Friend of Sinners or Friend of this World?

Last night I was watching T.V. and I stumbled upon a show called American Dad.  I had heard of this show but never had any desire to watch it.  Out of curiosity, however, I decided to watch for awhile to see why so many others are tuning in.  To summarize the episode: Stan (the American Dad) flippantly prays for a friend and thinks God sent him one, but he turns out to be an athiest.  Stan tries to convince his friend that God exists--even going so far as to bring ridiculous suffering into his life so he would turn to God--but his plan backfires.  His friend eventually attempts suicide but while in the hospital room, he miraculously comes back to life only to tell Stan that he was able to live because he made a deal with the devil.

Now, needless to say, I turned off the T.V. with a bad taste in my mouth.  I wondered,  "Why are so many people watching this show?"  And yet I also wondered, "How can I reach people who are watching this show?"  As I headed up the stairs, my mind continued to race.  Finally, I crawled into bed next to Jaime and reached for Spurgeon's Morning and Evening Devotions.  The text at the top of the page happened to be Romans 12:2 which simply read, "and be not conformed to this world."  Interesting, I thought.  As I read the devotion and discussed it with Jaime, the following paragraph struck me:

Little thorns make great blisters, little moths destroy fine garments, and little frivolities will rob religion of a thousand joys.  O professer, too little separated from sinners, you know not what you lose by your conformity to the world.  It cuts the tendons of your strength, and makes you creep where you ought to run.  Then, for your own comfort's sake, and for the sake of your growth in grace, if you be a Christian, be a Christian, and be a marked and distinct one.

Spurgeon's words penetrated deeply as I pondered the balance between being culturally relevant and yet distinctively different, missional and yet pure.  I asked myself the following questions:

  • How can I learn from this culture and not be immersed in it?
  • How can I contextualize without conforming?
  • How can I be in the world and not of it?
  • How can I be a friend of sinners and not a friend of this world? 

I know there are no easy answers to these questions.  But the Lord led me to a text in 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 that provided some helpful guidance. 

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews or Greeks or the church of God--even as I try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.  Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

From these verses we see a few, general principles in trying to be both relevant and different, missional and pure: 

  1. Live for the glory of God
  2. Do not cause anyone to stumble
  3. Seek the salvation of many

I think these 3 principles are helpful.  No doubt, there are many other places we could go in Scripture, and if you have other verses that would benefit my readers please feel free to share.  Most importantly, may the Holy Spirit work this out more specifically in our own individual lives as we strive to be like Christ who was both a friend of sinners and not a friend of this world.