I live in the south where most of the culture knows how to look good on the outside. We aren’t prone to laying our stuff out bare for all to see. Of course, there’s wisdom in not sharing your struggles with everyone. But often I wonder if we are walking around wearing masks or worse apathetic. In the American context, it’s easy to be comfortable with our perceived faith. We can be culturally good but spiritually dead.
Cultural goodness can look like holiness.
Cultural goodness can look like following the rules of society, not having outbursts in public, maybe even volunteering. We can go to church Sunday after Sunday, checking off the box for the week and then leaving it all behind until the next Sunday. You and I can be tempted to do all the right things on the outside while rotting away on the inside.
Christianity doesn’t call us to be culturally good. Don’t get me wrong, we are to do good works and be a good member of society. But as James tells us, our faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). That means that our works without faith are also dead. If our works prove our faith, which is the meaning of the text, we need to ask God for a quickening in our heart so that our heart aligns with the Lord’s. Paul also warns us that if we do good but have not love, our good works mean nothing (1 Cor 13: 1-6). Our hearts and our actions apart from the saving work of Jesus seem good but God desires more than cultural goodness. He calls us to holiness (1 Peter 1:16).
Don't assume the gospel has taken root because of outward goodness.
That’s one reason it’s important to continue to share the gospel in every context we find ourselves in. It can be easy to assume the gospel because of outward appearances. But if we believe that no one is righteous and all fall short of the glory of God, then we should act accordingly. Every single image-bearer is in need of saving grace and that work is a spiritual transformation that leads to an outward expression. But every image bearer has the capacity to do some good as they reflect God whether or not they are Christians, so we must be diligent to share regardless of what we assume.
This doesn’t mean we walk around judging every action of our neighbor or assuming that someone who has professed Jesus isn’t a true believer. We don’t turn our evangelistic efforts into a cynical, judgmental pursuit. It simply means we ask good questions, listen well, get to know our neighbors and speak the truth in love. It means we share that we are all equally sinful and in need of the free gift of God’s grace. It means you and I proclaim our continual need for the gospel every day—we never grow out of our need for his grace, forgiveness, and the reminder that he covers our sins. It means you and I learn to be good repenters, which is counter-cultural in and of itself.
The Christian life is a long-distance race.
There’s a reason the Bible often refers to the Christian life as a race. There is much at stake and getting to the end takes more trust and effort than we’d like to admit. Our integrity, our witness, and even our very lives are at stake. And it’s hard to run a race when you don’t realize you are in one.
Are you culturally good but you realize you are merely going through the motions of the Christian life? God invites us all to his throne of grace to receive mercy and help (Hebrew 4:14-16). God invites you to confess your need for him and receive his free gift of grace. Let us all ask for this same grace. There is grace available for every single step we take, every act of faith, every decision to obey. Every single thing we do is covered and shored up by the grace of God. Thankfully the prize at the end of this race couldn’t be more worth our pressing on in the struggle.
Trillia Newbell's new book Sacred Endurance: Finding Grace and Strength for a Lasting Faith is now available for purchase.