The Intentional Culture-Forming Christian – Martin

I’ve been reflecting lately on Matthew 5:13-16. In these verses, we find Jesus teaching his disciples (and the Jewish crowds) the importance of intentional faithfulness – living out their Christian faith for everyone to see. Jesus tells his disciples

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on it’s stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16  NIV

These verses are probably familiar to most of us, but how deeply have we pondered them? Have we let ourselves be challenged by Jesus’ words? Or have they become too familiar – so familiar that we read over them without really thinking?

I think that many of us struggle intentional Christian living – especially with being intentional agents of change in our culture. We vote in elections. We help with Operation Christmas Child. We might even volunteer at the local soup kitchen if we’re feeling ambitious. But for the most part, Christians come to church on Sunday morning – and maybe Wednesday night. If we are involved more, it tends to be in church activities that help us grow, not in sharing our faith or serving others.

I’m not criticizing. It’s easy to get busy; I know I do. And Bible studies, prayer groups and men’s breakfasts are valuable things. But how do we live out our faith daily – with coworkers, family and friends? How do we make a difference at work, at the doctor’s office or in the grocery store? I’m reminded of Albert Mohler’s words: “At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle to evangelism is Christians who don’t share the Gospel.” Being the sort of salt and light that Jesus’ talks about in Matthew 5 means intentionally living out our faith and sharing it with others. There is no place for passivity in our Christian life. We are called to actively serve, love, and witness to others. But how, exactly, do we form the habits that allow us to live out our faith each day? I’d like to suggest three practices that can help us as we seek to be intentional ambassadors and witnesses for Christ. First, we must learn to see opportunities. Second, we must learn to seize opportunities. Third, we must learn to make each moment count.

Let’s start with the first habit. If we want to share our faith and actively serve others, we need to be on the lookout for openings to do so. Are we shoveling our walk after a big snow? Chances are our elderly neighbor probably is too. Is someone putting lots of groceries into their van? Maybe they could use a hand. Did someone mention their son or daughter getting married? Maybe you can ask if the wedding is a church wedding and start a spiritual discussion.

Part of learning to see opportunities means being prepared for opportunities ahead of time. My dad typically carries a One-Minute Bible with him when he goes to work or to the doctor’s office. If a conversation about spiritual things comes up, he can immediately ask “If you only had to read one minute a day, would you read in the Scripture?” It’s amazing how many people say yes! Another part of being ready for opportunities is, in the words of 1st Peter 3:15, to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This means being ready to share our own testimony of how God has worked in our lives, of course, but it also means knowing what the Scripture teaches and knowing at least some of the basic evidence for Christianity. We don’t want to be caught flatfooted when we’re asked hard questions. It doesn’t do our own faith any good and it certainly doesn’t make us look credible to those asking the tough questions – or to anyone else who might be listening in on the conversation. If you’re not sure where to turn for resources on defending Christianity, I’d recommend Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel as great places to start. I’d also suggest Tactics by Greg Koukl as an excellent book on how to share our faith and respond to unbelievers’ hard questions.

Another part of learning to see opportunities is learning how to proactively make opportunities for sharing our faith. If someone is new to the neighborhood, we can help them move in or welcome them with a pan of fresh brownies. A little friendliness goes a long way. Even if we don’t share the Gospel right at that moment, we’re building relationships that can bear fruit. Just as importantly, we’re forming a habit of intentional generosity and hospitality in our lives.

Consider our snow shoveling example from earlier. That was an example of seeing an opportunity, but it was also an example of proactively making an opportunity for a strong relationship with our neighbor. There are lots of other examples of how we might do this. For example, my dad really enjoys showing children tricks, such as how to cut a whole in a piece of paper big enough to fit someone through. Parents almost always say “yes” and the tricks usually spark a discussion, giving a chance to get to know the parents and children better. Another way to provoke discussions is as simple as reading a Christian book with an interesting title. If you’re the sort of person who likes to read while waiting for appointments, bringing a good Christian book might cause people to ask – what are you reading? Immediately, you’re given a perfect opening to share about Jesus Christ.

