Why Christian Faithfulness?

Scott Aniol

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Why is it so important to have our motivation right about how we live in society? Why is it important that we don’t try to motivate ourselves and others with grand ambitions of societal transformation?

First, God never promised grand societal transformation, and so if we make that our goal, it can lead to deep discouragement. I know some people who are very active in trying to push for massive social change, and they’re some of the grumpiest and at times angriest people I know. Why? Because they’re not seeing results. They’re discouraged. They may see little advances here or there, but certainly not the kind of massive social change they think God has promised them. And often times, those kinds of people end up burning out. How many big-name Christians have we seen burn out and fall away from the faith in just the past several years? God never commands us to do massive, amazing, earth shattering things in society. He commands us to be holy and faithful.

When societal transformation is our goal, we inevitably lose our mission as the church.

Second, when societal transformation is our goal, we inevitably lose our mission as the church. If our central mission as a church becomes anything other than making disciples—and even as individuals, if our central mission is grand societal transformation, history has shown that we end up losing the gospel. But if our goal as churches is making disciples who are holy and faithful in society, and if our goal as individual Christians is holiness and faithfulness in society, then we just may have at least a small influence.

Third, when societal transformation is our goal, we fail to recognize the value of the “ordinary”—common vocations and ordinary people. We tend to buy into a celebretyism that praises the larger-than-life people and undervalues faithful, ordinary people. We want heroes, when we should deeply value regular, faithful fathers and mothers and grandparents and pastors and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We chase after big movements and causes, failing to recognize the value of normal, everyday faithfulness of rearing godly children, working hard in our vocations, performing our civic duty in the political sphere, and simply doing it all for God’s glory. And even in the church, we tend to chase after spectacle, big programs, and large causes, rather than trusting the week-by-week ordinary means of grace that disciple us into holy, faithful Christians.

When societal transformation is our goal, we fail to recognize the value of the “ordinary”—common vocations and ordinary people.

Fourth, actually having significant influence in society almost always requires compromise. This is the main point of James Davison Hunter’s book, To Change the World. He shows that in order to really change the world on a massive scale, we would need to get in positions of power, and in order to get into positions of power, we have to give into the idea that earthly power is where real change takes place, essentially compromising our trust in the sufficiency of God’s Word and the fact that real transformation happens in the human soul through the gospel.

But we see this happening don’t we? People who want to change the world try to work their way into positions of power, and you can’t do that by boldly proclaiming the gospel and standing for holiness. Instead, you have to get those currently in power to accept you, which means you water down your message. And this is what’s behind when you hear elite evangelicals piously proclaim “the world is watching” as a defense for privatized religion. Don’t be bold in your stand against the murder of the preborn—the world is watching; they’ll think we’re being mean to women. No, we need to be more nuanced in our approach so that the world will accept us, and then we can get into those places of influence. This is why you really don’t see very many truly faithful, set apart Christians who are committed to their local church and holy living getting into high political roles. How many truly faithful Christians have become Senators? Some. Not many. How many truly faithful Christians have become the President of the United States? It is very, very difficult—not impossible, but difficult—to get into positions of power and influence and still remain faithful to what God has called us to be as Christians.

I love how James Davison Hunter summarizes the kind of Christian faithfulness I have advocated as Christians living in society—our lives ought to be characterized by faithful presence. Another way to think of it is that we are to live lives of submission to others and their needs. It is instructive that when Peter describes how we ought to live in various kinds of everyday relationships, submission is part of our responsibility.

1 Peter 2:13—“Be subject to every human institution.”

1 Peter 2:18—“Be subject to your masters.”

1 Peter 3:1—“Wives, be subject to your husbands.”

1 Peter 3:7—“Likewise, husbands live with your wives in an understanding way, showing them honor.”

Our lives in society ought not to be characterized by trying to get ahead, trying to advance our own agenda, or trying to do what’s best for us; our goal in society ought to be to submit ourselves to the needs of others—submit to governing authority, submit to our employer, submit to the needs of others in our families.

Our goal in society is not grand scale societal change or cultural transformation—we cannot be Second Adams

Our goal in society is not grand scale societal change or cultural transformation—we cannot be Second Adams. We ought simply to live holy lives, demonstrate kindness toward all people, and apply what it means to be a Christian in whatever cultural sphere God has called us. And as a church—as a redemptive kingdom community—we ought to make disciples, gathering more redemptive kingdom citizens and teaching them how to obey Christ in their everyday lives.

This philosophy, I believe, is more faithful to Scripture than the dominant evangelical views today. This biblical understanding protects the unique mission of the church to make disciples and avoids triumphalistic “kingdom” motivation so characteristic of evangelical discussions of Christianity and culture. Setting as our goal the transformation of society almost always results in failure to fulfill the mission Christ gave to his church. Most examples of evangelical desire to “transform culture” are little more than trying to be accepted by the culture. As Andy Crouch has astutely observed, “The rise of interest in cultural transformation has been accompanied by a rise in cultural transformation of a different sort—the transformation of the church into the culture’s image.”[1]

In other words, a biblical philosophy of culture does not understand our role in society to be in terms of cultural redemption or “work for the kingdom.” Rather, we should view the church’s exclusive mission as one of evangelization and discipling Christians to live sanctified lives in whatever cultural sphere God has called us. This is the extent of our “responsibility” toward culture, and anything more than this threatens to sideline what Christ has actually commanded us to do.

There’s a sort of frantic restlessness that inherently characterizes the goal of massive societal transformation; but there is a restful contentment that accompanies a life of Christian faithfulness that says, “I am going to submit to the authority of God’s Word; I am going to rest in the ordinary means of grace; and I am going to work hard at rearing godly children, working heartily as unto the Lord, standing up for righteousness in society, and doing it all for God’s glory.” We live faithfully in this present age, fully optimistic that the Second Adam will accomplish God’s plan for human history “when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thess 1:10).

[1] Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 189.

This was an excerpt from Scott Aniol’s book, Citizens & Exiles: Christian Faithfulness in God’s Two Kingdoms.

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Scott Aniol

Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief G3 Ministries

Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at www.scottaniol.com. Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here.