Circumstances have watered down the distinct nature of gospel living. One circumstance is the pervasive adoption of many Judeo-Christian values in The West. In Europe, Christian thinkers, with Christian morality, shaped what the majority thought of as moral or normal. This formed a foundation for Renaissance and Enlightenment thinking. The Ten Commandments still sit on many American courtroom walls as a nod to the fact that they underpin the American legal system. The presidents of America still pray and reference God and scripture in their talks to pacify the majority. Upholding American morality, in many regards, is still a case of upholding Christian morality. Christians don’t stand out because of their insistence on fair play, charity to widows and orphans, or their belief that all people are equal. Of course, their reasons for upholding these beliefs should be different, but in practice atheists, Muslims, and Christians live out a similar morality. There are a few contentious areas where Christians stand out, but they are still few.
Where Christians should be distinct, they often fit in. They are not a unified subgroup in society but a group more unified with the values and demands of twenty-first century materialism. We fit in with the patterns of production and consumption, we thank God for all our creature comforts, we attend church less often than we attend children’s sporting events, we put to one side language which references Jesus as distinct from other gods. In short, we are not people who live out the gospel. We do not sacrifice or suffer for the sake of others. We do not preserve unity by giving up our own interests. We attend churches with programs and messages which affirm our privileged status and confirm our outlook. We suffer to help our children achieve academic and economic success, but not so that they serve Jesus as their highest priority.
Paul says that the gospel of Christ should define our actions. I have actually been in churches where actions are separated from the gospel. The fear of a faith where actions get you saved has led to a faith with few distinct actions at all. Paul does not know of a salvation without works. He is opposed to a faith where our actions save us, but he is also opposed to a faith which makes no difference to how we live. A Christian should first and foremost have a life which worships God. This means that God is the first thought. To achieve this a Christian will study God’s Word, the Bible; They will pray to God for His glory and His will to be done in their own lives and in the world; They will meet with other people who share their wholehearted devotion to God; They will talk about the God they worship as a natural outworking of their love in public. This God-saturated living is not evident enough in people who call themselves Christian. People conduct themselves in a manner worthy of acceptance – they are nice. However, people do not conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel. When God’s people sacrifice God’s agenda for agendas of personal wealth and advancement a disunity breaks out. This, in my opinion, is the process by which churches split and disenchanted people cease to attend.
If we strove together for the faith of the gospel, our unity and our distinct nature as the people of God, might cause others to sit up and take notice.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.