In our pluralistic world, holding to the Christian faith often results in various sorts of clashes and collisions with our neighbors. These collisions can be low-impact, much like accidentally bumping into somebody’s arm on the street, but they can also be high-impact, comparable to a dramatic car accident. However gracious our speech may be (Col. 4:6), differences in our ultimate commitments can create friction (Matt. 10:34-36). The truth of the matter is that while we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40), we are simultaneously called not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). What are we to do in light of these differences?
First, embrace collision.
Rather than surrendering your faith to worldly wisdom in the midst of these tensions, we are called to endurance and faithfulness to Jesus (Rev. 14:12). We must admit that at a fundamental level, our sources of authority, knowledge, and identity differ. Of course, we can all depend on the morning news to know whether we will have rain or sunshine that day, but when it comes to ultimate matters, Christians find answers somewhere altogether different from the world. The spirit of the age allows for a whole variety of authorities and sources of identity, whether it’s the self, the media, the crowd, reason, sense experience, intuition, or any variety of philosophies and religions born from this world. But for the believer, God’s word provides us with the truth concerning where we came from, who we are, who God is, how we can be reconciled to Him, where this world is going, how to relate to our neighbor, and what our purpose is in this life (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). This unique revelation renews and reorients us amidst the innumerable voices vying for our allegiance.
The apostle Paul hints at another contrast when he says that we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The unbelieving world rejects the Christian conception of faith as weak-minded, delusory, and even as antithetical to human progress. Looming large over some of these criticisms is the mistaken idea that the scientific enterprise has somehow rendered belief in God and other unseen realities as juvenile and untenable. But the Christian is committed to relying upon God’s precious and very great promises of divine love, forgiveness, and eternal life, all of which bring inward transformation and cleansing from the corruption so prevalent in the world (2 Pet. 1:3-4). This child-like confidence embraces whatever the Spirit has revealed in his word, even if reason cannot fully make sense of it (e.g., the Trinity, incarnation, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility). Any tension that these mysteries or paradoxes produce reminds us of our own finitude and that we are dealing with divine rather than merely human matters. These mysteries or paradoxes lead us by the hand to a place of humility and awe. We cannot withdraw our faith in the light of modern criticisms, supposing it to be either too antiquated or too simplistic, for through faith, by grace, we are implanted into Christ in a most wonderful union, a union that also gives us courage to love our neighbors wherever we are.
Second, receive God’s promises.
The story of Christianity provides us with an infallible source of security. In this life we are often faced with financial insecurity, regret over the past, anxiety concerning the future, violent temptations, and unwelcome reminders of our own mortality, all of which can be dispiriting. Not only that, but the culture characteristically tells a story where worldly success, well-being, and personal worth are all tied to sheer will-power, self-determination, and doing whatever it takes to get to the top—how exhausting! Yet the gospel announces to us that the Son of God came down from heaven, took on our humanity, and by his obedience, death, and resurrection merited for us reconciliation with the Father, adoption into his family, a share in the kingdom of heaven, and rest (Gal. 4:4-7). Jesus’s sure promise that we will never perish and that no one can snatch us from his hand provides us with a life-giving hope, a hope that nurtures and animates our hearts, keeping us from despair and indifference (John 10:28-29). Rather than working towards rest and peace, Jesus, our refuge, has himself won these things for us so that we can live our lives out of a place of spiritual abundance, assurance, and acceptance, no matter what God sends to us in his fatherly providence (John 10:10; Rom. 5:1; 8:28).
Third, love your neighbor.
Rather than allow the culture to press you into a mold, you must let God’s love, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit shape and motivate you (2 Cor. 13:14; Jude 20-21). Your neighbor isn’t simply the person who looks like you, shares your interests, convictions, and zip code. The call to love your neighbor is universal, meaning it also extends to people who look different from you and who do not share your interests, convictions, and zip code. This call to love cannot be extinguished by any moral or theological disagreement you share with your neighbor, since it is a duty that comes from outside of yourself, from the God who is love (1 John 4:7, 16). Your neighbors in front of you are persons whom you owe a debt of love to (Rom. 13:8-10), not only regardless of who they are or how much they disagree with you, but precisely because of who they are, fellow bearers of the image of God (Gen. 1:26- 27).