Home > Brandenburg, Culture > Discerning the Required Differences between the Cultures of the Saved and the Unsaved

Discerning the Required Differences between the Cultures of the Saved and the Unsaved

February 13, 2008

Have you seen the Great Rock of Inner Seeking at the National Gallery of Art on the mall in Washington, DC?  What about the Goddess of the Golden Thighs?  And who couldn’t miss No. 8?  When I saw these “works” on my senior trip in high school, I knew I had a radically different view of the world than their makers.  Much to my chagrin, I’ve found out since then, mainly from evangelicalism, that I and those artists have more in common than I thought.  But do I?

The Tale of Two Cultures

God paints separate, highly distinct pictures of His own culture and that of the devil, without a smidgin of confusion. God’s people alone are born of Him (1 John 3:1-3) and no others (1 John 4:4-6). His belong to Christ (1 John 3:7-10) and everyone else to Satan (1 John 5:19) their prince (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). All things in Christ endure forever with everything on the other side transient, fading (1 John 2:17) and under God’s judgment (1 John 4:17). Love for God is utterly incompatible with the world (1 John 2:15). God describes citizens of His kingdom as exiles from the world (1 Peter 1:1; Hebrews 11:13) and aliens (1 Peter 2:11) who seek another city (Hebrews 11:10). Paul states the difference in 1 Thessalonians 5:5:

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

The Lord Jesus Christ embodies all of God’s goals for His people and Jesus was not of this world (John 17:14; 18:36), refused to pray for it (John 17:9), opposed its ruler (John 12:31; 14:30), and is now its judge (John 9:39; 16:7-11). Jesus came to divide the one side from the other even within one’s own family (Matthew 10:36). His saints are peculiar people (Titus 2:14), a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5), filth and offscouring to the world (Lamentations 3:5; 1 Corinthians 4:13). In contrast with the inimitable words of Rodney King, we really can’t all just get along. We’re not supposed to. We’re to hate even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 1:23).

So Christians aren’t supposed to be close to what and how the world is. The world, the opposite of Christ, organizes around self in substitution for God, characterized by self-righteousness, self-centeredness, self-satisfaction, self-aggrandizement, and self-promotion. Except for ultimate outcome, we can barely detect the difference today between the world and the church. Instead of turning the world upside down, churches have turned much like the world.

Understanding the Meaning

To maintain His ordained differences, God expects His people to understand the meanings of patterns of human activities and the symbolic structures that give those activities their significance and importance. Nowhere does Scripture define the “attire of a harlot.” We’re assumed to know in Proverbs 7:10 when we’re warned about the “strange woman.” We’re told to put away “evil speaking,” but the Bible doesn’t explain what that is. Colossians 3:5 commands us to mortify “inordinate affections” and 1 Peter 2:11 to “abstain from fleshly lusts.” God calls for singing praises with instruments making a “solemn sound” (Psalm 92:3). Can we judge if a woman is dressing like a prostitute? Can we discern whether someone is using foul language? Can we perceive what either an inordinate affection or a fleshly lust is? Can we determine what a solemn sound is? Scripture assumes that we can.

How is a father entreated? How does someone make provision for the flesh? When has a father provoked a child to wrath? At what point is someone defrauded? How much hospitality before someone loves it? How sincere is love that is without dissimulation? When is a man effeminate? What kind of relationship with an unbeliever has reached the extent of being unequally yoked? When do you know whether you’ve loved the world or not? When is someone a friend of the world? What are pleasant words? All of these questions relate to a specific obedience to the Word of God that God assumes we will understand. We could go even further if we considered the examples in Scripture that God expects to regulate our lives. The lack of explanation does not mean that we are free to disregard those statements or examples.

Paul commanded in Romans 12:2, “Be not conformed to this world.” We are not to conform to this world. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:14-15:

As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.

We are not to fashion ourselves according to our former lusts, but to be holy in every aspect of our conduct.

To obey Romans 12:2, we must know what meaning is communicated by the patterns and symbols of the world system. Everything in the world means something. Whatever we do means something, so that even the most mundane yet necessary tasks can be done to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Scripture establishes that the meaning of certain behavior or symbols can be recognized. Since they can be, a believer should understand them, because he has spiritual discernment from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 2:27). He can tell when a particular dress, art, or music conforms to the world and then avoid it. This is a matter of the Bible being a book of principles. The principle is most often clearly stated in the Bible. However, then a particular aspect of the culture must be judged as to whether it aligns itself with the Biblical principle.

