. We live in a society that is growing more and more antagonistic towards Christians. One which is tolerant of just about everything except for anything relating to Christianity and the Bible. A culture that goes actively out of its way to promote the very things God hates. A world where in many ways we are not accepted and respected for our beliefs and everything appears to be topsy-turvy from the way it should be. How now shall we live in such a world? What is the Christian's role and responsibility here? Thankfully, God has not left us on our own to figure this out but tells us in His Word how we are to view ourselves and our citizenship here.
One thing we need to keep in mind in our living down here is that as believers we have a dual citizenship. Not only are we citizens of this earthly kingdom in the locality of Westmoreland or Fayette County, PA or wherever you may be as you read this but also Christ has made us citizens of His heavenly kingdom. Paul reminds the Philippians that "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by His working through which He is able to even subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). The way that Scripture describes us is as being "aliens and strangers" in this world (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). We are no different than the Israelites in the Old Testament in their wilderness wanderings not being able to truly call any place they pitch their tents home, waiting for the day when they would actually arrive home to the Promised Land which would be their permanent possession. As the old Gospel song put it, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' thru." We shouldn't "feel at home in this world anymore." We do not belong here and are no more than a pilgrim who has set up his tent in this place temporarily. So we should guard against getting too comfortable here and living as if we are going to remain for eternity. One day our earthly citizenship is going to end and all we will have is the greater heavenly citizenship. When I was in seminary, I actually had two different addresses in two different places. There was the address of my school where I stayed for classes in Lanham, MD and the address of my parents. I had no intention of being there in MD more than the three years necessary to finish my degree but was planning to go back home to my parents in Harrisonburg, VA as soon as I was done there. This impacted how I lived in Lanham as I was careful not to settle down, always remembering that it would not be my permanent address. Knowing that our permanent residence is in God's heavenly kingdom should likewise impact what we do in our temporary residence here on earth. Are we living as if heaven is our real home and permanent citizenship or as if this is? Does it appear to others that we are seeking to stay here forever and ever or that we are those pilgrims just passing through here on route to the Promised Land to come?
And as citizens of God's heavenly kingdom while here on earth, we have a mission. Jesus could not have been much clearer in articulating it. His marching orders to His church right before leaving earth was to "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). Notice that He did not say that we are "Christianize" the nations, making it our effort to transform them into a Christian society with Christian laws but to make Christians out of the nations. To go out and evangelize and disciple those from every tribe, tongue, and nation that God will draw to His Son through the gospel message. All our focus and energy cannot be directed to electing the right politician to the White House, Governor's Mansion, or hall of Congress or to ensure that the proper laws are passed. Such would take us away from proclaiming the gospel which alone can save repentant sinners and serves as the sole means to accomplish the mission Jesus has called us to. Alistair Begg says it well when he warns, "Whenever that which is central—namely, the gospel—becomes peripheral, then that which is peripheral inevitably becomes central—whatever you want to use as the issue."
When you look at the church in Acts, we do not find them doing everything they can to take over the Roman Empire at the time and turn it into a "holy Roman Empire." (Later Christians did indeed attempt to do so and the results were disastrous. The Roman Empire was Christian "in name only" and a lot of very "unchristian" things were done in the name of Christ which was horrendous.). Instead, we see their focus and aim being the preaching of the gospel so that more souls could be added to the number of the church by God's sovereign work through the Word. However, as a by-product of their faithful gospel witness, society was changed by more and more people becoming Christians. They could be described as turning the world "upside down" (Acts 17:6). Idol makers and fortune tellers were going out of business due to people no longer going to them on account of their new faith in Christ and the new heart they have been given by the Holy Spirit which did not desire such anymore (Acts 16:16-21; 19:24-27). If we really want to have a more "Christian" society, that will only come by producing more Christians in the society. In fact, I wonder if the reason secularism is on the rise today and there are more of those now who identify as being a "none" on surveys when it comes to any religious or church affiliation is due to many churches today becoming so preoccupied with political involvement and transforming the state where the gospel has been sidelined for such a cause. The result being less believers in the upcoming generations in our nation. We have lost them because we have failed to reach them with the gospel due to being too busy with other things. (I confess that this is speculation on my part but we do have to ask if the church's preoccupation with impacting the society other than with the gospel has any role to play in this.)
Now, does all this mean that we should disengage ourselves completely from the world and not be concerned with voting for the next president or governor or support the passing of certain laws which would be in accord with God's law revealed in His Word? Absolutely not! In his letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah instructs them to "Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its peace you will have peace" (Jeremiah 29:7). Here is a model for us in our exile in this modern day Babylon. We are to do what we can to "seek the peace" or welfare of the city and nation we live in and pray for it and its leaders, especially for their salvation (1 Timothy 2:1-6). That will entail us voting for the lesser of two evils (which is pretty much our choices anymore) who would better benefit or do less harm to the nation and support those laws that would protect the people in the city and promote righteousness. But to do all this with the mindset that it is all for a temporary kingdom with the greater need being what comes afterwards. To not make any of it be the all and end all, treating the next election as being of any greater consequence than just for the here and now whereas those who don't know Christ will suffer God's righteous wrath in hell for all eternity if they do not repent and place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Clearly, that must always take precedence for us and be the main thing we are about.
So, how are we now to live? Primarily by proclaiming the gospel and making sure everyone we rub shoulders with knows of what God has done for Christ for all who believe in Him and secondarily by doing what we can to "promote the peace or welfare of the city" and pray for it. The day is coming when we will not "need this house no longer, we will not need this house no more" and we must always live with that in mind.
Love in Christ,