Updated: Oct 12, 2021
Treasuring Jesus in a Divided Age.
That seems to be how life unfolds right now. Along the battle lines.
Vaccine/ No vaccine.
Mask/ No mask.
In person/ virtual.
Heterosexual marriage/ Homosexual marriage.
The Deep State/ Reality.
The list, no doubt, goes on. Life in the twenty-first century is many things, but one of the most prominent aspects of twenty-first century life in the west right now is: Polarizing.
Polarized: “To break up into opposing factions or groupings.”
Everything, it seems, falls along one or more of these cultural battlelines. American society has always been somewhat fluid; it is always changing, developing, moving, and growing. But, in the last few generations, something distinct has taken place. Whereas America has always possessed a classically liberal cultural mindset (open to reason, seeking the best for all, the collective over the individual, individual rights and liberties, small government), that no longer seems to be true. Increasingly, we are a country dominated by progressive liberalism. Progressive liberalism, “is a form of liberalism that focuses on generating social change, often through regulating the private market.”
In the past, one generation of Americans has done the hard work of instilling a love and value of country, the American way of life, in the upcoming generation. A working knowledge of our national and local governments, knowledge of how laws get made and implemented, valuing the country for what it is, standing for the National Anthem at sporting events and the like, celebrating Independence Day, knowledge of past wars and global achievements, local civic involvement, etc. The list goes on. These things, too, are on the decline.
And these things are not declining without cause. There has been a collective rejection among younger generations of what has been called, “The American Dream” and also, “American Exceptionalism.”
Contrary to previous generations, younger Americans are increasingly viewing America as the problem, not the solution.
World-renowned historian Victor Davis Hanson discusses these realities in his new book, The Dying Citizen. We are living at a crossroads of generations. Not only are we living through generational change, where the older generation hands off the keys to the next. But, we are living through a generational change where the new generation is almost totally at odds with the old. There will be no exchanging of the keys. The keys will be thrown away as a new nation and new ideals are forged.
Thus, the ever increasing list of cultural battlelines.
-Life along the Battlelines.
For most of us, we are not bombarded with every single one of these issues every single day of our lives. We have some that are more pressing and more present than others. We might watch the news and see how some of the cultural elites are behaving hypocritically, or pushing strange causes, etc., but those things often do not affect our actual daily experience.
On the other hand, issues like the covid vaccine and mask policies do affect us daily. We see the signs up at almost every business. We talk about it with our family and friends, our neighbors, and church families. We hear about it on the news. We hear rumors of heavier and heavier mandates coming down.
Whether we face one of these issues regularly or all of them, our lives more and more are unfolding along these battlelines. So, how do we live here? As Christians, how are we to go about life in a godly way in the midst of a culture on fire?
-Where to Start?
The first thing we ought to do is to ask, “How have we responded?”
Many of these cultural battlelines existed before Covid, but the onset and the duration of Covid have acted like a vice-grip, increasing the pressure. And when pressure is applied, what’s inside comes out.
At first, we all thought Covid was going to be temporary and brief. We were told “2 week to flatten the curve.” That has since become a historical relic. We all now know it wasn’t true.
What is true is the extended pressure Covid has brought. It put pressure on everybody upfront, and it has not let up. If anything, the pressure increases in various places. Pressures such as…
Should I wear a mask?
Will I wear a mask?
What will people think of me if I mask or don’t mask?
Is this a government conspiracy to take over the country?
Should I follow orders and recommendations from the CDC and other agencies?
Should I get the vaccine?
Can I trust the vaccine?
What about the booster shot?
Will my family keep me at a distance if I don’t get the shot?
Should I be around those who aren’t getting the shot?
-Must we Repent? A Case Study...
I think one of the first things Christians must do is to take stock of ourselves and repent where we've gone too far. One such place is the mask question. It plagues us still. “To mask or not to mask. That is the question!”
I’m not suggesting we repent over masks. But, I am suggesting that we repent over the ungodliness that it, and other issues, have brought to the surface.
The science is still out on the mask. Do they work? Are they worthless? Is it something in-between? The best information I’m reading says masks might help. But, that’s not really the issue. The real issue is that we have taken mask mandates, along with other things, to be a naked assault on our personal freedoms.
And in some ways, it is an assault. We do not live in a country with a dictator. We are “the land of the free and the home of the brave!” at least in theory. But we’ve taken this assault on our personal freedom as Americans as a biblical level offense. And Christians, in particular, have pronounced biblical judgment on this worldly issue.
