Watching the news on television is depressing. Election years seem to pour fuel on the culture war fires. I much prefer to spend my leisure moments reading, listening to music and walking with canine friend Hannah. Today a song on my iPod from Seventh Day Slumber caused me to ask some questions about the way the church engages our culture. The song is From the Inside Out.
My heart and my soul
I give You control
Consume me from the inside out Lord
Let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love You from the inside out
Change happens from the inside out. I wrote about the culture war in my book “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People”. Here is an excerpt from that discussion.
If I were to ask the average Christian what victory in the culture war would look like today, I would probably get answers along these lines: Abortion would be outlawed. Homosexuality would be less visible. The Ten Commandments would hang in every courthouse, and kids would pray in school.
But would accomplishing these objectives constitute true victory? Most of us think it is our mission as Christians is to rid the world of sin. That is not going to happen until Jesus returns to reign. We have tried through politics and failed miserably. We have tried boycotts. We tried advertising and media with very mixed results. We have targeted immorality but have not helped those hurt by or entrapped in it. We fight abortion. We fear homosexuality. We denounce drugs. We battle Hollywood and television and the evil media. We criticize the music industry. We rail against pornography.
As a young man who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, I can confirm that all of the aforementioned cultural indicators now sought by many Christians were once in place: There was no legalized abortion or aggressive gay political agenda. We prayed at school functions and watched Ozzie and Harriet on television instead of Jersey Shore or The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Yet the sexual revolution, recreational drugs, violent political protest, and explosive racial tension emerged from this very era. Hmmm.
We Christians have missed our calling. The church needs to understand that even if we devoured every single moral issue on our evangelical plates, the people of this world would still be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. All of the cultural issues I’ve mentioned so far are merely symptoms of a bigger problem: the internal condition of millions of people. Political and legal processes can only restrain sin. Advertising campaigns or education can, at best, only restrain behavior, and that is not a viable long-term solution. Only the changing of individuals can really affect a society as a whole. And that is where we have missed the boat. We can attempt legislation of morals until the end of time. But change comes from the inside (heart) out…rarely from the outside (rules) in. We cannot herd sin neatly into our theological corral. Sin cannot be managed by moralism.
How did the early church have such a profound impact with no money, power or influence? By giving their heart and soul to God. They gave Him control and out of that surrender they gave and served selflessly. They loved the unlovable. Cared for those that no one else would care for. Risked their lives to comfort those dying of infectious disease and sacrificed their own possessions for orphans and widows. Their lives were so powerful that the culture could not help but notice. Even the pagan writers of the day marveled at the sacrifice of these “Christians”. The followers of Christ who changed the world did not drive fancy cars and have perfect hair. They sold out in complete trust and allowed God to change them from the inside out. They served sacrificially.
Jesus talked about the danger of a religion that tries to work from the outside in.
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.” (Matthew 23, NLT)
That is my prayer for today. I want to be live from the inside out. I have been changed but I want to live out of that truth. Don’t think that I am against having heartfelt convictions about cultural issues. I am not. But I am against communicating those concerns to a hurting world apart from grace and the love of Christ. God’s plan will be accomplished.
Everlasting, Your light will shine
When all else fails
Never-ending, Your glory goes
Beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart
Is to bring You praise
From the inside out
That is the cry of my heart today.