This last article in this series considers now how do we form a distinctly Christian worldview. This is part of the “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” from the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) that Jesus gave to us. This implies the formation of a distinctly Biblical and Christian world and life view that impacts all areas.
Remember that we are not called to simply make converts – that is, people who just accept some facts about the atonement. We are to make disciples – followers of Jesus who are growing in conformity to his image. This is essential for us as Christians in the task of apologetics and evangelism, and our growth in maturity as followers of Christ because the end goal is not just to be people with some haphazard bits and pieces of Christian doctrine, but that we would have a robust faith that is all-encompassing of the totality of our lives.
Here are the articles in this series:
- Apologetics 101 – How do we give an answer?
- Apologetics 102 – Why trust the Bible?
- Apologetics 103 – How do we form a Christian Worldview?
Here’s a table of contents for this article to help you navigate.
What’s a Worldview?
We have already touched on this a little in the previous sessions, but it is worth repeating and clarifying here again. The analogy has been used that worldviews are like bellybuttons. We all have one, but not many of us spend much time examining it.
This is true. However, the examination of our worldviews is substantially more important than navel-gazing. Perhaps another analogy better helps to illustrate this. Worldviews are like a pair of glasses – they are the ones through which we see the world. Just like a faulty pair of glasses would distort our vision, so too a faulty worldview would distort our perceptions of reality. Worldviews of necessity are all-encompassing and comprehensive ways of making sense of reality. Thus, every worldview has a big story (metanarrative) that it believes about history and reality by which we interpret our experiences and place ourselves into the story to make sense of what’s going on.
So, worldviews are like lenses through which we see the world and like a big story that we put the things we see into.
Worldviews are an interconnected network of beliefs that form a coherent whole system of thought and way of living. Just as in a good story, the details are connected together and link back to the grand narrative, so too the various beliefs that form a worldview form a connected whole. This is why no area of life is apart from the influence of your worldview – it’s all connected. This is also why unbelieving, non-Christian worldviews will often work themselves out in surprising ways and unexpected results that may not always be immediately obvious how they are connected. But, this is the nature of worldviews – they form a system that affects how we think, feel, and act in the world and how we understand our place in it and what the purpose and meaning of life is.
Developing a Christian Worldview
However, worldview development is about much more than merely just thinking rightly about a variety of important topics. A Christian worldview is about BOTH formation and information. It is total TRANSFORMATION. It involves a change in how we think, act, feel, desire, love, hate, reason, and what we value – essentially all of life. Indeed, it is the outworking of that Latin phrase Corum Deo – that all of life is to be lived “before God” – in light of His truth. Thus, we might illustrate the goal of worldview development like this:
Information + Formation = Transformation
What we’re aiming for in developing a distinctly Christian worldview is nothing short of a total life transformation! Thus, this is a task we are woefully unable to do on our own. The Lord surely uses means to accomplish His purposes but we must always keep at the forefront of our minds and hearts what Paul asked in 2 Corinthians 2, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Certainly, we are not sufficient of ourselves for this task. As Paul answered in the next chapter, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant”.
The aim here is to help equip you (the saints) for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12) by resourcing you with information and helping you think through worldview development in discipleship. However, we know that the true and deeper work is done by the Spirit – firstly in our own hearts and also in the hearts and minds of those we seek to disciple. Thus, prayer must saturate every step of our efforts in worldview development as disciple-makers. The Lord must do that which only He can do: the total transformation of an individual by the Spirit through Christ from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18) into the unity of the faith and full maturity to the measure of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
We will be looking at worldview development from 2 main angles: Personal and Public – both of which must be understood as all-encompassing and comprehensive. Thus, when we talk about developing a Christian worldview, we must recognize that it must be personally all-encompassing and publicly all-encompassing. That’s what we’ll be exploring here.
In the process of worldview development, information is obviously a vital element, but it must not stop there. It must be all-encompassing of the totality of a person’s life because Christ is Lord of all, and as such, he is worthy of and demands all of us.
Loving the Truth
Oftentimes, we can become reductionistic to a Christian “brainthink”. However, just as salvation cannot be reduced to being about us intellectually accepting certain affirmations of truth without any transformation of the core of who we are, so too a Christian worldview must be holistic – affecting all of who we are. We must not just know about Jesus, we must love him. Similarly, a Christian worldview is not just about knowing the truth, but also loving it. Loving it then must work itself out in how we live – just as loving Jesus means keeping his commandments (John 14:15).
We may illustrate the difference between just knowing truth and loving the truth using an example I often give to new couples. There is a difference between a man or a woman who knows about God’s design for the distinct gender roles in marriage and someone who loves the design. The difference is practically worked out this way: for the one who only knows in their heads – perhaps they’ve grown up in traditional conservative churches and theoretically know that the husband is called to lead as the head and the wife is to submit and follow as the church submits to Christ. That’s all well and good until they hit an issue in the marriage which makes living out those roles difficult. When it gets hard for the man to not be passive and to actually take up the initiative to lead, or when it gets difficult for the wife to submit joyfully in the Lord to her husband’s leadership even when she may disagree personally (barring him leading her into the sin of course). Then you know if you simply know or love the design.
