How to become a culture-changing Christian

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How to become a culture-changing Christian

April 4, 2024 -

A man clutches a Bible in front him, its spine out featuring the words HOLY BIBLE. By Pcess609/stock.adobe.com

A man clutches a Bible in front him, its spine out featuring the words HOLY BIBLE. By Pcess609/stock.adobe.com

A man clutches a Bible in front him, its spine out featuring the words HOLY BIBLE. By Pcess609/stock.adobe.com

“As he thinks within himself, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7 NASB).

In 1900, there were 558,346,000 Christians in the world, 34 percent of the total population. By 2025, there will be 2,637,172,000 Christians in the world, comprising 32 percent of the total population.

There are 1.8 billion Bibles in the world, along with eleven million books about Christianity. The US has the largest Christian population in the world, with 230,000,000 who claim to follow Christ, comprising nearly two-thirds of all Americans.

And yet:

  • 28 percent of the world remains unevangelized.
  • The percentage of Americans who identify as Christian has fallen from nearly 90 percent in 1972 to 64 percent today and is likely to fall below 50 percent by 2070.
  • Only 47 percent of Americans identify as “religious,” while 33 percent identify as “spiritual but not religious” and 18 percent as “neither.”
  • Depression, suicide, and drug overdose deaths are at all-time highs in the US.
  • Support for same-sex marriage in the US has risen from 27 percent in 1996 to 71 percent today.
  • The percentages of Americans who believe abortion should be legal under any circumstances and in the first trimester are at all-time highs.

Jesus called Christians “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Note the definite article. We are the only light of the world since we are the only people in the world who reflect Christ, who is “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9; cf. 8:12).

If you have the only flashlight in a dark room, whose fault is the darkness?

Why, then, are Christians not shining the light of Christ more effectively?

How can we be the light our dark world needs so desperately?


Note: This article complements episode 1 of “Being Christian in today’s culture,” a Denison Forum Podcast series.

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Ideas change the world

Consider these observations:

  • “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts” (Marcus Aurelius).
  • “Poor minds talk about people. Average minds talk about events. Great minds talk about ideas” (Eleanor Roosevelt).
  • “Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
  • “Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas” (Marie Curie).
  • “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come” (Victor Hugo).
  • “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on” (John F. Kennedy).

Do they resonate within you?

We understand intuitively that words and actions begin as thoughts. The word of God agrees: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23; heart in the Hebrew refers to the mind and will).

Scripture is emphatic:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8, my emphasis).

This is because our thoughts determine our actions, for good and for evil:

  • “The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful” (Proverbs 12:5).
  • “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure” (Proverbs 4:26).
  • “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:6–7).
  • “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
  • “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
  • “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21–23).
  • “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15).
  • “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lᴏʀᴅ, but gracious words are pure” (Proverbs 15:26).
  • “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28).

As a result, we are to wage a spiritual battle for the mind: “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

How do we do this?

How to think biblically

Scripture calls us to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23). Let’s take these biblical steps to experience the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

One: Trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord.

When we make this decision, the Spirit of God comes to live in us as his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). Thus, as Paul explained, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).

Two: Submit every day to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Human minds are both finite and fallen. This is why God says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Isaiah 55:8).

However, the Spirit of God will help us experience the mind of Christ so that we think biblically in every dimension of our lives. But he can do this only to the degree that we are yielded to him.

This is why we are instructed to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). The Greek is a present passive imperative literally translated as “be continually being controlled by the Spirit.” This is a decision we must make each day for that day. We cannot give God “yesterday” or “tomorrow” since they do not exist. As each day comes, we are to surrender that day to the Lord.

Make these steps a daily lifestyle:

  • Begin your day with God (cf. Mark 1:35). You cannot give God the part of the day you have already lived. You charge your phone before using it; an athlete warms up before competing. Start your day by meeting with your Lord.
  • Ask the Spirit to bring to your mind anything in your life that displeases God, then confess all that comes to your thoughts and claim your Father’s forgiving grace (1 John 1:9). The Holy Spirit cannot fully lead and use an unholy vessel. Removing the sin that blocks our relationship with him is crucial to experiencing his fullness.
  • Consciously surrender your day to his leading. Pray through your plans and anticipated challenges and opportunities, yielding them fully to him.
  • As you step into the day, continually pray about all you experience, asking the Spirit to lead you, empower you, and use you. When you face temptation, turn it over immediately to the Lord, asking him for the power to overcome your enemy (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you fall to temptation, turn immediately to your Father, asking his forgiveness and claiming his restoring grace.

In these ways, you will obey God’s clear edict: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Three: Spend time daily in the word and worship of God.

To think biblically, it is vital that we know, learn, and memorize the Bible. The psalmist testified, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). It can be so for us as well.

Establish a daily time for meeting with God in his word. I encourage you to use a resource such as the English Standard Version Study Bible or the New International Version Study Bible and to keep a journal (either on paper or electronic). Set up a regular pattern, beginning with a few verses a day and expanding over time to a chapter or more.

As you read, ask these questions:

  1. What does the grammar say?
  2. What does the historical and cultural context suggest?
  3. What theological truths are being taught?
  4. What practical steps should we take as a result?

Write down what you learn, then determine to do what you have been taught. Our Bible study is not complete until studying the Bible changes our lives in some way.

I also encourage you to adopt a plan for Scripture memorization. The psalmist prayed, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Then he added, “Blessed are you, O Lᴏʀᴅ: teach me your statutes!” (v. 12).

