by Neil Bach
Recently I read the first of three large fictional works described as ‘thrillers’. One critic described these monumental detective stories as books ‘that will not be forgotten once closed’. The writer of the trilogy was brilliant at weaving his story and creating tension, but as the first story proceeded I was confronted with descriptions of violence and sexual perversion amongst most characters that highlighted the worst and evil aspects of our societies. The descriptions were not necessary to sustain the book’s plot and they left me feeling that my soul had been assailed rather than enlightened. Consequently I only flicked through the last sections of the book to see who were the villains, and took the remaining two volumes back to the library without reading them.
It is just one sobering example of my own survey of society. My recent experience of ‘retiring’ from full time Christian ministry has meant being able to watch more films than the average one per year my wife and I saw at a cinema. I have also engaged afresh with the general culture. Despite the many wonderful benefits in our societies my recent experience leaves me troubled at western societies’ direction. Secular and non-Christian values have been disseminated and are absorbed by western people in an extremely wide way. Further our society not only finds little room for God, but some within it are currently engaged in seeking to deconstruct the Christian values that have made our society great.
I know that I am not alone, and my observation of western democracies indicates to me that conservative people of Christian persuasion are saying, “we’ve had enough and are not allowing our society to disappear down some sink hole of godless irrelevance.”
From where do I draw strength at the present time? There are three things that act for me, as anchors for my soul, to give hope in Christ-like living.
The first is the anchor of the cross of Christ. Despite the existence of Easter celebrations in the west, the cross of Christ is easily pushed to the edges in modern Christian writing and living, and often the cross’ meaning is diluted. For the cross is the only answer to the reality of evil in our world, it is the only solution … for education, psychology, and decent living, that have their place, cannot deal with evil. Billy Graham once wrote “Jesus’ greatest work was accomplished in just three dark hours on Calvary where he died for our sins.”[i]
That work showed God’s deepest love for us, the depravity of human evil he had to deal with, and his deep hatred of sin. Christ’s death dealt with God’s rightful anger at human sin, and paid the penalty for our sins. He stood in our place, and gained salvation for all who put their trust in God’s completed work at the cross.[ii] God converts those who accept the power of the cross into their lives, and makes us new creatures able to live for him in his world. Our values and lives are transformed and so is the society in which we live when it accepts the importance of the cross and Christianity.
The second is the anchor of the Holy Spirit. The slave trader turned clergyman John Newton said “The religion of a sinner stands on two pillars, namely what Christ did for us in his flesh, and what he performs in us by his Spirit. Most errors arise from an attempt to separate these two.”[iii] It is true in my experience that to just trust in the cross of Christ, as crucial as that is, is not enough. I need to daily seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit to live for God[iv]; to deflect and defeat the wrong values and experiences the world can offer. When I have neglected to live in the Spirit’s power, thinking I could exist on cruise control, I have been diminished in effectiveness. Spirit living means to deeply understand the Bible, through study and daily reading and then praying earnestly for God’s strength, sensitivity and wisdom day by day. It means responding to God’s agendas not mine. It starts with my own person and radiates like a stone thrown into the pond, to all my thoughts and actions and to everyone and every organization that I meet and correspond with. This is to do what Scripture teaches, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”[v]
The third is the anchor of a future that is God’s future. It strongly encourages my heart that God’s kingly rule continues to be felt in his world now, to transform people and institutions, and that this rule of God will not end. We are assured that the future is God and God’s heaven. Years ago a friend and I walked on a campus and a great number of people leaving a class were walking the other way. My young Christian friend, not long converted, said to me, “story of my life walking against the crowd.” He is still doing it. So are all Christians, not weighed down by a world that is for the moment, walking in the other direction.
We know that by embracing the power of the cross, seeking the filling of the Holy Spirit, and anticipating our future hope, we can be the powerful instruments for God in a society needing him.
[i] ‘What kept Jesus on the cross?’. Billy Graham, Decision March 2001, p1
[iii] Memoirs of the Rev John Newton’.John Newton, Newton’s Works April 1839, xlvii.
[v] James 1: 5 New International Version, 2011