If you love the design and see it as beautiful, then you will want to stick to it even when the going gets tough. You’ll realize that God’s design is for our good and it is especially for the tough times that we must trust and submit to it. However, if we just have head knowledge of the truth but our hearts don’t actually love it and see it as beautiful, it becomes easier for us to justify jettisoning it when the going gets tough or it doesn’t seem pragmatically useful. We must not just know about how Christian truth and doctrine should shape our worldview, we must also love the design and see it as beautiful in all areas of life.
Loving our Lord
Similarly, we also must not only acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour but also as Lord. If he is Lord, he is Lord of all and His rule covers every aspect of our lives. As Paul rightly said, we are bought with a price and must glorify God with all of our life (1 Cor. 6:20). We must ask for every single facet of our lives – “How does the Lordship of Christ impact this area of my life?” Indeed, it is simply the natural outworking of the first and greatest commandment and what God has started in salvation – the radical transformation of the entire person. Thus, the development of a robust Christian worldview is part of our growth in sanctification as we all aim to think, feel, and act Christianly. It is all-encompassing.
This is nothing new to God’s people. From the beginning of calling His people to Himself, there is the mandate towards an all-encompassing faith and worldview that should mark His people. We see this fundamentally in the commandment found in the Shema which God’s people often repeated:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.(Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
God’s command to His people is to love Him with all of their life. His words were to be on their heart – they were to love His truth. They were to teach it diligently (discipleship) and discuss it throughout all of their daily activities – meditating on it to plumb the riches of its insight and application to all areas of life. It was to be the frequent topic of conversation at every time and during every activity. It was to be a fundamental and frequent part of their daily lives – written and bound in places that would be highly visible throughout their day as reminders of how God’s Word should order their lives. Doorposts and gates are the entry and exit points of our homes, and God’s Word was to govern and discern what came through those doors and was allowed into the family. Thus we see in this fundamental command the necessity of developing a robust worldview shaped by love for God and His Word.
God’s Word was meant to form an all-encompassing framework for the totality of the life of His people. This is still true today and an urgent need for Christians in our age.
What is the type of transformation we are seeking in developing a Christian world and life view? We will consider it in terms of 3 broad and interconnected categories:
- Acumen (intellect | thought | logic)
- Affections (desires | loves | motives)
- Actions (deeds | habits | lifestyle)
Our aim is the transformation of all of life in all of these categories. The goal is to become and be shaped into a certain kind of people and this flows out from the truth that positionally we have already are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) in Christ and a peculiar people for His own possession chosen to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9). Our sanctification in a real sense is growing into becoming (in practice) what we already have been declared to be.
The Role of Sanctification in Christian Worldview Development
To fail to connect our profession of faith to our practice of faith is to dangerously stride towards self-deception and reveal a faith that never had any life in the first place. As Martin Luther quipped, we are saved by faith alone, but faith that is alone (without works) is not saving faith.
“The Lord’s brother James had to warn believers against the particular kind of self-deception that comes from hearing the truth without actually doing it (Jas. 1:22). Whenever someone puts up with listening to the truth, he sometimes thinks that he deserves some kind of an award for that, and frequently the award is the self-congratulatory assumption that he is somehow automatically doing what he is hearing.”(Douglas Wilson)
This is also why the development of a robust worldview cannot be divorced from our growth in godliness. Mere learning alone does not produce a revival in godliness. But a revival in godliness often will naturally lead to a revival of learning.
Thus, service in the local church and community, regular gatherings for worship and prayer, small groups and fellowship, witness and evangelism, and so many more aspects of the Christian life are vital to our development. They are part of our formation into a certain type of people – people who love God. There is power in what we do to shape our affections. What we treasure not only reveals where our hearts are but also can direct where our hearts should be.
We want to learn about that which we are enraptured, to know more of that which has captured our hearts and captivated our affections. Conversely, the abandonment of godliness will lead to the abandonment of truth – we see this playing out in our culture today right before our eyes in the vivid, and often livid, display. We are an integrated whole, and inevitably what you do will affect what you love and what you think. That’s how God has designed us. Therefore, the person who neglects personal holiness (for example, fostering a hidden sin) thinking that they can keep that part of their lives away from affecting other parts, is self-deluded. The slide towards apostasy and heresy often starts with moral compromise. This is why much of the Bible’s teachings about spotting apostates and false teachers tell us to look at their conduct and be on alert for their immorality. Abandonment of godliness leads to abandonment of truth.
Thus, as Christian Apologists and Disciple-Makers, it is important to consider your own life first, and also how to help the people you’re walking with to grow in self-discipline and godliness by applying what they’re learning from the Word in tangible ways.
Let’s now take a look at the 3 broad categories of transformation in forming a Christian world and life view:
1. Acumen (Intellect | Thoughts | Logic)
When we look at developing our acumen, we’re talking about growing in our intellect, conforming our thoughts to God’s Word and using the powers of reasoning and logic God has given us to think through the issues of life from a Biblical perspective. Remember that the Apostle Peter says,
“but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15)
We are to be ready to give a defence to those asking us about the hope in us. As we’ve seen in previous sessions, this means that we don’t lay down our Christian convictions and beliefs in order to argue from a fictional position of supposed “neutrality”. We cannot lay down our Christianity to defend it – that would be tantamount to giving up at the start! This means that we must know God’s Word in a robust way in order to give a defence for the hope it communicates to us. As we covered previously, we must know what we believe, and why we believe it, and be able to communicate it clearly in a simple and conversational way.
