But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life. This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign.
The Epistle to Diognetus 5:1-5
Given last week’s devotion, the question might then be what does it look like to be a faithful witness in the world? We as Christians know that we are not of the world even though we are in the world. If we were to describe faithful witness to the world, I think it could be described as patient, humble, but enduring. Like the Ents said, we must not be too hasty. We must take the long view. Ami has mentioned how she has grown in her appreciation of the legacy of faithful institutions. We were blessed to experience this in our college years, and I was able to experience the legacy of a faithful Christian institution in seminary. I grew up in a church whose legacy stretched back a generation or two. So I’d like to think just a little about our individual faithfulness, our faithfulness as families, and then as churches. In each of these three positions, we are able to be faithful witnesses, and altogether, God uses this to accomplish his purposes in the world.
So first, individually. We all are urged as individuals to be faithful. Like the airline security message, ‘Put on your oxygen mask before you help others,’ we must tend to our own soul in order to faithfully planted in the broader context of our families and churches. A tension here is that in order to tend to our own souls, we must participate in a local church body. The American lie is that I can be a Christian by myself, I don’t need the church. The Christian truth is that we need to be spiritually fed in a local church and admonished by fellow believers to keep on. So as an individual, we can be faithfully planted by regular participation in a local church. We must engage with God’s word, worship together with the church body, and be under the care of a local shepherd. From this, then we learn that we must personally flee from the works of the flesh and pursue the fruits of the Spirit. And when we look at the fruits of the Spirit, they display a confidence in the hope of eternal life. We cannot regularly have joy unless we know that the Lord will once and for all deliver us from our sorrow. Why be patient if you are not guaranteed anything in this life or the next? Like the ancient letter to Diognetus says, ‘We live in our own countries as nonresidents.’ We carry with us a peculiar contentment that is not based on our current circumstances.
But we can and must pursue the mundane. We were created to work. It is a good thing to work with the fruits of the Spirit. I garden because it is good for the soul as well as providing for physical needs. Whatever we do (and we must do something), we ought to do it heartily as though we are serving the Lord. In secular places, we are lights in the darkness shining forth the light of Christ. We often call this our vocation, though vocation can refer to our work in various capacities, not only in our employment. The places God has put us are places he has called us to be faithful laborers and witnesses of the grace given to us. We should also seek to show Christian charity where we are placed. Sometimes we mix up our ideas of charity and missions. They are not the same thing, and we ought to clarify that. The liberal church of the early 1900’s made charity the mission of the church, and this is missing the point of missions: being sent out to make the gospel known to our neighbors and to the nations. However, we can show Christian charity and compassion to all because God made every human being in his image. This is a worthwhile (and essential) endeavor. The work of Christian charity flows out of the Christian life faithfully lived. You could almost say Christians will be the best and worst citizens.
As an extension of ourselves as individuals, we are also enabled to be faithfully planted as families. And by this, I mean broader than those who live in your home, though not to their neglect. If your mother is a widow, part of being faithful as a Christian is to take care of your mother. It also means that if God grants you children, you seek to disciple them and train them in the faith. As families we spend time in prayer together, we eat meals together, and work together. We open up our household to others and show hospitality. We can invite singles, widows, widowers, and youths to be a part of our family both to learn from them and to aid them in their Christian walk. In many ways, what can be said of the individual is also true of the family, and we can consider how to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit within our families and within the activities we pursue together.
Finally, we are faithfully planted as churches. This is not the least important just because it is last. In fact, it might be the most important because the church is something that is beyond us. When we participate in a local church body, and we faithful invest in the life of our fellow brothers and sisters there, we are investing in an institution that, Lord willing, will endure beyond our lifetimes. I know my church growing up was begun before my parents were born and is still gathering to this day. The legacy of faithful congregations and pastors makes its mark. It makes its mark on individuals like those who come to Christ through the work of God in those in the church who are long gone from here. It makes its mark on the children who grow up under the teaching of the Word, and the young couples who get married and learn to endure through the ups and downs of life. It makes its mark through the missionaries that have been supported throughout the world, churches we may never set our eyes on, but who will continue, by God’s grace, to proclaim the resurrected Lord Jesus until he returns.
Next week, Lord willing, I will try to consider in what ways this faithful witness also flows into participating in a culture and what that might look like.