Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
December 17, 2000
Last week I introduced the topic of the conflict that Christians have with their surrounding
cultures. The Christian’s worldview, that is, the overall perception they have of reality, is different from
the non-Christian’s worldview. Our philosophical presuppositions, our understanding of history, the
present and the future are all different from the non-Christian. This inevitably results in conflicts both
great and small.
The Christian worldview is founded in God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible. The Biblical
Christian’s foundational presupposition is that the God who created us and the world has revealed
Himself to man through special revelation given to the prophets, Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and these
revelations have been recorded in the Bible. While the Christian uses both reason and observation to
understand reality, he subjects both to the final authority of revelational truth, for man’s ability to
observe and to think is too limited and affected by sin to tell us all we need to know about God and how
He wants us to live.
The non-Christian does not hold the Bible to be the final source of authority. They have their
own set of philosophical presuppositions that lead them to place their confidence in other things as the
final source of authority. In other religions, it is usually the writings of their religious leaders or the
traditions that have been handed down to them that tell them how to appease their god or gods. The
secularists place final authority in themselves in their ability either to rationalize or to make conclusions
from their observations.
I pointed out last week that because we have been given a commission by our Lord to “Go into
all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), we must engage non-Christian
cultures. As attractive as it might be to isolate ourselves from our society so as to avoid its evils, to do so
would be to disobey Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19,20 – 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all
the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them
to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We
must interact with those that have different beliefs than we do so that they might know the truth and
believe in Jesus Christ.
Isolationism is not an option for the Biblical Christian. We must seek to understand the
worldviews of non-Christians so that we might be able to both build a bridge to the reach them with the
truth and keep the focus of our discussions with them on the fundamental issues. It is too easy to get
sidetracked onto subjects that are relatively unimportant instead of keeping focuses on vital issues.
Why argue with someone about church government structure when they reject God as creator? A
discussion about the proper and improper religious rituals is meaningless when the person you are
talking to does not believe Jesus rose from the dead. What good does it do to convince someone that
praying to Mary is ineffective when that person believes salvation must be earned and rejects salvation
by God’s grace through faith alone in Jesus’ atonement for them? How effective is it to debate the nature
of the earth in eternity with someone who rejects the deity of Jesus? Understanding the underlying
presuppositions and core beliefs of the non-Christian helps us to be more effective in reaching them with
the truth by letting us know where we can build a bridge to them, as Paul did in Acts 17, and by keeping
the discussion focused on the essential issues.
We must not be isolationists, but at the same time we must also be careful of becoming
assimilated into the surrounding culture. Last week I pointed out a few of the many Scriptures that warn
about being conformed to this world and continuing in the sinful lifestyles we ourselves once had (Rom.
12:1,2; Eph. 4:22, etc.). If the manner in which I live is not different from the non-Christian, then I have
serious reason to examine my own salvation (2 Cor. 13:5; Rom. 6:16), and I have very little to say to the
non-Christian for I have lost my saltiness and the brightness of my light (Matt. 5:13-16).
The question this morning then, is how do we keep the balance? How do we engage the cultures
around us with meaningful interaction and yet avoid being assimilated by them? How do we maintain a
proper Biblical Separation without becoming isolationists and forming our own Christian ghettos?
Part of the answer was given last week. We must make sure we understand the fundamental
issues and never waver on them. We engage other cultures on those primary issues without compromise,
for we must never compromise the truth. The second part of the answer is in understanding Biblical
Law, Biblical Principles and our Biblical Freedom in Christ.
BIBLICAL LAW, PRINCIPLE AND FREEDOM
There are those that want to stress God’s grace to the point that they forget that there is law even
for the Christian. The Christian is under grace and not the Mosaic law (Rom. 6:14), and we cannot earn
salvation by keeping law (Gal. 5:4; Rom. 10:3,4). However, we are under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)
and to serve the law of God (Rom. 7:25). The idea that the Christian is lawless is ludicrous for the basic
character of a Christian is to be one of obedience to the commandments that Jesus has given. That is
what the teaching aspect of the church is all about (Matthew 28:19,20).