Furthermore, Paul said in 2 Corinthians that,
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
A robust Christian worldview also goes on the offensive – taking down arguments and anti-Christian opinions or worldviews. Paul uses military language here because this is one of the primary fields of battle – both individually and within the larger culture and society. One of the best ways to prepare ourselves is by intentionally developing our Systematic Theology to help us systematize our beliefs about various topics and put them in the context of the Bible’s story of redemption. We must systematize our beliefs because Christianity is not just a collection of unconnected truths about obscure doctrines but rather it is an interconnected and consistent system of beliefs (a worldview). It involves us using and practicing our abilities of reason and logic – learning how to spot faulty arguments and explain correct viewpoints in a winsome way.
By now you’ve probably realized that it takes some work to be prepared to do this. So, how can we help develop a person’s acumen?
Swimming Against the Current
Now, we recognize that not every person has the same capacities for intellectual rigour. God has gifted each of us differently as part of His good design for each unique member of His body.
However, it is also true that our societies, schools and culture often do not encourage us to maximize the full potential of our minds. We consume entertainment on a scale unknown and unimaginable to prior generations in forms that lead us to check out our brains and with perpetual rapid novelty. This can lead to mental atrophy and difficulty to keep focused long enough to really think deep thoughts. This is not to say that all entertainment is bad or sinful, but we must also consider what we lose when we give ourselves over to it. It is easy to just coast along this easy river since our culture will never challenge us on this as it is the accepted norm. When we compare the average intellectual capacity of people today in Modern Western societies to those of previous generations who did not have such mass access to entertainment, we see a drastic reduction in memory, attention span and reasoning ability.
Today, the optimum Facebook post was found to be only 40 characters.
“Compare this to the books of print-oriented culture, which can pursue arguments and develop ideas for hundreds of pages. No wonder argumentation on the Internet consists largely of insults, snarky observations, and snappy comebacks. Anything else would require too many characters! The medium itself prevents sustained thought.”Gene Edward Veith Jr., Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture, p. 177
A feed of bite-sized unrelated tidbits instead of books trains us to be like people with extreme ADHD – unable to follow a long train of thought. If you’re someone who’s used social media a lot, perhaps you’ve noticed your growing inability to maintain a steady focus for a long period of time. Satan would love nothing better than to keep people from God’s truth. Because His truth is contained in the Bible – the written Word – which is a pretty long book requiring attention spans able to follow its narrative and arguments, this diminishing of our attention spans can effectively rob us of the truth of Scripture even as we have plenty of access to multiple copies of the Word like no other time in history! It doesn’t matter how many copies of the Bible you have access to if you can’t pay attention long enough to read it! We have ended up in a self-inflicted Dark Age.
The fact is that we’re always being discipled. It’s just a matter of by whom, with what, and to what end. If we’re not intentional about our discipleship and the discipleship of others, the culture is more than happy to disciple them. Today’s social media, entertainment-driven culture disciples us for perpetual novelty, short attention spans and short-term rewards and dopamine hits. None of these prepare us to be able to drink deeply from the vast depths of Scripture. So we must see everything, especially the things we do regularly, as formational and intentionally decide the throw out the shallow cisterns that hold no water.
This sort of intentional consideration of the things we take for granted – such as our entertainment consumption and habits – takes some effort. There’s a saying in Trinidad that any dead fish can go with the flow, but it takes a live fish to swim upstream.
So, the question is, “Is there life in us still? Or are you just floating downstream?”
War or Peace Time Christians?
If we are going to avoid drowning in the flood of ideologies that are antithetical to Christianity in our culture, we must set ourselves to give it a concerted effort. The Christian life is defined in this age as one of struggle, battle, and resistance. The metaphors of the farmer, soldier and athlete communicate to us the need for hard work, discipline, endurance, training and service. Remember that it was in the context of discipleship that the apostle Paul penned these words to his young protégé:
“…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” (2 Timothy 2:2-6)
No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits. Civilian pursuits. How much of our leisure activity and time for “relaxing” ends up falling into a lifestyle that doesn’t realize that the Christian life is wartime not peacetime for civilian pursuits? (Again, this is not to say that legitimate rhythms of rest and Sabbath are not God-honouring)
This is really what it comes down to: Are we wartime or peacetime Christians?
Do we see and believe that we are in a spiritual battle against principalities and powers, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12)? This will determine a lot of what your lifestyle looks like. People at war become very adept at figuring out what is essential and of utmost importance. No person in the middle of a battlefield with bullets flying by their head is worried about their Netflix subscription. Furthermore, as John Piper has said, it is only if we know that “life is war” that we will truly know what prayer is for. This is a right observation, and worth extending to say that if the Bible is the Sword of the Spirit, you won’t know what it’s for if you don’t realize you’re already in a war. A sword without a war is just a big butter knife.