When we have God’s word in our hearts, his Spirit can bring its truth to our minds as we need his wisdom and truth.

It is also vital that we spend time worshiping our holy Lord. We “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). When we encounter him in worship, our minds and lives are transformed by his empowering Spirit.

I encourage you, therefore, to use devotional resources in your daily time with God. I have been reading Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest for more than thirty years. I also read each day from Daily Light in the morning and evening and from Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. And I recommend most highly (and read daily) our ministry resource, First15, where you’ll spend fifteen minutes with God through Scripture, devotional, guided prayer, and a worship video.

Four: Ask what the Bible says about every issue and topic of the day.

Scripture memorization is invaluable in knowing what God says about the challenges and opportunities we encounter. Digital search tools can also be very helpful. For example, I use the Open Bible search engine regularly. Biblical concordances and reference tools are available in most study Bibles as well.

Five: Choose to think in biblical ways.

When we submit to the Spirit of God and spend time in the word of God, we find that our minds are being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). As we discover what his word says about the decisions and events of our lives, we can then choose to think biblically.

Such thinking is indeed a choice:

  • “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
  • “Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).
  • “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1).

Make this your prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24).

And remember: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lᴏʀᴅ weighs the heart” (Proverbs 21:2).

If your thoughts are ungodly, repent immediately: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lᴏʀᴅ, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).

When you choose to think biblically, you will be able to pray with the prophet: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

Do you have this “perfect peace” today?

If not, why not?

How to act redemptively

Thinking biblically is both an end and a means. It is an end to experiencing the risen Christ in the transforming power of his Spirit. And it is a means to acting redemptively as we put God’s word into practice.

In the latter sense, Helen Keller was right: “Ideas without action are useless.” How do we take “action” each day?

One: Know your spiritual gifts.

Every Christian has been given specific gifts by the Holy Spirit, each of which is intended to equip and empower us for the service to which we are called. To learn yours, I invite you to take our online inventory. For much more on this vital subject, please see Dr. Ryan Denison’s book, What Are My Spiritual Gifts?

Two: Identify your passions and influence.

Frederick Buechner observed, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

What brings you “deep gladness”? What are you most passionate about doing? What influence has God entrusted to you?

Three: Love your Lord and love your neighbor.

Jesus’ great commandments are clear:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30–31a).

According to our Lord, “There is no other commandment greater than these” (v. 31b).

This means that all we do is to be done out of love for our Lord and our neighbor. For a pathway to experiencing this transformational lifestyle, I recommend our online course, The Greatest Commandment.

Four: Define your personal ministry.

I believe every Christian should have a personal Acts 1:8 strategy, a way we are answering Jesus’ call to be his witness in the power of his Spirit to:

  • Jerusalem: our local community
  • Judea and Samaria: the region where we live
  • The “end of the earth”: the world at large

How will you serve Jesus where you live? How will you use your resources and influence to partner with Christians in serving your region and larger world?

Every Christian should be able to complete the sentence, “My ministry is _________________.”

What is yours?

The urgency of the moment

A holy God must judge the sins of humanity. According to Scripture, divine judgment comes in three phases.

The first is his passive judgment, experienced when he withdraws his hand of blessing and protection.

For example, when people “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23), the Lord responded: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v. 24); he “gave them up to dishonorable passions” (v. 26); and he “gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (v. 28).

As a result, they experienced the horrific consequences of their sins (vv. 29–32).

The second is his active judgment, experienced when he responds directly to our sins.

  • When Pharaoh refused to free the Jews, God brought on their nation the ten plagues of Exodus.
  • When Ananias lied to God about his financial contribution to the church, he “fell down and breathed his last” (Acts 5:5). When his wife Sapphira did the same, she also “fell down at his feet and breathed her last” (v. 10).
  • When King Herod “did not give God the glory,” we read that “immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down . . . and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:23).
  • Across the book of Revelation, we read of God’s wrath being visited directly on those who refused to repent of their sins and turn to him as their Lord (cf. 9:20–21).

The third is his eternal judgment, experienced by the lost when they are consigned to hell for eternity (Revelation 20:15) and by the saved when he stands before Christ to “receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11–15).

I believe we are at least in the first phase of divine judgment.

Four times more lives have been lost to abortion than the populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston—combined. Suicide and drug abuse rates are at all-time highs. Our nation is more divided politically than at any time since the Civil War. Trust in our leaders and institutions are at all-time lows. Conflict is escalating in the Middle East and Europe while the threat of global war with Iran, Russia, and China continues to rise.

At the same time, more Americans than ever before say they have no religious beliefs of any kind. A lower percentage claim to follow Christ than ever before.

Are these facts connected?

Is God withdrawing his hand of blessing and protection from us?

It is imperative that Christians serve our broken world as the salt and light we are called to be. Thinking biblically and acting redemptively has never been more vital than it is today.

The future is promised to none.

“They had been with Jesus”

Imagine a world in which every Christian chose to think biblically and act redemptively. What would change?

Everything.

  • We would experience the abundant life he intends for us (John 10:10).
  • We would be more like Jesus as we continue his earthly ministry in our world (1 Corinthians 12:27).
  • We would manifest the “fruit of the Spirit” as the character of Christ: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23).
  • We would be empowered to share our faith with everyone we can in every way we can (Matthew 28:18–20).

When the first Christians chose to think biblically and act redemptively, the watching world “recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

May the same be said of us, to the glory of God.

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