Biblical laws are the clear commands of Scripture. In these things there is no question about what
God has said and what He expects from us. They are black and white. For example, from the negative,
Christians are commanded to set aside anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from our
mouths nor are we to lie to one another (Col. 3:8,9). We are not to steal (Eph. 4:28), or commit sexual
immorality of any kind (1 Thess. 4:3), or idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14). From the positive side, we are to love
the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Mt. 22:37) and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mt.
22:39). We are to speak the truth (Eph. 4:25), be kind, forgive each other just as God in Christ has
forgiven us (Eph. 4:32), honor our parents (Eph. 6:2), give thanks in everything, rejoice always and pray
without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Our separation from the world starts here. However much we may be like our culture in what we
eat, how we dress and what recreational activities we enjoy, if we violate these commands we sin and
compromise our Christian testimony. Regardless of what is common in the culture, the Christian may
not be involved in anything that would violate a Scriptural command.
If I may be blunt, it has become common business practice to lie. The Christian may not do so
even if it cost you your job. That happened with Elias Carerro two years ago. As a Christian he could not
participate in the sales methods his boss was requiring him to use. It has become common political
practice to try and destroy the opponent’s reputation by slandering their character. That is not an option
for a Christian. We are not to let any unwholesome word proceed from our mouths (Eph. 4:29), we are
to be kind (Col. 3:12) and are to even love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us (Mt. 5:44).
And yes, that may result in not winning the election, but our trust in God to place people in positions of
leadership, not in the fickle electorate. Common social practice now includes both fornication and
adultery. We are to flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18). The Christian marriage bed is to be undefiled (Heb.
13:4). For the Christian, purity is more important than passion. It is also common practice in our society
for people to cheat on their income tax. That is not an option for the Christian because of two
commands. First, is Jesus’ command to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21) and the
command in Romans 13:7 to “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due;] custom to
whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.”
We could go on with more examples, but I think everyone understands the point. The Christian is
to obey the commands given to us in the Bible. That will set us apart from the non-Christian culture
around us. We will behave differently than they do and it will be noticed. Obedience to God’s
commands is the start of living a holy life.
The second step in living a holy life is living according to Biblical Principles. These are the
precepts of Biblical law applied to areas not specifically addressed. They are the logical extensions of the
law into the specific situations. For example, the Bible does not say anything about what we refer to as
“copyright.” Can the Christian copy software, music, art or written material to sell or give to others
without the permission of whoever produced that material? The answer is obvious because it is easy to
see the principle of the command of “thou shall not steal” being applied to this situation. Those things
are the intellectual property of whoever created them. They do not belong to us. We should not steal
them. The same is true of why Christians do not extend their lunch hours and breaks beyond the time
designated by the company. That would be lying and stealing from the company. You would be
receiving pay from the company under the false pretense that you worked during that time period.
Jesus often used Biblical Principle to explain the application of Biblical law. For example, in
Matthew 7:27 Jesus states the Biblical law, “You shall not commit adultery,” and then the Biblical
principle that flows from it that is to be applied to everyday life, “everyone who looks on a woman to
lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” The Biblical principle is just as
binding on the Christian as is the Biblical law. Christian men are not to be girl watchers. They are to flee
youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2:22). This is why the Christian shuns pornography as evil for it entices to violate
this Biblical Principle.
It is Biblical Principle that is so important in the indefinite commands such as being kind, loving,
and tenderhearted. These are not specific actions, but attitudes that govern both the actions and how we
perform them. We have to think how to practically demonstrate those characteristics in the specific
situations we face on a daily basis.
For example, 1 Tim. 2:9,10 gives the following Biblical principle for how women should dress –
Likewise, [I want] women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with
braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits
women making a claim to godliness.” There are no directions given to hem length, style of neckline or
even type of clothing – a dress, pants or toga. What is given is the principle of being modest and discreet.
You have to think and ask yourself why you wear what you wear. Does it reflect godliness or
worldliness? Are you trying to get people to notice you or Christ in you? If you are not sure if your
manner of dress is modest, ask a more mature godly woman and imitate them, not entertainers,
advertisements and models in fashion magazines. Again, we find that Biblical principle is just as
binding as Biblical Law even though it takes more thought to make the application.