If you or the one you’re discipling don’t believe that we’re in a spiritual battle – take some time to look around circumspectly at our culture and the world around us. Look at its abandonment of Biblical principles, its hostility to the Gospel, its degradation of human life and sexuality, its confusion about basic categories of male and female, the debauchery that is unblushingly featured in entertainment shows, the passing of laws that specifically discriminate against Christianity, the hesitation and fear that Christians feel for just even daring to have a Biblical view on the hot topics of the day, the blindness of people to evil ideologies rooted in Postmodern and Marxist thought that has lead to dangerous periods of history and realize that all these things don’t just happen by accident.
We are in a war. The question is: are the soldiers sleeping?
What does this practically look like?
Sometimes this can feel overwhelming. Here are some really practical suggestions of what wartime Christianity in developing our Acumen (intellect) might look like.
For most people, they are not going to be able to go from zero to reading 50 books a year overnight. But, you also won’t get there without some movement in that direction. There are practical ways we can help ourselves – such as using our phone’s digital well-being settings to set timers on social media apps. Who needs to be on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for more than 20 minutes a day anyways? Or for the more extreme addict, perhaps breaking the addiction may mean putting your smart TV into storage for a bit, or switching from a smartphone to a “dumb phone”. I’m not saying you have to do that. But you should soberly assess for yourself just how strong of a grip these digital media addictions have on you and then respond accordingly. But ultimately, we won’t take it seriously if we don’t see the issue as serious. A right response begins with the right diagnosis.
When we take an account of how we use our time – how much of it is spent on TV or news or sports or social media or video games? Could we maybe redirect even an hour or two a week of that to study and see how the Lord uses it to help us grow? Don’t be too surprised if as we start to put away some of our entertainment to train our minds for the battle we actually end up finding a lot more satisfaction in it. Our minds are like a muscle, the more we use it, the easier it becomes. Reading is similarly something we must train at and become easier and more pleasurable the more we do it.
By way of illustration, the average Systematic Theology is about 1000 pages. This can seem like a daunting and massive undertaking – especially for someone who has never tried it. However, the average reading speed for study (on the lower end) is about 150 words per minute. This means that for the average reader if they were to attempt reading a 1000-page Systematic Theology from cover to cover, it would take approximately 8 hours. If we divide that up into smaller sections (as most Systematic Theologies are organized), we could easily do it in chunks of 15-20 minutes a day and be finished in a little over a month. If that’s still daunting, then do 15-20 minutes a week and you’d be done before the year’s end.
To make it even more engaging, you could get a new believer or a small group of friends to read with you and tackle a 15-20 minute section each week and talk it over together and help each other grow. This would take you, about 7 months to complete and you would be building each other up and deepening your friendship in the Lord. It would also help provide a lot of accountability and comradery that is important to go the distance. Discipleship is a community project as much as it is an individual responsibility.
Choose a contemporary topic that interests and challenges you and look for solid Reformed resources on it, then tackle it with a friend or mentor or group of Christians. There are many great resourcing ministries such as Ligionier, Founders Ministries, the Ezra Institute, Canon Press, G3 Ministries, etc where you can find many helpful resources. Another option is to look for articles from good sources on a particular topic and read through them and discuss them together, or even a watch party of a conference or video teaching series.
Sometimes we psych ourselves out by thinking we have to learn everything all at once. But everyday faithfulness over time makes a far greater difference than trying to accomplish big things all at once.
As we start to help others systematize their beliefs – to see how the different themes and doctrines of Scripture are connected to each other and all of life – we help to arm them for the battlefield. Many Christians today have a piecemeal sort of theology – even ones who have grown up under faithful Biblical preaching. This is because a lot of Biblical, expositional preaching primarily forms people in Biblical Theology (that is, understanding the over-arching narrative of Scripture and Redemptive History – which is very important), but does not as intentionally form people in Systematic and Applied Theology.
However, this means that even in solid churches, sometimes you will meet Christians who love the Word and love Jesus but have sub-Biblical understandings of important issues like cohabitation, abortion, euthanasia, social justice, politics, and various other areas of private and public life. We often don’t make the connections between beliefs until we do some work at systematic theology. The pulpit, as important as it is for laying a good foundation together with regular Bible reading often is not enough to help us bring together all the threads. This is where working through questions and problems together, and reading Systematic Theology and Apologetics books really can be helpful in supplementing and tightening up all our loosely held beliefs into a coherent and unified Christian worldview. A skilled preacher will try his best to include practical application of the Biblical texts to contemporary examples and situations to equip his congregation apologetically.
2. Affections (Desires | Loves | Motives)
What do we love? What are the strongest desires in your heart when you’re searching for satisfaction, meaning and fulfillment? What motivates you?
Inevitably as you disciple someone you will have to deal with the challenge of disordered desires, affections and motives. It is part of our fallen nature that affects even our affections – what our hearts want. Many times, we take for granted that people just love what they love. We don’t really think of affections as something we can change, but rather something immutable we’re born with. This is part of how our culture’s “born this way” attitude has shaped our thinking. Our culture treats desires and affections as immutable aspects of our being.
