World Changers Or World Imitators?



Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day

The Christian’s relationship to the surrounding culture can take many different forms, but for simplicity’s sake I would like to argue that there are basically only two main options here: either the Christian will change and transform his world, or he will allow the world to change and transform him.

The Bible repeatedly warns about the latter, while encouraging the former. We are not to slavishly imitate the world’s beliefs, agendas, values, philosophies, habits, lifestyles, or tactics. Instead we are to be leading in all these areas, seeking to have a godly influence on the rest of society.

That is in part what Jesus meant when he said we are to be salt and light. We are to be influencing the surrounding culture instead of letting it influence us. Scripture over and over again informs us that the values and practices of the world will be polar opposites to the values and practices of the Kingdom.

One of the key New Testament texts on the need to get the influencer/influencee mix right (if I can put it that way) is Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

There is an ever present danger of allowing the world to squeeze us into its mould, as the J.B. Phillips’ version of this passage famously puts it. We are to actively, steadily and resolutely resist the temptation to buy into, or conform to, the world and its ungodly and anti-godly beliefs and values.

The Old Testament is unfortunately full of instances where God’s people did exactly what Romans 12:2 warns against. Time and time again Israel adapted to the surrounding pagan culture, allowing Canaanites values and practices to heavily influence them.

Indeed, much of the Old Testament storyline involves this ongoing conflict. The question keeps popping up: will Israel resist the charms and deceits of the surrounding Canaanite nations, or will the Canaanites prevail? As the old saying goes, Israel had a harder time of getting Canaan out of Israel than out of the land.

I was reminded of all this in my daily Scripture reading. In 1 Samuel we read of the importance of leadership, and see the marked contrast between godly leadership and ungodly leadership. Of course three important leaders are showcased here: Samuel, Saul and David.

Early on as Samuel is getting old, the Israelites again show their true colours, in demanding that they follow the surrounding culture instead of being a contrast to it. They in fact like what they see in the pagan nations and want exactly the same for themselves.

In this case they want to be ruled just like the other nations are. They want a king of their own. As we read in 1 Samuel 8:4-5: “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have’.”

And in verses 19-20 we find out exactly why they want this: “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles’.”

There you have it: “Then we will be like all the other nations”. Instead of enjoying and celebrating their uniqueness as Yahweh’s covenant people, they instead wanted to be just like their pagan neighbours. To see what God thinks about this, all we have to do is read what took place after the initial demand:

Read it all..

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