Living a life separate from the world involves this proper mindset. I want to obey God. I want to
do what He wants me to do. I want to please Him even in my attitude. When that is the quest of our life,
then the practical aspect of living a life that is distinctly different from the world will not be a great
problem. We will not even struggle with the command of 1 John 2:15,16 – Do not love the world, nor
the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is
in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the
Father, but is from the world. The Christian’s desire is to love the Father and that precludes him from
loving the world.
The third area we need to understand is Biblical Freedom. This involves the “gray” areas in
living for Christ. These are areas of conduct which are not directly addressed by the Scriptures and it
may be difficult to see what Biblical principle may directly apply. Where there is no prohibition by either
law or principle, then there is freedom. For example, eating a steak, drinking coffee, shaving your head,
wearing a blue shirt or listening to a certain style of music would all be areas in which there is freedom
to practice or abstain. Yet, even here we will need to think through how we should use those freedoms
and if there are Biblical principles that put boundaries on the freedom. It is in the area of Biblical
freedom that we strive to identify to some degree with the non-Christian culture that we might have the
opportunity to win them to Christ.
Please turn to 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 8, 9 & 10 Paul is dealing with the subject of
Christian liberty. There is a great freedom in Jesus Christ because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
There is no need for a detailed list of all the do’s and don’ts for the Holy Spirit prods us on to Holy
living. We have a freedom in Christ from both the slavery of sin (Rom. 6) and the Mosaic law (Gal. 5).
However, that freedom must be used properly with the right purpose in mind.
Paul makes two summary statements concerning the use of Christian liberty. The first concerns
the purpose of our freedom. In 9:23, Paul states, And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may
become a fellow partaker of it. The purpose of Christian liberty is for the spreading of the gospel. The
second summary statement concerns proper use of that freedom. In 10:23,24 Paul says, All things are
lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek
his own [good,] but that of his neighbor. Paul will not abuse his Christian liberty, for the proper use of
freedom is to build others up, not tear them down.
The problem, as Paul points out in the first part of chapter 8, is that not every Christian
understands their liberty in Christ. They have a conscience still affected by their former way of life that
restricts their freedom. Others flaunt their freedom at the expense of the weak. Paul warns about the
abuse of our freedoms in verses 7-13 in his discussion of eating meat offered to idols.
The essence of Paul’s discussion is this. The Christian has full liberty to eat meat offered to idols
because an idol is nothing anyway (vs. 4-6). However, there are those who do not understand this yet and
they associate it with the worship of the idol (vs. 7). Therefore we must be careful in practicing our
liberty because we would not want to be the cause of the weaker brother doing what is for him a sin (vs.
9-11). The food is unimportant, but we should love one another enough to curtail our liberty if it would
entice a weaker brother to do what would be sin for them (vs. 8,13 – See Romans 14 too).
The Biblical principle for this is fairly simple as is stated in 1 Cor. 10:23,24 which I have already
quoted. I have freedom in Christ to do many things, but I must not use that freedom selfishly. I must be
wise and always seek the good of those around me. In the case of the Christian, that good is in not
flaunting my freedom to cause them to participate in something that they do not yet have freedom of
conscience. For them, it would be sin (Rom. 14:23).
When it comes to the non-Christian, I should seek to use my freedom for the cause of the gospel.
I still must be aware of causing any brother to stumble as already pointed out, but I must also be aware of
being an offense to the non-Christian. 1 Cor. 10:25-33 covers this aspect of freedom. Again using the
analogy of meat sacrificed to idols, Paul says that if you are with an unbeliever, don’t ask about the meat,
but if they tell you it is meat offered to idols, then abstain from it because that non-Christian will view it
as part of idol worship and you cannot participate in that with them. Your greater concern has to be their
salvation and not your getting a good steak.
The principle is elaborated on in 1 Cor. 9:19-23. For though I am free from all [men,] I have
made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. 20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might
win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law, though not being myself under the Law,
that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though
not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without
law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, that
I may by all means save some. 23 And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a
fellow partaker of it.
Paul is saying that he would take up the cultural practices of those he was around in order to win
them to Christ. He would never compromise Biblical Law or Biblical Principle and he would quickly
restrain his use of Biblical Liberty, but his purpose in using his liberty would be to reach the lost. It is
that attitude that allows a person to build relationships within a non-Christian culture and still maintain a
proper Biblical separation. What you mimic within the non-Christian cultures around us must be for that
purpose. If it is not, then you must ask yourself why? Are you yielding to a temptation? Are you trying
to identify with the unbelievers because you want to be like them? Are you just ignorant of the reason
for the particular practice?
