I Wonder What God Thinks About _____?

This past Friday, my wife posted a blog to ESI confessing to a low-level panic that an unplanned mental/spiritual exodus from American pop culture was taking place in her heart and mind without her being fully aware of it…let alone giving her conscious approval to the process. (If interested, you can find her original post here.)

The very next day, Justin Garrett followed up with a meditation on whether or not Christians – himself included – were different enough from the culture around them that anyone could reasonably be expected to take notice. Justin’s point, taken from 1 Peter 3:15, is that the Bible writers just naturally assume that true believers will be visibly different from the culture at large; so different, in fact, that the way we live out our lives will cause others to stop and ask us the reason for the hope within us. (If interested, you can find Justin’s original post here.)

Both of these posts had something to say about how the Christian interacts with the culture at large and how that culture interacts with us. Because we spend so much time bumping up against other people who do not share our belief system, I think it’s vital that we understand and recognize the tension between two biblical truths: believers will have problems interacting with cultural norms (John 15:18) but we are still called to be “salt and light” in a dark and dying world (Matthew 5:13-16).

So, yeah…when was the last time someone stopped you in Hy-Vee to ask the reason for the hope within you? Can’t remember? (Me neither.) Apparently, my Christian walk has not yet matured to the point where people sense the presence of the Holy Spirit taking up residence in my heart. Clearly, then, I am not yet “different enough” that I stand out from the secular crowd. Well, OK…I guess I can accept the idea that I have a long way to go in my walk with Christ.

At the very same time, however, I share my wife’s fears that I am simultaneously becoming more and more detached from American pop culture, perhaps unnecessarily jeopardizing my ability to relate to other people as they share conversations about the latest developments on “Dancing with the Stars” (or any other television program, for that matter). My personal level of cultural cluelessness is often exacerbated by the fact that, while I am very definitely a guy, I have almost no interest whatsoever in collegiate or professional sports. As I write this, it is late Sunday afternoon, and I still have no idea who won yesterday’s Mizzou-Texas game…I suppose I could Google it or something. (And it gets worse…had I not been in Tiger Barbershop Saturday afternoon, I would not have even been able to cough up the fact that Mizzou was playing Texas.)

So the mere fact that I couldn’t care less about college football is enough to cause most Mizzou fans to recoil in horror, giving at least some small evidence that I do not fit in well with the culture around me. And yet, I apparently fit in with the culture well enough that very few people are sensing the presence of Christ in my life, namely the calm assurance of peace with God that permeates mature believers. What gives?

For whatever this is worth, I have found that this tension I mentioned earlier, which is inherent in living the Christian life (being “in the world, but not of the world”) tends to be the exact place where the enemy of my soul shows up to inject a little doubt and/or despair into my heart…both, if he can manage it.

It’s almost as if Satan is keen to exploit the various already/not-yet tensions, to whisper into our ears that perhaps we really don’t belong to anyone, we’re “not quite” fitting into any group, and maybe we need to double-check to see if Jesus really has stamped our Salvation Passport? “Aren’t you, after all, just trying to fit in a little too hard? Maybe you should pay more attention to the various places where you don’t feel quite comfortable when surrounded by mature believers? Remember how weird you thought Christians were not all that long ago?”

There is, I think, a far better response to nagging, devilish questions like these than either frustration or depair, and it’s actually pretty simple, which is why I tend to reach for it anytime I fall into confusion: “What does God think…and when did I start caring about what God thinks, anyway?”

Perhaps reaching for this particular weapon is only useful to those of us who came to Christ later in life; perhaps not. I can only speak about it meaningfully from my own experience, obviously, but asking myself that question immediately catapults me back to a time in my life (not all that long ago!) when I really did not give a rip for the Bible, or for the God Who so mercifully revealed Himself to us within its pages. I find it very reassuring that I care at all to discern what the Lord thinks about anything, let alone the tougher issues that tend to divide.

Struggling in the present to find my way through a culture that does not honor God, striving to stay “relevant” with others, and yet not become so immersed in the culture that my life looks identical to that of a nonbeliever, I find frustration grabbing hold whenever I worry too much about what I think or (more often) what other people think. By very deliberately shifting my category of thinking over to the all-important question of what God thinks, I tend to get a better perspective on whether I should spend time reading or watching TV (and no, the answer is not always “Why, reading, of course!”).

What God thinks, as revealed in the pages of Scripture, gives me a clearer perspective when it comes to serving others, as well. Keeping the question of what God thinks close to my own heart has afforded me the great privilege of looking past offensive sins and seeing (often for the first time) the sinner beneath. Remembering that there was a time when I, too, did not care enough to discern the will of God for my life humbles me when talking to those who are still languishing on the other side of that particular bridge. Does it work all the time? No. Does it work even some of the time? Yes. Remembering God’s heart in the matter keeps me engaged, I think, even as I take note of the differences between me and someone else, and it allows me to come back, time and time again, to the things that unite all of us: We are all made in God’s image. We are all wrecked. We all need Jesus.

As Shelly’s blog suggests, it is important that other people perceive Christians as genuinely caring about them, as well as the not-necessarily-sinful things that they care about. As Justin’s blog suggests, it’s important that people looking at us perceive a tangible difference in the way we live – that they perceive a unique hope within us. Ultimately, though, the human heart cannot be trusted on either side of that transaction. As Paul said, the only thing that really matters is faith working itself out through love (Galatians 5:6). Continually reminding ourselves to consider what God thinks as we make our way in this world gives us the only firm foundation for living out that reality.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 (ESV)
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

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