The second practice is actually harder to develop than the first. It isn’t enough to just see opportunities – we must seize them. This will sometimes be uncomfortable – especially at first. I’ve personally missed too many opportunities for sharing my faith because I was nervous or didn’t want to ask awkward questions. Sharing our faith is hard work. And sometimes we’ll worry about how people might respond or if they might be offended. But that isn’t up to us. It’s in God’s hands. When I think about seizing opportunities to live out my faith, two things help me. First, I remind myself that I’m not responsible for the results. As Greg Koukl likes to put it, “just put a stone in their shoe.” If I’ve asked a question that forces someone to wrestle with hard questions or think about Christianity, that’s enough. God will work it out. Another Christian might water the seed that I’ve planted. Second, I remind myself to do a priority check. I ask, “if I was talking about my favorite book or movie or sports team, would I be having these feelings of worry about the other person’s reaction?” Of course not! I’d be excited to share about something I was passionate about! Why isn’t that more often our reaction when we share the Gospel? Seizing opportunities to serve others and share our faith means aligning our priorities so that the good news of the Gospel is what excites us most in life.

So far, we’ve talked a lot about intentional faithfulness in regard to witnessing to and serving others. I’ve tried to argue that service shouldn’t be something we just do on mission trips or in “service projects,” but is something that we should integrate into our daily lives as we learn to see and respond to the needs of those around us. Likewise, we must learn to see and seize opportunities for witnessing to others and sharing the good news of the Gospel with them. But as important as forming habits of intentional evangelism and service is, there’s another element to being salt and light as well – intentional culture forming.

We let our light shine before others by our acts of goodness and generosity, as well as by sharing the Gospel and by refraining from sin, but I think we can go even further. Christian culture shaping means actively working in ways that promote a godly culture. There are many ways we can do this. We can support Christian pregnancy centers, for example, as well as promoting other pro-life organizations. We can gather together with Christian coworkers to study the Bible or form a prayer group. We can and should do our work in a God honoring way, being models of hard work and respect for authority, while also, at times, standing up against sinful behavior.

Depending on your particular profession as a Christian, you might be involved in: some form of media or art, care for the elderly, the healthcare field, secretarial work or one of countless other professions. All these jobs matter. How we treat our elderly is important; if we, as Christians, act differently towards the elderly population, others will take notice. Likewise, media shapes culture: music, stories, Youtube videos. And so do the friendly faces at the Hy-Vee checkout. We need Christian teachers who will help students who are struggling, while also model what a Christian life looks like. We need Christian bankers and businessmen who will be scrupulously honest, seeking to do right by their employees and customers. We need Christian electricians and plumbers, willing to do hard jobs that might not get much praise from others. Wherever we work, we ought to work as if for the Lord, intentionally bringing our faith into how we treat others and how we approach our job.

A final way in which we can be salt and light is by being aware of our culture and how it influences ourselves and others. This means being watchful of what books we read, what songs we listen to and what media we consume. It also means being familiar enough with our culture that we can talk about it intelligently with others. Understanding our postmodern cultural moment, and where it contradicts the message of the Bible, will help us to witness better and to answer the questions of those who are confused or struggling. It’s important that we can engage people where they are at, in ways that they can understand. It’s also important to understand our culture, so we can know where it needs change and the ways that we can be agents of that change.

One key part of being familiar with our culture means being familiar with our politics. As Christians, we are responsible not only to vote, but to be informed voters and to know which candidates are supporting Christian convictions and which ones are supporting non-Christian or anti-Christian positions. If non-Christian friends ask us about politics, we should be able to give them an informed answer, not just say “I vote this way because my parents did.” Or “All Christians vote Republican.” We ought to know what the issues are and what the Bible says about them. And then we should vote accordingly – putting our Christian convictions above our personal desires.

Hopefully I’ve at least given some food for thought and suggested practical ways in which you can live out your faith in your daily life. Each of us has unique gifts and will live out our faith in different ways. Maybe some of the examples I’ve given for how to strike up a conversation with non-Christians won’t work for you. That’s okay. Maybe you’re stronger with hospitality than with evangelism. Or maybe you have a bold personality and enjoy handing out Gospel tracts to strangers. Whatever your unique giftings and personality, the important thing is that you’re seeking to follow Christ faithfully day by day, and not using your God-given personality as an excuse for not sharing your faith with your friends or for not being salt and light in your workplace. Christ calls us all to be a transformative influence on the lives of those around us. We don’t have to be brilliant or charismatic or mechanically gifted to serve Christ. We just have to be willing to be used by him.

About the Author

I’m Tim Martin – avid reader, occasional golfer and recent seminary grad. I have passion for studying God’s Word and sharing it with others. I attend First Evangelical Free Church in Sioux City and currently tutor math at one of the local community colleges while I wait to find a position as a pastor. I’m always up for a theological discussion or debate – or for hearing an interesting story. I’m excited to see the next step the Lord has planned for me.