Paul states that when he was with the Jews who were under the law, he would follow their
cultural customs, so that he might not unnecessarily offend them and thus be able to present to them the
gospel. When Paul was with the gentiles, he would not follow all the Jewish customs, but would
participate with the gentiles in their customs that he might not unnecessarily offend them thus be able to
present the gospel to them. Again, he would do this only in areas that would not violate Biblical Law or
Principle. He would use his Biblical freedom for the sake of the gospel.
In practical terms this means we must understand something of the culture we are trying to reach
and what is and is not acceptable both to God and to that culture. This is easier in a monoculture, but
much more difficult in a multicultural setting.
MONOCULTURES. In a monoculture everyone pretty much has the same basic worldview and
customs. Dress, diet, and social customs are basically uniform. If you can learn what they are and the
reasons behind them, then you can adapt into that culture relatively easily and then strive to present the
gospel of Jesus Christ.
Why is this important? Because all people are basically ethno-centric and if you offend them by
showing that you are unwilling to be like them, they will not hear you. A classic example of this was the
early efforts to reach China with the gospel in the 1800’s. Many missionaries went and settled in the
costal cities, but the missionaries would build compound and continue in practicing all their western
customs. Their manner of dress, their diets, their social customs remained western though they were
trying to reach the Chinese. While God was gracious and there were some converts, for the most part the
Chinese resented the western missionary and referred to them as “foreign devils.” The animosity created
by westerners attitude of superiority about their culture fueled the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.
Hudson Taylor approached mission work in China from a different point of view. He took on the
diet and cultural dress of the average Chinese, including the long pigtail. By showing respect for Chinese
culture in these simple ways he was able to gain a greater acceptance by them and not be viewed as a
“foreign devil” as were other westerners. This resulted in having a much greater impact upon them for
the sake of the gospel. He did not compromise Biblical Law or Principle. He did not practice or condone
such things as ancestor worship with its various rituals, but he did use his Biblical freedom for its
These same principles must be applied in a multiculture. It is just going to be more difficult
because of the widespread differences of the many subcultures. In a sense, a multicultural society has
many monocultures existing alongside each other in close proximity. Because of that closeness, the
interaction between them will result in each culture taking on some practices that become common to
all, yet each will still have some very distinct aspects to it whether it be diet, dress, social customs, music
and even language. That is the situation here in the United States. The interaction of the various cultures
make it easier in one sense in that Americans tend to have a greater tolerance for cultural differences. At
the same time, it is more difficult simply because of the many differences between each of the
What does this all have to do with us? We have an obligation to reach those around us with the
gospel. That will take hard work and a lot of wisdom. In our community there are many religious
cultures – Roman Catholic, Jehovah Witness, Hindu, Buddhist, liberal protestant, secular atheists and
agnostics and a few of us Biblical Christians. We also have many ethnic cultures including Italian, Irish,
German, English, Chinese, Indian, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Afro-American, etc. And we have to consider
the differences between those who grew up in urban, suburban and rural environments for each of those
have cultural aspects to them. Oh yes, let’s not forget about generational differences too.
Sound confusing? Sometimes it is, and yet we are to reach those around us for Christ. How can
we do it? By following the principles I have talked about for the last two weeks. Take the time to learn
something of the underlying presuppositions and foundations for the different cultures. (including the
one you grew up in. Don’t assume about it. It may not be as godly as you think). Why do they believe
and practice what they do? Keep the focus on the real issues and not the side issues. Use your Biblical
freedom to build bridges to them so that you might reach them for Christ.
But this is the part that calls for the greatest wisdom. Make sure that you know why you do what
you do. It is very easy to imitate other people without much thought as to the reason for making that
identification or the ramifications of it. In a multicultural society, the adaptation of the cultural practice
of one group may exclude you from another. In a multicultural society, often the best practice is being as
neutral as possible.
For example, if you are trying to reach gang members, the color of your clothes is important.
