Christian Duty in a Pagan Culture


Dr. John Hoole – January 27, 2019




Being a Christian is a full-time job.  All of us here who believe in Christ are constantly employed in this full-time job as Christians in a non-Christian world.  Being a Christian affects us constantly, in the way we live, from day to day, at home, or at work, or even at play.  It demands constant attention, diligent effort and mental and spiritual energy.  It is something we have to keep working on, for it doesn’t come about by itself.  As I heard one of my pastors say, “Christianity is not a spectator sport.”


The Question: How well are we influencing the world around us?


Most polls today indicate the proportion of those identifying with Christianity, expecialy young people, is shrinking.  A study by Gallup in April, 2017 found that while 71 percent of Americans identified with a Protestant denomination back in 1955, the percentage decreased to 47% in 2017.  Young people were found to be one of the chief drivers of the rising “non-religious demographic,” with 33% of those aged 21-29 stating that they follow no religion.  J. Warner Wallace, a cold case detective and senior fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, stated: “Fewer people claim a Christian affiliation that ever before, and those who claim no religious affiliation are the fastest growing group in America.”


There is another concern.  Because some Christians have been challenged in courts, like small businesses, the fear of standing out as a Christian is growing.


This is impacting evangelism efforts.  There is greater apprehension among Christians to openly stand for beliefs that might be seen as offensive to others in a diversifying culture.  In the politically correct, politically charged climate of our culture today,  believers are afraid to take a stand for fear of being accused of intolerance and hatefulness toward others.  This has resulted in some Christians being afraid to speak biblical truth in love, out of fear of retribution.  They are assimilating into the culture of the world so they won’t offend anyone.


Many People in the current generation don’t have the church experience that previous generations were exposed to,  As a result, their view of Christianity is what they have seen in pop culture, and what we are seeing even more so it that it’s derived from social media.  Pastor Noel Heikkinen of Riverview Church in Lansing, Michigan, speaking of younger people, says: “Their whole perception of Christianity is not about the Gospel, or Jesus, or any of that.”  Unlike previous generations, young people today, according the pastor Heikkinen says:  They “have very much an “a la carte” approach to spirituality.”  By that, the pastor continues, “they want to pick and choose what strands of their spirituality are important to them.”


This is not something new.  It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden.  The serpent convinced Eve that the choice was hers, not God’s.  The lie was that she could determine her future.  She would be the master of her fate.


For most of western history, Christianity dominated, and God the Father was the fundamental notion of who God was.  But, then we had the attack of secular humanism which brought about a totally different worldview.  And as it gained acceptance, especially on university and college campuses, people were told that the reason of man is the only source of truth.


I want to cite a statement by Jeremy Rifkin, who in 1983 declared this:


“We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home, and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of pre-existing cosmic rules.  It is our creation now, we make the rules, we establish the parameters of reality, we create the world and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces.  We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe.  We are responsible for nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.”


You may not know this man, or ever heard of him, but, since 2002, that man is an important thinker in the European Union.  IIn many ways, he establishes the way the present culture thinks.


I want to quote another man, an American, more recently.  Most of you have heard of this man, or at lease have heard of his father, who was the 52nd governor of the State of New York.  His name is Chris Cuomo, and here is what he said on CNN on February 12, 2015¨

“Our rights do not come from God, they come from man.” 


Just this past week, we learned that an Anglican priest who is the ambassador to the Vatican, is quoted as saying, “Jesus did not physically rise from the dead.”  He is taking some heat for this, as he should.  I bring these quotations up to show that this is the message our young people are hearing and buying into.


This is the world into which we are called to proclaim the truth of the gospel.  Is it possible that the success of these aberrant world views, is because the Christian worldview has dissipated in the minds of people in the West?  And this erosion of the Christian message has weakened because many church organizations no longer accept the Bible as ordained by God Himself.  So, the world no longer believes what we say is true.


For many young people, there is no real truth that lies outside of their own personal experience, biases and assumptions.  So the “self” becomes the arbitrator of personal truth, so that personal truth becomes greater than any absolute truth.  And, along with it the elimination of guilt.  America is losing much of the general religious ethos that was our cultural norm for hundreds of years.


For a few minutes, I want to return to a passage that I have mentioned twice already in this series.  It is in 1 Peter 3:1-5.  Before reading the entire passage, let me once more focus on the first verse.


