Why do we need to engage the world around us? There is a story told about a farmer. He thought that the oats that he had been feeding his mule cost too much. So he started mixing a little sawdust with the feed, increasing the sawdust each day because the mule didn’t seem to mind. Eventually, the farmer fed the mule only sawdust without any oats. A few days later, the mule fell over dead.
For more than three decades, I have known many young adults from 18-28 years old who, like the well-fed donkey, started with a desire to serve God. But they chose to add an ever-increasing amount of “sawdust” to their diet, immersing themselves in a sinful society until their diet consisted only of secularism’s useless food. Painfully, their once well-fed and vibrant faith is dead from a lack of spiritual nourishment.
What Even Is “Culture”?
Before beginning our discussion on why we need to interact with our surrounding world, let’s start with some definitions.
- “Culture” is a particular way of life that includes tradition, beliefs, behaviors, values, and objects shared by a specific group. The elements of culture include family, community, work, religion, education, government/politics, the arts, entertainment, language, customs, clothing, and history.
- “Secular” means to be “unrelated to religion.”
- “Secularism” is a current atheistic faith commitment of American culture (and many other Western cultures) that seeks to remove all vestiges of religion, and often Christianity in particular, from the public arena. Secularists believe that any religion other than theirs is a private matter that plays no role in society’s shared beliefs.
Because most young adults are educated in public schools and live in a secular environment, they don’t see how secularism has brought a slow death to absolute truth, real wisdom, genuine faith, and Christian joy. Like the donkey that fed only sawdust, we can overlook the danger until we are spiritually malnourished to death.
Thankfully, there are seven reasons why we should engage in the culture that propels us to be a part of God’s renewal of our own lives and the world around us.
1. You Can’t Avoid It
The first reason Christians must engage in cultural activities is that we cannot avoid it! Either we choose to affect the surrounding culture, or it will affect us.
The “world around us” includes places God tells us how to interact with and respond to our family, church, job, community, politics, education, or entertainment. We can’t ignore or avoid God’s command to be an influencer for his kingdom.
And while we appreciate God’s goodness, truth, and beauty in our world, when God’s kingdom and human culture conflict, we must transcend secular culture’s idolatries because of our commitment to Christ. These situations will occur; they’re unavoidable.
2. You’re On Mission
Second, Christianity is a missionary faith. Christ has commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). This “Great Commission” demands that we interact with outsiders. Because God is love, he is “not wishing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), and we should have the same desire.
3. You Are “Salt” & “Light”
Third, Christians live to glorify God as both “salt” and “light” (Matt. 5:13-14).
- As salt, we act as a preservative to impede the spread of “decay” and evil in society (just like salt preserved meat in the first century). But, if we fail to follow Christ’s command, we become like salt that has lost its flavor. We have lost our purpose in the wider world.
- Being “light” means bearing a positive witness to the world around us so that others “see our good deeds and give praise to our Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Living within the culture, we seek to reflect God’s love, justice, goodness, and truth into the created order.
4. You Are God’s Image
Fourth, living in a secular society should never dim the reality that we are God’s image-bearers (Gen. 1:27). Humans are designed with creative gifts to be a vessel of beauty, reflecting God’s nature and character in our world (Gen. 1:1; John 1:1–3). That is our most basic identity.
5. You Have a Cultural Mandate
The fifth reason that Christians must engage culture is that God has given humans a “cultural mandate” for family, community, culture, and civilization (Gen. 1:26–30; 2:15, 18–25; Ps. 8:5, 6).
God commanded Adam and Eve to act as vice-regents (a king’s deputy on assignment) to “populate the earth and subdue it.” Even after the Fall, God still expects us to be responsible stewards fulfilling our potential for God’s goodness, beauty, and truth to flourish: in science, medicine, agriculture, hospitals, universities, the fine arts (and more!) as we seek to cultivate the world God’s given us.
6. You Have a Family (Even If You’re Single)
Sixth, a significant aspect of God’s cultural mandate for humans involves our families.
Although God has created something beautiful in marriage (Gen. 2:24, Eph. 5:22-33) and bringing children into the world (Ps. 127:3) but, secularism views marriages as exercises of convenience and children as disposable.
Many men, women, and families are bearing the scars of divorce, abortion, and abuse. And where there is familial brokenness, we can be agents of redemption. And we can communicate (whether we are single or married) that God’s plan restores families.
7. You Will Have to Confront
Seventh, engaging culture means confronting misinformation, misunderstandings, and lies directed at our faith. Engaging others civilly in these conversations about religion can be challenging and take an emotional toll on us, whether we’re prone to argue or prone to avoidance. These conversations are even more difficult to pursue if you were never taught critical thinking skills in your education or pre-evangelism/apologetics in church or from Christian mentors. But being naturally shy or not being trained are not sufficient excuses.
God commands us to:
- “Always be ready to make a defense” for our faith (1 Pet. 3:15)
- “Destroy faulty arguments” that are against Jesus (2 Cor. 10:3–5)
- And “take every thought captive,” having our minds transformed to God’s service and glory (Rom. 12:1–2)
But where God commands us to confront others, he also supplies everything we need to do it. Be sure to keep increasing your knowledge of Scripture, devotional Bible reading and prayer, and pre-evangelism (apologetics).
These exercises will strengthen the spiritual muscles needed to refute others who oppose our Christian belief. But remember to temper your conversation of truth (Col. 4:6) with gracious humility (1 Pet. 3:15).
Can I Really Do This?
Is it possible to live meaningful lives that enjoy the good, true, and beautiful within a corrupted society that challenges our beliefs? Yes.
Why? Because Jesus promises to be with us (Matt. 28:19-20) as we bring his transforming presence into secular culture (John 17: 14-16).