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When it comes to culture wars, some Christians are conscientious objectors. They may be heard to say: “Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?”; “God called me to fish for men, not to clean the goldfish bowl”; or “My job is saving souls out of the world, not saving the world.”
But we hear no such objections from Joshua when God calls him to wage a war against Canaanite culture, a culture that is not merely sinking but is already a shipwreck. By the time of Joshua’s generation, the iniquity of the Amorites is complete (Gen. 15:16). Joshua, therefore, answers God’s call to action by reaching not for a can of Brasso but for a stick of dynamite.
The people of God have been enlisted in this age to fight another war of conquest under the leadership of Jesus, the Joshua of the new covenant. He conquers not with a literal sword in His hand but with a figurative sword (Rev. 19:15), which is the Word of God (Heb. 4:12). The field of conquest is all the nations (Matt. 28:18–20), and we fight with spiritual weapons (2 Cor. 10:3–5) and spiritual armor (Eph. 6:10–18).
However, in new covenant warfare and conquest, we don’t invade a country militarily and then impose a godly culture on it. Instead, cultural reformation takes place through spiritual revival. The granting and strengthening of inner spiritual life comes first, then the restructuring of the ways of life. This means reformation is the outgrowth of a culture inwardly transformed through revival. We can envision culture as a series of concentric circles, with the bull’s eye being the individual heart and the surrounding circles representing, in order, the family, the church, and the world. Revival starts in the heart, then reformation spreads to the outer circles. In other words, God’s law must be written on the individual’s heart, then later on the stone tablets of the institutions of society.
Christ first must subdue us to Himself by conquering the Canaan of our hearts. This is the battle of Jericho in new covenant conquest, that initial invasion upon which all else depends. Jesus invades the heart and demotes the sin nature, that inner inclination to do wrong, from reigning king to indwelling private citizen. As the new reigning King, He then sends us to Bible school to learn His will for our lives and writes that will upon our hearts as our foremost desire and aspiration.
The next circle of reformation is the family. Here is our first and primary opportunity to submit to God’s hierarchy of authority in life. The husband should lead his wife with sacrificial love and the wife should submit to her husband with respectful obedience. Parents should provide for their children the liberating structure of discipline and children should honor and obey their parents. It is in the context of the family that we learn to preserve the honor and perform the duties belonging to everyone in their places and relations in life. The family should be the microcosmic kingdom, where the godly father proclaims, “ ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’ ” (Josh. 24:15b).
The church should be the powerhouse of reformation, the source of revival energy. It has been entrusted with the outward and ordinary means the Holy Spirit uses in giving and strengthening faith: the Word, sacraments, and prayer. We should make diligent use of them. We cannot control the Spirit, who is like the wind that blows where it wills. Nevertheless, God has told us where the windy places are, and we should go there often.
The church should set an example of obedient submission to God’s Word, especially in its doctrine and worship. Ask yourself this question: If the U.S. Supreme Court were to interpret and apply the Constitution the way most churches handle the Bible, would our nation be better or worse off? Only when the church is consistently submitting to Christ as her Head can she credibly exhort other spheres of society to submit to Christ as the King.
The church also should understand its proper relationship to the world. For a ship to be useful, it must be in the water but the water must be kept out. Likewise, the church needs to be in the world, functioning as the light of the world through the proclamation of truth and as the salt of the earth by working to preserve society from moral decay. Yet the church must not be so concerned about the world’s opinion that it lets the world seep in as an influence. When the church conforms to the world’s sinful ways, the salt loses its flavor and is good for nothing, but is thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
During times of revival, God’s people increase in numbers, increasing the church’s influence upon society. Also at such times, the church is not so easily carried about by every wind of doctrine. A church filled with the Spirit believes God’s truth with consistency and conviction, enabling God’s people to influence society far beyond their numbers. The testimony of an enlarged, unified, and strengthened church can give new direction and strength to society’s conscience and thus significantly restrain evil in the world.
The last concentric circle is the world itself. We must believe that all the earth rightfully belongs to Jesus and owes Him submission and allegiance. We must believe that the world as a system is vulnerable and that the Gospel is powerful. Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33), and so can we in His power (1 John 5:4). Our primary means of challenging the world is through proclaiming the Gospel message of Jesus in word and deed. We no longer march around walled cities, but we conquer through the “foolishness” of preaching the message of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:21). When the people of God were marching around Jericho day after day, some may have been tempted to think that traditional siege warfare would have been more effective. How wrong they would have been! We today must never question the effectiveness of the Gospel message as the cutting edge of positive social change.
The individual Christian’s specific engagement with the world will be determined to a large degree by his calling in life or vocation. Every Christian needs to examine himself as to what gifts God has given him, consider what opportunities God is giving him to develop these gifts, and exercise them in the world for the advancement of the kingdom.
Most Christians will be called to thoroughly disciple small areas that they control. A Christian with a family farm could work toward establishing a little Garden of Eden as far as that is possible in this age (Gen. 2:15). Similarly, a Christian small-business owner could undertake to submit his entrepreneurial realm to the crown rights of King Jesus. Those who work for others should do what is right before God even if they suffer in their jobs for it (1 Peter 2:18–25). They should do their work to the best of their ability to the glory of God (Col. 3:22–23).
Christian involvement in some vocations is not possible. For example, there are no genuine Christian gangsters or holy hit men. Other vocations are not inherently evil but are difficult for Christians because they are controlled by worldly people with worldly policies and priorities. We need some Calebs who are willing to conquer the land where the Anakim dwell (Josh. 14:15). World magazine comes to mind as an effort to conquer a hill for Christ in the world of journalism. We also need Christians who have the wisdom and skill to serve righteously in these vocations before they are conquered for Christ. We need Christians who, like Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon, can serve without being corrupted in the process.
Every valid vocation offers special opportunities to submit to God. The Christian legislator can acknowledge God’s moral law as the highest law. The Christian educator can teach that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. The Christian merchant can trade with honesty and integrity. The Christian doctor can respect the sanctity of human life. The Christian artist can promote sexual purity and respect for God’s name. The Christian farmer can treat God’s good earth respectfully without engaging in nature worship. The Christian scientist can acknowledge God’s Word as the only infallible source of truth. In every case, the Christian must pursue peace and holiness (Heb. 12:14). He is to live at peace with all men if possible, as much as it depends on him (Rom. 12:18). A good example of such an effort is found in Daniel 1. When such efforts fail, he must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
The Christian also should take advantage of any opportunities God gives him to bring structural change to his vocation or to other areas of life. He should seek to bring about institutional reformation consistent with the principles in God’s Word.
Some will be called to special ministries of compassion to the world. Others will be called to more direct efforts to confront institutionalized evil in our culture. We must be careful always to link such efforts to the message and power of the Gospel. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing of any real and lasting value.
Our success in the reformation of culture will be proportionate to the power of revival in our hearts. Revival without reformation is like clouds and wind without rain. Reformation without revival is like the washing of a pig.
The ultimate goal is the discipling of all nations, teaching them to observe in all areas of life all that Christ has taught. If a long-term victory such as that sounds impossible to us, then perhaps we are making the same mistake the 10 spies made after surveying Canaan. They took into consideration only Canaan’s walled cities and armed giants. They forgot about the one who was on their side and the promises He had made. Jesus is on our side today. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. He has promised to be with us till the end of the age. We will continue to wander in the wilderness of cultural impotence until we have the faith to take the Great Commission seriously and begin our new covenant conquests for Christ.