However, Biblically, we see that desires, love, affection and motivations are all commanded by God. The first commandment is one to “LOVE” the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:28-30). Thus, if God expects us to obey His commandments to love, desire, and set our affections a certain way, it means that they are things we can, by His Word and Spirit, change to be in accordance with His will. Far from being led by our passions, we are instead to lead our passions. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5, “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”. Being a victim to and driven by fleshly passions is a marker of the unbeliever, not of the Christian. The fruit of the Spirit is self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Timothy 1:7).
Here are a few examples of how God commands our affections, intentions, and desires:
- Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. (Romans 12:10-11)
- You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)
- Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)
- You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
- Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
- A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
- This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
- Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)
- You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)
- Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2)
- But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
Indeed, as Paul writes to Titus, the grace of God trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:12) And to the Galatians, he writes that, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)
Thus, an important part of discipleship is cultivating the right affections, motivations, and desires. But how do we do this?
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.(Colossians 3:5-17)
Note in this passage that as we’re commanded to put to death sinful passions and evil desires that it is immediately paired with right living – “do not lie to one another”. Rightly ordered affections cannot be unpaired from rightly ordered living. As we put on “compassionate hearts, kindness, etc” we also are commanded to forgive and be thankful. Right living facilitates the right feeling. This is how you lead your emotions instead of letting your emotions lead you. Feelings are not bad. They just make terrible leaders. So, don’t follow your passion. Instead, lead your passions by God’s Word.
Also note that the Apostle prescribes letting the Word dwell you richly, singing, and a life that is lived to God’s glory. These are the regular means of grace that God uses to aim our affections properly. It is inevitable that that which we make a practice of will shape our affections – either for good or for bad.
Jesus said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21). This can be understood in two ways. Firstly, when you discover what things you treasure, you will know certainly where your heart or affections are. However, it can also be understood as, what you decide to treasure, there your heart and affections will follow also. So, if you decide to treasure God’s Word and fellowship with his people, you will discover that your heart will soon follow there too. But, if you treasure up worldly pleasures, sinful lifestyles, inappropriate entertainment and jesting, materialism, or the affirmation of others, then you will soon find that your heart is there also. It is a sort of feedback loop. What we treasure, our affections follow, and what captures our affections, we treasure more.
This is why considering our actions, habits and lifestyle is so important and what we will consider next.
3. Actions (Deeds | Habits | Lifestyle)
Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.
What we do is therefore immensely important to who we become. In the religious context, these practices are called ‘liturgies’. They are a set of practices, actions, events, actions, rituals or traditions that follow some sort of structure to help order our worship.
Since all of life is religious, liturgies exist not just in churches, but also in all of life.
Professor James K.A. Smith of Calvin University observes that,
“liturgies—whether “sacred” or “secular”—shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world. In short, liturgies make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us is what we love. They do this because we are… shaped from the body up more than from the head down. Liturgies aim our love to different ends precisely by training our hearts through our bodies. They prime us to approach the world in a certain way, to value certain things, to aim for certain goals, to pursue certain dreams, to work together on certain projects.”(James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, vol. 1, Cultural Liturgies, 25)
While there are things about Dr. Smith’s theology that I strongly disagree with, on this point, he’s bang on.
We say that a person is of strong and noble character when they stand up to some great evil or temptation by acting valiantly in a crisis situation. However, that response was conditioned well before the crisis situation arose. Good habits produce virtues and bad habits produce vices. No one in the heat of the moment consciously processes through their moral reasoning, the doctrines and ethics they’re supposed to believe and then acts – especially in situations that require split-second reactions. At that point, we’re operating on an almost sub-conscious non-cognitive and instinctual level. What determines what happens in that split second is what habits we had formed, through practices and repeated actions of the past. In that split-second decision – we reveal what we practiced to truly love most.
Our character, in a very significant way, is who we are on a non-cognitive level. It is who you are in your automated responses to situations.
This is why training in virtue is so important. This is why it is spiritually dangerous to go along with something you know is a lie or to make consistent small compromises. The past few years have given us all small opportunities for faithfulness and resistance to compromise. How have we done? The little opportunities train you for the bigger ones and if we’re used to compromising on the things that don’t cost us much, we will be unlikely to stand firm when something bigger comes around that will cost us a lot.
Also important is serving God by serving others in deed. When we serve the local body with our gifts, talents, resources and time, we are experientially understanding what it means to love sacrificially and serve for the benefit of others. When we take a meal to new parents or to the economically challenged, or offer to pay for someone’s bus ticket, or give benevolence money to a person who’s out of a job and can’t pay the bills it brings us into contact with those people, their lives, their situation and their humanity. Our deeds of ministry or lack of it in our lives will shape the people we become: whether calloused and unconcerned or compassionate and empathetic.
Therefore, while our deeds don’t earn us any merit with God, they are important in shaping the type of people we become. So, as we’re walking with others and making disciples, it is important to encourage each other to do deeds of service and compassion both in the local church and in our communities. We mustn’t divorce the ministry of the Word from ministry in Deed – either as a Church or in personal discipleship.
A habit is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. Habit formation is the process by which behaviours become automatic. Habits can form without a person intending to acquire them, but they can also be deliberately cultivated—or eliminated—to better suit one’s personal goals. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviours on any given day.