The same can be said of the vaccine. Does it help? Yes. The stats are clear. Is it 100% effective against the virus? Absolutely not. The stats are just as clear.
But Christian, have we treated the mask and the vaccine as our hills to die on? Many have decided that this is where we take our stand.
If so, if this is where we take our stand, what does it achieve for the gospel mission of Jesus Christ? How does making our stand on the mask mandate or the vaccine expand the kingdom of Jesus Christ?
-Herein lies the problem.
Listen to what Luke tells us in Acts 14:22, “...through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God.”
A tribulation is defined as, “distress or suffering resulting from oppression or persecution.”
The Bible clearly says that Christians must experience many tribulations on the way to heaven. Tribulations will take all sorts of forms: Personal suffering, sickness, loss, oppression, abuse, religious persecution, bullying, governmental overreach, war, famine, governmental oppression, etc.
So, it should not surprise us when we meet troubles and tribulations in this life. The Bible says we will. It should not surprise us when sinful people do sinful things. The Bible says they will. It should not surprise us when the church suffers from the sins of others. The Bible says she will. It should not surprise us when life is hard and earthly freedoms go by the wayside. The Bible says all of this will happen.
One problem that arises in hardship for many Christians is the reality that many Christians are biblically unprepared to suffer. They do not know how to think about tribulations and sufferings from a biblical perspective.
When we lack knowledge of the Bible and what the Bible says about things like sufferings and tribulations, we will misunderstand what we face, and we will then respond incorrectly. Are masks really that big a deal? Not really. Not in the big scheme of things. Is the vaccine a big deal? It’s a bigger issue than the mask, and requires more thought, but not so compared to heaven.
-Confused in Babylon
Throughout the Bible, Babylon is referenced as the city of the wicked. In the Old Testament, the southern kingdom of Judah is exiled to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah had the task of preparing the people for this time in exile. In one of his more famous passages, Jeremiah 29:4-14, listen to what he says…
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the LORD.
For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
Due to the hardness of the peoples hearts against the Lord, Judah was being sent into exile, by the hand of God, in this foreign land. God sent them there. The tribulation of losing their homeland and being taken to a foreign land was from the hand of God.
This was to be a time of correction for the people of Israel. They were to understand the consequence of their sin against their Holy God. But notice also what God says to them in their tribulation…
Build houses and live there.
Plant gardens and eat the produce.
Let your sons and daughters intermarry.
Multiply and increase the number of people.
Seek the welfare of the city, Babylon.
This was not going to be a short period. 70 years, in fact, as the text tells us. No doubt the people grumbled and complained. Some of them may have even declared their stand against Babylon on the issues of Babylonian houses, foreign gardens, or intermarriage.
But contrary to how they may have felt about life, God tells them to seek the good of the city. Because, if they sought the good of the city, they would also reap that goodness.
But, how could they do that? How could they engage in all of these activities knowing that they had been stripped of their homeland, their rights, their identity, and their way of life? Well, God had spoken to that as well. He told them they would be there for an extended period of time. 70 years. Some Jews would be born, live, and die in Babylon. Life is hard, get comfortable.
He told them that after 70 years He would restore them. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (v. 11). While many often quote this verse, it has a very specific meaning...a meaning that would help many today. The verse was meant to stiffen the backbone and harden the resolve of the Jews so they could endure their tribulation. 70 years is a long time from a human perspective, but not from God’s perspective. How could they confidently go about life in a place where they didn't fit in and didn’t want to be? They had a promise from God that He would ultimately redeem them.
The problem arises when we forget where we are. We are in a Babylon. Not THE Babylon, but a Babylon type of place. We live in the city of man, not yet in the city of God. One of the dangers posed here is forgetting we live in the city of man.
When we forget that we live in the city of man, we can begin treating our earthly residence like it is our heavenly home. We hold too tightly to earthly rights, or personal freedoms. We’re tempted to fight over the wrong things and at the wrong times. God told the Jews to seek the good of the city, not become consumed with it.
I think if we are honest, many of us have forgotten that America is not heaven. While America is a wonderful nation, and living here is a wonderful privilege, the rights granted to us under the American way of life are not eternal and they are not where our true life is found.
For those in Christ, God has promised us eternity is heaven. We ought not get confused thinking we’re living in it now.
-What Confidence does the Church have in these trying times?
