Rather than shining as a light to the culture, we can become products of the culture. As those whom Christ has called the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city on a hill, we still have a ways to go.
Sadly, our generation of Christians is not the first to limp along in its calling to live as salt and light. Since Bible times and throughout history, we have fumbled again and again. Abraham’s misogyny, Jesse’s parental neglect, David’s adultery and murder, Solomon’s womanizing, Rahab’s prostitution, Peter’s abrasiveness and cowardice, and Corinth’s worldliness are only a few of the many biblical examples of stumbling saints.
Past and present history reminds us of horrid things done “in the name of Christ,” but that would make the actual Christ want to flip over a table or two—the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Jewish and Native American genocides, institutional slavery, white supremacy, holding up signs that say “Fags Burn in Hell” at a young man’s funeral after he was beaten to death for being gay, blindly and boldly calling the September 11 terrorist attacks God’s judgment on America…and more.
In his masterful exposition of The Sermon on the Mount, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that Christians become compelling to the world to the degree that they stand out as different from the world. The world does not thirst for a religious imitation of itself. Nor does it thirst for an “us against them” moral turf war with its zealous religious neighbors. The world thirsts for a different kind of neighbor—not the kind who deny their fellowman, take up their comforts, and follow their dreams—but the kind who deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus in his mission of loving a weary world to life. The world also thirsts for a new vision for being human, for pursuing and entering friendship, and for contributing to a better world. It is this kind of life, Lloyd-Jones says, that only Jesus Christ can create. And he has left us here to show the world what that kind of life looks like.
Indeed, Christianity is already beautiful. The problem isn’t with Christianity itself, as much as it is with our flawed approach to and understanding it. We can let ourselves become imbalanced, lopsided, and unfocused (much like the rigid, holier-than-thou Pharisees and the anything-goes, libertine Sadducees of the New Testament). To regain our footing, we need to move in the direction of following the whole Jesus and the whole Scripture, into the whole world, the whole time.
As one who longs to see Christianity exude a life-giving, contagious presence in the world, I am both haunted and motivated by Luke’s observation about first-century Christians in the book of Acts. Their quality of life was so rich, their worship so genuine, their life together so deep, and their neighbor-love so palpable, that they “were having favor with all the people” and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
This compelling description of the first Christians compels me to ask what it would look like for Christians to be reignited in this kind of faith for our time.
What would it look like for us to become those who live most beautifully, love most deeply, and serve most faithfully in the places where we live, work and play?