Practicing discernment based on Biblical principles is reasonable (logical). Always starting with a Biblical principle, part of our spiritual growth and then maturity is taking those principles and applying them to how we live. Regarding worldliness, this is how it works:

Major Premise: Being conformed to the world is sin (Romans 12:2).

Minor Premise: His appearance conforms to the world.

Conclusion: His appearance is sin.

We can make every Biblical principle a major premise. Then we’ll have to judge whether the minor premise is valid or not. We have to judge whether his appearance conforms to the world. We know that certain appearance can be worldly.

Zephaniah 1:8, “And it shall come to pass in the day of the LORD’S sacrifice, that I will punish the princes, and the king’s children, and all such as are clothed with strange apparel.”

God’s people were dressing like the world. For that they would be punished by God.

Consider this script segment from a 1974 episode of Little House on the Prairie:

Nellie:  Working hard?

Mary:  Doing just fine.

Nellie: You should look nicer when you come to work in the store. Maybe your Ma would let you wear your Sunday dress.

Mary: My Sunday dress is for church.

Nellie: Well, you don’t get paid for going to Church.

Mary: And I don’t worship in Oleson’s mercantile.

This is a level of discernment understood by Hollywood script writers that has been recently lost in churches. Today, the producers of the program might get hate mail from evangelicals and even fundamentalists for making such a point.

Preserving Godly Culture

Christians are salt, a preservative of Godly culture. At one time western culture was far more congruous with Christianity than it is today. The slippage has come in a major way because of the unwillingness of churches to apply the Bible in discernment of culture. At one time this civilization valued reasoned discourse, the good use of language, and aesthetic achievements that represented the highest marks of the human spirit made in the image of God. We’ve coarsened discourse with the vulgar catch phrases of the youth culture. David Wells in No Place for Truth states it this way:

Unruly instinctual drives replace thought; the darker side of the human nature destroys the nobler, leaving the triumph of id over the superego, as the Freudians say; certainly it is the passing of the old order and the ascendancy of the new order that celebrates the collapse of the barriers that once held back the darker reaches of the human spirit.

At stake is the knowledge of God. God is expressed by all the patterns and symbols that make up our way of life, not only to our knowledge but also to our affections. When Christians dumb down their culture to the level of the world, terms take on new meanings and doctrines change, so that even the gospel is at stake. Men must receive the Jesus of the Bible and they can’t when they think He’s the goodymeister coming to make us happy. So much more is at stake. Instead of looking for the city whose builder and maker is God, professing believers look for comfortable retirement.

Modern evangelicalism (and now much of fundamentalism) distinguishes itself little from the world system. Intuition and feelings substitute for biblical truth. Appetite for God’s Word is lost to light discourses and entertainment. Desire for happiness replaces worship of God. The methods used and the structures offered cohere to the rhythms of consumption—the customers are sinners who see the church as a quest for self-satisfaction instead of a need for repentance. It cares more about success than about faithfulness and more about size than God’s honor. The church accommodates itself to a preeminent entertainment culture. Rarely to never does it oblige those in attendance to think even once about the Lord’s greatness, grace, and commands, and often has little or nothing to do with Him.

Throughout the Bible, the moments of great impact in the world were never those in which the people of God became indistinguishable from those in it. In order to influence the world, the people of God have to be quite different from it. To be relevant, the church has to be otherworldly, but out of the ache for this-worldly acceptance, it loses the thing that it wants above all else. Without the distinctiveness, the savor, the church loses its influence and, therefore, its usefulness to God.

  1. February 13, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Good stuff Kent

    I am just reading Esther at the moment. The book shows that God does use worldly believers. Perhaps that is something that blinds them to their compromises. Since they are used, they consider their usefulness (such as it is, weak as it is) a sign of God’s approval and blessing. Yet at the same time, God’s name is not mentioned in the book – perhaps because he isn’t glorified by worldliness?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  2. February 14, 2008 at 2:02 am


    Interesting point about Esther. I like the idea of reading through the Bible looking for such things. It is a good way to get ready to write. Before I did my eternal security debate, I read through the whole Bible looking for eternal security, marking it in a plain unmarked Bible. I wish I could get that done about this subject right now, but too many things on the platter, although I definitely have enough to write my last two posts. Glad you’re thinking about it too. God isn’t glorified thorugh worldliness. I’m sure of that.

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