Suddenly the difference between wearing a blue shirt or a red shirt can have a major impact in what you
are doing. Most people who try to reach gang members will purposely wear colors that are neutral to
both gangs because they do not want to shut out their ability to reach either one. In a much more mild
sense, it is one reason I wear on suit on Sundays. It is neutral in our society. Some of you would not care
if I wore jeans and a t-shirt, but others would find that offensive. I dress as I do to reach as many as I can.
In a multicultural society, we also have to be very flexible. A steak might be a real treat for you,
but don’t serve it to someone who observes dietary restrictions such as a Hindu or vegetarian. It is hard
to reach someone you offend. The same can actually be true for something like coffee. Don’t serve
coffee or tea to a Mormon. They have a dietary restriction against all drinks with caffeine.
KEEPING OUR PURPOSE IN VIEW
My challenge to you in all this is to become more thoughtful about why you do what you do. Are
you living in a manner that does not compromise Biblical Law and Principle? Are you using your
Biblical Freedom for its proper purpose, or are you becoming assimilated into an ungodly culture and
using your supposed freedom as an excuse to do what you want for your own pleasure?
Paul tried to be “all things to all men” in the use of his freedom in Christ for the sake of the
gospel. He kept the purpose in mind. He concluded his thought about that saying this, “Do you not know
that those who run in a race all run, but [only] one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may
win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then [do it] to
receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without
aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest
possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1Cor 9::24-27)
It can be hard work, but we can survive and win the culture war if we will do what the Bible says.
We must never compromise Biblical Law or principle and we must use our Biblical freedom for the sake
of the gospel. If we will do those things, we can reach into non-Christian cultures with the gospel
without becoming compromised and assimilated into them. If you do not, then you will be compromised,
fall into sin, and be assimilated into non-Christian culture. Keep the final goal in mind. Life is not about
your own pleasure or having other people like and accept you. The race of life is about serving God and
receiving His acceptance for all eternity.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young
Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your
parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count how many times the word
“culture” is used. 2) Discuss with your parents the culture you live in and how you can reach other cultures.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the foundation of the Christian’s worldview? What is the commission God has given to all
Christians? Why isn’t isolationism an option for Christians? What is the danger of cultural assimilation? What
is Biblical Law? Are their Biblical laws that apply to Christians? Examples? What is Biblical Principle?
Examples? Why are Biblical principles so important in the Christian life? How do they keep us separated
from the world? What is Biblical Freedom? What is this freedom from? Examples? What is the purpose of
this freedom? What is the proper use of this freedom? What problems are there in the use of this freedom
among other Christians? Non-Christians? How can you use this freedom for the sake of the gospel? What
must be understood first in order to use our freedom properly among non-Christians? What is a monoculture
and how can our freedom help spread the gospel in a monoculture? What is a multiculture? What are the
advantages of a multiculture? Disadvantages? How can you use your freedom in a multiculture? Why do you
have to be more careful? Are you keeping your purpose in view? Why do you do what you do?
Sermon Notes – 12/17/2000 A.M.
Culture Wars, Pt. 2: Separation & Cultural Relevancy
The Christian’s Commission
Biblical laws are the clear commands of Scripture. There is no question about what God has said and expects from us.
Laws applied to Christians
Biblical principle is the logical extension of Biblical law into situations not specifically addressed by law.
Examples: Matthew 7:27
Indefinite commands: Kind, loving, tenderhearted, etc.
1 Timothy 2:9,10
Proper mindset – 1 John 2:15,16
These are areas of conduct which are not directly addressed by the Scriptures and it may be difficult to see what Biblical
principle may directly apply. Where there is no prohibition or admonition by either law or principle, there is freedom.
The Purpose of our Freedom: 1 Corinthians 9:23
The Proper Use of our Freedom: 1 Corinthians 10:23,24
Boundaries: Among Christians – 1 Corinthians 8
Among non-Christians – 1 Corinthians 10:25-33
The Principle Elaborated: 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
USING OUR FREEDOM
KEEPING OUR PURPOSE IN VIEW: 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
We must never compromise Biblical Law or principle, and we must use our Biblical freedom for the sake of the
gospel. If we will do those things, we can reach into non-Christian cultures with the gospel without becoming
compromised and assimilated into them. Keep the final goal in mind. Life is not about your own pleasure or having other
people like and accept you. The race of life is about serving God and receiving His acceptance for all eternity.