Paul’s prophecy here begins in an unusual manner for Scripture.  He writes, “Know this – that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1)Usually the Bible simply says, “This is the way it will be.”  But Paul is so concerned that we should not have the wrong idea about the last days.  So much so, that he says, “Know this!”  In other words, have no doubt about this.  Here is an absolutely established fact neither you or I can change.  We cannot change it by prayer, by pleading or any other activity.  It is going to happen, so accept it as a fact.  This should give us an idea of the importance of this revelation in Paul’s eyes,  and, as we will see, the picture he paints is not a pleasant one.


The word translated “perilous” occurs in only one other place in the New Testament – Matthew 8:28.  In that chapter it describes two demonized men from the region called Gadara.  After Jesus crosses the Sea of Galilee, these men confront Jesus, and they are described as being “exceedingly fierce.”:  That is probably a better translation for the passage in 2 Timothy 3.  For instance: “In the last days fierce times will come.”  We are living in fierce times.  And they are going to get fiercer as things get worse.


Actually, it will not be so much “things” getting worse as people getting worse.  People are going to get worse as they give in to the pressures to turn from God.  One main source of pressure is the progressive degeneration of human character.


We have read the first five verses of 2 Timothy 3 in past lessons during this series.  I want to read them again.  And as we do, ask ourselves how many of these traits are conspicuous in our present culture.


2 Timothy 3:1-5 NKJV


1       But know this, that in the last days perilous [fierce] times will come:

2       For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

3       unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,

4       traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,

5       having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!


When Paul speaks about fierce times, he begins with the root cause:  “Men will be.”  Then he lists 19 moral or ethical blemishes.  In other words, human character is a root cause of the dark days to come.  It is not nuclear fission or anything else.  It is the moral and ethical corruption produced in humanity by sin.  The appearance of these character traits will become more obvious and more blatant as this age draws to its close.


Notice, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that the list begins and ends with what people love.  It speaks of love for self, love for money and love of pleasure.  These three are the cause of all the other negative attributes listed here.  They are definitely all interrelated.  Why do people love money?  Because they love pleasure.  Money can buy pleasure – at lease for a little while.  But it cannot ever buy peace or joy.  Isaiah 48:22 tells us, “There is no peace for the wicked.”


At the very end of the list of 19 character traits, the apostle Paul makes a statement about the people who exhibit these blatant, evil sins.  He says they have “a form of godliness, but deny its power.”  Even though the apostle Paul is describing people who embrace heinous sins, He states that these people have a form of godliness.  The Greek word for godliness is such that Paul would not have used it of any religion except Christianity.  It does not lend itself to any religion that is un-Christian.  Therefore, he is saying that these people are professing Christiana, but their lives have never been changed.  They deny the power of godliness, the power of an encounter with Jesus to change human lives radically and permanently.  A person can join a church, say a prayer, sign a form – yet remain the same.  But if that person ever meets Jesus, change will take place.


When people meet Jesus, they cannot stay the same.  Someone can decide to become religious and join a church, yet remain totally unchanged.  This is what Paul is saying – It is possible to have a form of godliness but deny its power.  They reject the power to change people radically and permanently for the better.


Along with human degeneration into more blatant sins, another major root cause of our times getting fiercer is the current rise in the occult.  It is growing rapidly, and we are not hearing much about it at all.  I won’t spend much time on it today, but I will give you just one piece,  The Wiccan religion – that is, the religion of witches and pagans, has grown exponentially during the last 30 years.  Their were an estimated 8,000 witches in America in 1990.  Today, it is estimated to be 1.5 million, and growing.  I will address that more completely when we get to our next series, which will be SPIRITUAL WARFARE, Lord willing.


This upsurge in the occult should not surprise us.  In the same chapter that gives us the 19 character traits we read earlier in this lesson, tells us that this will also be prevalent in the end times  Paul also mentioned it in his first letter to Timothy.  So, let’s read both passages.


1 Timothy 4:1 NKJV


1       Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,


2 Timothy 3:8-9 NKJV


8       Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith;

9       but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.


The two names, Jannes and Jambres, refer to two magicians in Egypt who resisted and opposed Moses and Aaron.  The conflict was not engaged in the natural.  It was not a physical or even theological conflict.  The battle was fought on the supernatural plane.  In talking about Jannes and Jambres, in relation to the last days, Paul is warning us today about the occult, the area of satanic supernatural activity.  But the occult is mentioned yet another time in the same chapter of 2 Timothy 3.


2 Timothy 3:13 NKJV


13     But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.


The Greek word describing these “impostors” means, “enchanters.”  It speaks of people casting a spell on those being deceived.


