Culture is a gift from God intended to bring honor to Him and benefit to human beings. Christians repudiate all forms of culture that fail these tests. They appropriate as much as they can from the culture around them, embracing God’s good gifts from whatever source they may be available. And they redirect their use of culture to serve others by giving freely of what God entrusts to them, sharing all their cultural possessions as needs arise which they can meet.
But the Christian engagement with culture goes beyond even this. Christians themselves are a work in progress. Under the teaching and shaping of the Holy Spirit, we are being increasingly transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18). All our thoughts, affections, values, priorities, words, and deeds are a work zone of God’s Spirit, Who is at work within us to make us willing and able to do what is pleasing to God (Phil 2.13), and that exceeding abundantly above all that we could ever dare to ask or think (Eph. 3.20).
...and our culture, too
It makes sense to think, therefore, that, as we are being transformed for better citizenship in the Kingdom of God, so too the culture we engage would be transformed as well, from something that merely satisfies our human needs to something that glorifies God and benefits others.
Peter charged the women believers of Asia Minor to pioneer in this by transforming the way the world thinks about beauty. In Peter’s day, as in ours, feminine beauty was regarded as a physical thing, something to be observed and admired. And, as in our day, women in the Roman Empire of the first century had perfected a number of ways of enhancing their physical beauty in order to make a more pleasing, and perhaps more enticing, presence in the world. The ladies of Peter’s day braided their hair, put on makeup, strapped on baubles and bangles and bright shiny beads, robed themselves appealingly, and dabbed on that world’s equivalent of Chanel No 5.
A challenge to the ladies
But Peter challenged the women of his day to take hold of the very idea of “beauty” – a very culturally specific notion, as Umberto Eco has shown (A History of Beauty) – and make it something altogether different from what anyone had imagined before.
He called on the women of the churches in Asia Minor to cultivate an inward, spiritual beauty that would show itself to the world in gentleness, kindness, softness, and unfailing patience and love.
Anyone who has known such a woman – and some of us have – will readily agree that, though this woman may be outwardly beautiful to look upon, her inner beauty is by far the stronger of the two.
Over the years Christians have transformed culture in more ways than we might imagine. In music, the arts, education, science, the workplace, civil government, and technology, Christians have appropriated existing cultural forms, or invented new ones, and, in the process of redirecting them to Kingdom uses, have transformed them altogether.
This is a challenge which goes out to every believer, every day. In our conversation, our approach to work, the ways we treat others – forms of culture, all – we must work to transform what people experience in such a way as to show the world the hope we have in Jesus Christ and the power which is ours in His Kingdom of light and truth (1 Pet. 3.15).
Christians take up the challenge of transforming their culture every day. As we learn more about the character of the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom of righteousness, above all – that cannot help but transform our own lives, and transform as well every aspect of our engagement with culture.
How has your use of culture changed since you became a Christian? Talk with some of your Christian friends. In what ways can you help one another become even more aggressive at transforming the culture of your lives?
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Want to go a little deeper with culture? Order T. M.’s book, Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars from our online store.
Men, download our free brief paper, “Men of the Church: A Solemn Warning,” by clicking here.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.