One likely reason people are creatures of habit is that habits are efficient: People can perform useful behaviours without wasting time and energy deliberating about what to do. This tendency toward quick-and-efficient responses can backfire, however—when it gets hijacked by the use of addictive drugs or the consumption of unhealthy food.
An article in Psychology Today states,
“Habits are built through learning and repetition. A person is thought to develop a habit in the course of pursuing goals (such as driving to a destination or satisfying an appetite) by beginning to associate certain cues with behavioral responses that help meet the goal (turning at certain streets, or stopping at a drive-thru with a familiar sign). Over time, thoughts of the behavior and ultimately the behavior itself are likely to be triggered by these cues.”
James Clear, author of the book, Atomic Habits, notes that there are 3 components to building habits:
- Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behaviour)
- Routine (the behaviour itself; the action you take)
- Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behaviour).
Habit forming and reformation are another important part of discipleship. The Bible itself encourages us to build healthy habits – automated responses to various triggers such as prayer, regular bible reading and meditation, being slow to speak and quick to hear, etc. These are ways to train our automated responses.
However, bad habits are often tough to overcome. James Clear explains why:
Because bad habits provide some type of benefit in your life, it’s very difficult to simply eliminate them. (This is why simplistic advice like “just stop doing it” rarely works.)
Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new habit that provides a similar benefit.
For example, if you smoke when you get stressed, then it’s a bad plan to “just stop smoking” when that happens. Instead, you should come up with a different way to deal with stress and insert that new behaviour instead of having a cigarette.
In other words, bad habits address certain needs in your life. And for that reason, it’s better to replace your bad habits with a healthier behaviour that addresses that same need. If you expect yourself to simply cut out bad habits without replacing them, then you’ll have certain needs that will be unmet and it’s going to be hard to stick to a routine of “just don’t do it” for very long.
This is similar to the “put to death” and “put on” language of the Colossians we just looked at. We must replace the things we put to death or put off with things Scripture tells us to put on. Similarly, for things which are habitual parts of our lives.
How often do we take inventory of the daily habits of our lives? Yet this is a great practical way to continue to shape a person’s world and life view.
The cumulative effect of our deeds, habits, thoughts life, and affections make up our lifestyle. It is the pattern of our lives. It is the overall descriptor of the type of life we live over time.
As we seek to disciple people in a comprehensive world and life view, we expect to see changes in their lifestyle. Are they greedy or generous people? Fearful or courageous? Compromising or steadfast? Self-dependent or prayerful? Depressed or hopeful? Irritable or joyful? Stressed or peaceful?
Many of the positive lifestyle descriptors we want to see in our own lives are actually the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). What we’ve covered so far are the practical means by which the Spirit uses to cultivate this fruit in our lives.
For example, Heath Ledger was a famous and skilled actor that used “method acting” to help portray his characters on screen. This technique required that Ledger live out the character in his day to day life, to embody the persona. Ledger did this for his most famous character – The Joker, in The Dark Knight Batman movie – his last role before his untimely death. Immersing himself in the psychopathic character took its toll on the young actor, isolating himself from the public in order to “galvanize” the character in his head. Though many dispute the connection of his method acting with his drug overdose that led to his death, the fact remains that we cannot detach ourselves from what we do. What we do with our bodies matters and impacts who we become.
What we do with our bodies will change our character.
This rubric can help you assess how we are intentionally discipling those with whom we are walking. We can consider the three A’s: Acumen, Affection and Actions.
- How are we intentionally feeding, simulating and challenging the life of the mind?
- How are we cultivating and directing our hearts’ affections?
- What are the actions (deeds, habits, lifestyle) that help to shape the type of people were are becoming?
While this is not a mechanical formula for success, it can be a useful tool to consider if we’re trying to build well-rounded disciples with a robust Christian world and life view.
As we consider making disciples, it is helpful for us to frame it within the larger context of the Mission of God. That is, what is God doing in the world to redeem and restore the devastation that sin brought upon His good creation? And how does our disciple-making fit into that? The Great Commission that Christ gave his church was not just to make individual converts, but rather to disciple the nations. Nations are more than just a collection of “souls”. They involve civil government, laws, cultures and all of life. This means that this task is all-encompassing of all of life.
And for those who want to squabble over the Greek word “ethnos” in the Great Commission not meaning “nations” but rather “gentiles” or “people” or “ethnicities”—I’d say that’s a weak argument, especially given Matthew’s usage of the term. If you go and look at every use of the word “ethnos” (or ethnoi in the plural) in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 4:15; 6:32; 10:5; 10:18; 12:18; 12:21; 20:19; 20:25; 21:43; 24:7; 24:9; 24:14; 25:32; 28:19), you’ll see that it can indeed be used in these different ways. However, it does not change the point. Whether we’re supposed to disciple all the nations, referring to countries and sovereign states as we understand them today, or all peoples or ethnicities, the point is still the same—it’s an all-encompassing mission that must take into account culture. What is a people group without a culture or an ethnicity without a culture? Furthermore, if we look at Jesus’s usage of the term in the chapters leading up to Matthew 28, (see Matt 24:7, 9, 14, & 25:32), you’ll see that in each of them “nations” is what is meant. So, consistency should point us toward that understanding in Matthew 28 as well.