It is into this world that we are to be as shining light, pointing men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ.  So, what are we to do in this environment?  I will say more about what our role is in a future lesson, but I want to finish this lesson by looking at what we are told in one passage.  One thing for sure: We cannot take the position where we give up.  Giving up is never the attribute of a Christ follower who is empowered by the Holy Spirit.


The New Testament is very clear about how we ought to embrace and live out our primary mission in a pagan society.  One such example is in Titus 3.


Titus 3:1-2 NKJV


1       Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,

2       to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.


Before getting into the seven admonitions given here, let me make some observations.  Notice that Paul simply followed the Lord’s model and did not expend time and energy admonishing believers on how to reform pagan culture’s idolatrous, immoral and corrupt practices.


The apostle also did not call for believers to exercise civil disobedience to protest the Roman Empire’s unjust laws or cruel punishments.  Rather, his appeal was for Christians to proclaim the gospel and live lives that would give a very clear evidence of its transforming power.  That is the power that was said to be denied, in verse 5 by those with the 19 character traits at the beginning of chapter 3.


Believe it or not, Christians have obligations to a pagan society.  When you live as God wants you to in an unbelieving culture, the Holy Spirit uses your life to draw the sinner by softening his attitude towards God.  That is echoed in the first letter written by Peter in chapter 2, verse 12.


Now, let’s look at the passage in Titus 3.


Submission and Obedience


The first two duties – submission to government and obedience to all human authority – I have combined under one heading, because they are so closely related.  They are just one more reminder that Christians have certain requirements of attitude and conduct in relation to their secular leaders.  These reminders reiterate the idea that believers are not exempt from following civil laws and directives, unless such orders contradict the Word and will of God (See Acts 4:18-20; 5:40-42).  That two-fold prompting also gives us the scriptural premise from which all our other public actions out to flow.


Readiness for Good Works


Our third major duty towards society is to have a readiness “for every good deed.”  Here the apostle Paul is not referring to some minimal, reluctant adherence to doing what we already know is right, but to a sincere willingness and heart preparation to do good works to everyone, as we have the opportunity.


No matter how antagonistic the people around us may be, we are to be kind servants to them when their lives intersect with ours.  Galatians 6:10 adds: “So then while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  God wants us to be recognized for what we might call “consistent and aggressive goodness.”  Those are good deeds done out of love for the Lord and love for other people.


Respectful in Speech


Next, we have the scriptural duty of not maligning anyone, not even those unbelievers who are most antagonistic toward biblical standards.  That is how verse 2 begins.  It includes cursing, slandering and treating with contempt.  In fact, the Greek word used is blasphemeo, from which we get our word “blasphemy.”  We can never use such speech with a righteous motive.


You and I need to be careful how we refer to our leaders.  In fact, in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, we are urged to pray for everyone’s salvation, even for those who occupy official positions of authority.


Peaceful and Gentle


Paul goes on in verse 2 to mention two more Christian duties.  First, he reminds us that we must be friendly and peaceful toward the lost, not belligerent and quarrelsome.  In the ungodly, postmodern world we live in, it is easy to condemn those who contribute to the culture’s demise.  We should never write them off as corrupt sinners who will never change.


If God’s love for the world was so broad and intense that His Son died for a multitude of sinners, how can we who have received that redeeming grace be harsh and unloving toward those who have not yet received it?  Until God is pleased to save an individual, he or she is going to behave like an unbeliever, and it is wrong to us, meanwhile, to treat them contemptuously for acting according to their nature.


Secondly, Paul reminds us that we must be “gentle,” a word in the Greek that means being fair, moderate, and forbearing toward others.  Some have translated this term “sweet reasonableness,” which denotes an attitude that does not hold grudges, but gives others the benefit of the doubt.


Consideration for Others


The New King James renders it, “showing humility to all.”  The New American Standard version renders it: “showing every consideration for all.”  This is echoed in 1 Timothy 2:1-4.


The word rendered “consideration” always has a New Testament meaning of genuine concern for others.  Scripture clearly describes Jesus as One who supremely characterized humility, or consideration for everyone.  The same trait should identify His followers.


All our dealings with unbelievers should display that kind of attitude, as the apostle Peter also wrote, in 1 Peter 3:15,


1 Peter 3:15 NKJV


15     But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;


         The word translated, meekness, is the same word use in Titus 3 on how we should give consideration to all people.


Titus 3:1-2 NKJV


1       Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,

2       to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.


That’s good advice for all of us.