Like so many words, “judge” carries a different social definition than its literal definition. These days, judging someone means disagreeing with a choice they’ve made. If I were to say I enjoyed Coke, and you told me Coke was bad for me, I might tell you not to judge me for liking Coke.
Judging, however, is rightly defined in a legal sense. That is, a judge determines justice in a given scenario and has the power to exact penalty or pardon in order to achieve that justice.
I suppose we could say that both of these definitions have come to define the church in one way or another. Otherwise we wouldn’t even be talking about this question. And sure, there are other key words in this question that probably need defining, like “Christian” and “retreating.”
But instead of breaking down those words, I’m just going to try to answer the question straight up. As I see it, there are really two questions here: “Does being a Christian mean judging culture?” and “Does being a Christian mean retreating from culture?” First, let’s talk judging.
Christianity is not defined by either judgement or retreat. In fact, most Christians would say grace (the opposite of judgment) and relationship (the opposite of retreating) are words that better describe the Christian life and it’s desired approach to society and culture.
Jesus’ sayings on the matter of judgment is pretty well known. He said, “Judge not…” And when he said that, he meant to push his disciples into culture, not away from it. He was urging them not to see certain people and immediately imagine they are on their way to Hell, and therefore not worth saving. “Judge Not,” is an inclusive mandate, an unlatching of the gates so that the doors can swing open to include all who are willing to enter.
If this is the case, why do we even have to ask this question? Why is the church known for judgment rather than grace?
Well, the thing about grace is that it requires judgment. Or at least it needs to understand it. For the “good news” of Jesus to be accepted, we must understand the justice that Jesus’ sacrifice achieves. And that means understanding that our sin earns us a judgment from God that would send us to Hell.
To say it more simply, we can not embrace God’s grace if we don’t understand his judgment. Our recognition of our sin is paramount to our acceptance of grace, which is the seed to a relationship with God. It works this way. We see our sin. We see what that sin earns us (his judgment). We see Christ with no sin. We see him pay our judgment for us (grace). We receive that as truth and begin experiencing the love of god.
So no, being a Christian does not mean judging culture, it means making culture aware of the amazing nature of God’s grace by revealing the judgment we’ve earned through sin, and salvation available to us through Christ.
Retreating From Culture
If by retreating from culture we mean that the standards of the Christian life are not determined by culture, then the answer is yes. The Bible is clear about the fact that Christians are “in the world, but not of the world.”
But this does not imply that the Christian is meant to keep at arm’s length our social neighbors and friends who are not Christians. Quite the contrary. The Christian is sent to the culture, armed with the message of God’s love and grace, a renewed mind that sees the value of all people, and a changed and broken heart that desires restoration and redemption in God’s creation.
In other words, the Christian cannot retreat. His heart will not let him.
Much like judging, though, the very nature of the Christian life, and its desire to follow God’s will rather then human desire creates a tension. When society wants to go left or right, the Christian checks with God to see where he’s going. And often times, it’s the opposite direction. Hence the retreat accusation.
The desired outcome of the relational zeal in the Christian is to show a different way to live that is “more abundant.” It is to show a life lived in step with the design and purpose for which it was made. We are not retreating from the people in culture, we are simply trading in our maps for a better one. A map that will lead to a more lasting and fulfilling life for now and in the hereafter.
So no, being a Christian does not mean retreating from culture. It means relationally engaging culture in order to transform its worldview to match what God created it to be in the first place.
How would you answer this question?
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