So, how does our personal discipleship fit into the bigger picture?
The Culture Wars and Christian Worldview
You don’t need to look far to see that our culture is in a mess in a lot of significant ways. However, you do need to think deeply to figure out why it is that way.
The word culture comes from the Latin, colere, which refers to tilling the ground to grow something. It’s where our word “cultivation” comes from. Thus, culture was defined as “the state of being cultivated” – in reference to cultivating individuals who form or create a certain type of civilization and culture. It is the result of intellectual, moral and affectional tilling. What we till affects what is cultivated.
We live in a place and time where our civilization and societies have been built upon the foundation inherited from the Christian worldview. In the West, much of our laws, civil governance structure and norms were formed out of principles that came, properly, from a Christian worldview. It is what used to “till” the soil of our societies and culture. Now, while it is true that not all the framers of the US or Canadian constitutions were Christians, their own worldview was significantly influenced by it and so too was the system of government and societies they built. Dr. Joe Boot has observed,
“Most modern political theory itself in the West has been an attempt to secularize Christian theological themes, so even as Christianity is rejected, our modern pagan secularity is invariably parasitic upon it.”
Today, our modern secular culture has been tilled by atheistic and anti-Christian worldviews. What do we expect to be cultivated? God is not mocked, we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).
Because of the remnant of the Christian heritage and culture from the past, modern secularists try to hold onto what they inherited, yet reject its basis. Our progressive culture seeks the Kingdom without the King. It tries to replicate its own vision of the kingdom – a world with human rights, dignity, freedom, love, equality, joy, etc – but without Jesus at the centre. Now, as our societies radically and rapidly secularize, we are kicking out the foundations and expecting the structure to stand. It won’t, and it is already crumbling. Continuing on this trajectory, the demise of modern, free and democratic societies seems like it might be inevitable. Our system of governance was based on the premise of a culture that was largely influenced by Christian morals and principles. Without those, the system doesn’t work. In a representative democracy where the voice of the people influences public policy through elected officials, what happens when they are crying out for things which oppose God’s view of marriage, sexuality, property rights, freedoms and morality?
Nature abhors a vacuum, and there must be something to replace the power void or in this case, the worldview void. Secular ideologies such as naturalistic materialism and atheistic Marxism have become popular alternative worldviews today – even if many have not become self-consciously aware of them. It is what is being tilled into the soil of our culture and we will reap its fruit!
Christian Witness & Discipleship
The temptation for Christians to remain silent, bunkering down in an escapist mentality waiting for Jesus to return is real as we face a world that grows increasingly antagonistic. However, that is how we got here in the first place. So, as disciple-makers, we must not adopt an attitude of retreat but rather of advance and battle.
Dr. Boot again is helpful here:
“Christians must resist the inward turn that would privatize our faith. It is not sufficient to simply affirm a personal faith in Christ existing between one’s ears. We must take an open, public and uncompromising stand with Christ… To simply affirm biblical truths regarding personal salvation, regularly meet in the church building, and do professional theology is not a sufficient response to the lie seeking to alienate creation from its Maker; this is the lie undermining and threatening our culture. We must confront systematic unbelief with systematic belief, expounding and living out a Christian world-and-life view, grounded in the scriptures, one that unveils the beauty of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ. And we must do so not simply in private, but in every area of our lives.”
While we have no misconceptions of ushering in a man-made Christian utopia, we do realize that what we do matters and affects our societies for generations to come, and societies are made up of individuals. Thus, our discipleship of individuals will affect society as a whole. Christian witness and faithfulness in all the various areas of life are how we love our neighbours and the future generations of neighbours and our own children! The world we build today will be the inheritance of our descendants. What are we building for our great-grandchildren?
The words of J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary, are appropriate here.
“The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavour. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom must be advanced not merely extensively, but also intensively. The Church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ, but also the whole of man.”J. Gresham Machen, “Christianity and Culture,” The Princeton Theological Review 11, 1913, p. 6
Thus, as we make disciples through personal evangelism and mentorship, seeking to form mature Christians with a Biblical world and life view, God is working through us in advancing His Kingdom here on earth. This is also why it is important to consider as we disciple new believers how we are forming a complete and coherent world and life view that equips them to think and act Christianly about every area of life: family, church, education, politics, social issues, sexuality, business, etc. Because the types of disciples we make will impact society cumulatively and incrementally.
Furthermore, if the mission Christ gives his church is to disciple not just individuals, but all the nations, then that means that we must be equipping Christians with a Biblical worldview that can inform the way they think about every area of life: family, politics, laws, education, business, arts, etc. Some object and say that there’s no way we can change the way the world is or see the type of radical change that would be necessary to bring our societies in line with the Biblical worldview. To that I say, well, we definitely will never see it if Christians don’t even know the ideal to which we should be working, and secondly that yes, we may never see it, but our grandchildren’s grandchildren might. We have to start thinking long-term. No lasting change ever happens quickly. Empires are not built in a day. Christ’s analogies for his Kingdom’s growth are slow and steady – like a tree that grows to take over the garden and leaven that makes its way through the whole lump of dough. We’re not aiming for quick growth – those are usually weeds anyways. We’re aiming for planting great oaks.
