Summary: Christians live within the tension of being in a fallen, broken world, while trying not to be influenced by it.
“He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).
As Christians, living between two kingdoms is what we do every single day, regardless of where we are.
We face the challenge of living as Christ’s followers in an unholy, fallen world. We love our country, and on this Fourth of July weekend we celebrate our independence, paid for by the blood of patriots. But we must be careful not to fall prey to the temptation of statism, of deifying our nation. Government will not save us. The light and hope of the world is Christ. God has blessed America, in spite of its sins…because “we the people” have endeavored to be “one nation, under God.” But it’s getting harder to do so, as irreligious influences undermine our religious heritage.
And so we live within this unavoidable tension between two worlds--the Kingdom of God and the secular world. We can’t shelter ourselves from the world, and we shouldn’t try. God has put us here to be salt and light, to make an impact for Christ, to communicate the living Word to a dying world. It may be tempting to escape the ugliness around us, but we cannot and we should not. We have a world to reach with the Gospel.
It is also tempting to grow accustomed to the fallenness of our world, to become desensitized to sin, to act like it is normal. Our understanding of “normal” may need some adjustment. We’re dismayed but not surprised by evil. We understand that this world in which we live has been contaminated by sin. We need to resist the influence of our profane culture, not be attracted by it.
I spent 25 years of my life in a very secular, often profane institution, the United States Army--a difficult place at times to live as a Christian. Not to denigrate our soldiers, but they represent a cross-section of society, and there are no religious requirements to serve in uniform. Some troops are irreligious, some are indifferent, and some are hostile toward matters of faith. I worked with some officers and NCOs who thought the chaplaincy was a waste of resources.
I understand that some school districts have voted against students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools, something that would have been unthinkable when I was in grade school. When President Reagan spoke at my seminary, he stated: “If we could just get the government out of the classroom, maybe we could get God back in…We’re either a nation under God or a nation gone under.”
Why are religious values eroding in America? Because we live between two worlds. Because religious freedom allows for irreligious freedom as well. Because America is not Heaven-on-Earth. In many ways, we are increasingly a post-Christian nation, that is busy establishing “freedom from religion”. We are in nearly like Europe (where I spent much of my life), where the church is mostly dead, where an appallingly small percentage of people attend worship. The church in Europe is merely a place to go for weddings, funerals, and concerts. It hasn’t come to this in America…yet.
The Apostle Paul stated that our true citizenship is in Heaven. Yet he did not renounce his Roman citizenship; he appealed to it when he was arrested for preaching the Gospel. But Paul was a Christian first and foremost, and a Roman citizen second. This means we have dual citizenship. Regardless of what it says on our passports, our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. We’ve been taken from one kingdom and placed in another.
Paul took issue with Rome, which required citizens to revere Caesar as a god. Rome had no problem with Jesus, except when Christians reminded Romans that Jesus was Lord, and Caesar was not. The exclusiveness of Christ rubbed Rome the wrong way, and some are offended in America when Christians claim Jesus is the only way, the only truth, the only life. Yet one day every knee will bow to Him. “But we’re a pluralistic, diverse nation,” people argue. “We accommodate all sorts of religious expression.” We do, but Christians claim that there is only One Way to Heaven. We tolerate those with whom we differ, and hope they will tolerate us. Sadly, tolerance isn’t always a two-way street. Some may well suffer persecution for taking a stand for Christ--in America.
I love my country, but I do not want to be guilty of the cultic dethroning of God by elevating country over Christ. And I am concerned about religious liberty. A few weeks ago, a nominee for Deputy Secretary of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was sharply criticized for his Christian convictions. Will those who wish to serve in government be subject to a religious litmus test?