While the time and place has changed—we are now living in the time of the New Testament Church, not Old Testament Israel—the foundation of the promise has not. God has not given us a specific timeframe in which He’s working. But, He has promised that His return is imminent (1 Thess. 5:2), and that we ought to keep ready (Luke 12:25), be watchful (Mt. 24:42), and walk in obedience (1 Thess. 5:6).
What else does the New Testament tell us about confidence in tribulations?
Matthew 5:10-12 - They persecuted the prophets, they persecuted Jesus, and they’ll persecute us.
Matthew 10:16-22 - Persecution will come, and when it does, the Lord will keep us in and through it.
Matthew 10:28 - We need not fear those who can only kill the earthly body…
2 Corinthians 4:16 - 5:6 - Though we face all sorts of earthly struggles, we have a God Who renews our spirits, reminding us that these fragile earthly bodies will one day become permanent heavenly bodies.
Colossians 3:3 - Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.
2 Timothy 4:8 - A crown of righteousness awaits the faithful.
2 Timothy 4:17-18 - The Lord will strengthen His children to boldly speak the truth; He will rescue us from every evil deed and bring us safely into His eternal kingdom.
1 Peter 4:19 - Tribulations will come, they will hit the church, but we have a Faithful Creator Who guards our souls.
Revelation 3:10 - Jesus will guard and keep His Church in the times of tribulation.
Revelation 21:1-8 - There is coming a time, promised by God, where He will declare an end to this age. Unrepentant sinners will be cast into hell, evil defeated forever, and the Church of God will be escorted into perfect eternity by our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
And perhaps, one of the most illuminating and encouraging texts on this issue is Hebrews 11:35-40.
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us…”
This sobering text makes the issue as clear as it can be: Christians will experience tribulations in this world. We will walk through hard things. And yet, God has promised something far better for us. Namely, that when this earthly bodily fades into death, we shall be transposed into the glorious realities of heaven.
When this is our perspective on life, it changes how we experience the various troubles that life brings. When I know that my life is hidden with Christ in God, I am free to live a godly, gospel-centered life in the midst of difficult worldly experiences.
-Submitting to One Another
In the meantime, while we live in the city of man awaiting the city of God, God is clear with us in His Word about how we ought to behave. The instructions to live holy and righteous lives do not apply only when life is easy. It applies in the midst of tribulations and sufferings as well.
In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul actually instructs Christians to live in submission to one another. He writes, “...submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). To submit to one another means to count another person as more worthy than yourself. To put their needs and preferences (to an extent) ahead of yours.
Paul opens the chapter in 5:1, instructing Christians to be imitators of God.
If we follow his line of reasoning, we see that Paul is grounding everything the Christian about the Christian life in likeness to God (5:1). In every way, Christians should seek to imitate God as He reveals Himself in Scripture. Holiness, righteousness, justice, love, mercy, kindness, humility, the list goes on. As we do this, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 18), and we will submit ourselves to the wellbeing of others.
And if we listen to how Paul describes the actions of God in Christ in Philippians 2:7, we are reminded that Jesus Himself emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant in order to offer Himself on the cross.
To imitate God then, in one sense, is to humble ourselves for the purpose of serving others. Jesus went to the cross so that others would benefit. He took shame and suffering upon Himself for the sake of others.
That’s how the Church is to live. In submission to Christ, and in turn, in submission to one another. We have our promise of a heavenly kingdom. We are on the way there now. We must not forget where we are now and must not hold too tightly to this world that is already passing away (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Earthly rights will come and go. We are not promised nice, easy, stress free lives here. We are not promised the ideal American experience. Thus, we should hold our earthly rights with an open hand and a confident heart.
-Picking the Right Places to Stand and Fight
So, where do we stand and fight?
Christian, there is going to come a time when they come for our Bibles. There is going to come a time when they tell the Church not to meet...that we are not allowed to meet. There is going to come a time when the government, the culture, and our neighbors tell us that Christianity is not only bad, but wrong.
Will we stand then? Will we fight for our Bibles with the same fervor that we do over masks and vaccines? Will we willingly accept the penalties for gathering when the government says not to?
Our brothers and sisters next door in Canada have laid down a bold example for us to follow.
Will obedience to Christ in the face of opposition be worth it? The Bible says it is. Will it be said of us that, “We fought the good fight, we have finished the race, we kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
-Let’s hold to the world loosely and cling to the gospel tightly.
I’ll close with this word from the Apostle Peter, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19)