Thus, one of the motivating factors as we seek to make disciples with complete worldviews, especially of the types that God gives to you in poopy diapers and cute giggles, is that as more and more Christians do this, whole societies can be transformed over generations of faithfulness. But this is the type of faithfulness that won’t sell blockbuster movies or get you a best-selling biography. But that’s because it’s the type of faithfulness that glorifies the only One whose fame and reputation can last 1000 generations and more, and all of history is His story anyways. So, make sure to put what you’re doing to build Christian culture (even in your homes) into that perspective.
On that note, we have to understand what is culture exactly. It’s one of those words that many people use, but few know how to define.
Culture is Religion Externalized
All of life is religious. All of life is inherently so because we were created to worship – and we will all worship something.
Henry Van Til has accurately described culture as “religion externalized”. What we produce as artifacts and practices of culture is the application of our most deeply held beliefs or faith to public life. The lie that we’re fed by our culture is that there’s somehow a neutral space – that atheistic worldviews are neutral because of their lack of belief in God. We are told that we have to leave our biased faith at the door and meet on neutral ground. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There is no neutrality. Every worldview has certain basic presuppositions and beliefs about ultimate reality which cannot be proven but must be taken as a starting point. These presuppositions shape how we perceive and understand reality, our responses and actions in the world and our vision of what will bring “the good life”.
The atheist, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Christian, and the pagan all have worldviews that significantly shape their beliefs about ultimate reality and thus the type of culture that will be cultivated – just look at the types of societies created by countries that are dominated by those worldviews.
As Dr. Boot notes,
“It is impossible for any social order to be neutral – that is, neither one thing nor another. Every civilization is and will be inescapably committed, through the spheres and institutions of family, academy, law, art, and government, to a religious or cultural consensus, be it humanistic, Islamic, Hindu, Christian or any other. Someone’s morality will be legislated, someone’s philosophy taught in schools, someone’s vision of beauty and reality idealised in art. The illusory idea of a neutral order or prejudice-free space for an equal toleration of all views (or gods) is a myth utilized only to facilitate the establishment of a new intolerance.”
This is exactly what has happened in the West. Notice that when the proponents of a secular “neutral” culture say that we should remove prejudices, such as the Christian conception of marriage for example, it does not lead to a neutral approach to marriage but rather one that is against the Christian ideal of it. It is impossible to create a prejudice-free society because what Jesus says is true–you are either for him or against him. There is no neutrality and anti-Christian cultures lead to increased death and suffering for everyone.
Thus, for the love of God and neighbour, we must apply ourselves to the development of a robust and biblical worldview.
“Kuyper lived in 19th-century Holland and served as prime minister of the Netherlands, founded a Christian university, started a newspaper, and wrote influential books on theology, art, science, and many other topics. His deepest convictions might be summed up in one sentence: Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and because of that fact, every aspect our lives should be affected by the fact that we are Christians. If Christ is Lord, he is Lord over our work and our leisure, our families and friendships, our goings-on inside the four walls of a church building and outside those walls. He is not just the Lord over certain “religious” things, but Lord over art, science, politics, economics, education, and homemaking.”Bruce Ashford, Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians, p.3
Kuyper captured it memorably:
“Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
This is why the Christian aims to apply their faith and worldview in all areas of life – because we recognize Christ’s Lordship over all! And, as we do this, a Christian culture emerges. First small and in pockets and families, but then it grows and all sorts of exciting things happen.
As Christians and as disciple-makers, we must realize that we are called to spread the culture of Christ everywhere and in everything. Thus, we must also recover the commitment to discipleship that does not only concern itself with the “spiritual” things and getting “souls” saved – as if men could be detached from their spiritual beings in such a radical way. No, if a man is spiritually saved, his whole being is also saved and transformed and in the process of renewal into the image of Christ. This means that the process of discipleship includes instruction in how to think, feel and act Christianity in all areas of life–education, politics, arts, the family, entertainment, church, law, politics, economics, sexuality, environmental stewardship, justice, relationships, community and so much more. Yet how many churches have a radically deficient discipleship model that stops short at just giving people the basics of justification and atonement (which are important), some focus on personal piety (which is also important) and a focus on the church and deed ministry (which are also important)?
I believe this is because churches have misunderstood the scope of the mission that Jesus gave us when he told us to go disciple the nations and teach them to obey all that he has commanded them. That’s an all-encompassing mission, which means that the church should have something to say from God’s Word about all of life. Thus, in seeking only to make disciples of individual people in a pietistic way, sealed off from all other spheres of life and only concerned with the “spiritual” life, they have actually committed—not to the Great Commission, but rather the Great Omission.
We must recover a grander vision of the mission Christ has given us and the all-encompassing nature of the Kingdom of God, which we are to “seek first”. Your Christian faith must impact every single area of your life, and you must apply yourself to figure out how the Bible equips you for every single area of life. That’s our lifelong mission as we seek first the Kingdom. Only then will all these things be added unto us (Matthew 6:33).
In future articles and episodes, we’ll be exploring what the expansive nature of the Gospel and the Kingdom are, and how it should change our lives.